Tag Archives: Earth

“Fight for your world, not your country”

I came across this image via the Facebook page of God, TheGoodLordAbove himself! Not sure who created the image, but it resonates nicely with my recent musings about patriotism and national pride in India. What do you think?


PS: if you know the original source and creator of this image, please let me know as I would like to credit, and indeed thank them!

Breathe, Gaia, Breathe!

Back in December 2012, I found myself mesmerized (and alarmed) by an animated visualization of the breathing of Earth’s biosphere. Mesmerized by the regular rhythm of the biosphere’s breath, and alarmed by what has been happening with rising CO2 levels from our activities. Now John Nelson has created a couple of new animated GIF visualizations of the annual rhythm of seasons on Earth, another mesmerizing vision that brings to mind the regular breathing or heartbeat of a child.

So, this friday, especially if you’ve had a tough work week, settle down in front of your screen, and focus on these two beautifully pulsating views of our lovely earth, this pale blue pulsing dot:

Click here to see the large version (1.4 MB), and here for the bonkers version (3.7 MB).

Click here to see the large version (3 MB), and here for the irrationally large version (8.9 MB).

Prisoner of Light

Earth at night

Isaac Asimov played a crucial role in the development of my juvenile imagination, with his wonderful ideas unhampered by his lack of felicity with literary prose. I’ve even invoked his planet Trantor in exploring the limits and ethics of urbanization. I am delighted, therefore, to find that Asimov’s wonderfully imaginative short story Nightfall inspired the latest blog post by Meera, my neighbor here in Coyot.es. In turn, her lovely prose (and the poem she quotes) brought to mind of a bit of my own juvenilia, a poem I had written many moons ago, about trying to break free from the prison of light, to embrace the night. A night we have gradually banished from much of the world today, as evident in the above image you may have seen, of Earth at night, this one composited from over 400 satellite images from NASA and NOAA. (Here’s another recent view, captured by a single satellite during March-April 2012.)

Unlike the world of Nightfall, we have but the one Sun, not six – yet within a few decades of global urbanization we have managed to make strangers of most stars! Many urban-dwelling members of our own species may now be astonished and bewildered, if not actually driven mad, should they suddenly be confronted with the full splendor of the brilliant night sky as it appears still over the world’s high deserts, for instance. I have seen Venus cast a shadow in the pre-dawn night (while camping in the Sahyadri mountains a quarter century ago). I have also had friends report in complete amazement their discovery that the milky way can actually be seen by the naked eye from some places on this earth! And I hope we can halt, and roll back, the marching of the armies of light across our planet, and bring back the night. Not only for ourselves, for we need the stars and the night to nourish our souls, but also for migratory birds and all the wonderful nocturnal creatures who need the dark and the starlight.

Here, then, is the youthful me railing against the light, as I wandered through a suburban woods in Dehradun in the Himalayan foothills one spring night, trying to blot out the city lights and find some stars, mayhaps an owl, and find myself.


Prisoner of Light

The soft darkness, an element forgotten
or never yet discovered perhaps? Night,
feeling, reaching out for me with the
gentle fingers of the strong wind, draws
and propels me, into the bottomless pit
of my self. The invisible, dark red
glow of Palash blooms, the Flames
of the Forest, half opened buds of an
incomplete spring paint the night in
terrible, fascinating hues, that drive me
out of my mind and out of my heart.

My intellect struggles to express, throws itself
against the walls of an imprisoned knowledge.
A captive imagination revolts against that dictator,
Language, hurls itself at the grammar bars, and
though bruised, trickles out gradually through
the gaps, amorphous fluid that it is. A chaotic
upheaval as estranged Reason and Emotion,
each denying the other, yet forced to coexist,
come face to face, in the noisy graveyard
of my deforested mind; captive, under siege from
the fluorescent battalions marching all night.

The uneasy half moon, ashamed of itself,
seeking the anonymity of a mist-veil,
unable yet to shut off its light, watches
the fugitive jackal of my intellect scavenging
on the rotting remains of my self-respect
under the cover of lightness. The sombre
trees, living tombstones on my buried
humanity, run from me, as I crash madly
through the dead wilderness of my mind,
like a blind rhinoceros searching for
a resting place, a home or a grave.

But the army of Light, it cannot
bear to watch! It hauls me out of
the enchanting night. Its vice-like grip
squeezes the darkness, pulls my shrivelled,
dry self back into the circle of radiation.
An eternal prisoner of Light, once again
I fail, to understand, to unify myself.

– Madhusudan, 13 March 1989, Dehradun.

Man’s (in)glorious dominion on Earth as a prequel to our Wall•E future

Earth Stewardship is a popular term among my fellow conservation biologists and ecologists lately, what with the Ecological Society of America embracing the term as one of its primary guiding themes for the coming decades. While some of us scratch our heads about what it might mean, precisely, in scientific terms, the ESA has chosen the theme no doubt in order to communicate with a broader public. Stewardship… the word has a strong spiritual / religious resonance… and what ecologist would argue with the call to use our science to transform humanity into better stewards of this planet? Gives us some hope of turning things around even as we teeter on the brink of ecological disasters manifold…

Stewardship also has a better ring to it than that other religiously charged word: Dominion. Some of the world’s dominant religions tell us that their reigning deity gave us dominion over the earth and all its creatures, which were presumably created for our sole benefit. Of course, evolutionary biology tells a different story, but even then we are tempted to place ourselves at some apex of evolution, borne on the branches of, but somehow apart from, the magnificent tree of life. The first creatures (maybe) to comprehend our own story and control our destiny…

Whichever version of this tale of our being you choose to believe, surely our actual history on this earth must give you pause… for we haven’t done a very good job of it, have we? It has been closer to sadistic domination lately than any meaningful stewardship. Or don’t you remember? In that case, you’ll want to watch this three-and-a-half minute animated history of Man’s dominion over Earth. It also makes for a great prequel to the film Wall•E, whose silent first half is some of the loveliest bit of filmmaking magic seen this century. Let’s hope we can steer away from that fate sooner rather than later…

[youtube WfGMYdalClU]
via Jess Zimmerman on Grist.

This film also reminds me of an animated short I had seen long ago as part of a midnight special show screened in a film festival, sometime when I was in graduate school. I think it was at the Old Globe Theater in La Jolla which played a significant part in my cinematic education. As part of this midnight screening, reserved for more risqué, ‘grown-up’ animated fare, I remember seeing a powerful little film which showed a similar history of ‘man’—except in that film, in every instance, whatever the man did turned into a big arse farting out noxious fumes, with the closing shot showing the entire earth as one giant arse spewing dark smoke as the screen faded into credits! Hard to forget that visual, even though I completely forgot the name of the movie!

Anyone else seen that film? This was during the early days of the internet—I think I had Mosaic on the mac in my lab then—well before YouTube was even a glint in its creator’s eyes! I’ve forgotten the name of the film, and so haven’t been able to find it since, even though the imagery of our collective arseholery lingers in my mind. If you’ve seen it, remember the title, and/or know if/where it is online, please do drop me a line! I would love to include it in my next Reconciliation Ecology class along with the above film.

Now what can we do to become better stewards of this spaceship Earth as we start another revolution around our Sun?

Watching the biosphere as it breathes…

…watching the biosphere as it gasps for breath. As we fill the atmosphere with more carbon dioxide than all the photosynthetic organisms on earth—who alone know how to make the molecules of life out of dead COand sunlight—can handle. Carbon that was fixed by their ancestors and ours long ago, then dead and buried deep underground until we figured out how to pull it out of the bowels of the earth, and burn it to build this industrial civilization of ours. Civilization which is pouring all that ancient fossilized carbon back into the atmosphere in quantities that are too much for all those green plants and planktons to handle. So that the CO2 keeps rising in the air, trapping heat, warming the planet, melting glaciers and polar ice, causing the sea to rise more angrily into our coastal cities, churning up storms ever more vigorous and destructive… like the earth lashing out at us for making its biosphere, its baby, slowly suffocate.

Watch the biosphere breathe, because, for the first time, you actually can. See the rise and fall of carbon dioxide in an annual rhythm that is quite soothing to watch. NASA’s JPL has just released a fascinating, mesmerizing video (download it in HD) showing us the global biosphere breathing:


Watching the last part of that video, with the seasonal pulsing of the green and yellow alternately suffusing the surface of the earth, reminds me of the many hours I spent at night watching my daughters sleep when they were babies. The gentle rise and fall of their little chests, the soothing soft sound of breath in, breath out. There is nothing quite as calming as watching a baby breathe as she sleeps. Or watching the entire biosphere breathe as it lives, throughout the year.

But this video is far from calming if you remember the first half. That graph of the annual pulse of CO2, climbing up in the winter, down in the summer, up in the winter, down in the summer, but lately arcing upwards overall, with a rising amount of CO2 in the air. Remember that graph? It is telling us we are adding too much CO2 for the biosphere to handle. A few years ago, we were still hoping to keep CO2 below 350ppm (parts per million). We urged our governments to do something, anything, to keep levels below 350ppm because that, our best science told us, is probably the safety limit for keeping the earth, the biosphere, in a state we know and love. Within a range of 275ppm to 350ppm, a domain which allowed our species to flourish, spread all the way across the biosphere. We tore up much of that living, breathing biosphere in the process, but it still kept on breathing in its seasonal rhythm. And we started adding more and more CO2 into the air, ripping it out of the earth and the biosphere, and pumping it out into the atmosphere, until it hit that upper limit of 350ppm. Go above that in a sustained manner, and we enter a new domain, where all bets are off, for the biosphere, and for our civilization. 350ppm is the safety word. But this past summer, we passed 400ppm for the first time in our recorded history. All bets are indeed off for us, it seems, because we are still not prepared to roll it back to below 350ppm. Governments continue to fiddle, for the 18th time, in Doha this week, amid growing confidence that they will, again, do nothing toward bringing us back into the climatic safe zone.

So watch the earth’s biosphere breathe like a baby, but know that it is also gasping as CO2 levels keep rising. It is up to us to bring those levels down. But first we will have to start by disturbing the blissful, willful sleep of our governments and institutions and corporations… and all our people…

… get them all to watch the biosphere as it breathes.

Is it too late for us to do anything about climate change?

Bill McKibben answers the question, describing some dire scenarios if we don’t get off fossil fuels soon. And no government is currently planning to do that. One might argue that its never too late to try and at least slow the warming down, maybe, but we’re already in a new domain. So brace yourselves… it will get bumpier on planet Earth. 

[brightcove vid=1978531660001&exp3=1140772469001&surl=http://c.brightcove.com/services&pubid=16991917&pk=AQ~~,AAAAAAEDRq0~,qRcfDOX2mNtWW87VePrJiaFRXUo43tGn&w=480&h=270]

Welcome to the Anthropocene (a video)

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/39048998 w=500&h=283]

A 3-minute journey through the last 250 years of our history, from the start of the Industrial Revolution to the Rio+20 Summit. The film charts the growth of humanity into a global force on an equivalent scale to major geological processes.

The film was commissioned by the Planet Under Pressure conference, London 26-29 March, a major international conference focusing on solutions.


The film is part of the world’s first educational webportal on the Anthropocene, commissioned by the Planet Under Pressure conference, and developed and sponsored by anthropocene.info

gaon chodab nahi: an anthem for the global #occupy movements

There have been other occupations. There have been other #occupy movements.

Occupation has for long been the name of the game for the colonists. Occupying far corners of the planet. Monopolizing the riches yielded by the earth. Displacing the indigenous inhabitants, the original occupants. Colonizing not just the lands and the bodies, but even the very minds of the peoples of the earth. This is how the global transnational corporate oligarchy has been built. At a faster pace in recent decades, yes, but it has for long been thus.

And long have the colonized, the occupied, sought, and often found, creative ways to resist the occupation. To refuse to be displaced, colonized, overrun, forgotten. To leave behind at least a voice of conscience that echoes through the ages. This is one such powerful voice, from the folk traditions of the indigenous peoples of the Deccan plateau in India, not far from the rocks that gave ancient Gondwanaland its name. Singing this time about dams and mines. Of pepsi and bisleri. Of the never-quenching thirst of the rulers of the first worlds for the lifeblood of the earth, drained from her every vein. Even of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries which displace indigenous people in the name of wildlife they’ve scarcely threatened. A voice that refuses to be silenced, displaced, occupied. A voice urging its people, us, to occupy, reclaim that which was rightfully ours, liberate the earth from the nexus of the money-changers and the politicians with their dogs wielding guns (and pepper-spray). A call to resist that is itself hard to resist.

This is an anthem, surely, for the current occupy movements worldwide. Even if their flames were lit from sparks within the heart of the global empires. For, it turns out, there are third worlds, and colonized peoples, within Manhattan and California as surely as the first world reaches deep within the jungles of central India and the Amazon. We may tweet and facebook our way towards new communities linking arms (violently) across the earth, to begin reoccupying what was/is ours. Let us not forget, however, that there have been, there continue to be, other occupations, other arms linked together, other fists and voices raised in defiance of the very empire some of us helped build. Or, at least, acquiesced in because we got our sips of the pepsi and the bauxite. Until the oligarchs got a bit too greedy even at home, leaving fertile ground thirsting for revolution in their own backyards.

And so, Bhaghwan Maaji’s powerful words and spiritedly plaintive elemental voice echo through the ether(net), and proclaim on behalf of us all: we will not leave our village! We will (re-)occupy our villages.


Gaon Chodab nahi!!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8M5aeMpzOLU?wmode=transparent]