Category Archives: Project Groundswell Posts

Q & A with Stanford’s Green Grid Radio

Green Grid Radio is a new hour-long weekly radio show from Stanford radio. The show airs Tuesdays, 1-2pm PST on KZSU Stanford 90.1FM in the San Francisco Bay Area and online at kzsulive.stanford.edu. Recordings of the shows are also available at greengridradio.org and the podcast is available via iTunes here.

Curious about the creation of Green Grid Radio? Adam Pearson, a Stanford student and the show’s producer answers questions from Project Groundswell.

1. Where did the idea for Green Grid Radio come from?

I’d been involved at KZSU Stanford for four years, primarily focusing on a music show. The whole time I kept my extra-curricular interests of radio separate from my academic pursuits of atmospheric sciences and energy engineering. Finally, I thought it would be fun to merge my two passions.

More importantly, the older I’ve gotten the experiences I’ve had working on environmental causes and problems have shown me the severe and critical need for more environmental education. Up until Hurricane Sandy, climate change was not mentioned in the American 2012 election cycle debates or major speeches.

This lack of public interest and awareness during one of the most dramatic years in our planet’s recent climate (hottest month on record in USA, Arctic ice at all-time low, lengthy, costly drought, etc) is merely symptomatic of the prevailing apathy.

There is a dire need for discussions about climate and energy solutions, and I can only hope we’re providing that in our show on renewable energy. Also, these topics traditionally don’t receive much attention in the medium of radio, so in a way it’s all an interesting experiment. At times it kind of feels like we’re pulling up our wagon to the Oregon Trail.

Jeffrey Turner

2. What is the set-up of the show?

Each show we have an “Energy in the News” segment, which provides a mix of local, national, and international energy topics. It’s supposed to be like dipping your toes into the pool of energy information.

Following that we have a section called “Powering Up,” which is run by Nick McIntyre, one of the show’s producers. Powering Up is about bringing the audience up to speed with concepts that are likely present in the featured interview. Sometimes our interviews may go into technical details that may be a bit difficult to understand to the average civilian.

Finally, we usually go to a Roundtable Discussion, featuring prominent Stanford students in the energy/green community. These students usually weigh in and react to the ideas presented in the interview, offer some input on the feasibility of the plan(s)/ideas/suggestions, and speak briefly about their experience. It’s truly a jam-packed show and pretty dense for one hour.

3. What kinds of guests have you had on? Who do you plan to have in the future?

We’ve had Stanford Professor Mark Z. Jacobson and representatives from various industries so far. We’ve had Eric Corey Freed, a green architect, as well as some folks in the nonprofit world — Laura Wisland from Union of Concerned Scientists and Craig Lewis from the Clean Coalition. We’re definitely hoping to take advantage of being on the Stanford campus by bringing in more faculty in the near future. One guest coming on the show in the near future will beDr. Phil Duffy at Lawrence Livermore Labs, and formerly of the Obama White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. And probably the biggest coup we’ve pulled off is an interview with UNDP Administrator, the Honourable Helen Clark who was also formerly Prime Minister of New Zealand. That should be coming up soon as well.

4. Who has been your favorite?

All of our guests have been articulate and offered a unique perspective. Perhaps the most entertaining of them was Eric Corey Freed. Freed joked a bit, he calls our generation the “Dodo Sapiens.” I can’t do his spiel justice, but he does a lot of speaking on environmental issues and is obviously comfortable making fun of our culture to emphasize his points.

5. Why is this an important topic? Why focus on the green grid?

I truly believe that the defining issue of our generation is not the economy or immigration, but climate change. It is a global problem that requires so much work on the individual level up to the international level. Developed countries tend to have freedom of choice to consume and consume. We all have gadgets and things we don’t necessarily need, and this has become a part of our culture. It is politically impossible and otherwise extraordinarily difficult to propose solutions involving curbing our freedom to make decisions.

In order for us to be able to watch American Idol (or whatever it is people watch these days) and plug in our iPads so we can go on facebook at Starbucks, we need a way to power that television and that iPad with clean, renewable power.

Otherwise we’ll find our cities under storm surges, our crops drying up, and our water running out, and suddenly the question won’t be whether or not I want to buy the new iPad, but whether or not I’ll be able to find affordable food in the grocery stores after massive droughts, for example.

6. Where would you like to see it go in the future?

I would love for this show to grow and move forward without me. I’m graduating this year, so the show will certainly be around through March… Stanford students have a lot on their plates. I’ve learned this from experience. It’s going to be a challenge to find a replacement team that shares the same vision and passion, but hopefully we’ll locate that group. But to answer the question more conceptually and abstractly, I would like the show to carry a greater sense of narrative, and I would like for a greater variety of voices leading the interviews. As much as I enjoy interviewing our guests, I can only listen to my voice so much! I think establishing and controlling the narrative of an episode is a high-level skill that will be developed over the course of the year, as we improve our editing techniques, and hear what listeners like best.

7. Anything else you’d like to add?

One of the difficult things in the environmental community, or any activist community for that matter, is that we all are sort of preaching to the choir. I hope Green Grid Radio and Project Groundswell can both reach out and affect people who would have otherwise never tuned in, or stumbled across the website.

Seeds of Occupy: The Gill Tract Contested Land and Oakland’s Planting Justice

This article originally appeared in Project Groundswell

On Earth Day, activists, community members, students and local farmers reclaimed the Gill Tract, a five-acres of a 14-acre piece of land in Albany, near Berkeley, CA. After a three-week occupation, arrests, and a court case, as of Monday June 11, all charges have been dropped. I just happened to be interviewing about his work with Oakland-based food justice organization, Planting Justice the day Occupy the Farm began.

In my initial thoughts before interviewing Garzo, I figured we would discuss the organizations work, and how he came to it (and of course we did), but just as Planting Justice is the beginning of a discussion of larger political issues, so too is speaking to Garzo.

Marcelo is a first-generation Chilean-American, who identifies as a “cultural activist and educator.” Growing up in San Diego, CA, he recalls that he was “politicized as a very young person through punk-rock music and Anarchism.” Going to a place called the Che Café, “I was exposed to a lot of leftist cultures.”

In high school Garzo dropped out and went to an intensive rehab program, it was here he “began to learn to love reading and encountered spirituality.” He transferred to UC Berkeley to complete his B.A. in Comparative Ethnic Studies in 2009 and is currently a graduate student in the Department of Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley.

Garzo originally transferred to UC Berkeley for music, but in his first semester he took a course with Clara Inés Nicholls, a Colombian professor activist who works with Via Compesina. As Garzo says, “She introduced the critique of the industrial agricultural model, and presented us the agro-ecological and food sovereignty alternative.”

Marcelo Felipe Garzo Montalvo Photo courtesy of Kelly Johnson

Garzo’s parents were exiled (from Chile) as a result of their political involvement, in 1973. “Learning that the forces that displaced my family, were the forces of neoliberal capitalism, I realized I was always already a political subject.”

“We’re just planting,” he told me of the Occupy the Farmmovement he stepped away from, in order to do a brief interview.

As Garzo describes it, the Gill Tract is a piece of land granted to UC Berkeley from an agriculture family, “under the understanding it would be used for agriculture purposes.” However, some of this land has been sold off, which is far from an “agriculture purpose” related to justice.

Occupy the Farm had kids and adults planting 15,000 starts of kale, peas and other plants. After the initial rally, the plan included a series of workshops on technical expertise to oppression and racism in the food system. In solidarity, the group also received a letter of support from a landless workers movement of Brazil (Movimento Sem Terra, MST). As Garzo said, “it’s a dynamic, interconnected action that is happening right now.”

Organized by Occupy the Hood, and smaller subgroups, Occupy the Farm was mentioned in Adbusters Blog noted for its “sophisticated preplanning and careful execution — they even brought chickens — that offered a positive vision for the future and engendered broad community support.”

As we spoke via phone, Garzo exclaimed, “Wow, man, we are being visited by two deer!”

Garzo has been working with Planting Justice since January, 2010. Before this, he worked with the People’s Groceryin Oakland for two years.

Just a few of the 15,000 starter plants planted by Occupy the Farm on Gill Tract land owned by UC Berkeley.
Photo courtesy of Kelly Johnson

Working with predominantly “young, people of color immigrants,” Garzo teaches what he calls, “relevant education for young people,” at an after school program at Mandela High School in East Oakland. He teaches about social movements through cooking, growing food and learning about food systems. For example “we had one week where we learned about the Black Panther party, the 10-point program and we made a recipe that is relevant.” They also have a lesson based on the colonization of Africa, and then make black-eyed peas and talk about the production, consumption as well as relevant political history.

In addition to education, Planting Justice has programs with San Quentin state prison, offering living wage jobs for parolees as well as programs initiated by students from Mandela High School. EAT GRUB (Enhancing Access to Gardens and Revolutionizing Urban Backyards) began as a social entrepreneurship venture of Salvador Mateo and Julio Madrigal and developed through a 10-week training program with Ashoka’s Youth Ventures, under the mentorship of Planting Justice co-founders Haleh Zandi and Gavin Raders.

As Garzo says, “One of the things I admire about Planting Justice, is our commitment to building relationships. Focusing on depth, as opposed to breadth.” Though not organized by Planting Justice, Occupy the Farm is an example of the kind of depth that can be seen when the ideas of Occupy are truly planted.

Simplifying the Economics of Happiness with Helena Norberg-Hodge

This article originally appeared in Project Groundswell

In 1975, before India’s northern region of Ladakh became a popular tourist attraction; Helena Norberg-Hodge went with a film crew. It was here she first encountered a localized economy, planting the seed for her present work.

Now, nearly 40 years later, she is the director of theInternational Society for Ecology and Culture, an organization that began as The Ladakh Project in the Himalayan region of Ladakh in the 1970s. ISEC now works to renew ecological and social well-being through localization.

Globally, women are increasingly responsible for agriculture and food production as men move to cities and urban centers. As Bina Agarwal, an academic studying the Deccan Development Society in Southern Indian notes in Raj Patel’s The Value of Nothing, “as India urbanized, the business of feeding the cities is increasingly women’s work – 58 percent of Indian men work in agriculture compared to 78 percent of women.” Worldwide statistics also show a dramatic increase in the ratio of women to men in agriculture.

Perhaps because of this, the localization movement has continued to gain support from women. As Norberg-Hodge says, “For all my working life, almost 40 years now, women have always responded more strongly. Whether it be Ladakh, Sweden or America.” She adds, “I was never talking about women’s rights, but I was talking about values that are profoundly feminine.” She sees these values as being connected to others and valuing community and relationships.

Norberg-Hodge does not identify with the mainstream Western feminist movement, but instead she believes, “it is extremely important as part of the whole picture, that we recognize that we have to raise the status of the feminine.” Part of both men and women, “even the feminine in men, which has been squashed… That whole side has been squashed and starved, and urgently needs to be revitalized and strengthened.”

In addition to founding ISEC, Norberg-Hodge has also completed two films, which have been translated to over 50 languages. Ancient Futures (1991) and her newest film The Economics of Happiness (2011). In addition to her work with the International Forum on Globalization and the Global Eco-Village Network, she received the Alternate Nobel Prize for her work with the Ladakh Ecological Development Group. More importantly, she is working to bring people together to redefine happiness and work against the economic structures that have caused our current state of economic and environmental crisis.

Economics of Happiness Speakers

In a Skype interview with Norberg-Hodge, prior to theEconomics of Happiness Conference in Berkeley, from March 23-25, 2012, she was generally hopeful, but clear about the stakes involved.

The conference is part of, “ongoing work to build up a broader international dialogue about the need to shift from a centralized economy to decentralized local economies,” she says.

“Consumer monoculture is eradicating species as we speak. Decentralization is an absolute biological necessity. The central goal of our educational work—lectures, films, study groups, articles, conferences—is to build up an international localization movement.”

Norberg-Hodge urges people to take a two-track path. “We can make choices right now that can help us to take steps towards an economics of happiness. It means first of all reaching out to like-minded people in the area in which we live.”

The conference is also another step toward creating economic literacy. “People are beginning to wake up to realize that governments are not really representing them. We now need to wake up that it’s the pressure from global finance and corporations that is shaping policy. We urgently need economic literacy. Without that we’ll only see further breakdown and a bigger gap between rich and poor,” she says.

Norberg-Hodge says that the biggest problem is a lack of the bigger picture and about the way the system operates, “it is important to understand structures, and insist on changing these structures,” she says. “We need to focus on getting this connected picture out to social and environmental movements.”

She sees the localization movement as adding a dimension to the occupy movement. “I think we can add to the occupy movement, a tremendous message of hope and inspiration. It’s a message about regaining our human right to a way of life that is more human scale and more human paced.”

Norberg-Hodge urges people to take steps to increase their well-being by getting back to some basic activities like developing strong community, developing deep connection to the living world, taking time for exercise, song and dance, and quieting the mind. “Right now, if we make conscious choices, we can take steps in that direction,” Norberg-Hodge says. She also believes more intergenerational interactions would be beneficial for society.  ISEC has a study-group curriculum to deepen and broaden knowledge and understanding about these issues and what can be done to transform our society.

Education Panel with Manish Jain

In order to revitalize communities, she believes it is important to increase connections. Norberg-Hodge cites farmer’s markets as an example, as she says in her TedxTalk in Christchurch, New Zealand,“Studies have shown that when you shop in a farmer’s market, compared to the supermarket, you have ten times more conversations with people. Structurally fundamental to that, is the shortening of the distances.”

With extensive international experience, Norberg-Hodge points to the need for change in international and local trade laws. As she says, “as overwhelming, and as big as that issue can sound, once we understand how it works, it becomes very clear, what we need to do. We need to re-regulate global trade, and we actually need to de-regulate local trade.”

Focusing on the root causes, and the fact that economic law has to change may seem daunting, but Norberg-Hodge says says, “we simply need to focus on regulations, taxes and subsidies—the three things governments use to shape economies.”

As she explains, “What is simple is the actual practical structural steps we would need to take as governments. What is extremely difficult is to get people who are so marginalized now, and everyone running faster and faster, to get people to have the time and the strength to get together to force the change that is necessary. This is primarily about understanding. It is about ideas and awareness.”

While she uses film, lectures, study circles and continues to write articles, Norberg-Hodge says, “In order to see what we are talking about, you need to squeeze things together in time and space in a way that is hard to do in reality. I think film is the most effective.” While she would’ve liked to do an animated version of her most recent film, to illustrate complicated ideas, she was not able secure the funding.

Norberg-Hodge sees potential for vast social change, and recommends a grassroots perspective, “There’s another way of looking at the world. If you look closely at the ground, everywhere you go you see testimony to people’s goodwill and wisdom.”

A Vision for the Future: Founder of Earth Trust, Vanya Orr

The Nilgiri Hills consists of a heart-shaped region rising almost vertically from the lowlands of the Southern Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka in Southern India. In order to protect its unique population of plants and animals, it was one of the earliest places in the world to be registered as a World Biosphere Reserve Home. The Nilgiris are also home to indigenous populations of India, including tribes such as the Toda, the Badaga and Kota, among others. Today, more than 60% of the grassland has disappeared. These grasslands served as a tank, taking water from the mists and rains and releasing it slowly through the roots of the ancient shola tree throughout the year. Much of this grassland has now been covered with destructive forests of eucalyptus, as well as tea plantations. “The Nilgiris is like the heart of south India,” Founder and Director of Earth Trust, Vanya Orr says during an interview in Ooty, India. “It [the Nilgiris] is the shape of a heart and supplies water and energy to South India, it has a real function.”

Vanya Orr, founder of Earth Trust

Vanya Orr, now 77 years-old, came to India with her mother when she was 60. But her connection to India goes back many years before. Her grandfather was a collector in Thane, Pune and Bombay from 1889-1920. Her great, great, great grandmother came to the Nilgiris at age 7 in 1824, very soon after the first Europeans arrived. Though she never intended to come to India at all, the trip with her mother became a turning point for Orr, and she has been living in India, for the most part, since 1994.

About 20 years ago, a little earlier than Orr arrived in India for the first time, the village people of Cinchona, walked the 540 kilometers (or 335 miles) from the Nilgiri Hills to the state government in Chennai, Tamil Nadu to ask state leaders to intervene on their behalf. As Orr recalls, there was a bitter impasse following the closing of the Government Cinchona Department, and it’s adoption by the Forest Department. The people were required to leave their homes, but they were determined not to. As Orr recalls, “Nobody could move. It just needed one person to step in and shift the pieces.”

“There was a kind of war going on,” Orr says. “Everyone was very cross with everyone else.” The people were suffering, “they kept saying to me, ‘Your grandfather was Superintendent here. You have photos of your grandparents and our grandparents… we are all part of the same story, you have got to help us.’” Orr says she didn’t know anything about anything in India, including how the hierarchy and bureaucracy works, not to mention the language and couldn’t see how she would be able to assist the situation.

The Nilgiri Hills

Orr asked the local people to write down the names of the people in the village, what their skills were and what they wanted to do together, “they brought this list to me a couple days later and they hadn’t got anything in the ‘what they wanted to do’ column, so I said ‘that’s useless,’ I can’t tell you what to do. You have to tell me what you want.” And they said, “No, it’s not possible, all we have done is lost. Our children have no food. We are right on the cliff’s edge… How can we dream? There is nothing and no future for us.”

She went to see the local Collector and the Forest Officer, as she remembers, “You know in England you just chat to people. I wasn’t bothered by their seniority. I suppose now I would be more circumspect!” Unsure of what to do next, Orr spent three days in the house her grandmother lived in, trying to think about her next plan of action. She remembers, “If I came here, thinking I was going to solve everyone’s problems, if this was just an ego trip, what a complete waste of time this would be. I had to know it was more than that.”

After being unable to decide exactly what to do, she went back to England. Things fell into place when she was given 500 pounds to see if going back to India was really something she had to do.

Early on, she was told “You haven’t got any credibility as a foreigner, and even less as a woman.” But it was suggested that she set up an NGO with the women of the village in order to act as a facilitator between the village and the forest department. “In the end, with this group of women, I set up the first Medicinal Plant Development Area in South India.” Today, the women’s group has, more than enough to start their own new projects.

Orr continued to act as a facilitator to re-establish the aromatic herbal fields and nurseries under the auspices of the Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions (FRLHT) and the Forest Department. Over the past several years, she has helped set up distillation units for essential oils, making linkages with the Spice Board and other outlets. After this, she left India for a year, but she continued to recall the story of a woman who poured kerosene over herself and burned to death from being desperately unhappy. A year later, the woman’s husband was run-over trying to stop a truck from stealing timber, “You don’t walk away from something like that when it happens, without it having some kind of impact.”After thinking about the people, the soil and the land, she returned from England.

An Earth Trust project site.

This time, her aim was to give people tools for survival, for women who were in situations of inescapable stress and farmer training, in order to mitigate the destruction of the soil. With health programs, stress management, and organic biodynamic farming and gardening, Earth Trust has a variety of tools at their disposal. “People don’t drink, or become violent for no reason, do they?” she says, “It is a symptom, not a cause. A symptom of woundedness or where we find our companionship. This was the idea, that by introducing these nurturing techniques, it could help people feel as if they were worth something.”

Orr believes that, for Nilgiris, this is a critical time in history, “The whole system of everyday living is built on dependency, it’s so important for people to start taking charge of their own lives.” She adds, “It seems to me, this time, is about trying to enable people in rural areas to survive within compassionate communities.” She also wants to play a role in giving children a feeling that they are able to help build a future, and allow people to be able to return to “working with their hearts.”

When I ask her about her vision for the future, she says, “that there will be clear water flowing from the streams of Nilgiris without poison… that everyone will have their place; animals will have their place, and people will have their place.” I smile and tell her it sounds good. She says, “It is possible, you see, it’s possible.”

I hope so.

Displacing Rural Communities for Delhi’s Drinking Water: Is the Renuka Dam Worth the Cost?

First Published in Project Groundswell

I have a love/hate relationship with the many contrasts in India: the bright green paddy fields next to red tile roofs, the smell of jasmine and fresh food mixed in with the scent of putrid sewage, and the polluted cities juxtaposed with the expansive sky from mountain tops.

The narrative of dams (and dams in India especially) is one stark contrast in development. It goes something like this: let’s drown fertile land and forests with a reservoir that will provide drinking water to a city far away. In the process, let’s displace a whole community of subsistence farmers in the mountains. The same story seems to play out again and again.

About 300 km north of Delhi in the Sirmaur District of Himachal Pradesh, a controversy is brewing over plans to construct the Renuka dam in order to supply drinking water to Delhi at a cost of 3900 crore ($860 million). The project will displace 750 families in 37 villages, and about 1600 hectares of fertile land and forests (including part of a wildlife sanctuary) will be submerged. Sirmour has relatively poor infrastructure and health facilities with nearly 23% of households residing below the poverty line. A report on the project says, as a result of submerging land, there is little doubt that the dam will “directly affect the food security and sovereignty of the families.”

Paying for Delhi’s water: Tara Devi, a dalit farmer, looks gloomily at her land. Thousands like her are left wondering why they must give up their land and livelihood in favour of an unjust act. (Photo by Neeraj Doshi)

A few weeks ago, I sat down with Neeraj Doshi’s, a photographer who created a photo exhibit that tells the story of the Renuka Dam site and the people it will displace, alongside Delhi’s water waste and rationale for the dam (click the link above for more photos). In addition to the photo exhibit, which will travel to other colleges and universities in Delhi, a short film by Tarini Manchanda called A Dam Old Story was screened, followed by a discussion at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi India on September 30, 2011.

Neeraj Doshi tells me that the photos are part of a broader education project to create awareness, “It will not change in a drastic way, there are many more Renuka [type dams],” Doshi says. This statement is sadly too true, as from 1947 to 2000, the number of dams has grown from 300 to 4000. He also explains how this dam is unique because it is “a very clear-cut thing: Delhi needs water, it is damming Renuka. Delhi wastes its water.”

The politics and controversy around the Renuka Dam Project are typical of many large dam projects throughout the world, consisting of three main issues: 1) land acquisition and project related displacement, 2) environmental concerns and 3) technical feasibility of the project itself. All three of these issues are controversial in Renuka’s case, questioning why the dam should be built in the first place.

In an open letter to Delhi Chief Minister on Renuka Dam citizens and groups in Delhi make the case against the dam, citing avoidable losses as well as the possibility for rainwater harvesting within Delhi, among many other things. The letter mentions the displacement and environmental destruction that past projects have created are “fresh in people’s minds and the number of sufferers keeps going up,” finally it asks, what right does Delhi have to demand more of such displacement and destruction?

renukaDehli Water Waste: Yet again, but this time it’s from the pipelines carrying potable water from Sonia Vihar Water Treatment Plant to South Delhi. Many more such ruptures leaking precious liquid can be spotted throughout the long stretch. (Photo by Neeraj Doshi)

The dam clearly threatens the livelihoods of the people living in Giri river valley according to a report published by People’s Action for People in Need called Dispossessing Mountain Communities: Who will pay for Delhi’s water? A Study of the socioeconomic and environmental implications of the Renuka Dam Project found that the most affected people will be dalits (members of the lowest caste in India), women, and children. As the study says, “decades of experience with large dams has shown that the costs outweigh the benefits… even if the environmental and social costs are excluded – the proposed benefits are almost always over-estimated to justify the projects.” The study mentions the cases of theTehri and Bakhra Dam. The report also questions if this is the least cost effective option for Delhi’s water supply. Delhi’s per capita water consumption is 240 liters as day, but there is still a need to optimize supply and distribution losses, which have been cited as high as 40%.

The film, along with the report, seem to narrate a continued story of deceit and misinformation on the side of Himachal Pradesh Power Corporation Limited (HPPCL) detailing how at a public hearing, people were brought in buses by the project authorities and treated to a feast, but not informed of the process.

The Renuka Dam project is also based on 20 years of rainfall data until the year 1988-89. In a memorandum submitted  to Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit by Renuka Bandh Sangarsh Samiti (RBSS), an organization of project affected communities and Himalaya Niti Abhiyan, a coalition of community activists and organizations in the state, they state that “It will take years for a dam of 148 m to be filled… If after displacing 37 villages, destroying hundreds of hectares of forests and spending thousands of crores of rupees, the project is unable to fill its objective… who will be held accountable?” Chief Minister Dixit has shifted the blame to the Himachal government, arguing that Delhi is merely a “buyer” and thus the responsibility remains with the seller.

renukaDelhi Water Waste: What would Tara Devi think when she finds out that both, her life and water have been snatched away for such careless wastage in Delhi. (Photo by Neeraj Doshi)

The report details a host of recommendations regarding the Ministry of Environment, the government of Himachal Pradesh, land acquisition and details of the Forest Rights Act but the final point may be most salient: “Delhi government should take responsibility for its water woes by looking at the consumption and demand issues as well as adopting an integrated water management approach for the city.”

As it stands now, there is a stay on construction, as the project must receive forest clearance before continuing to move forward. However, according to Nidhi Agarwal, one of the report authors, HPPCL has not stopped acquiring land and continues to go forward with preparations.

As Doshi says, “If this dam gets scrapped, which I think it will be, there will be precedence… Taking away people’s self-sufficiency isn’t survival.”

With the photo exhibit heading next to the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, Delhi residents will have additional opportunity to see the exhibit and film, consider the contrasts and if they so choose, get involved.

World Record Egg Plant Curry Made to Protest Biotechnology Bill in India

This post originally appeared in Project Groundswell

As part of a public campaign against the upcoming Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill, the largestbaigan ka bharta (eggplant curry) was made just a few days ago in Delhi.

Chefs from Hotel Le Meridien, New Delhi and the Indian Culinary Forum lead the cooking of about 342.5kgs (about 750lbs) of baingan ka bharta, which has been certified as a world record by the Limca Book of Records.

largest eggplant curry

“People have a right to say ‘no’ to GM food and that’s exactly what they have done today,” said Kapil Mishra, Sustainable Agriculture campaigner with Greenpeace India. “Brinjal has thus become a national symbol when it comes to the opposition to GM crops and this event only resonates that cause.”

The bill, according to Greenpeace, would create a centralized non-transparent body to be the sole approver of genetically modified (GM) crops in India. After public opposition to stop genetically modified eggplant (Bt Brinjal), last year succeeded, Greenpeace is now encouraging the public to speak out against the proposed bill. The last known draft of the BRAI bill contained a clause which allowed for it not to be covered by the Right to Information act.

This would essentially negate any oversight.

Cargill Salt Pond Development a Bad Idea for San Francisco Bay

This post originally appeared in Project Groundswell

On a recent trip to Coyote Hills, a park on the east side of the San Francisco Bay, with a class of kindergarteners, we learned about marshland and a bit about salt ponds. Standing on the top of a hill, we looked out across the bay, and touching a flower one boy remarked that it “feels beautiful.” I was reminded of the mind of 5 year-olds and how sometimes they hit each other without realizing and you have to remind them to be aware of their surroundings.

Coyote Hills is located across the bay from Cargill’s salt ponds in Redwood City – the proposed site of constructionfor 12,000 homes. In this scenario, it feels as though Cargill is the 5 year-old, running around the world, not realizing that they are doing more than accidentally hitting other people or calling them names, they seem to be doing some real damage, and may continue if people do not raise their voices. This brief video explains the Redwood City project proposal to build luxury homes on a site of potential wetland restoration.

The Salt Ponds & Proposed Project

cargill salt ponds redwood cityAfter announcing that the salt ponds were no longer economically viable to produce salt, Cargill has proposed to develop the salt ponds into a new city of 30,000 people. According to Josh Sonnenfeld, Campaign Manager with Save The Bay, it would be the biggest bay-fill development in the past 50 years, and 17 times bigger than anything that has been built since modern environmental regulations.Save The Bay was founded 50 years ago this year, in order to stop developments such as these.

“Over past decades, the bay has shrunk in size by one-third and lost 90% of its wetlands. In order to bring back a healthy Bay, salt ponds throughout the region are being restored back to wetlands. Restoring Cargill’s 1,400 acres (two square miles) of salt ponds in Redwood City are critically needed for the health of the Bay and to provide open space for the community,” Sonnenfeld said.

Cargill’s plan comes with many concerns, one of which is how residents of this new city will have access drinking water. The developers have proposed an unprecedented private water transfer – with water rights originating in Bakersfield that would be swapped for increased water allocations in Redwood City. An article in the San Francisco Chronicle from November 21, 2010 criticizes this complicated plan. State Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael is quoted saying, “We’re talking about a permanent transfer of hundreds of millions of gallons of water each year from agriculture to urban (areas) that are hundreds of miles apart… That’s a red flag that tells you this project needs to be reconsidered.”

An editorial from the San Francisco Chronicle on Dec 10, 2010 argues that “The idea of building 12,000 new homes in potentially restorable salt ponds right at the bay’s edge isn’t just irresponsible, it flies in the face of California’s climate change policies.” And finally, in a San Jose Mercury editorial from May 23, 2010 looking at some of the projects gaping holes, the paper argues that the “region would be better off if Redwood City just dropped it.”

coyote hills

Cargill’s Criticisms

It would be unfair to say that it is not only about the project, but the company behind the project – Cargill is the kid on the playground who can’t seem to stop beating up other kids for no apparent reason. As a result, I can’t help but be skeptical, given the facts. Interestingly enough, Cargill is the largest privately held company in the United States; and criticisms of Cargill have ranged from labor rights in the Ivory Coast and deforestation in Brazil, to beef contamination in the US. Not to mention that Cargill and Monsanto have done business together and “Monsanto has a history of blatant disregard for the interests and well being of small farmers around the world” according to Seattle-based Agra Watch – a project of the Community Alliance for Global Justice.

Where are we now?

Cargill has already submitted a proposal to change zoning and amend the General Plan. Currently, the local Redwood City government has initiated an environmental impact report. So, it seems that we wait… but hopefully not silently, “We need to make sure our elected officials know it is a bad project for the Bay,” said Sonnenfeld. Save the Bay is not alone in their efforts: 150 elected officials, as well as the San Francisco Chronicle and San Jose Mercury News have all come out against the project forming a strong regional and local coalition. A poll of 350 Redwood City registered voters shows residents oppose Cargill and DMB’s proposed development on salt ponds by a 2-1 majority: 57% to 28%.

Save The Bay reminds everyone that the development in Redwood City is, as Sonnenfeld said, “Out of touch with the values of people in the Bay Area.”

Frankly, Cargill, my dear 5 year-old child, despite your best efforts and intentions, your proposal just doesn’t seem like a good idea, especially considering your surroundings. Alas, too bad I am not your teacher.