Tag Archives: #climatechange

Heat, Dust & Death: What The Drought Could Bring This Summer

California could be in for a devastating summer.

Heatwaves are increasing in frequency, intensity, and duration, and, as temperatures rise, climate change activists are concerned that inaction could lead to more deaths in the summer. 

Its severe intensity puts the drought in the top tier historically, surpassing the 2016 drought considered the worst in California’s history. 

“Ultimately, there’s just less water available on the landscape, which means that the soils become drier and the vegetation becomes drier. It means that plants require more water, but there is less water in rivers, lakes, and streams available to humans, the environment, and agriculture. This means that there is less capacity of the atmosphere to buffer against extreme heatwaves,” said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

“This will be an *exceptionally dangerous* heatwave from a public health perspective, especially since this is a part of the country where structures are not designed to shed heat and where air conditioning is rare. Infrastructure/power disruption is also possible,” tweeted Swain, as an extreme heatwave unfolded along the West Coast of North America, centered on the Pacific Northwest and southwestern Canada.

(From left to right: Dr. Daniel Swain, Climate Scientist, UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability; Dr. Kristie L. Ebi, Professor, Center for Health and the Global Environment; Aradhna Tripati, Associate Professor, UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.)

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) climate change is speeding up. Wildfires are bigger, heat waves more frequent, and seas are warmer.

At a briefing organized by Ethnic Media Services on June 18th, experts pointed at data tracking the impact of climate change on the U.S. and worldwide, and warned that the best way to address the climate crisis is with scientific models as well as with policies focused on equity. 

In the current decade, almost 12,000 premature deaths are recorded annually in the contiguous United States, though experts suggest this is an undercount. Almost all of the deaths are preventable.

Heat and higher temperatures kill, and the poor and disadvantaged are at a higher risk. Low-income families cannot afford to move after a natural disaster; they generally live in asphalt or concrete jungles and lack green space, making them vulnerable to the dangers of heat.

“Redlining has made a big impact on the climate and temperature of certain areas. These are the areas where people who are poor and marginalized live. There are fewer trees, less airflow and the structure of those urban environments is such that they tend to be hotter, “ said  Dr. Kristie L. Ebi, Professor, Center for Health and the Global Environment, University of Washington, and co-author of a new report on the impact of rising heat on mortality

Climate models show that climate change deals a tougher hand to low-income and minority ethnic groups, added Aradhna E. Tripati, Associate Professor, UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. As fires rage in the town of Paradise for example, “some people may move as they have multiple homes but that is not everybody,” said Tripati. Groups with insufficient resources have more difficulty dealing with the effects of climate change. 

“Any injustices that exist will interact with other inequities in ways that will be particularly devastating for low-income communities and communities of color,” said Tripati, citing the disproportionate impact on marginalized groups by hurricanes like Maria and Katrina or the Paradise wildfires in California.

She believes that ethnic minorities who historically are more adept at dealing with scant resources and have developed workarounds should be invited to participate in making climate change decisions and environmental protection policies.  

Effective solutions come naturally to people who come from hot areas, said Tripathi. 

“Actions we can take to reduce our core body temperatures must be taken. Self-dowsing i.e. wetting your skin and turning on the fan are highly effective”, said Dr. Kristie L. Ebi. When heatwave early warning systems alert people to prepare for such events, “Make sure to look in on your neighbors to ensure they are hydrated and their environment has good air circulation.” 

Additionally, said Ebi, mortality is impacted not just by the temperature but our development choices – for example, green roofs and environments with good air circulation work when temperatures are high. Air conditioning causes urban heat islands. Anything we can do to reduce these islands will help people keep their core body temperatures down during heatwaves.

Judicious and equitable choices in planning cities and our living environment are critical to managing the heat that is coming, concluded Dr. Ebi.


Ritu Marwah is a 2020 California reporting and engagement fellow at USC Annenberg’s Center for Health Journalism.
Image credit: Daniel Swain

Edited by Meera Kymal, Contributing Editor at India Currents.


 

Store Your Energy, Go Green & Save Money Says Campbell Scott

Our Climate is Changing. Why Aren’t We?

Climate Reality activist Campbell Scott talks to DesiCollective about why Energy Storage is important for a sustainable economy.

When Texas lost power after two devastating winter storms  mid-February 2021, over 4 million homes and businesses lost power for several days. In Austin,  people were burning their furniture to cook food and to keep warm. 

 Campbell Scott says  this disaster was preventable. The  Texas electrical grid failed to keep up with the demand, and Texas repeatedly failed to protect its power grid against extreme weather.

What is the  science behind energy storage?

Can California halt the frequency of its rolling blackouts?

How do you store green energy when  the wind doesn’t always blow, and the sun doesn’t always shine? Are there energy storage solutions?

And what can communities do to advocate for a greener future?

We asked Campbell for answers.

https://audioboom.com/posts/7863188-store-your-energy-go-green-save-money-says-campbell-scott

 

Climate Reality Activist, Campbell Scott

A Primer on Green Energy Storage by Campbell Scott

Energy Storage is Key to Green Energy

Why should we start using green energy rather than fossil fuels? 

Renewable, carbon-free electric power, generated by solar panels and wind turbines, is now cheaper than from any other source.  If we are to reach zero carbon-dioxide emission,  fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas, must  be phased out. 

How do we store renewable energy when  sunshine and wind are intermittent sources: the sun sets every night or may be clouded over; the wind does not always blow.  

The solution is to store electrical energy when supply exceeds demand and to use that stored energy as demand increases.  It is just like “saving for a rainy day.”

Peak demand usually occurs in the evening as people get home from work, cook dinner and turn on other electric appliances.  Most generating stations providing on-demand power are typically natural gas powered “peaker plants.” So as electric utilities transition to renewable energy sources, it is necessary to provide a green backup power supply.

What are different ways to store energy?

Energy comes in many forms, and each can be stored in several ways.  

Wood, coal, oil and gas
These familiar fuels store chemical energy that is released when the fuel burns. It combines with oxygen to form, mostly, carbon dioxide and water.  Burning converts the chemical energy into heat, i.e., thermal energy, that we use to heat homes, cook food, heat water, power vehicles, generate electricity and run factories.  They are easy  to store in bunkers, railcars or tanks, and the fluids, oil and gas, can also be distributed in pipes.

Electrochemical Storage
Batteries are the most convenient way to store energy from electricity. 

From the end of the 19th century, the most common battery was lead-acid.  Lead-acid batteries can deliver high electric current during discharge and so are still in use today to start cars and trucks with internal combustion engines.  In  the mid-20th century, they powered vehicles, such as milk-trucks, that travelled short distances with heavy loads.  But lead is one of the heaviest metals, making lead acid batteries unsuitable for long-range transport. Gasoline and diesel were dominant until the recent development of affordable lithium-ion batteries that power today’s electric vehicles (EVs).

When a battery is being charged, current is passed through it and changes the chemical composition of the material at each electrode.  When the charged battery is connected to an external circuit (a motor, a cell phone etc.), it delivers the energy used in charging back into that circuit.  Lithium-ion batteries offer a greater advantage because they are extremely lightweight and can be recharged.

Thermal energy
For centuries, people stored heat by “banking the fire” at night:  blazing evening fires were partially smothered with ashes at bedtime to keep the embers hot, while slowing down combustion overnight.  

Today storage space-heaters and water-heaters do the same thing. In the electrical era, we heat bricks or water overnight when electricity is less expensive and then use the stored heat during the day for hot water or to warm the house.

German and Danish companies are developing thermal storage for utility companies, by heating rocks, bricks, or concrete blocks to well above 1,000 deg. C during the day when solar energy is plentiful. At night, high pressure steam is generated to drive turbines.

Gravitational energy
Gravitational energy is the storage mechanism  used in pumped hydroelectricity.  When excess energy is available, water is pumped uphill from a lower reservoir to an upper reservoir.  When electrical demand increases, the water is allowed to flow back downhill through turbines to generate electricity.  

At the O’Neil Forebay at the bottom of the San Luis Dam near Los Banos for example, the lower reservoir is also used to distribute water for other needs such as irrigation.  So, the lack of water availability may limit  electrical generation.  Also, this form of storage needs dams and there are not enough places suitable for building an upper reservoir. 

One solution is to ‘ invert’ the roles of upper and lower reservoirs. That means installing the lower reservoir deep underground, in old mines for example, and  building a shallow upper reservoir on the surface to create a large gravitational “head.”

Hydro plants are expensive. So, a Swiss-based start-up called Energy Vault, has developed a method to store gravitational energy, not with water, but with massive concrete blocks.  The unit uses a six-armed crane to raise and lower the blocks,  recapturing the energy used in raising to turn a generator during lowering.  The cost is much less than a hydro-plant and power can be ramped up in just a few seconds.

Hydrogen
Hydrogen, like oil and gas, can be stored in a container or distributed through pipes. It’s the lightest of all gases and burns in air/oxygen to produce only water.  

Hydrogen is colorless, but it has acquired several colorful labels depending on how it is produced.  Black or brown hydrogen is made from coal of different types and water, and has been used in industrial processes for two hundred years.  Nowadays natural gas and water are used  to produce grey hydrogen, as with coal, carbon dioxide is still a byproduct. If it is captured and stored underground you get blue hydrogen.  An abundant supply of cheap renewable energy makes it economically feasible to produce green hydrogen directly from water by electrolysis; the byproduct is oxygen which can be captured for industrial and medical use or safely released to the atmosphere.  

Ammonia
Ammonia is made by reacting hydrogen and nitrogen in a catalytic converter. Like propane, ammonia is easily liquified and stored under modest pressure. It’s used in many industrial processes such as fertilizer production, but it is also a fuel in its own right, burning under appropriate conditions in air to yield water and nitrogen.  

Both hydrogen and ammonia can also be used in fuel cells to generate electricity and thus to provide backup power for the grid, or to run motors in electric vehicles.  It seems increasingly likely that hydrogen, in some form, will play a major role in long-haul, heavy duty transportation: trucks, trains and shipping.  

Biofuel
Everything that grows under the sun is a potential biofuel, from algae and seaweed to crops and trees.  Even waste foliage from vegetables can be dried and burned.

Biofuels directly harness sunlight via photosynthesis, taking CO2 from the atmosphere.  However, in order to avoid soot and other pollution,  many schemes are being developed to process crops to yield more pure fuels, such as fermenting corn sugar to produce ethanol, or extracting oils from canola or soy.

Microbes and synthetic catalysts are being evaluated to “digest” various types of biomass to make better fuels, -the stretch goal being  jet-fuel.  Ideally,  biofuels will be used in facilities that capture CO2 and store it deep underground or use an industrial process that fixes it in a solid such as concrete. 

The future of our energy supply looks increasingly clean and bright, but we must urgently make full use of these new technologies in order to meet net-zero carbon-dioxide commitments in the coming decades.


Meera Kymal & Anjana Nagarajan Butaney produce the climate change podcast ‘Our Climate is Changing, Why Aren’t We?’ at DesiCollective.
Photo by Denny Müller on Unsplash

 

 

We Can’t Go Back Once Climate Change Hits A Tipping Point, Warns Climate Reality Activist Bill DeVincenzi

Our Climate is Changing. Why Aren’t We?

What happens when ice caps melt, forests die, the permafrost thaws and microbes multiply?

Climate Reality Activists Bill DeVincenzi and Erin Zimmerman join DesiCollective to clear up some misconceptions  about the pace of climate change. Scientists warn that we are in 6th extinction and that some of these changes are irreversible. Humans only have a ten year window to reverse the chain reaction of ‘feedback loops’ that are escalating the climate change crisis. The world is at a tipping point which can put us over the top to runaway climate change.

 

A Short Primer on Feedback Loops with Bill DeVincenzi & Erin Zimmerman

Climate Reality Leader Bill DeVincenzi

What’s A Feedback Loop?

A feedback loop is defined as a certain set of circumstances that can become self-perpetuating. They are present in everything from machines, and economics, to biological processes. They can be both positive and negative; however, in the case of climate change the consequences would be bad. Very bad.

Why Feedback Loops are Bad

Feedback loops are important to consider when trying to halt the climate crisis. And while entire books can, and have, been written about them, here’s a short primer on why climate action is essential now, and not at some point in the future.

When Earth Loses Its Best Reflector, that’s The Albedo Effect

You wouldn’t think the earth’s reflectively matters but it does. The Albedo effect, or loss of earth’s reflectivity is probably one of the most dangerous, and little known feedback loops. While much of the sunlight that hits the Earth is absorbed, some is reflected into space. You’ve probably experienced the Albedo effect if you have gone skiing or visited the high mountains in the winter. Snow and ice reflect around 85% of the sunlight that hits it and keeps the planet from getting too warm. But the volume of ice around the world has decreased by 75% in the last 40 years. According to scientists, we could lose Arctic sea ice completely by the end of this century. The ocean absorbs about 90% of the sunlight that hits it. So, we are replacing the best reflector, sea ice, with the worst absorber, open ocean. If you add in the loss of snow and ice on land as well, this adds up to approximately 40% loss of reflectivity. More heat absorbed means a warmer planet and results in even more ice melt and the cycle repeats itself.

Climate Reality Leader Erin Zimmerman

Permafrost Melt Releases Methane – It’s Wrapping Earth in a Warm, Toxic Blanket

Thousands of years ago, an icy cover in the North froze billions of tons of biological material to create Permafrost.  When permafrost melts, the biological materials thaw and then decompose, releasing the greenhouse gasses (GHGs) carbon dioxide (CO2) and Methane. GHG’s are like a blanket that covers the Earth, keeping it warm. As the blanket gets thicker (more GHG’s), the planet gets warmer. Today, permafrost keeps twice as much CO2 in the ground as there is CO2 in the atmosphere right now. If this CO2 is released, the consequences could be devastating. It’s vicious cycle. As global temperatures rise, the permafrost thaws, which increases greenhouse gasses and more warming. The cycle then repeats itself. The carbon dioxide is bad enough, but the Methane is 30 times more potent than CO2 in terms of trapping heat in the atmosphere.

The Jet Stream’s Deadly Loop De Loop

The Jet Stream ironically, is an actual loop of air current. It circles high above the earth around the Northern hemisphere between the colder north and the warmer south. The temperature differential between the two keeps the jet stream in place; however, the temperature in the North is increasing 2 to 3 times as fast as the temperature in the South. This is pushing the jet stream South; the further South it wanders, the more it picks heat from the South to carry North. This reinforces the cycle and causes wild and unpredictable changes in weather, from extreme cold spells in the South (ice storms inTexas!) to hotter days in the Arctic (or 100.4F in Siberia!). Dry areas become drier, and wet places get wetter.

Stand Up to The Folly of Fossil Fuels

As you have probably noticed, all the feedback loops start with fossil fuel emissions. If we reduce fossil fuel emissions, stop deforestation, and re-green the Earth, we can prevent or start to reverse these feedback loops.

Advocate for Climate Action or Elect Leaders Who Will

The single most important thing we can do is elect leaders who will move us in the right direction. We must vote in political leadership that will take on this problem and collaborate with other countries around the world. It is up to us to continue to put pressure on our local legislators to support the administration in the effort.

Regardless, the planet will continue to exist just fine, albeit a lot warmer, like in the time of the dinosaurs. We humans may not exist, nor would many of the species that now exist with us. So, we can sit back and let global warming wipe us out. Or we can act now to save ourselves and our fellow species. We have total control over this.

Let’s make it happen!


Meera Kymal & Anjana Nagarajan Butaney produce the climate change podcast ‘Our Climate is Changing, Why Aren’t We?’ at DesiCollective.

Photo by Hans-Jurgen Mager on Unsplash

Green Jobs Could Save The Bay Area, Says Climate Change Activist Justine Burt

Our Climate is Changing. Why Aren’t We?

Will green jobs help solve the unemployment crisis? 

 We are in a worldwide pandemic, dealing with a climate crisis and an unemployment crisis, but we have an opportunity to use this disruption – to use a Silicon valley term – to create something even better.

Could green jobs pay as much as fossil fuel jobs ( $70 to $80 thousand a year)? And how can ordinary people make a difference to help avert a climate crisis?

Justine Burt – a Bay Area climate change activist wrote The Great Pivot –  a roadmap on how to decarbonize and dematerialize the economy.

She explains how creating millions of green jobs could lead to a sustainable future, for the Bay Area and beyond.

 


Meera Kymal & Anjana Nagarajan Butaney produce the climate change podcast ‘Our Climate is Changing, Why Aren’t We?’ at DesiCollective.

Photo by Ralph Hutter on Unsplash

Cycles of Destruction and Renewal

As 2020 inexorably moved to a close, the world watched as the global COVID-19 pandemic affected every aspect of our lives and livelihoods. Personally, my mindset moved between fatalism and cabin fever driven anxiety that this virus would dictate our lives for a much longer period than would be satisfied by short-term adjustments.

Indian mythology talks of cycles of destruction and renewal of the universe; one cycle of creation is but a blink of the eye of a creator. Indian philosophy also speaks of negating the very concept of time – it is just a mind-made construct. So, it might be wise to push all these thoughts aside, and just live in the present, after all the current situation just brings the point home that this is all we have to play with.

A new government took the helm in the USA on January 2021, and the events surrounding this hard-fought contentious election eclipsed preoccupations with a global crisis at times. It is definitely a source of comfort for some of us that this government will not be headed by an ‘outsider’ but a dyed-in-the-wool politician whose actions will hopefully be geared towards what we normally think of as good governance. This brings hope, as we can now focus on forward momentum to solve national issues, and potentially even contribute to global solutions. 

We can look forward to a creatively modified life as we align our priorities towards intelligent survival. If history is a stern teacher, we have learned that it took about 2 years for the 1918 flu pandemic to quieten down, so if one needs a projection this is as good as any.

Namaste as a greeting instead of handshakes and hugs, limiting larger social interactions – which includes physical congregation in the workplace – and curbing unnecessary shopping should easy for those who are familiar with the Indian ethos. A successful vaccine will definitely contribute to our arsenal, but it will only work in concert with a compliant global population.

Changing lifestyles and work mandates will inevitably result in the waning of some industries. The immediate fallout is in our neighborhood restaurants and businesses, but the drastic downswing of local and global travel over the past 9 months has already benefitted our 21st-century environment. An upsurge in the exploration and development of clean energy sources as an alternative to fossil fuels is underway, and while each source comes with its specific benefits and challenges it could emerge as a strong global contender if it is appropriately prioritized and funded. This positive shift in lifestyle could emerge as the proverbial silver lining to what is otherwise being experienced as a global life-threatening event, and we could transform the unavoidable destruction of aspects of life as we know it into the creation of a potentially better environment for all of life.

Ducks on Schuylkill River

As species shift their ecologies and relate more to a lifestyle that is unencumbered by human occupation and pollution, a positive outcome appears to be an emerging clean environmental slate. While wind and solar energy seem to be the most developed alternative energy options at present, exploration of other sources including geothermal and hydrokinetic to harness power from the earth and oceans would add to renewable energy options.

Resources need to be constantly provided to make these initiatives a success. While working in a ‘tier-1’ city in India in 2014, I purchased a car that was fueled by CNG (compressed natural gas) as a cleaner fuel option. My good intentions were limited by the availability of the fuel. I learned that waiting in line at selected gas stations at 6.30 am could result in a full tank of CNG in my car. However, too many failed attempts after seemingly endless waits led to the increasing need of choosing a car that ran on petrol. My upfront investment in paying a premium for a CNG car was burnt at the gas station so to speak.

The development of technologies for renewable fuels has seen steady progress over the past two decades, and current estimates for renewable technologies producing electricity vary between 10-20%. The unexpected impetus for a better environment provided by COVID-19 could be a boon, but other studies suggest that a rebound in carbon dioxide emissions could easily be conceivable when the pandemic is controlled. Lasting change in preventing increasing global temperatures and a continued positive environmental change post-pandemic will continue to require effort from us at an individual and global level.

Being woken up to the squawking of ducks on the Schuylkill River – where parent birds breed, babies grow up, and fly away to start a new cycle of life – is gratifying. The hope is that this will continue for years to come.


L. Iyengar has lived and worked in India and the USA. A scientist by training, she enjoys experiencing diverse cultures and ideas. She is the author of White Blackmail, a work of fiction, and can be found on Twitter at @l_iyengar.

Delhi and San Jose Have the Same Gray Skies

(Featured Image: Delhi, India 2019 Air Pollution (left), San Jose, CA 2020 Air Pollution (right))

Leaving the polluted, smog-filled skies of Delhi, my dad settled for the blue skies and greenery of South San Jose. “I would never live anywhere but California,” he says. 

30 years later, I stare at the smoke-filled skies in San Jose and worry about my parents and their friends. I think about how they should sell their property in light of the wildfires edging closer and closer to their home. A new wave of air pollution and insecurity caused by the climate crisis.

Dr. Anthony LeRoy Westerling, Professor of Management of Complex Systems, UC Merced, who has led climate assessment activities for the state of California, predicted the increasing frequency of wildfires. At the Ethnic Media Services briefing on September 25th, he raised concerns about wildfires becoming a common event within the next 30 years. Santa Clara County, home to a large immigrant population – 39% Asian and 49% minority communities – is facing serious risks.

The loss of a home is the loss of the only generational wealth accumulated in this country and the dream of a better life for immigrant populations. I know it to be true for my quintessential Indian-American Family. If displaced, relocation is not simple. The security of a familial network does not necessarily exist and with COVID lurking, shelters are limited. 

The loss of wealth is layered when addressing air pollution. Proper healthcare for the adverse effects of the climate crisis becomes a necessity, but is it accessible and does it account for race?

My mom coughs and shuffles around the house, tired of being stuck at home. She hasn’t left the house in 2 weeks because of her Asthma, a condition that only took hold after years in America. Since COVID began, she hasn’t gotten the care required for her severe Asthma and has to be particularly cautious. Her quality of life has declined and I don’t want this for her long term. But she is not alone.

Communities of color are disproportionately affected by the double punch combo of health inequity and climate injustice reminds Dr. Robert Bullard, Professor of Urban Planning and Environmental Policy at Texas Southern University. In a study done by the EPA in 2018, it was found that communities of color and, black communities specifically, were exposed to 1.5 times more air particulate matter and its accompanying burden than its counterpart white communities. Adults and children from these sectors were 5-10 times more likely to develop Asthma and potentially lose their life to it.  

“All communities are not created equal,” advocates Dr. Bullard, giving context to the policies that created the disparity. People of color are more likely to live in cities that are in violation of the Clean Air Act. Years of racial redlining and urban heat centers expose minority communities to a worse standard of living. The climate crisis will continue to grow the wealth gap due to governmental organizations like FEMA, that use cost-benefit analysis to allocate resources after a crisis. 

Air pollution and its relationship to health equity and economic stratification is a global phenomenon. I am reminded of that when I think of Delhi’s greying atmosphere. Air pollution so thick, sunlight can’t penetrate it. Hindustan Times reports in 2017 that chronic respiratory illness is one of the leading causes of death in India. It is a cause for concern when I see those same skies in San Jose, California. Chairman of TERRE Policy Centre and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Dr. Rajendra Shende emphatically states, “The poor are the first line victims.” This statement has a resounding message that connects environmental injustice and inequity.

Dr. Bullard and Dr. Shende both confront the powers which create policies – people with influence and wealth. Those same people shirk their responsibility and tax those with fewer means. As the former director of the United Nations Environmental Program, Dr. Shenda is passionate about the concept of common but differentiated responsibility. “Those who consumed the most and polluted should pay for those who did not consume and did not pollute,” he says. 

In California, the Cap and Trade program is working to lower carbon emissions and places the burden on the companies that rely on carbon. As recently as September 24th, Gavin Newson set the goal to ban all gas-powered vehicles by 2035. Yet, none of these are effective without global consent. Much like when the Montreal Act worked to lower Ozone layer depletion effectively, saving Delhi and San Jose is a collective effort. A developed nation and a developing nation are in the same conundrum. Environmental injustice is within communities and across countries.

Eventually, my dad in San Jose breathes the same air as his brother in Delhi…

Rely on science and vote comprehensively!


Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.

Featured Image of Delhi can be found here and license here.

Featured Image of San Jose shot by Jamie Shin. 

Comforting Thoughts Through Scary Times

As I sit in my family room, looking out at the smokey, orange skies of the San Francisco Bay Area, I can’t help but think about my child with special needs.

It has been 8 months since we have been stuck at home due to COVID. This morning, September 9, 2020, at 11 am, when I woke up, it looked like dawn. When I drew open my bedroom curtains, I saw the sky in bright orange color. I had never seen anything like it before.

I quickly looked at the weather on Google it said that the clouds covered the smoke which traveled during the night and will eventually open up the skies around 5 pm.  I then looked up the weather in Cloverdale, CA. It was 81 degrees with clear blue skies!  I was comforted that my daughter, Siri would be moving there soon, in early 2021.

As a parent of an Autistic child, I worry about her future. 180,000 adults live at home with their parents.  Siri, a 27-year-old young lady lives with us, her parents, and her two younger brothers at home.  

About 90 miles away from San Francisco is Cloverdale, in a small town in the beautiful Sonoma County, rests Clearwater Ranch. Their mission is to provide life-long housing and community that empowers developmentally disabled adults to live their lives to the fullest potential with dignity, purpose, and joy. What a comforting feeling.

Our family along with a few other like-minded families are working actively, partnering with a non-profit, Living Unlimited, to design, develop and implement a life-long housing solution for our loved ones with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

So as the skies burn, I think about the future. The future of my daughter, of disabled people, of seniors, and of myself. I have committed my time and my life to securing my children’s future. Have you?


Swathi Chettipally is a devoted mother and an Autism advocate. Find more about her work with Siri on PinterestInstagram, and Youtube.

This Bay is on Fire

Local families have been checking the news daily for evacuation orders since fires broke out in Northern California over two weeks ago, on August 15th. With over 1.4 million acres burned in two weeks, fire containment was barely in the 10% range for the first few days, with Evacuation Orders and Warnings given to many Bay Area counties.  

Krishna Parthasarathy drove to Fairfield to check his in-law’s home, as they were out of town. “There were cops all around,” he said. “We had to say we had to evacuate the cat. This is not the first time this has happened.” 

Mr. Parthasarathy tried to think about what his in-laws would want him to take. He cleared out the puja room. Every single thing, including the mandap, hand-stitched Bhagavad Gita paintings, and photos of the acharyas.

Face masks and sanitation supplies were the top two items on evacuation packing lists found online. With California reaching­ over 700,000 COVID cases this was a stark reminder that families concerned about the survival of their homes must also take precautions with their physical health. 

Padma Srinivasan of Fremont could not see down the street from her home, which was in an evacuation warning zone. “What happened was one day, it got so bad. The road going from our house is a little narrow. So, we left,” said Ms.  Srinivasan. “I took some essential things. Some things that are sentimental and some things that are valuable.”

After the fires started, the Air Quality Index for many districts went past 170, well into the Unhealthy range. Yaamini Rao, who lives up the Peninsula, was woken up by the lighting that first Sunday. Since then she has been staying indoors. “You can see the haze all over. It smells like an endless campfire,” said Ms. Rao.

CAL FIRE lifted the Evacuation Orders and Warnings for Alameda and  San Joaquin counties as of August 31st regarding the SCU Lightning Complex fires, which is at 60% containmentSanta Clara County continues to have warnings in place but many are in the process of being lifted.  Santa Cruz County has begun Phase 4 repopulation where fire containment is at 39%. The LNU Lightning Complex fires are at 66% containment. “The firemen are doing a fantastic job,” said Ms. Srinivasan. “We owe a lot to them.” 

This experience has prompted many to reflect on what is valuable and important and essential. “We have so many possessions and they can become a burden. We don’t need that much to live, you know?,” said Ms. Srinivasan. “When we go to Yama, Yama does not let us bring a suitcase. We go empty-handed,” said Mr. Parthasarathy.

Here are some resources to check on the fires if you’re in an affected region: CAL FIRE, CalTopo (California Topographical Maps), WildFire Information, Cal Fire SCU Twitter, Cal Fire CZU Twitter, Cal Fire LNU Twitter, Air Quality, Evacuation List.

Check out the previous India Currents’ article on disaster preparedness!


Sree Sripathy is a photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

An Accomplished Poetic Life

A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language.

– W. H. Auden

In reading 16-year-old Uma Menon’s debut collection of poetry, it is obvious that W. H. Auden was speaking about her. For that matter, the fact that the author is a teen should not make the reader shy away from her work and chalk up the 96-page volume of poetry to rhymey-rhymes or hip-hop repetition.

On the contrary, Menon’s poems are as well crafted as those written by one twice her age with an equally-impressive and diverse backlog of publication. An exploration of what it means to be a young woman of color in America, Hands for Language is a deep dive into the joys, sorrows, and challenges met by straddling the white world and the land of her birth.

Comprised of 55 tightly-crafted free verse poems, Hands for Language is presented in four parts. Finding, losing, and keeping one’s language is the common thread of the collection.

Part One: Birth primarily moves from her childhood living in India through just after immigrating to the United States. She reflects on her early life in 11 poems, including “citizenship,” “birthdays,” “origin story,” and “at the intersection of the land & sea.”

Part Two: Discovery embraces language and the search for meaning, understanding, and communication while discussing the need to juggle her native Malayalam and the English of her new land. The 14 titles that make up this section include “spoken language,” “i forget,” “the world lies between her two eyes,” and “dictionary: tanpura.”

Part Three: Becoming examines “how to become a beautiful second-language poet,” “portrait of my tongue as a battleground,” “Ode to Debate / Sometimes, After Junior Year,” and “Orphan Tongues.” 

Part Four: Rebellion includes 16 poems, including titles such as “revolution in my mind,” “border violence,” “Hand in Mouth,” and “independence.”

Language is the foundation of the collection, but Menon also centers on family: her mother, grandmother, uncle, and traditions they have taught her. As an activist, Menon expresses pointed concerns about hot-button topics such as immigration, current events, gender, nature, and climate change. She is as punctilious in her language as to make the reader forget her age but not her love of language a weapon against injustice.

An accomplished young woman, her writing has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. This debut collection was shortlisted for the 2019 International Erbacce Prize. Alongside her many literary achievements, Menon is a social justice advocate, a nationally ranked debater, and the first Youth Fellow for the International Human Rights Art Festival. As a member of the high school Class of 2020, Menon graduated as valedictorian from Winter Park High School’s (Florida) International Baccalaureate Program, and she plans to continue her education this fall at Princeton University.

Jeanne E. Fredriksen lives in both Carolinas where she is a Books for Youth reviewer for Booklist magazine/American Library Association and a member of WCPE-FM The Classical Station’s Music Education Fund committee. She is working on an assortment of fiction projects. 

The Bioma Project Brings Nature into the Classroom

As the climate change crisis threatens the world as we know it, it becomes the new generation’s responsibility to spread awareness and foster action. Large-scale organizations like UNICEF have been handing their social media handles to youth environmental activists. Half a million teen advocates have fought climate change by requesting government grants for their communities. According to the UNEP, 73% of surveyed youth from a global population say they feel the effects of climate change. Young people everywhere are demanding action — with and without access to the voting booth. It is amid this environment that Bay Area students are promoting environmental education through a national collaborative, the Bioma Project. With more than two thousand students and 40 supporting schools, the Bioma Project aims to “change the way young people think about the environment”. To find out more about what that entails, we had a chat with Raghav and Krishna, rising seniors from Monta Vista High School and co-founders of the project’s Cupertino chapter. 

What made you decide to start a chapter of the Bioma Project? 

Climate change, in the past few years, has become an increasingly prevalent issue in society. And there’s a good reason for it. The average global temperature has been steadily rising for the past 100 years, which in turn has risen sea levels, and increased the frequency of natural disasters like heat waves and flooding. But what’s worse is that the problem doesn’t seem to be going away. It’s worsening. And although there have been and still are a myriad of efforts directed towards raising awareness for climate change and pushing for legitimate change in society, we believed that there was something missing in our local community. There is an abundant amount of attention paid toward various sciences in the Bay Area(CS, Mathematics, etc.), but we were convinced that a larger emphasis on the environment and climate change awareness- specifically directed towards elementary and middle school students – in the Bay Area was something missing in our community. And we saw the Bioma Project as a valiant effort in promoting a positive change in our community. The Bioma Project maintains the belief that people can only care about a certain issue if they have been educated about it, which is why we direct our efforts towards younger students who will be forced to confront climate change in the coming years. Students, who are the generation that will have to face the brunt of climate change, should learn about the current state of our Earth, and what they can do to play a part in mitigating the disastrous effects that are currently scheduled to affect us. 

The Bioma Project’s website mentions how “students weren’t given the autonomy to run their own projects and enough field experience.” Could you elaborate on this concern, and how your chapter addresses the issue? 

Bill Tong, Founder of Bioma Project

Founded in Maryland by high school student Bill Tong, the program became popular and has been incorporated into forty schools in Maryland and is in the process of getting implemented into 3 classrooms here in the Bay Area. We offer two programs: one consists of placing a fish tank in a classroom and effectively constructing a stream water ecosystem in classrooms to allow students to understand various aspects of an ecosystem and understand more about the environment that surrounds us through a set of lesson plans; the second program consists of a lecture-style program in which teachers are provided an amalgam of presentations on different areas of the environment(such as an introduction to climate change, a presentation on fossil fuels, etc.) and activities that allow students to interactively learn more about our Earth. 

What kinds of activities are included in your program? 

Kid’s learning using the Bioma Project Model.

An example of an activity is a kid-friendly mining lab where students would have to “mine” chocolate chips out of a chocolate chip cookie without making a mess, which is used to simulate safe mining practices. We believe that by gradually introducing elementary and middle school students to fun activities like the one mentioned above induces learning and improves the reception of serious topics. Teachers have the option of choosing either program(or even both!), and we are willing to accommodate and customize lesson plans for teachers who prefer to incorporate the lesson plans differently. In addition, the lessons can be taught at the speed the teacher prefers to teach them at; each lesson plan spans between 15 to 45 minutes and teachers can allocate a fraction of their teaching time for the activities.

How has the coronavirus outbreak impacted your program? Will you continue your efforts virtually?  

Although the coronavirus pandemic has prevented us from expanding in the way we had envisioned, the Bioma Project has not stopped putting in an effort to reach a larger audience. We recently recruited few people in the Washington D.C metro area and Dallas, Texas to introduce this program to more students, and we are currently planning to create some form of a virtual continuation of the program in case school does not reopen next school year. In the meantime, we are continuing to email teachers in school districts all around the Bay Area to work out ways in which teachers can utilize the resources we provide to educate their students about the environment.

What advice can you give to other young teenagers who want to change the public’s perception of environmental science? 

 To any students or parents who are reading this and are interested in this program, we strongly encourage you to ask your teachers if they would be willing to dedicate a little amount of their time to teach their students about the environment and refer them to our website, https://www.biomaproject.org/ or email us at californiabioma@gmail.com. To any teacher interested in this program, we would love for you to visit our website, email us, and discuss how we could help you incorporate this program into your classroom.

Kanchan Naik is a junior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. Aside from being the Youth Editor at India Currents, she is also the Editor-in-Chief of her school newspaper The Roar and the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton.

A Planet of Wizards & Prophets

I was reading The Wizard & The Prophet by Charles E Mann on a crowded train one evening a few months ago and when a young girl sat down next to me. The name of the book is intriguing, and it piqued her interest too.

She was in first or second grade and her curly hair was made into numerous tiny plaits. Her eyes shone with a curiosity that would make any teacher’s heart sing.

Her mother’s heart though, quailed. She said, “Now…now don’t bother the nice lady there, let her get on with it.” I looked up at the mother and told her that I love reading to children, and though this particular book was pedantic, I did it anyway. It quickly taught me never to under-estimate children – my student soaked in everything and asked the most engaging questions.

I saw a certain amount of editing would need to be done if the topic were to sustain the interest of a 6-year-old. The book is a non-fiction tome going strong at 678 pages – pages richly adorned with facts, figures, and life histories of all the people involved.  But, I knew the bits where a child’s wonder can be kindled. 

The Wizard & The Prophet is a marvelous title because it encapsulates the polarity of our thinking so beautifully, and in this sense, they are both required for us to thrive. The Wizard in the book is Norman Borlaug, who is credited with leading the way for GMO strains of wheat production. Mentioned alongside him are stalwarts like Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, who saved billions of people from hunger and starvation 

William Vogt is the Prophet, who during his study in the Mexican coastal areas observed how we are stretching our natural resources and the effects it has on things as far-flung as bird migratory patterns and climate. In many ways, he is the one who set up the first bells of Global Warming and Climate Change. He is the Prophet.

“Do you believe in Climate Change?”, asked the girl wide-eyed.

I told her I did not need to believe in Climate Change at all because the experiments show me how humans are changing the air around. I showed her the pages outlining the experiment where scientists managed to pin down Carbon Dioxide as the source of our problems.

I cannot deny that global warming and climate change have always intrigued me. Carbon Dioxide only accounts for 0.04 % of the atmospheric gases after all. 

Scrippsnews from Wikimedia Commons

In The Wizard & The Prophet, the author outlines the experiments used to determine that, it is indeed carbon dioxide that is the culprit and how our industries are directly contributing to its increase. The correlation between carbon-dioxide levels increasing and global warming is now proven beyond doubt. Known as the Keeling Curve, we measure the carbon dioxide in the air over many decades.

(During the spring, there are dips because the Arctic tundra sprouts plant life and plants absorb Carbon Dioxide from the atmosphere.)

Looking at the worried expression on the child’s face, I asked her, “But not all is worrisome, did you know that we can reduce carbon dioxide?”

“Trees?” she said, and I nodded yes.

I went on to tell her about the excellent example set forth for us by the Kenyans in The Green Belt Movement, and how a person called Dr. Wangari Maathai helped the Kenyans plant millions of trees over the past 30 years.

She glowed at the simple solution thought of by Dr. Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel Prize. After a few minutes, my student’s stop had arrived and she stepped off the train with her mother, who was now listening to her daughter talk to her about The Wizard & The Prophet.  

As I reflected on the chat with her, I realized that science and the proof for increasing carbon footprint caused by human activity have been around for decades now. We just need to take action. 

But there is hope: I am glad to read that China proposes to plant and nurture a forest the size of Ireland to reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality. 

India was one of the first nations to increase its green cover by almost 15% in 2019.

We have one planet on which we can live. Let’s do all we can to take care of it.

Happy Earth Day! April 22, 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. A day meant to spur us into action meant to preserve and sustain Earth. 

Saumya Balasubramanian writes regularly at nourishncherish.wordpress.com. Some of her articles have been published in San Francisco Chronicle, The Hindu and India Currents. She lives with her family in the Bay Area where she lilts along savoring the ability to find humor in everyday life and finding joy in the little things.

Rapid Renewal

With the entire world seemingly off the highways and on WebEx or Zoom, I got to thinking if there is some good that will come out of this pandemic, a silver lining in the polluted clouds.  For those of you not feeling terribly hopeful right now, isn’t it wonderful to know that when there’s a burning platform in front of us, we will come together to take action?  It gives me hope around what we, 7.6 billion, can collectively do to turn the tide on climate change!

To be sure, these trying times of the coronavirus might reverse the progress made with controlling carbon dioxide emissions; but in the first quarter of 2020, global emissions were down considerably.  Like an overweight sick person who loses weight, at least we plump citizens of the earth now empirically know that we can do something to manage our over-consumption.  Here’s a somewhat optimistic article I wrote from a family trip last year to Kerala, India’s own version of paradise.

On a hopeful day after Christmas in Kochi, I am reflecting on what a solar eclipse means to me.  While I can focus on the darkness, given the many blessings that have come my way I prefer the light.  Perhaps it is merely the spirit of the season that has given me hope in what otherwise has been a rather dispiriting close to the past decade.  Or perhaps because, here in Kerala, I’m reminded of the diversity that has long been India’s strength.

This inclusive sense of all religions sharing India as a welcoming home is reflected in a favorite ditty of mine from Manmohan Desai’s film Amar Akbar Anthony:

Anhoni ko honi karde honi ko anhoni | We make the impossible possible and the possible impossible!

Ek jagah jab jama ho teeno | Together in one place, we three stand united:

Amar Akbar Anthony

This is the first time in nearly two decades that I have not spent Christmas Eve at the Stanford Theater on University Avenue in Palo Alto, California.  My family has made a tradition of going to see a film quite different from Amar Akbar Anthony, but one with a similarly hopeful heart: It’s A Wonderful Life, the holiday classic directed by Frank Capra.

My family missed seeing our favorite Christmas movie because we were in Cherai Beach, at a resort some 45 minutes north of Kerala’s Cochin International Airport (COK).  We were having a reunion of sorts, with family in India coming from Hyderabad, Kolkata, and Pune, and family from outside of India coming from Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.  It has been a time of great joy, but I find myself reflecting on the past “dumpster fire” of a decade. 

I’m usually a hopeful sort, but as I look back over the past ten years, the metaphor that haunts me is a heartless fire.  I smell this place that I call home burning. Home is Earth. Home is India. Home is America.

Our planet is literally on fire.  According to nasa.gov, “The world is getting warmer. Whether the cause is human activity or natural variability—and the preponderance of evidence says it’s humans—thermometer readings all around the world have risen steadily since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.”  The website proceeds to ask (and then answer), “But why should we care about one degree of warming?” I think each of us must answer that question in our own way. 

Raj with his granddaughter, Eshni.

For me, it’s not just the Earth science, although that, too, is vitally important.  It is about the world that my granddaughter, Eshni, will inhabit long after I am gone.  Already, I am distraught about the fact that while she was in New Delhi, Eshni was smoking nearly 50 cigarettes each day.  Okay, my daughter and son-in-law’s nine-month-old baby wasn’t actually dragging on several packs of Marlboros or Charminars, but she might as well have been.  The smoke in the capital of the country of my birth is intolerable and getting worse. I can barely imagine what is worse than intolerable. Unlivable? 

And the United States is not much better.  Although we Americans don’t have the daily visual clues to tell us that our planet is burning, I, as a Californian, can attest to the fact that the blue sky is a false harbinger of things to come if we don’t manage the change of climate change.  For two weeks last year, I could not step out of my home without tearing up. Yes, I’m an emotional sort who is easily moved to tears in sentimental Bollywood and Hollywood movies. But these weren’t filmy tears. No, the sun in my gray sky was eclipsed by smoke from fires burning thousands of acres over 100 miles away.  The sting of the smoke caused the tears and required me to wear a mask so that I could breathe. And if we can’t breathe, our world becomes unlivable, acre-by-acre. California’s thousands of charred acres have now given way to Australia’s millions of scarred acres. I take in the smoky air and choke at the impossibility of doing anything substantial about climate change.

When troubled by national and international issues, I look to good governance to save the day.  Surely the United Nations or the Prime Minister of India or the President of the United States have the foresight to envision a world that is habitable for my little Eshni.  Hooray for the UN. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has a fine objective to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”  If this were baseball, I would be shouting, “Hip, hip, hooray! Let’s put the UN Secretary-General into the Hall of Fame!” I would throw a parade for our collective grandchildren’s happy future world. Well, it seems that the UN does throw parties of a sort.  Year after year since 1995, there has been a Conference of the Parties. And year after year, the climate gets hotter and hotter. Protocols such as the Paris Agreement are ratified and rejected by the countries I call my own.

America and India’s positions on the protocols are quite telling and put one nation firmly in a disquieting Hall of Shame and the other in a disorienting Hall of Mirrors.

Trump’s United States is a rejecter of the protocols. Modi’s India is ostensibly a supporter. Both Trump and Modi remind me of those afflicted with the disease of hubris that has them looking directly at a solar eclipse as if their retinas could withstand fire.

In his first year in office, President Trump said, “The Paris accord will undermine (the U.S.) economy,” and “puts (the U.S.) at a permanent disadvantage.”  Donald Trump moved the needle from intolerable and unlivable to unthinkable. Midway through Trump’s term, The Atlantic Monthly listed some 50 unthinkable acts that characterized the Trump Presidency.  In essence, while the earth burns, Trump fiddles on his many incendiary interests including the following from the past 12 months:  building a wall at the US/Mexican border, adding trillions to the fiscal deficit, overseeing a contraction of domestic manufacturing, threatening and waffling on tariffs, recklessly executing an unethical—if not illegal—assassination of a foreign official to gin up a war to win votes, and responding to the inquiry of impeachment with a multitude of distracting lies.

On paper, Prime Minister Modi is the anti-Trump, almost an exemplar of climate change leadership.  He has done much to champion India as a global green leader; indeed, one can see solar panels floating on acres around COK, making Kochi’s airport the first in the world running fully on solar power.  But despite his laudable renewable energy investments in solar and wind farms, the Prime Minister was a reluctant signatory to the Paris Agreement; he has argued that as a developing country focused on giving her citizens a better life, India must not be constrained from investing in coal and other dirty fossil fuels.  There is much truth to the position that emerging economies merit dispensations not afforded to countries, which developed during the Industrial Age’s plunder of the Earth, but one must ask questions about Narendra Modi’s commitment to giving all Indians a better life.

What is the Prime Minister’s philosophy of social justice?  What are his intentions to make India not only a global green leader but also a moral leader?  Why does his office in Delhi encourage policies that are Hindu-centric rather than Hindustan-centric?  Perhaps the Modi Ministry could benefit from a rereading of Section 420 in the Indian Penal Code to clarify its disambiguation in how Muslims are treated as a source of terror. Certainly, a unified India would be more influential on the world stage if her fissiparous tendencies did not distract from the real terror of global warming.

Imagine an Earth with the blood-red skies of Australia where people flee to beaches to escape bushfires racing towards the coast. In Kerala, my hope is that we are not required to retire to backwaters houseboats to escape the fires of climate change; my hope is that we are not all sidetracked by our “Distractors-in-Chief;” my hope is that with a Surya Namaskar, we salute the sun as it rises; my hope is that hope is not eclipsed. 

While it has been lovely to celebrate time with family on the tranquil waters in what Keralites call “God’s Own Country,” inevitably all of us want to return to our wonderful lives in Pune, Melbourne, London, Kolkata, Hyderabad, and California. None of us desire a world where we, or our brothers and sisters, are climate refugees, or refugees of any sort seeking to escape home due to persecution of our race, religion, or sexual identity.  How about we convey our belief in the art of possibility and translate “Amar Akbar Anthony” for the next generation of (grand) children making Planet Earth their home?

We make the impossible possible and the possible impossible!

Together in one place, we three stand united:

Eshni, Ayesha, Emily.

Dr. Rajesh C. Oza, a Change Management Consultant, envisions 2020 as a transformative year.  His vision: Replace shortsighted politicians with clear-eyed leaders like Greta Thunberg (climate strike activist and Time’s 2019 Person of the Year) and Varshini Prakash (challenger of climate change’s status quo and Executive Director of the Sunrise Movement).


Featured image drawn by Mangla Oza.