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Track, engage, inspire – Revolutionary Social Media April 23, 2012

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Information is power, said Robin Morgan. And this power is gaining more and more momentum online or in the ‘new media’ sphere. It engages and empowers millions of internet users. Internetworldstats.com pitches the figure at 2267 million users worldwide.

The mediums are many- blogs, video blogs, youtube, social networking sites, online petition campaigns. This medium is fast gaining recognition for lobbying for environmental action. We all are familiar with the power of the ‘share’ and ‘like’ button, thanks to a certain Zuckerberg.

The COP meets for past few years had a number of civil society observers and independent bloggers. There were a lot of independent videos and documentaries produced. There are now official ‘tracking teams’ at such summits, each responsibly and dedicatedly reporting back to their home countries from these international forums. Though traditional media continue to report at the forefront of such events, but the dynamism and the connectedness of the online media is unmatched. Especially among the youth, it continues to be the top most source of their daily news dose.

Off late, I have realized the power of the audio-visual media to tell inspiring stories and the power of sites like Reddit, Digg, Stumble upon and of course Facebook to spread this work around.

I participated in a two month online film-making course by noted environmental film-maker Nitin Das, organised by the British Council for select climate champions from India. Short documentaries were prepared by all participants and we have been circulating this work through a group called ‘Circle of good’ on Facebook and other social media tools. It was formed with the objective of creating a platform to find an audience for our creative work (mostly of environmental and climate change advocacy category). This viral experiment is on-going and we hope to take our stories to a wide audience using social media.

I chose to make my documentary on the subject of solar energy called ‘Solar Sangh’ which tracks an initiative of two young postgraduate students trying to spread solar energy technology to the masses. In India, the target audience for solar technology is associated with villages and the rural poor. We miss out on the urban poor that form a sizable segment in our cities.

There are many such stories waiting to be told. In the coming times, youth will play a major role in taking mitigation and adaptation actions for climate change. And social media will humbly be the medium of their messages. ‘Medium is the message’ coined by Marshall McLuhan holds a new meaning.

Rozita Singh is British Council’s International Climate Champion.
If you are an environmental filmmaker (professional or amateur) or are simply interested in watching environmental films, you too can join the Circle of Good group on Facebook.

Films for the Future April 2, 2012

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What does the future hold? A question that is relevant for each of one of us. Not just as individuals, but also as a society. Our world is undergoing a period of rapid change and a lot of this development is happening at the cost of the environment.  But the positive aspect of this development is that it is connecting the world together. Helping us share knowledge, ideas and solutions.

In a world of digital media and social networks, films on environment are a very important tool to sow the seeds of awareness and inspire a large number of people

To build on this idea, we carried out a very interesting project. We worked with a small group of dedicated young people from the British Council Climate Champions network and trained them in the art of filmmaking over a period of 2 months.

Given below is a selection of some of the films that were made by the climate champions.

    • Film by Ayush  (Save Electricity) – “Through this film I have thematically tried to bridge the gap between our daily-practices and their indirect but definite impact on the environment” says Aayush.
    • Film by Dinesh (Car Pooling) – “Cars, cars everywhere; not a hint of movement’, this was the thought in Dinesh’s mind when he made this film.
    • Film by Tanya (Plastic Bottle Reuse) – Tanya feels that “waste pickers in Pune have always been doing work that is beneficial for the environment, but have never really received their due. This film is to showcase their contribution to effective waste management.”

About the facilitator: Nitin Das runs a production house that focuses on producing socially relevant films: www.filmkaar.com. For the past 2 years he has been working on a project that uses films and stories from around the world to create awareness about the environment: http://www.elfproject.org

For more information on the British Council Climate Champions project visit this link.

The BIG day February 14, 2012

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Day 7, Having worked through the night both for the presentation and our dance, we got up a little later than usual, in time for our final rehearsal for the presentation.  With a little more correction to our recommendations and compilations we were finally ready for the big show.

Dressed in the British Council T-shirts, we gathered at the conference hall, where all the VIP’s including the Maharaja of Jodhpur Gajsingh ji, Members of ‘Wells For India’, Scientists from CAZRI and AFRI, Deputy Director of British Council Charlie Walker and our very own Reesha Maam and Guru Sir. Then began the round of presentations, at the end of which the chief guests expressed their pleasure in organizing such camps and its importance.

Following this formal gathering was the cultural show, where a group of native singers had come in to entertain the guests. As we were nearing the end of the camp, both happiness and sadness took on high and all of us started displaying our own talents in dancing (can be better called spinning) to the native tunes.

After the Maharaja left started our own party, which proved that even our dance rehearsal was a success and this party lasted all night resulting in us skipping our breakfast the next day. We had to finally split up, but the learning during this camp was not only the subject of climate change but also friendship and teamwork. In the end we were all sure that this camp will certainly encourage us to do further work in our own fields and we would help each other to bring an environmental change in our society.

Prajitha T, International Climate Champion, India

Agro-Forestry February 14, 2012

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Day 6,  From day one, we had started off with lectures that were punctuated with field visits on the same topic. But day six had something different for us. Our field visit and our lectures were combined and we were taken to the Central Arid Zone Research Institute (CAZRI) and Agro Forestry Research Institute (AFRI), where the scientists showed us the various projects that they were involved in to improve the lifestyle of the people of Rajasthan.

At CAZRI , it was the solar energy based products that served to be the beginning of a very exciting visit. Here were products ranging from candle making machines to dryers to heaters, all based on solar energy, which could be purchased by the villagers due to its affordability.

Next, we were introduced to the process in which desert plants, which are facing extinction, are being conserved. The  efforts taken to make Julie Flora (a plant found in plenty in this desert) economically viable were showcased. After our visits, Dr.M.N.M.Roy, Director, CAZRI, briefed us about CAZRI and the projects they were involved in.

At AFRI, Agro-Forestry was the major topic. The process of growing forest plants in the agricultural fields in a condition which will benefit is agro-forestry. It is this aspect that AFRI has been trying to implement in the lands of this desert.

The evening was spent in an effort to prepare our presentations that we would be presenting to the Maharaja of Jodhpur the next day. The fun part was our preparation for a small dance that we wanted to present for ourselves and our mentors of course.

With heavy conclusions to our presentation and recommendations clouding our minds, we waited for the big day to arrive.

Prajitha T, International Climate Champion, India

Mining! February 14, 2012

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Day 4  dawned with an insight into the main income generating industry of Rajasthan, Mining, by Mr.M.S.Rathore.With around 64 minerals in its earth, it provides employment to a majority of the population here. He went on to explain that illegal mining has been a reason for both exploitation of human resources and the loss of bio-diversity around the mining site.

Under the impacts of mining, health is the most important. The safety measures that are provided by the company are not effective and even if it is effective, the people do not follow some of the safety instructions due to lack of awareness. This is one major problem that needs to be addressed. Also the method of mining is still traditional which has increased the intensity of impacts.

With the knowledge of mining strong in our minds we visited the Balsamand Lake to visually understand the repercussions of mining when it is done illegally. Apart from learning the history of the lake which involved a human sacrifice, we learnt that one of the channels of this lake is to be revived soon because of water scarcity in the area of Balsamand. This gave us an insight into the effect of the people becoming dependant on the Indira Gandhi Canal for water. Next we had a look into a sandstone mine which was close to the lake and how it had affected the natural channels and the catchment area of the lake due to illegal mining.

Once back to the resort we had another NGO, ‘Wells For India’, like Jal Baghirathi Foundation, address us about the similar kinds of work they were doing for the poor in Rajasthan. This presentation delivered by Dr.Max Wilson , Chairman trustee, Wells for India, reinforced the ideas of traditional water harvesting and enabling desert greenery apart from providing sanitary and some technological supports to the poorest of villages. ‘Wells for India’, started by two Britishers, had changed the lives of the villagers to such an extent in the last 25 years that we could understand the barriers which they had to cross to achieve all this. In one word, ‘Inspiring’ will be the best word to describe our experience.

The end of the day signified that any new solution should only supplement the existing traditional methods and should not replace it.

Prajitha T, International Climate Champion, India

Renewable Energy – Our Future! February 6, 2012

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Day 3: The day began with a lecture by Dr. PBL Chaurasia, Principal,VyasEngineeringCollegefor Girls,Jodhpur, on the scope of renewable energy sources, with a focus on solar energy. Dr. Chaurasia has carried out research at Fuel Cell Laboratory,UniversityofBermingham.

We learnt that while India has 17% of the world’s population it has an electricity consumption of 2%. At present,Indiahas an installed capacity of 1,85,500 MW and the National Solar Mission envisages to achieve solar power of 20,000 MW by 2020. According to Dr. Chaurasia, “Thar Desertalone has the solar potential to meet the entire power requirement of the country.” He introduced us to various innovative solar devices like solar candle making machine, solar still, solar PV pump and integrated solar device (heater, cooker, dryer combined). We also came to know about an innovation called passive cool chamber- a refrigerator which runs without electricity (Rs. 5000). It works on the principle of evaporative cooling, keeping the vegetables and fruits fresh for 3-5 days and milk products for 3-5hrs.

For the next session, Mr. Vikas Balia a corporate lawyer spoke about industrial pollution and economic growth. He began by speaking about the textile industry of western Rajasthan, and how the hand processing units use harmful chemical dyes which the treatment plants are unable to treat. However he felt that, “Conservation without growth holds no meaning; shutting down industries is not an option, they may just shift to another place.”

He observed that currently there is market failure in allocating resources efficiently. So, he advocated technology led solutions and an equitable distribution of cost for environmental conservation. Along with this, Mr. Balia proposed that policy makers should adopt a holistic approach and that law should be aligned with economics, to do away with regional imbalances.

In the afternoon it was time to visit a recharge well (beri) in Judia. We were accompanied by a camel which caused much amusement to the champions! 

Next we visited Suzlon’s monitoring station at Balesar to learn about wind turbine generators (WTGs). The station monitors the 91 WTGs owned by various companies that generate a cumulative power of 140 MW. We enquired the cost and found out that 1MW WTG amounts to roughly Rs. 6 crore with an operational cost of Rs. 15,00,000-16,00,000. The power generated is fed into the state grid and the companies are paid for it by the government. We felt very fortunate to visit one turbine, equal in height to a 25 storey building.

Some myths were dispelled here, such as wind turbines cause noise pollution and being the cause of death for birds.

The surrounding picturesque landscape at sunset provided the perfect ambience to retrospect on the day’s learning.

Reading of the day: ‘The Rational Optimist’ by Matt Ridley (Recommended by Mr. Vikas Balia)

 Preeti & Rozita, International Climate Champions

Rain Water Harvesting = Water for all February 3, 2012

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Day 2 of the camp began with an extremely positive insight into how an arid saline wasteland could be transformed into a vast green campus with 15 lakes. This impossible task had been achieved at the Aravali Institute of Management by its inspiring Director Mr. Varun Arya, an alumnus of IIT and IIM. “This change that was effected within 6 years involved a lot of political and societal struggle”, said Mr. Arya as he explained about how they had used the traditional water harvesting system of Jodhpur. “Through this system we could fill up 6 lakes during a single rainfall”, he added. The process involved setting up saline resistant plantations, removing the existing English Babool (a plant which causes infertility of soil) apart from rain water harvesting. The lecture inspires that anything is possible with the right passion and compassion.

Mrs. Kanupriya, Project Director at Jal Bhagirathi Foundation (JBF)was the second speaker of the day and she explained the work done by her organization and how water is an integral part of the culture of Marwar region of Rajasthan. JBF works with over 300 villages in rural Rajasthan to revive traditional rain water harvesting structures to achieve water security. Two documentaries; ‘Rain for Change’ and ‘Water for All’ were screened on the same. It was incredible to know how access to a reliable supply of water had brought tremendous socio-economic improvements in people’s life including sanitation and increased enrolment of girls in schools.

In the afternoon we visited a village Shivnagar in Pali district, Jodhpur where a resource management plan and water harvesting system had been implemented by JBF.  A group from the community greeted us with a Tikka, jaggery and big smiles. We were given a tour of the Talab, where rainwater had been collected via the catchment area, with details of the structure and how the salinity of the water decreases during the summer. When we arrived at the village, the children were the first to run up, curious to know who had arrived.

Interestingly, the village had a lady Sarpanch who had been empowered through the support of the Jal Bhagirathi Foundation to an extent that she also helps the development process through a number of other villages. We also saw the social map of the village drawn on a wall as part of the PRA (Participatory Rural Appraisal) exercise conducted earlier. This marked the houses which had toilets, the houses below the poverty line and other resources in the village such as the community centre.

At the end of the day we were mesmerized by the idea that- An area with just 200mm of rainfall can have access to clean water all year round just by reviving the traditional systems of water harvesting.

Digu Aruchamy, Prajitha T (International Climate Champions India) and Jessica McQuade, International Climate Champion UK

International Climate Champions from UK, China, Bangladesh and India at Jodhpur February 3, 2012

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After about three hours of flying across three states we arrived at Jodhpur , and our entry into the Water Habitat Retreat was flagged by the royal appearance of the building which served to be a visual treat for us. This structure which was once the hunting palace of the Maharaja is now a representation of the traditional water conservation mechanism with one of the largest catchment areas. With a lake and an annicut to keep us company through our stay, our learning will turn out to be a more visual.

We were given basic information about the city of Jodhpur by Mr.Karni Singh, Director of Mehrangarh Fort Trust. We then proceeded for a ‘Water Walk’ which basically was to enlighten us about the various water conservation systems of Jodhpur that were present within the campus. We were assisted by Mrs.Kanupriya, Project Director of Jal Bhagirathi Foundation, an NGO which is reviving traditional Water harvesting systems in Jodhpur. Apart from the technical explanations we also came to know about the history of the palace and various other interesting stories which included haunted areas in the campus.

The day ended with a briefing on what we would be experiencing in the coming week and we dispersed with high expectations on what is in store for us.

Digu Aruchamy, Prajitha T (International Climate Champions India) and Jessica McQuade, International Climate Champion UK

From India to Durban – Champions head to UN Climate Talks December 1, 2011

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With Dr. R.K.Pachauri

After an exciting week of reading up and getting ready for the Climate talks being held in Durban, South Africa. I am finally here to a land where Gandhiji began his initial fight for freedom. It gave me some inspiration about the kind of fight, we youth were participating in – to make this world sustainable. Our work reflects “Satyagraha” – or peaceful protest, analysis, advocacy and that is exactly how we work. We have patiently learnt, engaged, and inspired the masses with the nuances of the issue and policy implication of Climate change and climate talks. Another very important reflection I had was of his principle of Swadeshi – which is reflected in our grassroots actions. Seven champions from around the world – Indian, Greece, Vietnam, Italy and South Africa gave a presentation at the Conference of youth (COY) , which is a preparatory three day youth event leading to the climate change talks under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
The climate champions spoke about their respective projects and how to build a grassroot project and integration of our work under the aegis of – British Council. We were a diverse group of people not only in terms of nationality but also in terms of our projects. We conveniently integrated our message under trust, support and unity towards making this world a more beautiful and sustainable.

The President of the Conference of Parties hosted a fantastic welcome reception for the attendants of the negotiations. Five of the champions attended the reception which was filled with good food, drinks and welcoming South African music and dance. Quite a grand welcome! We met, Dr. R.K.Pachauri , who congratulated each of the champions on the fantastic work being done back home and that negotiations were just a political excuse and that we champions and grassroots work were the real “champions” of the Climate and people trying to save the climate.

The British Council climate booth in the Workshop area is also attracting a lot of people interested in knowing about our work and the message British Council gives. The postcards from around the world, giving a message of sustainability is particularly giving a colorful aura to the booth.

The champions also went to schools in Durban and gave various workshops on climate change, ideas for projects and a small preview of policy talks. The children were very excited and wanted to know more about how they could participate in greening the world. Thus the journey of educating and engaging began.

Talking of journey, another incredible initiative by the South African government which was supported by British Council in South Africa was the Climate Train which passed the entire length of the country through its rural areas, promoting awareness of climate change and also initiated tree plantation and waste management projects. The champions welcomed the train to the Durban station which was attended by the Mayor of Durban, Executive Secretary of UNFCCC and other dignitaries.

It’s been a busy first few days of the Durban talks and journey as climate ambassadors and when people ask about what we do, we say “ Inspire, Engage, Educate”  indeed.

This is the message from us champions to the people and the UN climate talks!

Priti Rajagopalan, International Climate Champion, British Council India

Priti is a young environmental policy and negotiation enthusiast from India with a plethora of experience in climate adaptation in Bangladesh, climate finance, Flexible mechanisms and low carbon transportation modelling. In her spare time she likes to make funny faces in fogged mirrors.

An Extended Adventure! February 9, 2011

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By Mark Bessen, International Climate Champion, USA
 30 January 2011

After the Climate Camp officially ended, I wanted to spend a bit more time in India before flying back to Los Angeles. Using the International Centre Goa as a home base, I promptly began my adventuring. I stayed in Goa for a week, and then took the train up to Mumbai and stayed there for another three days. This was the first time I had travelled alone – much less traveled internationally at all – so I was understandably nervous. But I found the friendliness and willingness to help from almost everyone in Panjim and elsewhere to be very comforting.

On day one I decided to do the typical Goan touristy thing to do – go to the beach. First on my list was Calangute. As it turns out, the beaches of Goa are just about the only part of the state I did not like at all. Maybe I don’t appreciate them fully because I live near the beach, but they are just overwhelmingly overcrowded and strewn with garbage everywhere. Every two meters you walk, someone is trying to convince you to participate in some form of water sport – parasailing, jet skiing, wind surfing, tubing. Finally I gave in and decided to try the parasailing. As it turns out, it was great! Definitely worth all the hype, even though I was only in the air for 30 seconds or so. It felt like I was floating, drifting away from the concerns below me. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to find a place to go paragliding.

From Calangute I ventured a bit north to Anguna beach. I bumped into a man who was just starting a “paraboating” company, and decided to give it a try. If you’re as confused as I was about the difference between parasailing, paragliding, and paraboating, here are the basics: parasailing is when you’re pulled by a boat with a round-ish parachute; paragliding is where you go off cliffs with an elongated parachute and “glide” along the wind currents; paraboating, paradoxically, is more like a small plane – you have an elongated parachute, but there is a large fan and motor on the back to blow you whichever direction you choose. As I said, I tried paraboating. I was in the air for about 20 minutes total, and the view was breathtaking. I could see the whole coast of Goa, all the beaches, all the landscapes.

The next day I went to the Spice Farm in Ponda. I was taking buses everywhere in an attempt to reduce my carbon emissions, so due to a combination of my getting lost and the changing of bus routes, it took about 3 hours to get there. The spice farm was fascinating, which was a pleasant surprise (I expected it would be generic and somewhat unexciting). I had a one-on-one tour with a guide who was able to answer my exhaustive list of questions, and I learned quite a bit. Did you know that nutmeg and mace (the stuff in pepper spray) come from different parts of the same fruit? After my tour, I wanted to check out the main attraction of the farms – the elephants. It was terribly depressing. The conditions of captive elephants are absolutely atrocious. The two elephants I saw – one female and one bull – were chained up so tightly they couldn’t take more than two steps in any direction. The bull had his tusks hacked off, and both were being brutally screamed at by the people in charge. Every time they screamed, I could see the elephants flinch in anticipation of being whipped again and again. I asked if I could spend some time with the elephants and have them unchained for a while. They told me the only way to do so was to participate in one of two activities – an elephant ride, or an elephant bath. I didn’t want to subject an elephant to carrying me, so I went with the bath. Those in charge coaxed the elephant to the watering hole with a series of commands and physical abuse, at which point I was able to pet and spend time with the elephant. I just wanted to be near it, but the guides were intent upon having the elephant “perform”, showering me with water and splashing with its trunk. All in all, I highly recommend the spice tour, but if you’re any sort of animal activist, as I very much am, the elephant escapades are a bit traumatic.

On Monday I went to visit Aayush Surana, International Climate Champion, India at his university, the Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS). I got a taste of authentic Indian dorm food, and I was thoroughly impressed. Aayush tells me that meat is only served once a week – the other 6 days are purely vegetarian! I’m envious of the ample availability of vegetarian fare in India. I learned to play carom, a game similar to American billiards. On Tuesday I went out in the field with Parag Rangnekar. Most of you know Parag as “the butterfly guy,” who led us through a nature preserve where thousands of butterflies saturated the air. However, wildlife (primarily butterfly) preservation and research is only a hobby for Parag. Professionally, he works for the Mineral Foundation, an organization implementing grassroots projects in communities surrounding mining sites. The Mineral Foundation receives subsidies from mining organizations, including Sesa Goa (where we saw the building made entirely out of bamboo) to fund projects relating to how the local communities are affected by mining. Parag’s work focuses mostly on water management. Mining dramatically disrupts the water table and diverts the natural flow of rainwater (particularly in the monsoon season). Since much of Goa’s population relies on agriculture – primarily rice farming – the issue of irrigation is critical for their livelihoods. The Mineral Foundation has funded the building of walls to normalize water flow, regulated wells which can be used for fresh water, and even funded the development of preparatory schools in local communities. These projects both improve the villages around mining sites and provide jobs to villagers. I got to see some of those projects firsthand.

The following day I met with Dr. Banakar of the National Institute of Oceanography. NIO is run by the government, and security is incredibly high. It seems almost like some sort of CIA operation when you get through the three levels of doors into the main office complex. It was nice to be able to see some of the research used in current research, but my visit turned me off a bit to working in a lab. The cold, windowless labs were not too welcoming. While I was visiting Aayush at BITS, I noticed that there was a conference going on regarding Wastewater Treatment and Energy Production. As my Champions project was on Microbial Fuel Cells, I was very excited. I very infrequently find any active work going on surrounding this topic, and it was heartening to see some of the innovative research going on. I was inspired to pick up my research (which I had previously put down for a while due to lack of resources, i.e., a lab) upon my return home. The conference was a great networking experience, and I met experts in the field from around the globe. It was a bit intimidating, though – I felt like I was the only one there without a Ph.D.!

After a 12 hour train ride, I was in Mumbai. I loved the city. Yes, it was chaotic and congested. But everything felt so active and full of life! It was fun to spend time just walking around to try to get a sense of what everyday life is like in such a populated city, which consists of so many economic groups. I visited some of the slum areas of Mumbai, which were quite heart wrenching. The children begging were the most upsetting. I felt somewhat helpless, as I couldn’t just keep handing out money to everyone. I also went on a boating tour to Elephanta Island, which I saw some of the caves created to honor Hindu gods and goddesses (the main cave depicted Shiva). It was great to see one of the religious sites in India, and presented a very different viewpoint. After all of that gallivanting, I was ready to get on the plane back to Los Angeles.

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