Ecological Impact of Temples

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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.

Source
  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.
  2. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/thiruvananthapuram/pilgrims-must-keep-forest-discipline/
  3. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/thiruvananthapuram/plastic-waste-kills-elephant-near-pamba/
  4. https://scroll.in/article/831827/religion-versus-conservation-tirupati-temple-forest-department-fight-over-the-indian-civet

Planned Obsolescence Wastes Non-renewable Resources

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Planned obsolescence or built-in obsolescence is one of the strategies that industries use to create markets and rake in profits, at the cost of environment. This is a topic that gets covered only occasionally in the media.

Image credits: Pixabay

This practice is so well entrenced in businesses, it has earned a place in Investopedia, whose definition is that ‘Planned obsolescence is a purposefully implemented strategy that ensures the current version of a given product will become out-of-date or useless within a known time period’ (1).

It started in 1924, when the lifespan of light bulbs were reduced from 2500 hours to 1000 to make more profits. A 2016 BBC report notes that it was in 1950s that a word was coined to name this practice that has come to stay. Planned obsolescence has come a long way, and its use is now most prevalent in the electronic industry (2).

Besides reducing the lifespan, there are other ways that industries use to make a product redundant. The most common method is to make it difficult to repair the product by replacing components. One way this is achieved is by stopping the production of spare parts after a while, as is often seen in the case of cars. So owners of functional but old cars are forced to buy new models.

Or now-a-days, product design is also to blame. Different small parts are fused together, as in a smartphone making it nearly impossible for consumers to replace parts, even the batteries. Where batteries can be replaced, their lifespan is also restricted or they are very expensive. For example, in one of their latest survey of 15 smartphones in 2017, Greenpeace found that batteries could be replaced in only two models. Once again this makes it necessary to throw the whole applicance away and replace it with a new one (3).

In many cases there are no extra benefits associated with purchase of new models for consumers. Many improved features are not completely used or necessary. However in many cases consumers have no choice. Initially it was hardware that was targetted, now software compatiblity can also be a problem in computers (4).

The amount of electronic waste or e-waste produced due to discarded electronic applicances is staggering. In ‘2014 alone, e-waste from small IT products like smartphones was estimated to be 3 million metric tons. Less than an estimated 16 percent of global e-waste is recycled’, according to Greenpeace (3).

Production of toxic waste is not the only problem created by planned obsolescence. Nearly 60 metals are used to produce smartphones, some which are rare metals, and more and more resources have to be mined for production of new items. In many cases, forests are cut down to extract the metals. So environment is degraded when excessive consumption leads to pollution through creation of e-waste and niming, and by degrading forests (5, 6).

In addition, worldwide e-waste is exported to cheap but unsafe recycling facilities in developing countries. People and children employed in these recycling units, suffer severe health problems according to World Health Organisation (7).

One of the reasons consumers have not resisted this practice is that many do not know of the extent of this problem. Another reason, is that consumers have bought the arguement sold by the industries, that changing and buying new models is necessary or something to be desired as a status symbol (4).

The use-and-throw culture that has resulted wastes resources. Ballpoint pens, computer cartridges or yearly new fashions in clothes are some other examples one comes across in daily life. To combat this trend, where possible one should make a consious choice. For instance, buy smartphones where batteries can be changed; opt for refill pens; ask for products with longer lifespans (8, 9, 10). Some more suggestions are given at the website Brandingbeat for everyday problems.

This is a problem that can be fixed without comprising the benefits of continous new convienences for consumers. At present the linear economical model is used, where materials are used for production; at the end of a product’s life, the materials are discarded as waste. However, there are circular economies, of which ‘cradle-to-cradle’ is an example, which do not ‘demonise manufacturing processes’, and yet are environemntally friendly (1).

This system relies on creating an circular economy, where products are designed and produced so that after use, the different components can be separated, and used again to make the same product or provide raw material. For every cycle of production there is no need to extract fresh resources, so the technology and production process are sustainable.

This concept is not just theory and there are many technologies that have successfully used this principle around the world in the past two decades in Europe, and Asia-Pacific countries. This approach can help to overcome problems created by continous production of new models (6, 11).

Each consumer has buying power. They can use this to create demand for sustainable products. Demand greener technologies, without sacrificing comfort and convienences.

 

 

Sources

1. http://www.investopedia.com/terms/p/planned_obsolescence.asp

2. http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20160612-heres-the-truth-about-the-planned-obsolescence-of-tech

3. http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/makingwaves/smarphones-planet-toxic-waste/blog/58828/

4. https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/mar/23/were-are-all-losers-to-gadget-industry-built-on-planned-obsolescence

5. http://www.electronicstakeback.com/toxics-in-electronics/wheres-the-harm-extraction/

6. http://www.mcdonough.com/speaking-writing/the-cradle-to-cradle-alternative/#.VmByo17fkmg

7. http://www.who.int/ceh/risks/ewaste/en/

8. http://inspiredeconomist.com/2012/10/25/planned-obsolescence-and-the-bic-effect-part-6/

9. https://www.qualitylogoproducts.com/blog/planned-obsolescence-5-products/

10. http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/g202/planned-obsolescence-460210/

11. http://business-ethics.com/2011/03/11/1414-opinion-the-cradle-to-cradle-approach-to-environmental-protection/

 

Managing Pets

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Image credits: Pixabay

In the archipelago of Bermuda two endemic species have been threatened by domestic animals that human occupiers brought along with them.

The Bermuda Rock skink (Plestiodon longirostris) are one of the rarest lizards in the world. They are considered to be a critically endangered species living in small scattered groups; there is only one subpopulation of 240 adults that is viable and will be able to continue according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) (1). Loss of habitats and predation by domestic dogs, cats, pigs and rats are responsible for the decline in their numbers

The second species, Bermuda petrel (Pterodroma cahow) was considered to be extinct for three hundred years due to predation by domestic animals (dogs, cats, pigs and rats) and hunting by people. 18 pairs of these petrels were rediscovered in 1951, and were conserved by an intensive program that has ensured there were105 nesting pairs by 2013 according to the Cornell Lab of Orinthology. The recovery program which is considered a global success, happens mainly on Nonsuch an island where there are no domestic animals (2).

Bermudas is not an isolated case. The IUCN considers cats as one of the top 100 invasive species that are responsible for the extinction of 14% of birds, reptiles and mammals that have evolved in islands without predators (3). The Scientific American suggests that there are just too many cats out there (4).

The impact that pets have is unfortunately not confined only to islands.

Loss and his associates have published a research paper in Nature that reports that in the USA alone, ‘domestic cats kill 1.3–4.0 billion birds and 6.3–22.3 billion mammals’ each year. Though un-owned cats are more responsible than owned cats, it is important to note that the scientists include farm cats, and semi-strays/pets as unowned pets. Cats are therefore the main anthropogenic or man-made reason for bird and mammal mortality (5).

The doctoral thesis by E. A. Silva, found that 180 mammals worldwide are threatened by stray dogs or semi-strays, so dogs are just as invasive as cats. According to him, ‘Domestic dogs are the most abundant carnivores worldwide.’ The less care and food they receive from their owners, the more dogs turn to hunting (6, page 13).

There are an estimated 600 million cats in the world, and 480 million are stray (7). The same is true about dogs. There are 600 million dogs in the world and 480 million are strays according to World Animal Protection International figures (8).

This begs the question of why people keep pets. And why so many?

This article will not explore these issue. People who have pets or plan to have pets will hopefully ask themselves these questions. Even if (prospective) owners have the means to keep many pets, they need to consider the environmental impact they can have through their pets. In places where dogs are required to be kept on lease in the developed countries, there is no restriction on the movement of cats, leaving them free to roam around killing birds and other small animals. So the responsibility is entirely the owners.

In case of dogs there is a human cost involved too. Dogs are responsible for 99% of the deaths due to rabies, and at least 15 million people are bitten by dogs every year according to the World Health Organisation (9). According to 2016 figures from the World Organisation for Animal Health 60,000 people die each year due to rabies, and most of whom are children (10).

While nobody is denying the rights of people to have pets, they need to be aware of the problems they create for others through their pets. Frequently, owners have more than one dog or cat.

Many people do not like dogs and cats and may even fear them, but have no influence over a situation that is harmful to them or the environment they care about. Animal management programs and regulations should be guided by ecological and human health issues besides welfare for the pets.

Sources

1. http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/8218/0

2. http://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/portal/species/overview?p_p_spp=700756

3. http://www.iucngisd.org/gisd/species.php?sc=24

4. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/culturing-science/killer-cats/

5. http://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms2380

6. Silva EA. 2012. Domestic dogs as invasive species: from local to global impacts. PhD thesis. University of Florida. http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0044028/00001

7. http://carocat.eu/statistics-on-cats-and-dogs/

8. http://www.carodog.eu/statistics-on-cats-and-dogs/

9. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs099/en/

10. http://www.oie.int/animal-health-in-the-world/rabies-portal/

Up To Us

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Image credits: Pixabay

 

The polar ice caps will melt completely in twenty years reports the Guardian (1). When this happens, the absent icecaps will no longer affect only the polar bears or penguins or dozens of other species. Without the cooling effect of the ice caps, global warming will accelerate, with all its attendant impacts hitting the world soon (2).

People need to increase their efforts to fight climate change. It is up to each one of us. Governments and industries will never be leaders of any change. Change in policy and industries been always driven by consumer choice and demand.

Consider for example, the demand of nuclear energy in Germany. The Energytransition.org traces the origin of the Green Party in Germany in 1970s to the anti-nuclear movement. When they came to power before the end of the millennium, they decided to phase out nuclear energy by 2020s. The Fukushima disaster only strengthened and hastened this resolution (3).

It is no longer possible to rely entirely on government policies or wait for innovations from the industries. The prosperity of the last century needs to be tempered with care for the environment. Traditional life before mechanisation started ensured a simple and frugal life with less impact on the environment. The excess consumption created by rapidly advancing technology has to go hand in hand with a conscious effort not to pollute.

People do not have to give up modern amenities or conveniences be environmentally friendly. Nor is it necessary to spend more money. The change needed is nonetheless not going to be easy as it means rethinking habits of consumption. Some goods such as organic food purchased can be expensive, but with the benefit of some planning, to reduce waste or excessive spending, there is no additional expenditure needed.

Each individual needs to be mindful of their energy use at home, the mileage they drive or fly, and the food or other materials they buy.

Sources

1. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/nov/03/your-carbon-footprint-destroys-30-square-metres-of-arctic-sea-ice-a-year

2. https://ec.europa.eu/clima/change/consequences_en

3. https://energytransition.org/2015/08/german-nuclear-phase-out-is-economically-sensible/