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Peak Connectivity

Photo by Américo Alves

The Himalayas are fascinating: the youngest mountain range in the world, formed by the collision of the Indian subcontinent with mainland Asia millions of years ago; full of breathtaking biodiversity (whose rapid thinning is… yes, a post for another day), locus of the highest peaks on the planet… and home to millions of people.

The human population of the Himalayas are religiously and culturally diverse: Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and Buddhists- all these people (and more!) call the Himalayas their home.

And as with any place on the literal edge of the political map (at least in the case of the Indian Himalayas), a major chunk of the population does not have the advantages of Internet. The isolation of the Indian Himalayan population is more than just physical- many, many areas are cut off from the rest of the country (and the world) due to the absence of an internet connection- the access to the world of information on the net, as well as the communications systems it offers, have long been out of reach.

For the residents of Lingshed, Ladakh, though, this is no longer the case. a group of volunteer engineers from the non-profit group Global Himalayan Expedition (GHE) installed a solar-powered microgrid at the Lingshed Monastery. The venerable monastery is 900 years old, but it has entered the 21st century in style.

lingshed monastery 2

Photo by Erwan Fruch

Each microgrid consists of a 250-watt PV (PhotoVoltaic) panel, a pair of 12-volt lead-acid batteries specifically designed for solar-powered systems, and around thirty 3-watt LED light bulbs.

According to Paras Loomba, head of  GHE Using direct current (DC) rather than alternating current (AC) makes sense for an off-grid setting like Lingshed, “The main power grid runs on AC, but solar panels run on DC. So, if you can run the LEDs on DC, then you don’t lose efficiency in converting to AC.”

AC, DC, what does it matter? (No bad puns about the band, you’re welcome) The point is that the good people of Lingshed (and trekkers that visit the area) now have the ability to stream music by bands like ACDC. (Aaaand I lied).

Information and connectivity create two things that we often take for granted- opportunity and agency. Leh-Ladakh figures in the imagination of the country as a tourist destination, or a shooting location thanks to Ranchordas Shamaldas Chanchad aka Phunsukh Wangdu aka this guy:

phunsukh aamir.jpg

Aamir Khan in ‘3 Idiots’- Image Source

Just look at the background. Gorgeous, isn’t it?

But the Ladakhi narrative should be more than just about being a pretty backdrop for a Bollywood hero. When you have information and connectivity, you can draft a new narrative for yourself- this is agency. And this is what Lingshed now has. The chance to script their own story- not for the screen, but for themselves.

Educate YoSelfReal Talk

Interrogating Sustainability

Image via

Now that ‘sustainability’ has become the world’s favourite buzzword, and companies everywhere are jumping on the bandwagon to promote their products, it becomes imperative to investigate every such claim

Sustainability is not the result of an individual entity’s action. It can only be the aggregated outcome of societal action, where the ultimate goal is to raise the collective living standard, and not just enhancing business profitability.

“We are seeing the final triumph of capitalism followed by its exit off the world stage and the entrance of the collaborative commons.”  Said Jeremy Rifkin, author and political adviser.

The time has come for every corporate organisation to take a good long look at its business practices. Some may need to sacrifice apparent profitability. Expect some resistance in this matter.

We know about compromise. We’re practically professionals in the art. In the immediate wake of a disaster, safety standards are trumpeted about, raised in response, and then forgotten, because we allow them to be forgotten. Rinse and repeat. Does anyone really bother?

Governments are passive regarding climate change; they don’t act, they react. Am I a red-faced, screaming socialist? Before stamping a label on me, think: Three Mile Island, 1979. Chernobyl, 1986. Fukushima, 2011. Bhopal, 1984. Right at the heart of India, and we’re still making nuclear reactors, because even if it poisons generations it’s still clean energy.

I think sustainability needs to come from within. Sustainability truly means the intention to manufacture products that upgrade the living standard of the human race through processes that do not damage the environment – and to be careful that the life-cycle of my product does not beget another new challenge to the world (hello, plastic), be it related to handling safety or final stage disposal.

What are you really handing over to GenZ – the key to true sustainability, or the perhaps-impossible job of cleaning up your mess?

PK Chatterjee (PK) is a veteran Indian B2B journalist, now connected to a number of Indian print and web-based publications. He also contributes to Indian literature. Find him on LinkedIn.

RaajneetiReal Talk

Economic Development and Environmental Sustainability- Oil And Water?

(Image via Arriere pensee )

Finding the right balance between economic development and sustainability remains much like the search for the Truth: not many believe it exists, and those who do are light-years away from finding it.

There are those who believe in economic growth with no compromise. India has made tremendous progress in all sectors – technology, manufacturing, exports, et al– in the last few decades. It’s clear that we have to keep up this trajectory if we want to keep up with the frenemy next door (China. I mean China) or Europe or, of course, Amreeka. Increased incomes, improved livelihoods and a better standard of living all around: the promises of unfettered capitalist development sound sweet indeed.

And then there are people like us, who believe the economic growth without environmental sustainability will get us nowhere. We’re no doomsday prophets, but at the end of our current path, it’s hard to see anything but toxic levels of pollution, scarcity of natural resources, the Third World War over water… and either we turn this planet into a mass graveyard or we all migrate to Mars for a fresh start (and ruin that planet too).

We can’t afford to procrastinate on fixing issues till we become financially stronger. That is a dangerous stance to take. Obviously, the issue is quite complicated and there’s no magic wand that’ll put everything right with a wave, but the bottom line is that we cannot eat money. As our nation grows, and we work to bring millions of people out of poverty, we have to focus on socio-economic growth models.
India has to give far greater weightage to the environmental implications of all projects right from the incipient stages, instead of dealing with the impact as an after-thought.

Implement the laws. We’ve actually got a good set of them: our environmental laws are well-intentioned and quite comprehensive. But there is no strong entity that ensures that these laws are adhered to in both letter and spirit. Loopholes are one thing, but the casual ease with which ‘development’ corporates flout the law of the land without consequences is both staggering and sickening.

We have to learn from our mistakes- like Kerala, right now- and not repeat the patterns of ignorance, misinformation, and apathy that have informed our development policy making for the last 70 years. Let us first recognize and accept the environmental challenges at hand, and then focus our energies on clear-sighted problem solving instead of slapping a band-aid on it and calling it good.

Sustainable growth is the only way forward. Sorry, but there’s no other option. We have to include environmental issues as one of the most pressing fundamental problems today, because you know what? It is. High-paying jobs, low inflation, minimal unemployment and solving the Kashmir problem won’t mean a thing if our grandchildren end up breathing vaporised sulfuric acid.

So no, we can’t let environment take a backseat until we become ‘developed’. This short-sighted approach doesn’t just destroy us, but all our future generations. And the planet, with all the dogs. Unacceptable.

It’s not about ‘can development and environmental responsibility co-exist?’. The real question, which most governments are too afraid/indifferent to ask is ‘What are we willing to give up to ensure that they do?’