Category Archives: SARANI

Solar toilet turns sewage into power

One Per Cent: Solar toilet turns sewage into power.

Combine sunlight and sewage and what do you get? Sanitation, of course.

Michael Hoffmann at the California Institute of Technology has been experimenting with solar-powered water treatment on a small scale. Now he plans to incorporate this technology into a portable toilet.

Sunlight powers an electrochemical reaction with human waste in water that generates microbe-killing oxidants and releases hydrogen gas. The researchers plan to collect the hydrogen in a fuel cell to power a light or possibly even a self-cleaning mechanism.

Solar.jpg(Image: Brian Lee)

He received a grant this week from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to build a prototype. He says he can build one toilet for $2000 and hopes to reduce the cost through design refinement and mass production.

This grant is part of the Gates Foundation’s latest global public health initiative to improve sanitation.

Several other awarded projects propose to build toilets that generate energy for the community, either processing solid waste into biological charcoal or vaporising it into plasma that generates hydrogen and carbon monoxide to run a fuel cell.

According to World Health Organization estimates, 2.6 billion people – about 40 per cent of the world’s population – do not have access to sanitation.

Dry onion skin a treasure we're tossing out?

Dry onion skin has a use.

ScienceDaily (July 14, 2011) — More than 500,000 tonnes of onion waste are thrown away in the European Union each year. However, scientists say this could have a use as food ingredients. The brown skin and external layers are rich in fibre and flavonoids, while the discarded bulbs contain sulphurous compounds and fructans. All of these substances are beneficial to health.

Production of onion waste has risen over recent years in line with the growing demand for these bulbs. More than 500,000 tonnes of waste are generated in the European Union each year, above all in Spain, Holland and the United Kingdom, where it has become an environmental problem. The waste includes the dry brown skin, the outer layers, roots and stalks, as well as onions that are not big enough to be of commercial use, or onions that are damaged.

“One solution could be to use onion waste as a natural source of ingredients with high functional value, because this vegetable is rich in compounds that provide benefits for human health,” says Vanesa Benítez, a researcher at the Department of Agricultural Chemistry at the Autonomous University of Madrid (Spain).

Benítez’s research group worked with scientists from Cranfield University (United Kingdom) to carry out laboratory experiments to identify the substances and possible uses of each part of the onion. The results have been published in the journal Plant Foods for Human Nutrition.

According to the study, the brown skin could be used as a functional ingredient high in dietary fibre (principally the non-soluble type) and phenolic compounds, such as quercetin and other flavonoids (plant metabolites with medicinal properties). The two outer fleshy layers of the onion also contain fibre and flavonoids.

“Eating fibre reduces the risk of suffering from cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal complaints, colon cancer, type-2 diabetes and obesity,” the researcher points out.

Phenolic compounds, meanwhile, help to prevent coronary disease and have anti-carcinogenic properties. The high levels of these compounds in the dry skin and the outer layers of the bulbs also give them high antioxidant capacity.

Meanwhile, the researchers suggest using the internal parts and whole onions that are thrown away as a source of fructans and sulphurous compounds. Fructans are prebiotics, in other words they have beneficial health effects as they selectively stimulate the growth and activity of bacteria in the colon.

Sulphurous compounds reduce the accumulation of platelets, improving blood flow and cardiovascular health in general. They also have a positive effect on antioxidant and anti-inflammatory systems in mammals.

“The results show that it would be useful to separate the different parts of onions produced during the industrial process,” explains Benítez. “This would enable them to be used as a source of functional compounds to be added to other foodstuffs.”

'Super sand' to clean up dirty drinking water?

BBC News – ‘Super sand’ to help clean up dirty drinking water.

Papua New Guinea The technology could help improve access to clean water in developing countries

Contaminated water can be cleaned much more effectively using a novel, cheap material, say researchers.

Dubbed “super sand”, it could become a low-cost way to purify water in the developing world.

The technology involves coating grains of sand in an oxide of a widely available material called graphite – commonly used as lead in pencils.

The team describes the work in the American Chemical Society journal Applied Materials and Interfaces.

In many countries around the world, access to clean drinking water and sanitation facilities is still limited.

The World Health Organization states that “just 60% of the population in Sub-Saharan African and 50% of the population in Oceania [islands in the tropical Pacific Ocean] use improved sources of drinking-water.”

The graphite-coated sand grains might be a solution – especially as people have already used sand to purify water since ancient times.

Coating the sand

But with ordinary sand, filtering techniques can be tricky.

“Given that this can be synthesized using room temperature processes and also from cheap graphite sources, it is likely to be cost-efficient” Mainak Majumder Monash University, Australia

Wei Gao from Rice university in Texas, US, told BBC News that regular coarse sand was a lot less effective than fine sand when water was contaminated with pathogens, organic contaminants and heavy metal ions.

While fine sand is slightly better, water drains through it very slowly.

“Our product combines coarse sand with functional carbon material that could offer higher retention for those pollutants, and at the same time gives good throughput,” explained the researcher.

She said that the technique the team has developed to make the sand involves dispersing graphite oxide into water and mixing it with regular sand.

“We then heat the whole mixture up to 105C for a couple of hours to evaporate the water, and use the final product – ‘coated sand’ – to purify polluted water.”

Cost-efficient

Sand “Super sand” is made using regular sand – and it could become a low-cost way to purify water

The lead scientist of the study, Professor Pulickel Ajayan, said it was possible to modify the graphite oxide in order to make it more selective and sensitive to certain pollutants – such as organic contaminants or specific metals in dirty water.

Another team member, Dr Mainak Majumder from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, said it had another advantage – it was cheap.

“This material demonstrates comparable performance to some commercially available activated carbon materials,” he said.

“But given that this can be synthesized using room temperature processes and also from cheap graphite sources, it is likely to be cost-efficient.”

He pointed out that in Australia many mining companies extract graphite and they produce a lot of graphite-rich waste.

“This waste can be harnessed for water purification,” he said.

'Super sand' to help clean up dirty drinking water

BBC News – ‘Super sand’ to help clean up dirty drinking water.

Contaminated water can be cleaned much more effectively using a novel, cheap material, say researchers.

Dubbed “super sand”, it could become a low-cost way to purify water in the developing world.

The technology involves coating grains of sand in an oxide of a widely available material called graphite – commonly used as lead in pencils.

The team describes the work in the American Chemical Society journal Applied Materials and Interfaces.

In many countries around the world, access to clean drinking water and sanitation facilities is still limited.

The World Health Organization states that “just 60% of the population in Sub-Saharan African and 50% of the population in Oceania [islands in the tropical Pacific Ocean] use improved sources of drinking-water.”

The graphite-coated sand grains might be a solution – especially as people have already used sand to purify water since ancient times.

Coating the sand

But with ordinary sand, filtering techniques can be tricky.

Start Quote

Given that this can be synthesized using room temperature processes and also from cheap graphite sources, it is likely to be cost-efficient”

Mainak Majumder Monash University, Australia

Wei Gao from Rice university in Texas, US, told BBC News that regular coarse sand was a lot less effective than fine sand when water was contaminated with pathogens, organic contaminants and heavy metal ions.

While fine sand is slightly better, water drains through it very slowly.

“Our product combines coarse sand with functional carbon material that could offer higher retention for those pollutants, and at the same time gives good throughput,” explained the researcher.

She said that the technique the team has developed to make the sand involves dispersing graphite oxide into water and mixing it with regular sand.

“We then heat the whole mixture up to 105C for a couple of hours to evaporate the water, and use the final product – ‘coated sand’ – to purify polluted water.”

Cost-efficient

Sand “Super sand” is made using regular sand – and it could become a low-cost way to purify water

The lead scientist of the study, Professor Pulickel Ajayan, said it was possible to modify the graphite oxide in order to make it more selective and sensitive to certain pollutants – such as organic contaminants or specific metals in dirty water.

Another team member, Dr Mainak Majumder from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, said it had another advantage – it was cheap.

“This material demonstrates comparable performance to some commercially available activated carbon materials,” he said.

“But given that this can be synthesized using room temperature processes and also from cheap graphite sources, it is likely to be cost-efficient.”

He pointed out that in Australia many mining companies extract graphite and they produce a lot of graphite-rich waste.

“This waste can be harnessed for water purification,” he said.

Planting forests won't stop global warming

Planting forests won’t stop global warming – environment – 19 June 2011 – New Scientist.

The UN is failing to accurately measure the global climate benefits of preserving forests.

As well as providing homes for many species, trees store carbon dioxide that would otherwise warm the planet. With this in mind, the UN set up the REDD programme (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) in 2008, which will pay poorer countries to preserve their forests based on how much carbon dioxide they store.

What this fails to take into account is that forests also alter temperature in other ways. Those close to the poles are dark, and so absorb more sunlight than croplands would. But in the tropics, more water evaporates from forests than from unforested land, so they cool their surroundings.

Cool forests

To get a fuller picture, Vivek Arora of Environment Canada and the University of Victoria, British Columbia, and Alvaro Montenegro of St Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada, used a computer model to estimate the overall effect of reforesting.

They used what they admit are “somewhat extreme” scenarios in which half or all of the world’s croplands have been converted to forests by 2060. Foresting all or half the world’s cropland reduced global temperatures in 2100 by 0.45 °C and 0.25 °C respectively.

Arora reckons that no more than 10 to 15 per cent of existing cropland is likely to be forested, so the effects will be even smaller. “The overall temperature benefits of any realistic afforestation efforts are expected to be marginal,” he says.

Tropical bounty

But while the overall effect of forests is small, not all forests are equal. When Arora and Montenegro looked at the details of their results, they found that a given area of tropical forest is around three times as effective at reducing warming as the same area of high-latitude forest.

That’s because tropical forests are so good at cooling their surroundings by increasing the evaporation of water. Higher latitude forests are less effective at this because they absorb so much sunlight.

Yet REDD assesses forests solely on the amount of carbon they trap, largely because measuring changes to evaporation and reflectivity is difficult. Its method assumes that estimating the carbon drawdown gives a reasonable estimate of the overall effect on temperatures, and treats low and high-latitude forests equally. The new study suggests that assumption is wrong.

“The carbon metric undervalues tropical forests,” says Richard Betts of the Met Office in Exeter, UK. “We have to consider the other effects of land cover change.”

Journal reference: Nature Geoscience, DOI: 10.1038/ngeo1182 

 

Forget Mother Nature: This is a world of our making – environment – 14 June 2011 – New Scientist

Forget Mother Nature: This is a world of our making – environment – 14 June 2011 – New Scientist.

Humans have transformed Earth beyond recovery – but rather than look back in despair we should look ahead to what we can achieve

THE Holocene, with its mild climate so remarkably stable and good for us, is over. We humans have transformed Earth’s climate, geology, biology and hydrology so extensively, profoundly and permanently that geologists are proposing the formal designation of a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene.

International scientific panels will ultimately decide whether to recognise the new epoch, and it could be a decade or longer before we get a final ruling. Nevertheless, it’s high time that we – and I do mean all of us – take stock of the new Earth we have created. One reason to do this is to help answer a basic geological question: will the Anthropocene last long enough to justify its designation as a new epoch, or will it remain a mere geological event akin to the impact of an asteroid? It will also help us answer a more profound question: what do we do now?

The first lesson of history is simple: the Anthropocene was a long time in the making. Significant human alteration of the biosphere began more than 15,000 years ago as Palaeolithic tribes evolved social learning, advanced hunting and foraging technologies, and the use of fire, and used them to open up forested landscapes and kill off megafauna.

These Palaeolithic human impacts were significant and extensive, but they were minor compared with the impact of the rise of agriculture more than 8000 years ago. By domesticating plant and animal species and engineering ecosystems to support them, humans introduced a wide range of unambiguously anthropogenic processes into the biosphere.

Human alteration of Earth systems tends to be far more extensive and complex than one would expect based on numbers alone. Even 8000 years ago, with a population of just 10 million or so, humans had already altered as much as a fifth of Earth’s ice-free land, primarily by using fire to clear forest. The reason small populations had such extensive impacts is that early agriculture emphasised labour efficiency. Early farmers did not use the plough, and that meant constantly shifting cultivation to the most fertile areas. As a result, most of the landscape was in some stage of recovery, giving rise to “semi-natural” woodlands. These were among the first anthropogenic biomes, or “anthromes“.

In this way, human populations were able to increase and expand for millennia, converting vast tracts of pristine forest into semi-natural woodlands and less productive land into rangeland. As populations grew larger and more dense they created ever more intensively transformed anthromes by tillage, irrigation, manuring and cropping. By 1750, more than half of the terrestrial biosphere had been converted into anthromes, leaving an ever greater permanent record in soils, sediments and the atmosphere. This process ultimately gave rise to the densely populated village and urban anthromes most of us live in today.

The rise of industrial systems in the past century has transformed the majority of the terrestrial biosphere into intensively used anthromes dominated by novel ecological processes. Now more than 7 billion strong and growing, we continue to transform the last wild biomes into anthromes – a process that must end soon as we reach the limits of the usable biosphere. Already, more than 12 per cent of Earth’s ice-free land is used continuously for crops and 16 per cent for livestock.

Thus we find ourselves in the Anthropocene. Today, even if the population were to decline substantially or land use to become far more efficient, the extent, duration and intensity of human activity has altered the terrestrial biosphere sufficiently to leave an unambiguous geological record differing substantially from that of any prior epoch. Earth’s biodiversity, biogeochemistry and evolution are now profoundly reshaped by us – and are therefore in our hands.

There will be no returning to our comfortable cradle. The global patterns of the Holocene have receded and their return is no longer possible, sustainable or even desirable. It is no longer Mother Nature who will care for us, but us who must care for her.

This raises an important but often neglected question: can we create a good Anthropocene? In the distant future will we be able to look back with pride?

We have seen what we can do, and it is awesome. In just a few millennia, humanity has emerged as a global force of nature – a networked system of billions of individuals creating and sustaining an entirely new global ecology. We live longer than ever, and our average standard of living has never been higher. These unprecedented achievements clearly demonstrate the remarkable ability of our social systems and technologies to evolve and adapt, often to changes we ourselves have induced.

Yet it is also easy to see what we have lost and are even now destroying. Wild fish and forests are nearly gone. We are warming the atmosphere, melting the ice caps, acidifying the ocean, polluting land and sea, driving species to extinction and inducing invasions by species from around the world – and in some areas leaving only a wasteland of monocultures and weeds. Clearly it is possible to look at all we have created and see only what we have destroyed.

But that, in my view, would be our mistake. We most certainly can create a better Anthropocene. We have really only just begun, and our knowledge and power have never been greater. We will need to work together with each other and the planet in novel ways. The first step will be in our own minds. The Holocene is gone. In the Anthropocene we are the creators, engineers and permanent global stewards of a sustainable human nature.

Erle C. Ellis is an associate professor in the department of geography and environmental systems at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Identifying "Hot Spots" of Future Food Shortages Due to Climate Change

Identifying “Hot Spots” of Future Food Shortages Due to Climate Change: Scientific American.

climate change, global warming, food, agriculture, food crisis FOOD CRISIS: A new report identifies world regions likely to be hardest hit by climate change’s impact on food. Image: Evelyn Simak/Wikimedia Commons

Southern Africa, India and Southeast Asia will be plagued with both high susceptibility and a lack of coping mechanisms as climate change takes its toll, according to models published in a new study.

The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research’s (CGIAR) Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security identified world regions that will bear the brunt of climate change’s consequences on food availability. The project’s researchers measured current food security indicators and climate-sensitive zones in 2050, and the overlap between the two.

Other high-risk hot spots include Mexico, northeast Brazil, southern Africa and West Africa, assessed by indicators like future water availability, number of days above 30 degrees Celsius, length of the growing period, reliable growing days and high or low rainfall.

“In all of these areas, food security is always an issue,” said Philip Thornton, one of the study’s authors and a senior scientist at the International Livestock Research Institute. In addition to climate and economy, “these are areas where population increases are projected to carry on, adding more potential problems.”

How productivity flips
The researchers mapped vulnerability to nine thresholds — the points at which a region can “flip” from normal productivity to subpar yields. One example of a threshold is the 120-day growing period, the minimum length needed for a crop like corn to survive. If climate change causes growing periods to shrink to less than 120 days, it will take a significant toll on food sustainability.

Southern Africa — encompassing Namibia, Angola, Zambia, Botswana, Mozambique and South Africa — showed to be highly exposed to several of the eight thresholds. Spots in northeastern Brazil, Mexico, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan were also very vulnerable, concluded the study.

Food security indicators, a combination of economic, health, logistic and population statistics, assessed which areas are currently at greatest risk for hunger and malnutrition.

“Africa and South Africa are clearly much more chronically food insecure regions than Latin America or China,” states the study. “In terms of resource pressure, again Africa is highlighted for population growth rates.”

Market access, economy also key
North Africa, a region that will not be especially vulnerable to climate change according to the study’s findings, ranked high in the number of hours needed to access a market. As seen in food riots earlier this year, the region is also sensitive to price volatility in international markets.

“One of the key areas in helping to provide food security is not simply an idea of more productivity, but also access and affordability of food to those who need it,” said Thornton, in regard to North Africa.

But for the regions that are faced with increasingly stressful weather patterns, “there’s a great deal that could be done to offset the impacts of climate change through adaptation, farming with new technology and government policies that are conducive to promoting small-holder agriculture,” he said.

Crop substitution for a drier and warmer climate, converting cropland to livestock grazing land, and making better use of rainfall are proven methods.

“It’s not particularly rocket science,” he said.

Thornton’s words reflect the conclusions of another report released this week. The nonprofit aid organization Oxfam released a food security report recommending government investment in small-scale farming and instituting concrete plans to deal with climate change. Continuing to follow the current system may drive food prices up 70 to 90 percent in the next 18 years, warns Oxfam.

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500

African land grab could lead to future water conflicts

African land grab could lead to future water conflicts – environment – 26 May 2011 – New Scientist.

IS THIS the face of future water conflicts? China, India and Saudi Arabia have lately leased vast tracts of land in sub-Saharan Africa at knockdown prices. Their primary aim is to grow food abroad using the water that African countries don’t have the infrastructure to exploit. Doing so is cheaper and easier than using water resources back home. But it is a plan that could well backfire.

“There is no doubt that this is not just about land, this is about water,” says Philip Woodhouse of the University of Manchester, UK.

Take Saudi Arabia, for instance. Between 2004 and 2009, it leased 376,000 hectares of land in Sudan to grow wheat and rice. At the same time the country cut back on wheat production on home soil, which is irrigated with water from aquifers that are no longer replenished – a finite resource.

Meanwhile, firms from China and India have leased hundreds of thousands of hectares of farmland in Ethiopia. Both China and India have well-developed irrigation systems, but Woodhouse says their further development – moving water from the water-rich south to northern China, for instance – is likely to be more costly than leasing land in Africa, making the land-grab a tempting option.

But why bother leasing land instead of simply importing food? Such imports are equivalent to importing “virtual water”, since food production accounts for nearly 80 per cent of annual freshwater usage. A new study into how this virtual water moves around the world offers an explanation for the leasing strategy. Ignacio Rodriguez-Iturbe of Princeton University and Samir Suweis of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne have built the first mathematical model of the global virtual water trade network, using the UN Food and Agricultural Organization’s data on trade in barley, corn, rice, soya beans, wheat, beef, pork, and poultry in 2000. They combined this with a fine-grained hydrological model (Geophysical Research Letters, DOI: 10.1029/2011GL046837).

The model shows that a small number of countries have a large number of connections to other countries, offering them a steady and cheap supply of virtual water even if some connections are compromised by drought or political upheaval. A much larger number of countries have very few connections and so are vulnerable to market forces.

Most importantly, the model shows that about 80 per cent of the water flows over only about 4 per cent of the links, which Rodriguez-Iturbe calls the “rich club phenomenon”. In total, the model shows that in 2000, there were 6033 links between 166 nations. Yet 5 per cent of worldwide water flow was channelled through just one link between two “rich club” members – the US and Japan.

The power of the rich club may yet increase. The model allows the team to forecast future scenarios – for example, how the network will change as droughts and spells of violent precipitation intensify due to climate change. Predictably, this will only intensify the monopoly, says Suweis. “The rich get richer.”

China and India are not currently major players in the virtual water network on a per capita basis, and as the network evolves they could find themselves increasingly vulnerable to market forces and end up paying more for the food they import. Leasing land elsewhere is an attempt to secure their food and water supply in a changing world. But it could be a short-sighted move.

Last year, Paolo D’Odorico of the University of Virginia at Charlottesville showed that a rise in the virtual water trade makes societies less resilient to severe droughts (Geophysical Research Letters, DOI: 10.1029/2010GL043167). “[It] causes a disconnect between societies and the water they use,” says D’Odorico. The net effect is that populations in nations that import water can grow without restraint since they are not limited by water scarcity at home.

Although this could be seen as a good thing, it will lead to greater exploitation of the world’s fresh water. The unused supplies in some areas that are crucial in case of major droughts in other areas will dry up. “In case of major droughts we [will] have less resources available to cope with the water crisis,” says D’Odorico.

In the end, then, the hunt for water that is driving emerging economies to rent African land to grow their crops could come back to haunt them.

Bollywood Superstar Aamir Khan Shines the Spotlight on What's Caused an Estimated 150,000 Farmer Suicides in India

Bollywood Superstar Aamir Khan Shines the Spotlight on What’s Caused an Estimated 150,000 Farmer Suicides in India | World | AlterNet.

An interview with Khan’s about his new film, “Peepli Live,” which explores the deadly consequences of India’s shift to a neo-liberal economic model.
A tangible consequence of India’s shift to a neo-liberal economic model has been the flood of suicides among farmers. The vast majority of the world’s second most populated country still farms for a living, but are caught between deep debt and the erratic nature of seasonal change. Lured by the promise of greater production, farmers are pressured into mortgaging their farms to purchase genetically modified seeds, pesticides, and fertilizer from American companies like Monsanto. Since GM seeds are patented by Monsanto, their repeated use each year requires constant licensing fees that keep farmers impoverished. One bad yield due to drought or other reasons, plunges farmers so deep into debt that they resort to suicide. One study estimates that 150,000 farmers have killed themselves in the past ten years.

A new feature film written and directed by Anusha Rizwi and produced by Bollywood megastar Aamir Khan, called Peepli Live, tackles head on this grim topic. The story is set in an Indian village named Peepli where one young debt-burdened farmer named Natha is talked into taking his own life after he learns that his family will be financially compensated through a government program created to alleviate the loss of farmers taking their own lives. What unfolds is a dark comedy of errors when a media circus descends on the tiny village, followed by corrupt politicians wanting to make use of the planned tragedy. Khan’s credits as an actor and producer include Lagaan, the 2001 Oscar-nominated film about Indian resistance to the British occupation. His latest film 3 Idiots released last year became the highest grossing film in Indian film history.

Text of Sonali Kolhatkar’s interview follows (with video and more information about Khan’s film at the bottom of the article):

* * * * * *

Sonali Kolhatkar: The film Peepli Live tackles a number of issues in rural India which aren’t always portrayed in Bollywood films. How important was it for you to make such a film about an issue that’s not very well known especially outside India?

Aamir Khan: I feel that Peepli Live is not really a film about farmer suicides [but] that farmer suicides are a backdrop because the film doesn’t really go into the issues that farmers are facing or why this epidemic really has been spreading for so many years now. It’s a film that’s more about the growing divide between urban and rural India and how as a society we are concentrating all of our energies, our resources, our wealth towards cities and are ignoring our villages and the rural parts of India which is where the bulk of our population lives. As a result our villages are not life-sustaining in a healthy manner. And that in turn results in a lot of migration from villages to cities. So in villages we don’t have schools often, medical facilities, even basic stuff like water and electricity. I think this is what the issue in the film really is.

On a certain level it’s also a film about survival. While it’s a satire about civil society today and takes a humorous view of the administration, the political scenario, the media, or civil society in general, it’s also on a certain level a story about survival. Each one of us: politician, journalist, civil servant, or a district magistrate, or even Budhia (a character in Peepli Live), who’s a farmer, a villager – each one of us in our own environment, in our own situation, is doing what he or she thinks needs to be done in order to survive.

Kolhatkar: How is Peepli Live different from mainstream Bollywood fare?

Khan: It’s not a mainstream Bollywood film. It’s just a story that I loved and a script that I read which Anusha Rizwi has written and directed and I just loved what she wrote. I found it very funny and moving and also heartbreaking. And also sensitizing in a lot of ways because I have lived all my life in a city. Often I’m not aware of how life in rural India is. So I just loved the script and I wanted to be part of it. I could see straight up that this is not a film that is going to be easy to market or even to convince the market to accept as a film. But it’s something that excited me, moved me, and engaged me.

So I just went ahead and produced it. I was aware of the challenges I have in front of me. And it’s also a film that I believe has the potential to engage a world audience. It’s a film that I think would connect with audiences from different cultures. And that’s what we’re trying to do – we’re trying not only to reach out to our traditional audiences for Indian film but to audiences who may have never watched an Indian film before. Or may have just watched Slumdog Millionaire (laughs). Actually Indian film, or Bollywood, as it’s popularly known, doesn’t make any one kind of film. Yes, the bulk of them are musicals, and the bulk of them have larger-than-life story-telling and have a lot of hope and romance in them. But a number of them now for the last few years have been films which are really off-beat and don’t fall into that category.

Kolhatkar: So Bollywood is evolving in your opinion?

Khan: Well I think everything is changing constantly. So I think cinema in India is also changing. I think audiences are changing. I think younger film makers are coming in who have different voices and have different things to say. And over the last ten years if you look at the films that have really succeeded and have gone down well with audiences, a number of them have been films which don’t fall into that description of what is conventionally known as mainstream Bollywood.

Kolhatkar: Farmer suicides are a huge issue in India and even though it’s a backdrop for your film, it’s a very grim subject. But Peepli Live addresses this is an almost comedic or satirical manner. Why was this approach effective?

Khan: This is a question more for Anusha (Rizwi) who’s written the film. I don’t know why she chose a satirical view of what is happening. But I think it’s more engaging that way. Anusha was a journalist before she made this film and she, I guess, through her experiences in the field, has come up with a lot of what is in the film and a lot of what is in the script. So I think her choice of it being a satire is because it connects more easily with people. But while you’re laughing you’re also feeling bad. You’re thinking, “should I be laughing at this,” you know? “I don’t think I should be laughing at this, but it’s funny.” And, it’s also very thought-provoking on a lot of levels. So personally I really like what she wrote and I think when I saw the film after its first cut – because I was not there when they were shooting it and I was only involved after the first cut stage – I was really happy to see what she has done.

It’s not an easy film to execute. And she hasn’t been to film school and she hasn’t really assisted any film makers to learn from them. It’s so amazing to see someone like her execute so well on screen what she has written. It’s a very layered script with a lot of characters. There’s a lot of chaos in the film at many times and while there often is a lot of chaos in a film shoot it’s usually behind the camera. And to create chaos in front of the camera and make it look natural is not easy. So when I saw the film I felt that what you’re watching is actually happening and she’s has hidden cameras capturing what is happening. So I thought she’s done a wonderful job – I’m really happy with her work.

Kolhatkar: The film most skewers Indian politicians and Indian media. How realistic are the caricatures presented in Peepli Live of the corrupt politicians and overzealous media?

Khan: In my opinion it’s a fairly accurate portrayal of what happens. Having said that I’d like to point out as well that it’s not the only point of view. A satire takes one point of view – it’s not a 360 degree view of politics or the people in media, or the people in administration (civil servants). There are a lot of civil servants, politicians, and those in the media who are trying to do a lot of good work and are very positive in their approach.

Kolhatkar: One of them is the young journalist, Rakesh, a character in Peepli Live, who is very hopeful. I’m wondering if he is a symbol of India’s young journalists.

Khan: He is the only character in the film that really has a conscience as it turns out. As I was saying earlier that while what is shown in the film is fairly accurate and happens everyday in India – it’s a fairly good window into rural life in India – but at the same time, I’d like to add that a satire takes one point of view. Of course there are journalists who are doing great work, and there are some politicians who are doing good work and are really sincere. But that point of view is not shown in this film. This film takes a satirical point of view. While what is shown is accurate, it is one aspect and not the whole.

Kolhatkar: There are no big-name stars in Peepli Live and I understand many of them are theater actors. How were they recruited? Were non-actors also recruited to play the roles of villagers?

Khan: I’m really happy with the casting that Anusha and her husband Mehmood, the casting director and co-director, have done. They really chose to go real with the casting which I thoroughly supported. A lot of the actors are actually villagers and tribals (indigenous people) who are from central India. And a lot of them are part of a theater group called Naya Theater. This is a group that was started by Habib Tanvir, a really amazing theater personality who has worked in Indian theater all his life. Unfortunately he passed away six months ago. But he was running this theater group in which he worked only with villagers and Adivasis (tribal or indigenous people) from Central India. And they did all kinds of things like adapting Shakespeare into their local languages and dialects. So a lot of them are very well trained actors. They may have never acted in a film before but they come from a strong theater background. I think the directors of the film, Anusha and Mehmood, also wanted there to be no known faces so that it looks real. So most of the cast is from a rural background.

Kolhatkar: One of the characters in the film is an elderly farmer who silently toils throughout the story. Is he a metaphor for the typical Indian farmer who is ignored and silenced in the mainstream media?

Khan: Yes you’re right. He really stands for a whole lot of people who in a very sincere and uncomplaining manner try to deal with what is dealt out to them in life and don’t really have a voice in what’s happening around them and are almost invisible to us. That’s how he’s treated in most of the film. So he represents that entire section of people.

Kolhatkar: Let’s talk about the film’s music. One particular song in the film called ‘Mahangai Dayain’ is played by the villagers of Peepli and recently was the center of some controversy after real-life local Indian politicians requested to use the song in their campaigning?

Khan: Well what is shown in the film is happening in real life I guess (laughs). The words to the song are: “my husband earns a lot of money but inflation eats it all away.” And it’s actually wasn’t in the film to begin with. But when Anusha was shooting in the village in Bidwai, she heard the local musicians singing this song. They had written this song themselves and it’s part of their music. When she heard this song she really liked it. So this is their voice and she asked them if she could use it in the film. And she got Raghu-bhai (one of the lead actors in the film) who is a very good singer to learn the song and sing it. They actually learned the song that night in the village under the tree and it’s recorded live on location, not in a studio, with spoons and thalis (steel dinner plates) and home-made musical instruments. And that’s a song that has really resonated strongly with a lot of India[ns] because it’s a coincidence that at the time that we were about to release the music of the film there were these huge price increases in India. The opposition parties called for a national “bandh” which is sort of a general strike for a day all across the country in protest of these price increases. And that day all the news channels actually carried the song as an anthem of what was happening around us. And so that made the song very popular. What’s amazing is that this is a song created by the villagers as part of their lives. This is what affects them – it’s their voice which you can hear.

Kolhatkar: So you hope that the film goes a long way toward bringing the stories of silenced farmers to not only urban India but to a worldwide audience?

Khan: Yes, I am hoping that the film sensitizes a whole lot of us like it did to me when I first read the script. As a society we have to be aware of inequalities and try and fight against them. I think that this is a film that I’m hoping will have an impact. It’s not often that films have an immediate impact but I’m hoping that this film has an impact and starts people thinking in the right direction.

Kolhatkar: There is only one hint in the film about the complicity of corporate America when one of the politicians’ characters in the film mentions the American company “Sonmanto” in an obvious reference to the agri-giant Monsanto corporation. Given that farmer suicides are directly linked to neo-liberal economic pressures from the West, particularly the US, how important is it that the film is viewed by an American audience?

Khan: I think it’s important that all of us should be aware of this, not only Americans. It’s important for all of us to be aware how our actions are affecting other people. When Peepli Live was screened at Sundance where we had a predominantly American audience, we got some pretty interesting responses, one of them being that not only did they find the film to be a great window into rural India but they felt that it resonated with them. One [member of the audience] gave the example of Hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans and how the [Bush] administration reacted and the observation made was that even in that case the people affected were from less privileged sections of society. Which is why nothing was done for very long and even the funds that were collected for them, a lot of that didn’t reach [the people affected]. So these are things that happen all across the world, even in “first-world” countries. And the other aspect that you were talking about is how each of our actions has an impact .We have to be aware of how each of our actions affects other people and on a very basic level – I know this is over-simplifying things – we should try not to adversely affect people with our actions.

Kolhatkar: The media as portrayed in your film Peepli Live is amusing and even shocking. I’m wondering how you think Indian media is going to receive your film and the commentary that the film makes on them?

Khan: I believe that all of us are human beings first. I’m an actor, you’re a journalist, and someone else might be a politician. At the core of it we’re all human beings first and I think that that’s how I think people would receive the film. I think the film is accurate so no one should have a complaint from that point of view. I think that we as a creative group that has made the film are very clear that we’re taking one point of view and that it’s not a holistic point of view. So not every media person is like that. But this is one of the realities today of life in Indian society. And also importantly I think that Anusha Rizwi as a writer and director is not being judgmental on anyone. She’s not taking any sides and I think that’s an important aspect of the film. It’s important for people to receive this in a positive way for it to have an impact. And I think that’s one of the things that this film does achieve in my opinion.

For example you have Natha’s son [in the film] saying “Dad when are you going to die because uncle says that when you die I’m going to become a contractor.” And Natha says “what do you mean? Your dad’s dying and you want to be a contractor?” The son says, “No no, I want to be a cop!” So this is not how every child would react and this is not how we would expect a child to react whose father is about to die. You’d expect him to say “Dad I don’t want you to die.” But here we have a kid who’s in a bit of a hurry about his dad dying. So it is a black comedy, it is a dark view of things. And it’s not the only view and I’m sure the media’s mature enough to realize that.

Kolhatkar: I’d like to talk a little bit about your own career and why you gravitate toward films with a socio-political message. You’ve made a number of films either as an actor or producer or both, that are not simply standard Bollywood fare like Lagaan, Rang De Basanti, Mangal Panday, etc (many of which have been about the historical resistance to the British occupation). Why are such films important to you?

Khan:
Well I move towards material that excites me, stuff that I believe in. And creative people whose voices I believe in. So, it’s important for me to be happy in what I’m doing. When I come across a script that touches me, moves me, engages me, makes me laugh or cry, that’s what I want to be part of. I think for me film-making is a number of things: you’re entertaining people, you’re also engaging their minds. And importantly, it’s one or two years of my life. And so, the process is as important as the end result. So I have to be happy and excited about what I’m doing.

Kolhatkar:
Your last film 3 Idiots became the highest grossing Bollywood film of all time in India, breaking many records, and winning a huge number of awards. Although it’s extremely entertaining it also has a social message at its heart about the intense pressures that Indian parents put on their children to be highly educated professionals in technical fields. It’s not often that such a topic is tackled in Indian film is it?

Khan: Yeah, I think that Raju [Hirani] is a fantastic film maker but in this case he also picked up [on] a topic that I think a lot of people, not only in India but all across the world, [see in] our lives. And I think the core message of Three Idiots is “don’t chase success, chase excellence. And do what makes you happy, because if it makes you happy you’ll probably be good at it. And success will follow up somewhere behind. But don’t make your decisions based on what you think will make you successful because that might just make you really unhappy as well.” And, I think that core message really hit home in a big way with a lot of audiences. And again it’s a very funny film. It’s a film that is very entertaining but also is a film that rings true with a lot of people.

I’ve been very fortunate to work with a lot of talented people and films like Taaray Zameen Par which is about childcare, primary education, and learning disabilities and Three Idiots, which is about higher education — these films have been so satisfying to be a part of because not only have they been huge successes but more than that these are films that have actually changed lives. I have met so many people and so many have written to me about how the way they look at their kids has changed. And parents have changed the way they look at education, and kids have begun feeling differently about themselves. And that’s a very rare achievement for a film to have such a strong and immediate impact on society. And it’s so satisfying to see that. It’s really amazing.

Kolhatkar: Given how influential Bollywood actors are in India (just as Hollywood actors are here in the US), do you think it’s important for celebrities such as yourself to influence people in a positive manner or should movie stars never talk about social issues? I’m sure I can guess your answer but not all celebrities use their celebrite in a responsible manner.

Khan: I think my answer is fairly obvious. I think celebrities should, to the best of their abilities, use the kind of influence they have with people in a positive way and that’s always great and that’s what ought to be done and ought to happen. But having said that, I think each to his own. Celebrities are also human beings and I think we should understand if a certain person wants to stay away from stuff. Fair enough.

I really feel that each one of us, no matter which section of society we belong to, has to engage socially and politically in our own way. And each one can do it to a different extent. But each one of us CAN do it. And I think that’s what’s important. All of us should be aware of that and should engage in a positive way. That’s what I believe.

Kolhatkar: Bollywood flims have not always gotten too much recognition outside of South Asia, and the Gulf Arab States. But they do break through into the West occasionally, like your film Lagaan which was recognized by the Academy Awards — only the third ever Indian film to be nominated for Best Foreign Film. Do you think it’s important for the West to recognize the largest film industry in the world?

Khan: Well I think it would be nice if people around the world watched our films and enjoyed them but I don’t think we should load the West with this responsibility of having to watch our films and enjoy them. I don’t think that’s fair. And I don’t think that film-makers in India really have looked toward making films which are meant to engage a world audience. Because we have such a large and healthy audience of our own and we are very happy and busy engaging them and making films for them.

But I think every once in a way we do come across films that can break through. For example when I read the script of Peepli Live I immediately thought that here is a film that I really want to make first of all. Secondly it is a film that may have limited appeal in mainstream Indian cinema. But I’m going to try and push that. But I also believe it has the potential to engage world audiences. And so, with that in mind we’re trying to reach out to audiences across the world with this film. It’s not a big entertainer. It’s certainly not “Inception” or “Spiderman.” But it’s a film that is a human story which will connect with people.

So I think every now and then when there is material that organically has the potential to appeal to a world audience, it would be great if they would watch it!

Kolhatkar: You come from a family steeped in the tradition of Hindi film. Your father Tahir Hussein (who recently passed away) was a prolific film maker in India. What sort of mark do you hope to leave on Indian cinema, and indeed on international film making?

Khan: I’m not sure about that. I don’t know whether I think in these larger terms. I just want to be able to do work that I’m happy doing, that’s all. And I’m really happy with the kind of love and respect I’ve gotten over the last twenty years that I’ve been working [in film]. And I’m hoping that I’m able to do work which is good, which is challenging, which actually helps me to grow as a person and as an artist, and creative person.

Kolhatkar: Finally what lies in your future? I understand that you have a film coming up directed by your wife, Kiran Rao. Can you tell us more about that and any other projects of social or political significance or that are designed to appeal to an international audience?

Khan: Well Peepli Live is going to be released on August 13th. And then the next film after that is Dhobi Ghaat which I’ve produced and I’m also acting in it. Dhobi Ghaat is written and directed by Kiran [Rao], my wife, and it’s set in Mumbai. It’s about these four characters whose lives kind of touch each other. And the fifth character in the film is the city of Mumbai. It’s a kind of “slice of life” film. Half of it is in English and half is in Hindi. So, we’ve been honest to the characters. People who would naturally be speaking in English are speaking in English and same for Hindi. And the third film that I have in the pipeline is a film called Delhi Belly, which is a comedy. This is actually a story about three kids living in Delhi and how they get into trouble with the mafia and the underworld and they don’t know why. It’s a bit like Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels in its genre. It’s not that story but it’s that kind of film I guess. Again it’s a very unusual film for Indian cinema because it’s entirely in English. I think it’s one of the few times that an English [language] film will be coming out of India. All the films that have no hopes of working are the ones that I end up producing [laughs].

Climate Change Wilts Farming Yields

Climate Change Wilts Farming Yields | Wired Science | Wired.com.

Set a place at the table for climate change; hotter weather may have already taken a bite out of food crops worldwide.

Farms across the planet produced 3.8 percent less corn and 5.5 percent less wheat than they could have between 1980 and 2008 thanks to rising temperatures, a new analysis estimates. These wilting yields may have contributed to the current sky-high price of food, a team of U.S. researchers reports online May 5 in Science. Climate-induced losses could have driven up prices of corn by 6.4 percent and wheat by 18.9 percent since 1980.

The researchers tracked country-by-country yields of these common foodstuffs over nearly three decades. Harvests of corn and wheat have climbed steadily since 1980 due in part to technological advancements, says David Lobell, a land-use scientist at Stanford University. But based on the team’s statistical analysis, farmers could have produced a lot more food if the weather had been cooler. For corn, global losses amount to millions of tons — about equal to Mexico’s yearly production of the crop. “For every decade of climate change, it sets you back a year,” Lobell says.

For reasons still up for debate, temperatures largely held steady in the U.S. over the study period. So Iowa, by and large, doesn’t seem to have lost out. Rice and soybean yields have also proved resilient to rising temperatures so far, the team discovered.

This analysis of the past three decades largely falls in line with what other studies have projected for the coming century, says Andy Challinor of the University of Leeds in England, who studies the impacts of climate on agriculture. With enough complementary analyses, scientists may start to feel more certain about predicting the future of food. Still, when it comes to agriculture, researchers rely on a very murky crystal ball. Humans can, and probably will, adapt to warmer temperatures, switching to hardier crops or developing new technology to keep harvests high.

While it’s far from a prediction, Lobell says his study identifies a number of problem areas that do need attention — not later but now. “If we really invest a lot in the development of crops that can withstand really high temperatures,” he says, “that would potentially change things a lot.”

Even today, food scarcity is a pressing problem, says Navin Ramankutty, a geographer at McGill University in Montreal. As populations climb steeply, putting added pressure on agricultural production, an estimated one in seven people go hungry across the globe.

Images: 1) Between 1980 and 2008, climbing global temperatures took millions of tons of wheat off the dinner table, scientists say. Some countries experienced big losses due to weather (red), while in others, wheat production held steady (blue). (Science/AAAS) 2) Corn is feeling the heat from climate change, with yields dropping close to 4 percent due to weather-related factors between 1980 and 2008. (Science/AAAS)

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