Urban Tree-Huggers

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Women demonstrators protest a plan to to cut down more than 14,000 trees for a redevelopment project in New Delhi in June 2018. CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Thanks to Yale e360’s Mumbai-based Vaishnavi Chandrashekhar:

In India’s Fast-Growing Cities, a Grassroots Effort to Save the Trees

In India’s burgeoning urban areas, residents are rallying against the widespread destruction of trees to make way for development. The recent protests highlight a global issue: densely populated megacities in the developing world, which are most in need of tree cover, often have the least.

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Thousands of trees have been cut down in Mumbai in recent years to make way for new housing, wider roads, and a $3.3 billion subway line. COURTESY OF ZORU BHATHENA

The funeral cortege was small. Six people shouldered the bier and others followed, clad in the traditional Indian white. As the group filed past the state assembly building, the armed guards did not give it a second glance. In a few minutes, however, the security forces caught on. The procession winding its way through Mumbai’s government district was not a real funeral: It was a protest. The shrouded body held aloft was not a human — it was the trunk of a tree, one of many, including grand old banyans, cut down for the construction of a $3.3 billion subway line.

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A protester hugs an old tree in Mumbai to prevent it from being cut down for a subway project. COURTESY OF ZORU BHATHENA

Mumbai’s old trees have borne the brunt of new development in the booming city, including road widening, transport projects, and housing construction. The new subway alone is destroying or damaging 5,000 trees, from hundreds of old street trees in the dense parts of the historic island city to more than 2,000 trees in a mini-forest in suburban Aarey Colony, where a rail car shed is to be built. A less visible loss lies in defunct industrial areas, where large plots with old trees and ponds are being redeveloped into residential and commercial towers. “Developers are supposed to replace the trees but no one really checks,” says Stalin D., head of local environmental group, Vanashakti. Continue reading

Books In Need, People To The Rescue

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Hundreds of volunteers formed a human chain to help move October Books to its new location in Southampton, England. Credit October Books

It is probably not accurate to say books are in need. People are in need of books. And people who have been enlightened, educated, even saved by books are the kind of people we might expect to believe that the repositories of books, libraries and bookstores for example, need all the help we can give them. In the spirit of yesterday’s post, another today related to books and volunteers and the generosity of bookish people:

A Store Had to Move Thousands of Books. So a Human Chain Was Formed.

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“We wanted something that was accessible for the whole family, for children and people who were older who wouldn’t necessarily be able to paint or move heavy pieces, to help out,” a member of the October Books collective said.

LONDON — The plea went out a few weeks ago from the bookstore in a port city in southern England: “Care to lend a hand?”

Volunteers were needed for “heavy manual work” in shifts. It was “essential” that they be able to lift and carry boxes and office supplies.

Among the supplies: thousands upon thousands of books.

The appeal from October Books, a nonprofit that began 40 years ago as a “radical” bookshop, came after a rent increase forced it from its old home in Southampton, Jess Haynes, a member of the collective and one of the few paid employees, said on Wednesday.

The shop was looking to move lock, stock and barrel about 150 meters (just under 500 feet) to a three-story building that used to house a bank. Would anybody respond to the call for help? Continue reading

Karen Washington, Food Activist

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‘When we say ‘food apartheid,’ the real conversation can begin.’
Illustration: Daniel Chang Christensen

Thanks to Anna Brones for bringing this article, and its subject, to our attention in the Guardian, as a reprint of an essay originally published in Guernica:

Food apartheid: the root of the problem with America’s groceries

Food justice activist Karen Washington wants us to move away from the term ‘food desert’, which doesn’t take into account the systemic racism permeating America’s food system

America’s sustainable food movement has been steadily growing, challenging consumers to truly consider where our food comes from, and inspiring people to farm, eat local, and rethink our approaches to food policy. But at the same time, the movement is predominantly white, and often neglects the needs and root problems of diverse communities. Continue reading

Commerce, Conscience & Conservation

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Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, with its chief executive, Rose Marcario, in the tin shed where he once forged and hammered metal. The outdoor-clothing company has mixed commerce and activism since the early 1970s. Credit Laure Joliet for The New York Times

Since the early days of this platform we have linked to stories about this company many times, and its founder in particular is in our pantheon of role models. During these seven years we have also studiously avoided linking to stories involving politics, other than highlighting activism that holds public officials accountable. This story below borders on  too much politics, but I find the company’s position not only acceptable, but as usual about this company, aspirational. Thanks to David Gelles for this story about how Patagonia has supported grass-roots environmental activists for decades and how it is suing the president in a bid to protect Bears Ears National Monument:

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Patagonia employees at the Ventura, Calif., headquarters, where there are picnic tables in the parking lot, on-site day care and easy access to the beach.CreditLaure Joliet for The New York Times

VENTURA, Calif. — The offices of Patagonia occupy a low-slung complex of stucco buildings in this sleepy beachside town in Southern California. There are solar panels and picnic tables in the parking lot, day care with a jungle gym by the main lobby and easy access to the beach, where employees surf during lunch break. It is a corporate Eden of sorts, where idealistic Californians run a privately held company that sells about $1 billion of puffy down jackets and organic cotton jeans each year.

Screen Shot 2018-05-05 at 7.06.08 AMBut on an unseasonably hot and windy Monday morning in early December, Patagonia headquarters were transformed into something that quickly resembled a war room. There were emergency conference calls with Washington lawyers. Court filings were prepared. Web designers remade the company’s home page.

It wasn’t a business crisis that had mobilized the company, however. It was politics. Continue reading

Indonesian Seaweed Farming

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Seaweed harvesting in Takalar, Indonesia. Photo © Tiffany Waters / The Nature Conservancy

The subject of seaweed farming, which we sometimes refer to as kelp farming, is of keen interest to us because of the relationship to conservation; our thanks to Tiffany Waters at Cool Green Science:

Seaweed Farming: A Gateway to Conservation and Empowerment

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Seaweed seedlings. Photo © Tiffany Waters / The Nature Conservancy

“What does your husband do while you’re working on the seaweed lines?”, we ask. She laughs and says in Bahasa, “He does the cooking and the cleaning.”

It’s day 6 of our field visit to Indonesia and we’re in Takalar visiting our fifth island and third seaweed farm of the trip. On the brink of the ‘extreme season,’ stifling hot is an understatement, but the light breeze from the Flores Sea provides a welcome break from the three flights and 2-hour van trip that brought us here. Continue reading

A Food Writer & The Shock Of The New

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Food has recently returned to the center of our attention, and in the outback of Belize we have had some lovely surprises. An unexpected essay, from one of the food world’s most prominent writers, gives another view altogether from the USA:

The New Foodieism

To care about food now is to care about the future of this country.

By Mark Bittman

Like many of us, I spent the winter muddling through a mental miasma, pondering the meaning of life and democracy. I did, of course, think about “food” — how it’s produced, marketed, discussed, consumed, and so on — during my self-imposed hiatus from near-constant writing, which began more than 18 months ago. Continue reading

Dams, Development & Destruction

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Munduruku people demonstrate in front of the Brazilian Ministry of Mines and Energy, calling for the suspension of construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant. Photograph: Lunae Parracho/Reuters

Thanks to John Vidal and the Guardian for this coverage in Latin America:

The rains had been monumental throughout April 2014. By early May, the operators of the 219 MW Cachoeira Caldeirão dam being built in Brazil’s remote Amapá state knew that levels on the Araguari river were dangerously high. If some water was not released fast, the whole thing might collapse. There would be no danger to people because any run-off would be absorbed by two other dams downstream, the hydropower company thought.

But communications failed and no one warned the small town of Ferreira Gomes, nestled on the banks of the Araguari nearly 50km away. Continue reading

Letters to Young Farmers

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The reference of the title isn’t lost on us, for the “everyday act of creation”, of coaxing bounty from the soil, is a form of poetry. We applaud both the advisors and the ears on which the advice falls.

Letters to a Young Farmer is full of good counsel for the next generation from the likes of Wendell Berry, Michael Pollan, and the noted novelist Barbara Kingsolver.

Dear young farmer,

Let me speak to you as a familiar, because of all the years I’ve cherished members of your tribe. Of course, I also know you’re only yourself, just as I remember the uniqueness of every intern, WWOOFer, and summer weed-puller who has spent a season or two on our family’s farm. Some preferred to work without shoes. Some were captivated by the science of soils, botany, and pest management. Some listened to their iPods, or meditated, or even sang as they hoed and weeded, while others found no music among the bean bee­tles. A few confessed to finding this work too hard, but many have gone on to manage other farms or buy places of their own. In these exceptional souls I invest my hopes….

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Model Mad, Marcus

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[Update: this post was originally published 48 hours ago but it definitely needs further attention so please do listen to Marcus]

This book came out late last year, and ever since I started sharing links to this man’s wonders  a of couple years ago, I keep watching for more reasons to do so; he always moves me. Today, again. Below is a link to a podcast he recently recorded to promote the book above. The conversation is artful. Powerful.

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Marcus is an immigrant to the USA, so his reflections on recent policy shifts in the ultimate country of immigrants are worth a listen even if you are not a foodie. If those observations do not move you, all I can say is wow. It fits the “model mad” theme we have been linking to in recent weeks–people and organizations speaking out and creatively resisting when something is wrong; and doing so at risk of significant loss. Continue reading

Model Mad, 314

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The website itself is not exactly scintillating, but click the banner above to read the mission statement. Better yet, read Ed Yong’s scintillating explanation of how and why this organization came to be, and what it is doing:

For American science, the next four years look to be challenging. The newly inaugurated President Trump, and many of his Cabinet picks, have repeatedly cast doubt upon the reality of human-made climate change, questioned the repeatedly proven safety of vaccines. Since the inauguration, the administration has already frozen grants and contracts by the Environmental Protection Agency and gagged researchers at the US Department of Agriculture. Many scientists are asking themselves: What can I do? Continue reading

Model Mad, NPS

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Redwood national park in California. Photograph: Jeffrey Schwartz/Alamy

We like what we see of the madly determined folks risking their professional careers in the interest of the environment and social justice:

National Park Service climate change Twitter campaign spreads to other parks

A day after three climate-related tweets sent out by Badlands National Park were deleted, other park accounts have sent out tweets that appear to defy Trump

The National Park Service employees’ Twitter campaign against Donald Trump spread to other parks on Wednesday, with tweets on climate change and a reminder that Japanese Americans were forcibly interned in camps and parks during the second world war.

A day after three climate-related tweets sent out by Badlands National Park were deleted, other park accounts have sent out tweets that appear to defy Trump. One, by Redwood national park in California, notes that redwood groves are nature’s number one carbon sink, which capture greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming…

…Golden Gate national park in California said in a tweet that 2016 was the hottest year on record for the third year in a row. The tweet directed readers to a report by Nasa and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, also known as Noaa…

…The tweets went beyond climate change.

Death Valley national park tweeted photos of Japanese Americans interned there during the second world war, a message that some saw as objecting to Trump’s pledge to ban Muslims from entering the country and a proposal to restrict the flow of refugees to the United States…

Read the whole story here.

Mad, Yes

0115-bks-ivorytower-blog427-v3As we approach our 8,000th post on this platform we realize that for the nearly six years we have been posting there was plenty of hopeful, helpful news related to community, collaboration and conservation–the themes we committed ourselves to at  the outset.

Times seem different now, to state the obvious. And yes we are “mad” about what is happening around us. Madly determined. It will take discipline to remain focused and find the news that fits our purpose here. But we intend to.

The point has not been to ignore the bad news, of which there has been plenty in recent years, but to share a few notices each day that highlight better news. Or possible solutions. The spirit of our intent, which has been to support “the fight” as needed but remain civil to the end, is captured well in this book review:

How to Be Civil in an Uncivil World

By

Nigerian Ex-Militants to become the next Farmers

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The Nigerian government is giving young ex-fighters the opportunity to help secure their country’s food production by providing them the resources and education to become a new generation of farmers. The new agricultural training program is not only an example of the government’s efforts to fulfill its longstanding pledge of reintegrating ex-militants into society productively, but also an example of a peaceful solution that reflects a government’s foresight of what could truly progress the welfare of its country.

In the summer of 2009, then-president of Nigeria, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, declared a general amnesty for the armed militants who had plagued the country’s oil-rich Niger Delta, the area made up of nine states in the south of the country. The region had seen a dramatic rise in attacks on oil refineries and the kidnapping of foreign workers beginning in the early 2000s. Many of the armed fighters were young men living in poverty with few job prospects, who were attempting to take by force what they felt the government owed them.

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Connecting the Dots

In our business we often use words like synchronicity and synergy to illustrate the amazing frequency of “right time-right place” meetings and connections. In the summer of 2011 one of the original interns (and creators of this site) came to work with us in Kerala. In search of a project, we introduced him to Diwia Thomas to brainstorm a social entrepreneurship collaboration. That process led to an amazing joint venture paperbag making workshop with the Kerala Forestry Department.

The very first post I wrote on this site was about Diwia Thomas and her company Papertrails. It just so happens it was published exactly 5 years ago. It also just so happened that this morning my Facebook feed included the news that Diwia had been honored with the Unique Times’ Young Women Business Excellence Award 2016. Continue reading

Agripreneurship

A wonderful aspect of both young people and entrepreneurs is their ability to find creative solutions to apparently insoluble problems. The two overlap beautifully within the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR) and the Youth Agripreneurs Project (YAP), where the goal is to pilot innovation to help rural communities world wide.

Kulisha, which is the verb ‘to feed’ in Swahili, the national language of Kenya, is a proposed project that addresses both the problem of creating a sustainable food source in Kenya and the extractive fishing methods of coastal trawlers. Aquaculture is an important food industry in East Africa, but the method of using fish meal from wild caught anchovies is destructive on all levels. Kulisha’s goal is to produce sustainable fish feed in Kenya made from black soldier fly larva.

Our idea, Kulisha, will provide a low-cost, high-quality sustainable fish feed made from black soldier fly larvae. We will sell dried insects to these rural fish farmers to replace the anchovies they are using to mix their own. In addition, we’ll produce a nutrient-rich fertilizer as a by-product from raising the insects which will be sold at a low cost to local crop farmers. It is our long term goal to formulate and sell our own feed. Continue reading

Israel to India, To Build Forests

Sadhana Forest shows local people in India, Haiti, and Kenya how to plant trees in dry regions – and improve their lives. PHOTO: Sadhana

Sadhana Forest shows local people in India, Haiti, and Kenya how to plant trees in dry regions – and improve their lives. PHOTO: Sadhana

Do you believe in a literary cosmos? I do. In the seemingly innocuous collision of two pieces of writing SO removed from each other that they are all that similar. Two articles – one found last evening for work, one chanced upon during the routine Instagram surf on the way to work. One standing out in the mayhem of a news feed; the incredible story of an Israeli man and his wife moving to India in 2003 and buying 70 acres of barren land. To build, sustain a forest. Reafforestation, to be clear. The other titled The Builder’s High. Yes, I’m ‘building’ this up.

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Venice’s First and Only Gondoliera

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In 2009, 23-year-old Giorgia Boscolo overcame one of Italy’s last all-male bastions (for 900 years) to become a certified gondolier. PHOTO: BBC

Travel empowers. Not just the map-toting, lens-faced tourists but also the people who make travel possible. Often, mere faces. Rarely remembered by their names for their service. Giorgia Boscolo is an exception. She’s a rare breed, in a league of her own on Venice’s canals. Should your travel plans point towards this city, do catch a glimpse of this spirit who sails right through 900 years of taboo.

As a little girl in Venice, Giorgia Boscolo was forever bugging her father to let her ride with him in his gondola. While her three sisters played with their dolls, she would beg him for a turn with the remo, or oar. Dante Boscolo, an indulgent Italian father, humored his pint-sized shadow — to a point.

“My father only let me row when it was bad weather,” Giorgia recalled with a laugh.

His retort was swift: “That’s how you learn.”

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Entrepreneurship, Ghana and Bamboo Bikes

In the early days of this site I wrote with enthusiasm about High Design bamboo bikes. We can’t overstate the importance of bicycles in both rural and urban environments.

Ghanian Entrepreneur Bernice Dapaah’s work is not only empowering the women who she employs in making bamboo bicycles, but the product should serve as an inspiration to people worldwide,  Continue reading

The Mountain Spirit

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The Ladakhi Women’s Travel Company, the first to be completely owned and operated by women in the area, is all about empowering women and promotes ecotourism. PHOTO: Thrillophilia 

A trip to India is incomplete without visiting the hallowed Taj Mahal and the many palaces up north. And the world-famous backwaters of Kerala and the hill stations across Southern India. What should figure on travel itineraries without a doubt: Leh-Ladakh. A  favorite getaway among domestic travelers, this mountainous region – with its bounty of snow-kissed peaks and crystal blue waters – is every color dream come true. Here’s visual proof. And if you do make it there, look up the Ladakhi Women’s Travel Company.

How many women does it take to start an all-women travel company, set up a women’s welfare network for women in distress, write tirelessly on social and environmental issues, win a bronze at the National Ice Hockey Championship, and keep training an ever-growing number of women to be professional trekking guides in the harsh terrain of Ladakh? Just one, if that woman happens to be Thinlas Chorol. 

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Notes from a Natural History Museum

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I recently had the chance to visit the Harvard Natural History Museum. Despite having lived in Cambridge for nearly a year, and having often thought about visiting the museum when I passed by going to and from my apartment, I had not stopped in until now. What a treat! The collections are full, diverse, and well curated. On this occasion, I spent most of my time in the animal wing, but I plan to return soon to take in the flora and minerals, and spend much more time in choice display rooms (e.g. the absolutely gorgeous Mammals/Birds of the World permanent exhibit: see below for pictures).

A ground sloth skeleton. It is hard to get an idea of the size of this creature from this photo, but it probably weighed several tons while alive!

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