'Green Mountain' Is Restoring Lives in India, Reducing Mercury Levels, Replenishing Drinking Water
Jamini Mohan Mahanty is out for a morning walk every day. At 91, he is hale and hearty. A resident of Jharbagda village in Purulia district, West Bengal, Mahanty thanks the "green mountain" in his village for having added some extra years to his life.
"I could have died long ago but the green mountain has given me a fresh lease of life. It has made the environment clean and pollution free. It really energises my soul to see birds chirping and rabbits hiding in the bushes. I come inside the forest everyday to have a brief rendezvous with nature," he said, while resuming his walk with the help of a stick.
(L) A view of the barren mountain in 1996 and (R) a restored landscape as seen in 2006. Mongabay India
A few meters away, the mountain stands tall covered with extensive greenery and rich in biodiversity. The mountain exemplifies the collective efforts and hardships of the villagers. As they were grappling with depleting groundwater levels, harsh summers and trouble accessing firewood for fuel, the villagers realized that their pressing problems could only be solved by nature. Over the years, deforestation for firewood had depleted the green cover and the villagers decided to regreen the mountain.
Over nearly 20 years the community has transformed a barren mountain and its adjoining land, into an evergreen man-made forest.
Tapas Mahanty, a resident of Jharbagda in India's eastern state, recollects the time, two decades ago, when extreme summers and water shortage made life difficult for the then 30,000-odd people residing across 20-21 villages surrounding the mountain.
"We were facing severe water scarcity woes because of depleting ground water levels. Women had to walk for around a kilometre to arrange drinking water as men were out for work. There were often skirmishes and fights over sharing of water at the village taps. It disturbed the harmony of the village," she said.
Apart from water woes, life also became difficult because of strong winds in summers that spread the heat from the barren mountain. "There was no green cover that could have obstructed the flow of hot and humid winds. Soil erosion from the mountain during rains dirtied the ponds and also affected the farming. It became difficult to live in the villages located close to the mountain and people began to think of migration," she added.
Long Walk for Firewood
Committee members representing the villages for plantation on the barren mountain. Gurvinder Singh / Mongabay India
Another major problem that villagers, especially the women faced was the near absence of firewood as there were hardly any trees, "We had to walk for three to four kilometres for firewood and the entire day was lost in the travel. It was also risky and cumbersome for the women to walk for such a long distance carrying the firewood on their heads. Besides, some couldn't afford the money required to buy firewood for fuel," said another villager.
Villagers realized that turning the mountain green could save them from the torment of inclement weather coupled with water shortage issues. But it was easier said than done as the mountain spread across 376 acres of land and required extensive labour and funds for plantations.
An NGO involved in nature conservation came to their rescue. The Tagore Society For Rural Development (TSRD), a non-profit engaged in rural work, agreed to do the plantation work on the entire stretch while the community was given the responsibility of maintaining and protecting the green cover.
"A group of villagers contacted us and told about the problems they were facing. We were overwhelmed by their passion to grow a forest. We then decided to do the plantation," said Prahalad Chandra Mahato, 70, senior employee of the NGO.
Subsequently, in 1999, a village committee involving 60 members of Jharbagda village of Manbazar-1 block was formed for plantation at a community land of around 300 acres.
Villagers can now collect dry leaves for fuel from the forest on the Makino Raghunath Mountain. Earlier, they would have to walk long distances to get firewood. Gurvinder Singh / Mongabay India
Another 67 acres of land was added in 2001 when four villages — Kumardih, Birsinghdih, Cheliama, Radhamadhobpur — also joined hands. Committee members went up to 90. Villagers named it Makino Raghunath Mountain in memory of two environment enthusiasts, Saiji Makino, a Japanese professor who taught at Visvabharati University at Bolpur Shantiniketan and was involved in creating awareness about plantation among the locals and Raghunath Mahanty, a well-known local resident.
Under a Japanese government-supported greening initiative, the plantations began in 1999 and continued till 2002. "During the course of three years, over 3.26 lakh (326,000) trees of 72 varieties including fruits, medical herbs and timber wood were planted in the mountain stretch and the adjoining land. Labourers were employed for plantation but villagers also worked voluntarily as they were passionate and wanted to mitigate the crisis," added Mahato.
The Stretch Turned Green Within a Few Years
The Makino Raghunath Mountain, a once-barren mountain where plantation took place between 1999 and 2002, restoring its greenery. Mongabay India
Within a span of a few years, the landscape, starting with five villages started changing. "The first visible sign was the easy availability of firewood for fuel. The dried leaves that fell from the trees were collected by us and used as fuel. It not only saved us from the ordeal of walking for several kilometers but also reduced our expenditure on buying wood for fuel. It encouraged us to protect the forest and shoo out anyone trying to destroy it," said Kalyani Mahanty, 40, a homemaker in Jharbagda.
The forest also led to an increase in the groundwater level and brought down the constant quarrels among villagers, "The groundwater level that had depleted to 40-50 feet (and went down even more in summers) became normal and was available at 15-20 ft. The easy availability of water brought peace to the village," she added.
The dense green cover also ensured the presence of biodiversity and elephants began to traverse the forest that was once barren, "We first noticed the movement of elephants in 2005. There was a sense of jubilation among villagers. There were also constant sighting of snakes and other animals. Birds are now regular here," said Bikash Mahanty, 40, who resides at the neighbouring Radhamodhobpur village.
The dense trees have also brought down the mercury level in villages and have made the air cooler during summers, "It is comparatively cooler due to the presence of trees. We often sit under the shade of trees during summers and even spend our evenings here. The trees have also prevented soil erosion and farming is not getting hampered due to the mud carried by the rainwater from the mountains," he added.
Villagers have repeatedly turned down the requests to turn the forest into a picnic spot. "The tourism would no doubt help in promoting the place and also open new avenues of employment but it would do more harm by destroying the environment. Tourists will ignore all norms and use of plastic and other items would destroy its natural beauty. We have ignored the repeated plea to turn this into a tourist spot," said Dwija Pada Mahanty, former village head of Manbazar gram panchayat.
Trenches Being Dug to Store Rainwater
The overflowing water from trenches would flow into the nearby pond and would be used for farming. Gurvinder Singh / Mongabay India
The state government in collaboration with TSRD is now digging trenches down the mountain to stop the wastage of rainwater and to make the soil nutritious, "The water in the trenches would make the soil nutritious while the overflowing water would be stored in a nearby pond and used for farming. It would also recharge the groundwater," said Badal Maharana, 43, team leader, Ushar Mukti project, TSRD Purulia Unit.
He further said that around 1.5 feet deep trenches have been dug up in 50 hectares of land after the start of the work last year.
"The trenches would certainly help in storing the rainwater and would be used for multiple purposes. We are also trying to make it an animal corridor to facilitate their movement but the presence of habitation near the forest is a hurdle to the plan. The efforts of the villagers stand as a classic example of how environment conservation is vital for the survival of every individual," said Niladri Sarkar, Block Development Officer (BDO), Manbazar-1 block in Purulia district.
Reposted with permission from Mongabay India.
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By Emily Grubert
Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.
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What RNG Is and Why it Matters<p>Most equipment that uses energy can only use a single kind of fuel, but the fuel might come from different resources. For example, you can't charge your computer with gasoline, but it can run on electricity generated from coal, natural gas or solar power.</p><p>Natural gas is almost pure methane, <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/" target="_blank">currently sourced</a> from raw, fossil natural gas produced from <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/where-our-natural-gas-comes-from.php" target="_blank">deposits deep underground</a>. But methane could come from renewable resources, too.</p><p><span></span>Two main methane sources could be used to make RNG. First is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks" target="_blank">biogenic methane</a>, produced by bacteria that digest organic materials in manure, landfills and wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairy farms have captured and used biogenic methane as an energy resource for <a href="http://emilygrubert.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/eia_860_2017_map.html" target="_blank">decades</a>, in a form usually called <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biomass/landfill-gas-and-biogas.php" target="_blank">biogas</a>.</p><p>Some biogenic methane is generated naturally when organic materials break down without oxygen. Burning it for energy can be beneficial for the climate if doing so prevents methane from escaping to the atmosphere.</p>
Renewable Isn’t Always Sustainable<p>If RNG could be a renewable replacement for fossil natural gas, why not move ahead? Consumers have shown that they are <a href="https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/green-power.html" target="_blank">willing to buy renewable electricity</a>, so we might expect similar enthusiasm for RNG.</p><p>The key issue is that methane isn't just a fuel – it's also a <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/ghg_overview.php" target="_blank">potent greenhouse gas</a> that contributes to climate change. Any methane that is manufactured intentionally, whether from biogenic or other sources, will contribute to climate change if it enters the atmosphere.</p><p>And <a href="http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7204" target="_blank">releases</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2019.07.029" target="_blank">will happen</a>, from newly built production systems and <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-methane-emissions-matter-to-climate-change-5-questions-answered-122684" target="_blank">existing, leaky transportation and user infrastructure</a>. For example, the moment you smell gas before the pilot light on a stove lights the ring? That's methane leakage, and it contributes to climate change.</p><p>To be clear, RNG is almost certainly better for the climate than fossil natural gas because byproducts of burning RNG won't contribute to climate change. But doing somewhat better than existing systems is no longer enough to respond to the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2923" target="_blank">urgency</a> of climate change. The world's <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/" target="_blank">primary international body on climate change</a> suggests we need to decarbonize by 2030 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.</p>
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By Charli Shield
When an elephant dies in the wild, it's not uncommon to later find its bones scattered throughout the surrounding landscape.
Elephant Burial Grounds<p>Highly social creatures that form deep familial bonds, elephants have long been observed gathering at the site where a peer or family member has died — often spending hours, even days, quietly investigating the bodies or the bones of other dead elephants.</p><p>Although the popular idea that dying elephants are instinctively drawn to special communal graves — so-called "elephant graveyards" — is a myth, their tendency to go out of their way to visit the bones and tusks of the deceased isn't unlike human rituals at graveyards, says animal psychologist Karen McComb.</p><p>"They spend a lot of time touching and smelling skulls and ivory, placing the soles of their feet gently on top of them, and also lifting them up with their trunks," McComb, who's been studying African elephants for 25 years in Kenya's Amboseli National Park, told DW.</p><p>The most striking part of watching an elephant experience loss, Poole recalls, is the quietude. She still remembers one of the first elephant deaths she witnessed; a mother who birthed a stillborn calf. That elephant stayed with its baby for two days, trying to lift it and defending it from vultures and hyenas.</p><p>"I was so struck by the expression on her face and her body. She looked so dejected. It was really like, 'Oh God, these animals grieve…'. It was just so different," Poole told DW. </p>
Witnessing Emotions in Animals<p>Not all scientists are comfortable concluding that elephants grieve. Among the more than 30 reports of elephant reactions to death that Wittemyer co-reviewed in <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10329-019-00766-5" target="_blank">a study published in November 2019</a> were accounts of "enormous variation and nuance" he says. "It can be incredibly involved and intricate for extended periods or can be relatively cursory checks."</p><p>In Wittemyer's own experience, it can be difficult not to attribute some kind of emotional experience to the more involved interactions between elephants and their dead.</p><p>He shares the story of an "extraordinary event" involving the death of a 55 year-old matriarch in Kenya in a protected area that happened to be near his place of work. She was visited by multiple unrelated families while she was dying, including another matriarch that exerted such enormous effort attempting to lift her to her feet that she broke her tusk, which Wittemyer says, is "like breaking a tooth." </p><p><span></span>"It was a remarkable example of this heightened emotional state, it was very clearly a very stressful interaction," he says.</p>
A Different Sensory World<p>One factor that limits our ability to fully grasp the way elephants process and respond to loss is our markedly different sensory experiences of the world.</p><p>An elephant's world is fundamentally olfactory — based on smell. Ours is visual. Previous <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25053675/" target="_blank">research</a> has shown elephants possess the most scent receptors of any mammal, and can <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17949977/" target="_blank">use smell</a> to discern the difference between different human tribes from the same local area.</p><p>That could explain why elephants exhibit such interest in sniffing the bones and tusks of others, as a <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1617198/" target="_blank">2005 study</a> from McCombs highlighted. When presented with the skulls and ivory of long-dead elephants and those from other large herbivores, including rhino and buffalo, McCombs and her team found elephants approached and were specifically attracted to the remains of their own species. </p><p>Without access to the smells an elephant picks up on, Wittemyer says "an enormous amount of stuff" could be missed by humans when studying these behaviors.</p>
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