One of the major consequences of industrial agriculture is the steady flight of rural populations to urban centers. Economists have widely encouraged this mass movement of people as a sign of a developing economies "specializing."
We are seeing this trend in all majors cities in Latin America, Asia and Africa. Young men and women leave their villages and move to the city in search of better wages and lifestyle. Unfortunately, the promise of a better livelihood often fails to materialize. Villagers are forced to live permanently in tent cities that are scattered across the city with little or no access to water or electricity. Meals are generally cooked inside the tent using open fires that cause respiratory problems for women and children.
Bangalore is no exception to the effects of a globalized economy, but there is an organization working hard to make life in the tent communities a little brighter: Pollinate Energy.
Pollinate Energy is a social enterprise working with Bangalore's migrant "tent city" communities selling small, efficient solar panels (10x20 cm) that power LED room lamps that can also charge mobile phones.
The lamp has three settings: the brightest setting can provide eight hours of light, the second brightest provides energy for 16 hours and the third setting provides light for 24 hours. The lamp itself costs 1,600 rupees ($24 USD) with options available to customers to pay in weekly installments. Along with the solar lamps, the Pollinate Energy team has plans to carry a line of highly-efficient cook stoves. These cook stoves are indeed attractive in that they emit far less pollution than a conventional wood oven, reducing respiratory health risks for the occupants of the home. Additionally, they require less wood fuel but don’t diminish the wood fire “taste,” a fact that Pollinate Energy has found very important for the women of the household.
Substituting solar energy for kerosene has an immense environmental benefits as well as being a financial boon to their customers. They have found that out of the 6,882 people they have served, they have sold 1,496 solar lamps saving 25,512 liters of kerosene preventing 61,129 kg of carbon emissions from going into the atmosphere. Kerosene is also expensive. Pollinate Energy has saved their solar lamp users approximately 1,326,631 rupees ($19,855 USD).
The founders of Pollinate Energy share a deep commitment to bettering the lives of others. They sincerely hope this social enterprise will distinguish itself from nonprofit, donation-based organizations by using tools of the market to build more resilient livelihoods. Ben, Monique, Emma, Kat and Jamie are close friends from university and earlier. They started developing their business model in 2011 and officially launched Pollinate Energy in 2012.
The organization of each pollinator team is split into three diverse and distinct groups, each with its own responsibilities. There are two fellows, one intern and one pollinator in each group. Fellows are selected from a pool of young applicants, mainly from Australia and eager to gain hands-on experience in sustainable development. The interns are selected from a pool of Indian and Nepalese university students.
The pollinator applicants are young, high-school educated individuals from local area paid on a commission per sale of a solar lamp. The fellows and interns assist the pollinators with their sales, accounting, and research for new tent communities. In the morning, the group works hard to scour Google Earth satellite images for the telltale blue tarp roofs of the tent homes.
They then plot the coordinates into their smart phones and make plans to visit that specific community later that afternoon, when most workers have returned home. Finding the communities that can benefit from Pollinate products and reaching the location in Bangalore's thick traffic seems to remain one of the main challenges.
As with any beginning organization, funding and access to talented individuals continue to challenge the group. They are continuing their ambitious plan to serve the entire Bangalore area by 2013 and hope to introduce pollinating teams in Chennai and Hyderabad in early 2014.
“We hope,” Mon says, “to make this enterprise as self sufficient and independent as possible to cut down administrative oversight. We want to see it spread as quickly as possible.”
I had the pleasure to accompany a pollinator team one afternoon and see tent communities that are popping up around the Bangalore urban area. As we navigated our way to our destination, I learned more about the team's experiences. It seems there was a general consensus in the van that the most rewarding part of work is the feeling that they are improving lives.
Sheetal, an intern studying engineering, told of how a 10-year-old girl pleaded with her parents for a lamp to help her studies. The next week, the parents thanked the group personally, saying that the little girl finishes homework every night without the constraint of night time.
“It was really cool to see that,” Sheetal said as she stared out the window, reminiscing, “I'll probably remember that for the rest of my life.”
As economic migrants flow into India's already bloated cities, utilities are strained. In July 2012, the largest blackout occurred in the history of the world. More than 100 million people were without power for nearly four days. Pollinate Energy hopes to relieve this drain by providing a means to electric resiliency, albeit modest.
The amount of carbon emissions saved by providing a safe alternative to burning kerosene is not insignificant. The financial and lifestyle benefits to the families should not be overlooked.
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One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
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The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.