Fridays for Future

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Solutions

Having chosen to be an ecologist, I have worked on small projects, and have adopted an eco-friendly lifestyle, and have hoped that I was having an impact however little. Unfortunately, all the good intentions and actions of environmentalists or concerned citizens have not been enough to halt or even slow the degradation of the environment and the climate.

Every time ecologists and scientists warn of the condition of the world, it is brushed aside, and business continues as usual. It is a matter of regret and shame for me that young school children have to take to the streets to protect their future. They seem to have understood what politicians and big businesses can’t understand or won’t accept.

After joining the demonstrations in Frankfurt for a few weeks, a group of students, which included my son, decided it was time to bring the demonstrations to Weilburg, the town the school was situated. I joined the demonstrations to do my bit. Jürgen Becker, my husband decided to pitch in and help by formally applying for permission from the township mayor and the police, the “Ordnungsamt.”

The young demonstrators did the rest themselves. A WhatsApp group was quickly formed among five schools in the city. More than 200 students aged 10 to 18 years took part in the first climate demonstration in Weilburg on 1st March 2019.

Weilburg, in Germany, is a quiet city with just 14,000 inhabitants, and it’s been a very long time since any demonstrations have been held here. So when the preparations started, the local newspaper Mittelhessen announced the planned action to its readers.

The weather was good, not wet or windy. Before 10 am, the students from schools began gathering together. The police were there with two cars and six staff. At their request, seven students who were over 18 years old were asked to take on the role of monitoring the group. They put on their orange vests and listened nervously to the instructions given by the police. Keep your friends to one side of the road they were told; make place for traffic on the main road.

The younger demonstrations in the meanwhile lined up in front, holding up the big banner eager to start. Only caps were visible from a couple of the youngest behind the banner. We are here to demonstrate, let’s start they stomped impatiently, while the group waited for all to assemble.

Then they started to move, shouting slogans and waving their – mostly – handmade banners. A police car escorted them in front, and one was behind, and many officers were on foot. The police took good care of the young demonstrators, clearing the traffic, and standing guard at crossroads. The group wound its way through the residential areas, and after half a kilometer, a second group joined them, and they get down the main road.

The lanes in Weilburg rang to slogans such as:

  • “What do we want? Climate Justice. When do we want it? Now”
  • “Wir sind hier, wir sind laut, weil man uns die Zukunft klaut” (We are here, we are loud because you are robbing our future)
  • “Hopp, Hopp, Hopp, Kohle stopp” (Hop to it, Stop Coal)

It was clear the students were engaged and had informed themselves of the environmental problems and their causes that has led us to our present quandary. They were also very aware of the consequences. The group had many creative banners to show this:

  • Planet before Profit
  • Don’t Melt our Planet
  • There is No Planet B
  • The Planet needs Trump care
  • Make our world great again
  • “Umweltschutz statt Umweltschmutz” (Save the environment instead of exploiting it)
  • “Grünkohl statt Braunkohle” (Green fuel instead of coal)
  • “Badehose raus, das Meer kommt” (Bring out your swimwear, the sea is coming)
  • “Lasst die Erde atmen” (Let the earth breathe)

There were some light-hearted takes as well:

  • The Planet is getting hotter than young Leonardo DiCaprio
  • “Man serviert Bier nicht warm” (You don’t serve beer warm)

The Education Ministry and schools have taken a dim view of the students’ strikes for climate or “Klimastreik.” At the behest of the ministry, schools are warning students from skipping classes. Missed classes will be entered into the report card of students. Some schools are going further and have levied a fine as a penalty, prompting a petition that is gaining wide support. Some schools are more understanding, and have agreed to mention that the absence is due to participation in ‘Fridays For Future.’

The group took on the increasing criticism from conservative quarters for the Friday Demonstrations with many placards:

  • “Wir lernen nicht für eine zerstörte Zukunft” (We aren’t studying for a destroyed future)
  • “Mit Fehlstunden können wir leben, mit Klimawandel nicht” (We can live with missed classes, but not Climate Change)
  • “Wir retten die Welt” (We are saving the world)
  • “Für unsere Zukunft” (For Our Future)

The reaction by all – politicians, the public, and schools has been only about the timing of the strikes. They want children to strike after school hours. What is missing are proposals for concrete action by the government to tackle climate change, to meet targets they accepted in the Paris Agreement 2015. This is in spite of Chancellor Angela Merkel coming out in support of the student strikes.

People insist student should be attending classes to study. Schools, education experts, and parents know that there are many kinds of learning, and the theoretical approach is only one of them. It is for this reason that schools include sports, music, theatre, art, excursions, etc., as part of the curriculum.

The students on their Friday for Future demonstrations two weeks ago showed what they are learning from the climate strike:

  • Event Planning: Organising and coordinating an event with five schools and 200 people is no mean feat.
  • Assuming responsibility for their actions: The missed classes marked in the report could well affect the chances of the older students to get into a university or course of their choice in a year or two.
  • Self-discipline: Even though the students broke school rules to stay away from classes, they conducted themselves responsibly and obeyed instructions given to them by the police.
  • Mutual respect: Regardless of their age, all demonstrators got along well with each other, in sharp contrast to the culture of bullying younger children that can occur at school.
  • Becoming proactive: The students have shown that they can take the initiative, and look for solutions instead of whining and waiting for other people to solve their problems.
  • To go outside: People who complain that children spend all their time in front of computers or mobile phone will be happy to know that the children were out doing something together in the open.
  • Cleaning up after them: Instructions given by officers of the law are harder to ignore than those from parents!
  • Thinking for themselves: Last but not least, the students are beginning to take stock of facts, thinking about it, and coming to their own decisions.

I was very proud of my child that day; any parent would feel the same about their children if they had been there.

The match ended in the City Square where the students called on the government to discuss their demands and make the necessary changes to protect the environment. So far none of the governments in the world have taken the young protestors seriously.

To the young people, I can only say, we hear you. We are with you in your struggle. We support your demonstrations and will work harder to tackle climate change.


How Cordgrass Helps Ribbed Mussels

Posted on 5 CommentsPosted in Nature dynamics

A beach is a lovely place for people to go on a holiday, but it can be a challenging place for plants and animals to survive. The waves are constantly buffeting and shifting the sands. It may be fun for a while, to watch the waves sweep the ground away from under your feet when you are walking down the beach. Yet, even people avoid the sea during storms and powerful waves.

Plants and animals need to adapt if they are to live in these harsh and dynamic environments. Crabs burrow into the sand to avoid the constant turmoil of waves. The non-burrowers have to find other ways of dealing with the vagaries of the sea, like growing with the cordgrass. If the beach is made of cobblestones instead of sand, life can be harder for plants and animals.

Smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) is a grass that grows half a metre to three metres high and is a summer bloomer. The taller members of this species grow on the water edge while the shorter grass is found in pannes and upper marshes.

Smooth cordgrass occurs on sand and cobblestone beaches. It is the only plant that can thrive on its own in the rough conditions prevalent on the coast. All other plants grow only where the cordgrass grows.

So how does the smooth cordgrass help other plants and animals?

In the Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island, United States of America, the estuary is protected, and the waves are below one metre in height. Here two algae and 12 herbs grow associated with the smooth cordgrass. Four are perennials, and eight are annuals. At any place though there are only two to three species growing together (1).

The tall cordgrass grows to form narrow, compact beds that reduces wave action and stabilizes the substrate.

You may have heard of trees being used as windbreaks to protect a farm. Cordgrass also acts as a barrier and reduces the velocity of waves by half. During storms, the cordgrass reduces wave speed to a tenth of its force. So the water behind the cordgrass is buffered from the sea and is calmer. This keeps the substrate stable.

A substrate or ground is the surface in which a plant or other immobile animals grow. On land, the soil is the common substrate. In Narragansett Bay, the substrate is made mainly of cobblestones.

The cobblestone beach has large cobbles five to 25 centimetres in size. So this means the soil is not waterlogged, nor saline. Individual cobbles can be swept and tossed around by waves. So the ground is unsettled.

The cordgrass grows above the Mean Low Water (MLW); about one to one and a half metres above the Mean Low Water (MLW). The Mean Low Water is the average height of water at low tides and is calculated based on a specific 19 year period for a place (2).

Scientists wanted to find out why other plants and animals are found only with cordgrass.

There are many annual and perennial plants that manage to grow thanks to cordgrass. These include sea blite (Suaeda linearis) and common glasswort (Saliscornia eropaea), algae (Chondruscrispus and Ulva spp.), and two perennials sea lavender (Limonium nashii) and woody glasswort (Salicornia virginica).

Image credits: Donna Bilkovic/CCRM-VIMS

Then there is a bivalve the ribbed mussel (Geukensia demissa) that the cordgrass also helps. The ribbed mussels are ten centimetres long and have shells that are yellowish-brown to brownish black coloured on the outside and glossy on the inside.

The ribbed mussels live partially buried in the soil and are attached to the smooth cordgrass roots by byssal threads. Byssal threads are strong, elastic thread-like strands secreted from the mussel’s byssus gland.

Ribbed mussels live for 15 years and can tolerate the salinity of sea water. They are, however, sensitive to heat. Temperatures more than 45 degrees Celsius can be lethal (3).

The bare cobblestones can reach temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius during summer. So the shade from the cordgrass can sometimes be a lifesaver. However, the main reason they grow with the smooth cordgrass is that they offer a stable substrate.

There were 80 ribbed mussels in a square metre found growing with smooth cordgrass. That is twice as many as the 30 ribbed mussels found in a square metre of empty cobblestones in inter-beds. The ribbed mussels avoid being dislodged and washed away by strong currents or storms by binding themselves to cordgrass roots. Moreover, there are three times more young ribbed mussels drawn to places where there are adult mussels. So the ribbed mussel community quickly grows large (4).

Since cordgrass influences the survival of many plants and animals, it is considered to be an ecosystem engineer. Plants and animals which create new habitats, or change existing ones are called ecosystem engineers. Their activities or presence alter their environment for the good or bad of others. In the case of cordgrass, their engineering is beneficial to others.

Similarly, ribbed mussels also make the substrate stronger, when they live tangled in the roots of the cordgrass. This reinforces the positive effects of the smooth cordgrass. Other animals are quick to exploit the firm surface and move in.

Thus the ribbed mussel acts as a secondary ecosystem engineer. So a hierarchy of ecosystem engineers is formed that boosts a habitat.

Where there is no cordgrass, there are no amphipods (Gammarus spp.) or blue mussels (Mytilus edulis) found. These two beneficiaries grow with cordgrass even when there are no ribbed mussels in the community.

However, the combined effect of the cordgrass and ribbed mussels increases the number of animals that can live with them. With cordgrass alone, there are 2000 barnacles, 100 blue mussels and 80 ampipods in a square metre. With ribbed mussels and cordgrass, there are five times more barnacles (10,000) and blue mussels (500), and 20 percent more ampipods in a square metre.

Acorn barnacles (Semibalanus balanoides) and periwinkle snails (Littorina littorea) snails, are attracted to ribbed mussels and grow on them whether they are with cordgrass or not.

There are also small crevices formed in between the shells of ribbed mussels. Small animals such as the gammarid amphipods live in these cervices and escape predators. There are 200 species of these tiny creatures. Gammarid amphipods are one to 140 millimetres in length and are an important food source for many fish, invertebrates and birds (5).

Young blue mussels a delicacy much sought out by people, also thrive in the crevices between ribbed mussels (6).

In this hierarchy of ecosystem engineers, the cordgrass can grow without help from any other organism. All the other plants or animals including the ribbed mussel are dependent on cordgrass. Then there are others dependent on ribbed mussel and therefore indirectly also on cordgrass. The joint beneficial effect produced by both ecosystem engineers on the survival of other animals is the third reason.

Some negative interactions also happen in this community. There is competition between barnacles and blue mussels for space. Snails graze on the cordgrass and crabs predate on blue mussels. But that is part of nature too.

  1. Bruno JF. 2000. Facilitation of cobble beach plant communities through habitat modification by Spartina alterniflora. Ecology 81:1179-1192
  2. (Retrieved on 18.05.16)
  3. (Retrieved on 18.05.16)
  4. Altieri AH, Brian R, Silliman BR and MD Bertness. 2007. Hierarchical Organization via a Facilitation Cascade in Intertidal Cordgrass Bed Communities. The American Naturalist 169: 195-206
  5. (Retrieved on 18.05.16)
  6. (Retrieved on 18.05.16)

Mango and Elderberry

Posted on 4 CommentsPosted in Migration Blues

Lemonade or limbu-pani was the staple we wanted something fresh and refreshing on warm afternoons, or when we returned home from the heat outside. The plethora of fruit juices in the supermarkets these days were missing when I was a child. Come summer, there were the seasonal delights like mango juice and grape juice. For the extra thirst the year round, there was always lemonade.

Among the more unusual summer juice was the raw mango juice or Aam Panna. This was as refreshing and light as lemonade, because it was mainly water with the cooked pulp of raw mango and sugar added to taste. There was a short window of time when this greenish drink could be enjoyed.

In Germany the elderberry cordial would be the equivalent of cool raw mango juice. Elderberry cordial is made using the fragrant tiny white flowers that appear around the end of May. Elderberry flower juice or holundeer bluten saft as it is called in German is a concentrate that is diluted with water as a drink in its own right. Or it is added to alcoholic drinks like sekt, the local German variety of champagne.

Elderberry is a weedy climber that grows as part of hedges or in forest openings. I head to woods or its edges to collect these flowers. Two walks in the woods every year are dedicated to this task. I spent a lovely Sunday morning collecting them again this year. It was a sunny day, and there were elderberries everywhere in bloom, and you could smell them in the air.

The flowers are soaked overnight in water, and they lose their pollen and fragrance to the water. Sugar and lemon juice are the other ingredients. Now I have a supply of summer fragrance bottled up, that I can use through the next months. This is the main difference between elderberry cordial and Aam Panna, which we never stored, but drank immediately. Not that there was any problem finishing it.

I have never seen elderberry cordial sold in supermarkets, just as you won’t find Aam Panna sold in supermarkets or restaurants, and yet they are readily welcomed by family and friends.

Everyplace has its special little treats, and I consider myself lucky to be able to enjoy both these drinks.

There Is No Getting Away From Mothers

Posted on 12 CommentsPosted in Migration Blues

Image credits: Pixabay

Indians are prone to hero worshipping. This is most apparent in the cult following that film stars inspire. Though politicians are usually regarded with disfavor, a few do have faithful followers.

In a land that revers goddesses, it is perhaps not surprising that many women have managed to occupy top political positions. India has seen many women Chief Ministers, and Indira Gandhi was the second woman worldwide to be voted as head of a nation. (After Sirimavo Bandaranaike, who was the world’s first woman Prime Minister).

Looking back, I see that ‘Mothers’ in public spheres entered my life and have held sway since I moved away from home to study and work. The first was ‘The Mother’, Mirra Alfassa of Auroville and the Aurobindo Ashram. Nobody who has lived or visited Pondicherry can miss her influence on life and culture in this erstwhile French colony. She was recognized as ‘Supreme Mother’ by none less than her spiritual mentor Sri Aurobindo.

Looking for work, I landed in neighbouring Tamil Nadu (TN).  Just a couple of years after my move, Jayalalitha, a popular film actress was elected as Chief Minister of TN for the first time.

Since then she was in and out of power, because incumbency is the main factor deciding which of the two main political parties the electorate votes to power. Neither Jayalalitha, nor her management of the state was free of controversy, and there have been many charges of corruption against her. However, there is no doubting her popularity amongst the people in Tamil Nadu, especially women. She targeted women, with election promises from gas stoves, pressure cookers to colour television sets. It was no wonder that she soon began to be called ‘Amma’ or mother by her followers. ‘Amma’ remained popular till the very end, and her sudden death in 2016 plunged Tamil Nadu politics into chaos that it still has not recovered from.

Germany, I considered was going to be free of this kind of hero worship, partly because westerners visiting India like to mock this as an Indian idiosyncrasy. People though are not so different wherever they may live. So imagine my surprise, when I found that Angela Merkel a repeat Chancellor was called ‘Mutti’ or mother. She seems to have earned herself this title due to her party’s efforts to sell her as a ‘trustable pair of hands’, a simple but solid personality.

Merkel’s ‘Mutti-hood’ was strengthened when she opened the doors to refugees in 2015. In the latest election though her hold on power was reduced, nobody in her party or in the opposition considered anybody else as a chancellor candidate. He opponents from other parties have been compared to adolescents sulking at a mother!

It was that this point that I began to notice that ‘Mothers’ in the public sphere had become a prevalent feature in my life. It is not every person, let alone politician who can claim this title or nickname. There can be doubt that Merkel has been a competent and a strong ruler. So contrast her ‘Mutti-hood’ with that of other strong stateswoman.  Indira Gandhi was the ‘Iron Lady of India’, and Margert Thatcher ‘The Iron Lady of UK’.

Similarly, consider Mamta Banjerjee another popular Indian Chief Minister and a politician reportedly with the greatest mass appeal at present in Bengal. She is neither ‘Ma’ (mother in Bengali) nor Iron Lady. She is the Didi (elder sister) ready to take on Delhi and lead the country. Maybe once that happens she will become Ma of India. Jayalalitha in contrast became Amma early in her career.

Curiously enough both Jayalalitha and Merkel have no children of their own. Even though the land both the women governed have prospered under them, there is not much in common in style or substance with these ‘Mothers’. Jayalalitha was dodged by charges of corruption and led a lavish lifestyle, while Merkel is well known for her simple apartment and love for her weekend cottage garden. So what makes one stateswoman, ‘Mother’ and not another? I do not know and it is beside the point.

The point is wherever I decide to live, there is apparently going to be a ‘Mother’ at the helm of affairs.

Ecological Impact of Temples

Posted on 3 CommentsPosted in Where We Are

Image credits: Pixabay

It is common knowledge that loss and degradation of habitats, capture of animals and pollution are affecting forest health.  What is less known is the role that religion plays in these phenomena (1).

Some temples are known to harbour and preserve forests as scared grooves. These are vital patches of forests that have survived deforestation for agriculture and settlements for centuries. However, the increase in mobility brings more and more pilgrims to these fragile forests impact them in various ways.

To facilitate these visits the temple authorities often cut down patches of forests to make way for new shrines, or concrete dining and resting places. Some adventurous pilgrims, venture into the neighbouring forest growth, sweep the forest floor clean of leaves, twigs and fallen branches that normally form valuable humus and feed the trees. Swept away are also all the seeds that could ensure next generation plants. The forests around the temples start resembling parks.

This is a process one sees in the tropical dry evergreen forests patches along the Coromandel Coast. New shrines start as open air temples with an idol, and an attendant priest who clearly earns his income from the new development. With increasing patronage, more and more concretisation occurs with associated ripples of forest degradation.

It is not easy to convince the temple authorities to change, as these scared grooves are private temple properties and do not come under the jurisdiction of the Forest Department.

The fate of forests that do fall under government control is not much better. The Forest officers in Sabarimala are not able to stop littering in the reserved wet rainforests one of the biodiversity hot spots in the world (2). Salty foods inside plastic bags have proved irresistible to animals, including elephants. Though the forest department makes an effort to collect litter from the roadside, any plastic wrap smeared with food that is blown into the surrounding forests are eaten by animals with disastrous consequences.

The latest report by Times of India that an elephant was found dead near Sabrimala because its vital organs had failed due to consumption of plastic is of great concern. Moreover, this is not the first animal that has suffered this fate (3).

There are many scared temples seated in the middle of forests atop hills and mountains, that pilgrims like to reach on foot (Pada Yatra). Temple authorities provide lighting for the convenience and safety of travellers. This light achieves its purpose by driving animals away from the road. However, for the nocturnal animals this means their path across this road is cut, and the light pollution is a form of stress for them (1).

Aside from these impacts, temples also unfortunately are involved in capturing wild animals. The largest temple in India the Tirumala Tirupati Temple/Devasthanam uses punugu, an aromatic secretion from the small Indian civet to anoint the statue of the deity. To do this they had earlier held many civet cats captive at the temple to be able to collect and use the secretion. According to Scroll, in 2013, the Forest Department filed a criminal case against the temple for violating the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, as the act outlaws domestication of wildlife. The court hearing four years later ruled in favour of the temple (4).

This happened at a time when the right-wing Hindu party BJP has been ruling at the Centre, and parties and clubs associated with the BJP have been murdering people in the pretext of protecting cows. These groups’ passion for nature unfortunately is focused only on cows, not to mention a disregard for human life.

Pilgrimage may well have been the ancient cultural way to get people in India to travel and broaden their horizon. This right cannot be denied to modern Hindus. However, it is necessary to educate people of the consequences of their action, given the change in life styles and use of modern materials. Some bans against plastic use, and other changes in behavior are vital. People who are on a pilgrimage surely would be open to considering philosophical questions and their place in the world and nature, and hopefully their responsibility to limit the damage they carry in their wake.

It is necessary to first create awareness among temple authorities so that they agree to introduce and implement measures that protect nature around them and in their care. This could well make nature conservation in the day to day life of people after the pilgrim also a possibility, if people remember lessons learned in temples.

  1. Patange, Priyanka & Dandapani, Shrinithivihahshini & Mahajan, D. 2013. Pilgrimage and the environment: Challenges in a pilgrimage centre in Maharashtra, India. International Journal Of Environmental Sciences. 3: 2269-2277. 10.6088/ijes.2013030600043.

Self- Identity

Posted on 3 CommentsPosted in Migration Blues

All the changes that I experienced in Germany were not external. Some uncomfortable and surprising changes occurred in me. One of them was a change in my self-identity.

Living in India, I had considered myself a world citizen. I was an Indian among Indians, who believed the world was shrinking into a global village with the spread of internet, and I considered it a welcome change. It was after all the only way forward for humanity.

My relocation to Germany I believed would intensify my global outlook. However, in a foreign state, I was constantly confronted with my Indian roots.

Every time I met a stranger, people wanted to know where I came from. It was a perfectly innocent and simple question.

Each time I replied with, “I am an Indian”.

Repeat something enough number of times, and it starts sinking into your consciousness, and you can no longer ignore it. Not that I didn’t know I am an Indian. But it had never been an important part of my identity. It was not necessary till now. I never was nor am an anti-national, but I was never a nationalist.

Our roots remain important however far or however long we stay away from our country. Even if I take up German citizen, I would still be a German-Indian. This labelling sticks to even second and third generation immigrant citizens.

I am not the first to experience this heightened sense of identity with one’s nation of origin. My husband once commented that it was almost impossible for him to forget that he was a foreigner in India. It though does mean that however much you may want, it is not possible to blend into the new community.

One can aim to integrate, but it also has its consequences. There are many second-generation Turks in German, who are born and brought up in Germany and hold German citizenship. They complain that in Germany they are still seen as Turks, but in Turkey they are considered Germans.

Many Indians this year are also reflecting on their place in the country and the identity of their country, even if they have not left its shores. With the rise of fascism, and a surge in anti-social activities by the Hindu right-wing party and its sibling organisation, this Republic day was not one that Indians could ignore as usual.

The Republic Day and Independence Day were usually occasions to relax completely, without the burdening of celebrating any religious festival. This time however, many are realising that the country they grew up in has suddenly taken a turn that many could not have thought possible. The whole country is polarised in a way that I have never seen before, along not just religious lines but also ideology among Hindus.

On a lighter note, back here in Germany, I am confronted with other things that are quintessentially Indian. When I tell perfect strangers about my origin, some women seem pleased to learn from where I come and start gushing praises for the romantic movies with its romantic heroes from Bollywood. It is with difficulty that I manage not to roll my eyes in these situations; these women are after all trying to be nice and friendly. Even if I have grown up on a diet of Hindi movies, I have never associated myself with the craziness of Bollywood. Nor was I prepared to encounter Bollywood movies here. They have a following here, with Bollywood movies dubbed in German screened occassionally on popular televison channels.

It seems there is no getting away from the good, bad and the ugly of India wherever I may be.
























A Green Business Model: Cradle to Cradle

Posted on 3 CommentsPosted in Solutions


Image credits: Pixabay

The importance of new business models like Cradle to Cradle cannot be emphasised enough. It promotes circular economy and sustainability by reducing resource drain and waste production.

The closed loop Cradle to Cradle design breaks free from the conventional linear model of production, consumption and disposal as waste.

Conventional production requires a continuous supply of new materials, whether they are non-renewable metals or renewable bio-based materials. Mining for new materials not only destroys fragile ecosystems, but metals being limited in supply will eventually diminish to a point where mining them becomes uneconomical and unfeasible. Moreover, most of the metals have no real substitute (1). Even if bio-based materials from wood or crops are used, it places additional demand on land and other resources which can compete with production of food or fodder. This has already happened due to widespread promotion of bio-fuels.

Many production processes can also be harmful to the environment or people involved in the production. Furthermore, the design used in production of goods also generates waste at the end of the product life. The life of most products can be extended by repair, reuse and recycling. Ultimately though at least part of the materials used to make a product will end up as waste and in a landfill. This is the result of the conventional linear model.

Cradle to Cradle design differs by addressing the issue of waste not as an after-thought but during the product development and design phase. Care is taken to design products so that at the end of their life, different components can be disassembled and reused to make new products. Or the separated parts can be used to make new material. So though mined metals are used they never end as waste, and biological materials are composted. Cradle to Cradle design also depends on using materials that have no or little impact on the environment, during production and use or at the end of the product life. Use of renewable energy and avoiding pollution of water during production minimize impact during production (2).

This calls for not just scientific and technological innovations, but also a well-coordinated take-back system. Thus all sectors of the business have to function towards achieving a circular economy. Needless to say the customer’s cooperation is integral to the process.

This closed-loop model of business is becoming increasingly popular, and many countries and corporations around the world are using it. Since it was introduced in 1987, the concept has come a long way. The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute certifies products made by applying its principles. These products range from fashion products like nail polish, detergents, garments, furniture to building material (3).

In a world defined by consumerism and fast innovation, it is not always necessary to sacrifice convenience or turn frugal to save the environment. Business models like Cradle to Cradle design can provide sustainable and green solutions by avoiding many of the environmental problems created due to current production methods.



Tomorrow Morning

Posted on 68 CommentsPosted in Migration Blues

‘Never knew before what eternity was made for. It is to give some of us a chance to learn German.’ Mark Twain

One of the biggest challenges in moving to Germany was learning the language. As a language German is renowned for its not-so-subtle difference in sentence construction and use of verbs.

Germans take pride in the precision of their language, as in all other things they do. There is a specify word for everything I was told. This is especially true for technical objects and process. So as a consequence where the rest of the world makes do with phrases, Germans tag words together to provide a complete description.

This tendency is omniscient, and has gifted the world with vocabulary like ‘Schadenfreude’, which translates to ‘enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others’ according to Merrriam webster. In German it is a combination of two words Schaden’ which means harm and ‘freude’, which means joy.

However, for all their love of precision Germans do have some words that have a double meaning. None is as inconvenient as their use of ‘Morgen’. ‘Morgenmeans both tomorrow and morning. Many other German words have a double meaning like ‘kater’ which means  male cat and a hangover, but these are used in different circumstances. So if your friend tells you they have a ‘kater’ after a party, you know they are referring to a hangover and not a cat.

Sometimes though it is not easy to comprehend which ‘Morgen’ is being discussed. In all fairness German is not the only language that struggles with the concept of time. Hindi has a similar problem. ‘Kal’ means both yesterday and tomorrow. Here the tense of the verb comes to one’s rescue. In German, with tomorrow and many mornings lying in the future there is no help.

How does one say tomorrow morning I mused? Not ‘Morgen Morgen’, which is actually a greeting used in place of the formal ‘Guten Morgen’. Anybody greeting with a brief ‘Morgen’ is usually suspected of being in a bad mood.

When I confronted some Germans with the problem of trying to say tomorrow morning they were momentarily stumped. They quickly explained that they get away by sayingMorgen früh’ or ‘Morgen Vormittags’. ‘Morgen früh’ translates to early morning (‘früh’ means early), and ‘Morgen Vormittags’ as tomorrow before noon. These are not good enough I pointed out. As both these phrases are not really the same as saying tomorrow morning. The Germans understand what is being referred to I was told. It is though just one more of the mysteries of this language that an expat has to deal with.

There is also no getting away from the fact that for all their love for precision, Germans have no exact translation for tomorrow morning.



Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Migration Blues

There are few countries more different than Germany and India. Though I had visited Germany a couple of times, the culture shock I experienced moving to Germany after living for decades in India, was not little.

Visiting is an experience distinct from living in a new country, and provides an entirely different perspective. Since I had visited Germany a few times, I thought I knew what was in store for me.

However, there were many surprises, and living here, comparisons of my life in India and Germany were inevitable.



How An Individual Can Protect The Environment

Posted on 10 CommentsPosted in Solutions
Protecting Our Environment

It is easy to decry the state of the environment and talk at length about the problems. The next step of fixing the problems and clearing the mess is more difficult.

There is ample information available now on cause and effect of different pollutants that pollute air, water and land. The solutions for these problems have also been worked out. In many cases these have involved innovations that the industries have been taking advantage of in the light of demand by consumers for greener products.

The article ‘Ways to Stop Pollution‘ cites many ways that much of major pollutions can be addressed. While all pollutions involve actions by individuals, the corporate sector and the government, keep in mind that the corporate sector is producing goods that require a market and consumers.

So there is a great deal that individuals can do to fix the major environmental challenges facing the world. A scientific study by a Norwegian team published in 2015, was carried out using data from 43 countries and about 200 products. They found products made for individual use was responsible for ‘60% of GHG global emissions’. Moreover, 50% to 80% of natural resources like land, materials, and water are used to manufacture goods used by households (1). Food was a major component and was responsible for 48% to 70% of the environmental impact that a household has on the environment. They found that the developed countries have a bigger impact, but many developing countries with rising income are also major contributors to pollution (1).

So by keeping the environment in mind while making purchases, individuals can be a major driving force in protecting the environment.

The article Ways to Stop Pollution  was written for the digital magazine LoveToKnow, and was published this year, and provides some suggestions. This list is obviously not exhaustive and people can get imaginative in finding many other ways  to tackle pollution.

  1. Ivanova D, Stadler K, Steen-Olsen K, Wood R, Vita G, Tukker A and EG Hertwich. 2016. Environmental Impact Assessment of Household Consumption. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 20: 526–536. doi:10.1111/jiec.12371