Climate Change

Tourist magnet Ladakh facing water scarcity

For 75-year-old Tsering Angdo, today’s Ladakh is entirely different from the world of his childhood in the cold Himalayan desert. Back then, he and everyone he knew would take water supply for granted. Ladakh was never short of water, considering the limited needs of a small population. That is now changing.

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Wildlife

Elephants can adapt to human habitation but sirens stress them out

As more and more elephant habitats are falling under the ever-growing influence of humans, elephants are often coming into contact with people, whether they are passing through human-inhabited landscapes, or directly interacting with them, the latter of which sometimes culminate in intense conflicts.

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Water Resources

Indian villages look to Bhutan for water

A lot has been discussed about the acute water crisis in many parts of India. But who would have thought some villages in rural West Bengal have to depend on a neighbouring nation for water? Thanks to administrative failure, four villages surrounding the Bundapani tea estate in Alipurduar district of West Bengal, around 600 kilometres from Kolkata, get water from Bhutan for their daily needs.

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Collateral Damage?

Air pollution increases crime in cities – here’s how

The impact of air pollution on human health is well-documented. We know that exposure to high levels of air pollutants raises the risk of respiratory infections, heart disease, stroke, lung cancer as well as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. But there is growing evidence to suggest that air pollution does not just affect our health – it affects our behaviour too.

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Biodiversity

India soon to have guidelines to save birds from wind energy farms

Alarmed by the threats from wind energy farms to birds, including migratory birds and raptors, a panel of forest experts of India’s environment ministry has now suggested a series of measures to be adopted by all the wind power companies in India for ensuring the protection of birds. For instance, it has suggested painting the vane tips of wind turbines orange, to prevent birds from flying into the turbines. The requirement for such measures has increased as the world is moving away from fossil fuel and towards renewable energy, mainly wind and solar power, to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

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Climate Change

Half of Earth’s satellites restrict use of climate data

When governments restrict who can access data, or limit how people can use or redistribute it, that slows the progress of science. Now, as U.S. climate funding is under threat, it’s more important than ever to ensure that researchers and others make the most of the collected data.

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Agriculture

Agroforestry bolsters biodiversity and villages in Sri Lanka

Visitors to the Sinharaja Man and Biosphere Reserve, Sri Lanka’s largest remaining primary rainforest, could easily miss the fact that adjoining the forest’s entrance is the old and thriving community of Pitekele. Yet on foot, it takes just a quick turn and a climb over a boulder or two to exit the UNESCO World Heritage Site and enter into this bucolic village landscape of fallow rice paddies, sprawling tea gardens, and homes surrounded by some of the most diverse, and biodiverse, gardens in the whole region.

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Climate Change

Forests burn across India as temperatures rise

The beginning of summer in India has arrived with a spate of forest fires across the country. Fires are raging in the dry deciduous forests of southern and western India. Sporadic fires have begun in the sub-tropical forests of the Himalayas as well.

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Livelihoods Under Threat

Farmers’ plight: Leaving land for a lesser life

Scanty rainfall, depleting groundwater levels, barren farmlands and mass migration of farmers to cities for better livelihood – this is the reality of most of rural India today. Many parts of India are witnessing this growing trend of farmers leaving their lands in search of jobs in cities. Andhra Pradesh is no different with several districts of the state seeing a rising rate in outmigration of farmers. Around 4.87 lakh people are reported to have left Anantapur district as per last April’s count by the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), a pan-India confederation of farmers’ organisations. That’s more than 10 percent of the district’s population!

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Collateral Damage?

Why your tourist toilet habits are bad for locals – and the environment

Research suggests that in some locations up to 40% of water is consumed by tourists. Tourists tend to splash out far more per day on average than local residents, who are often outcompeted by industry for water access. Using limited freshwater supplies to flush tourists’ toilets means less for residents’ drinking, cleaning and cooking needs.

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Climate Change

When rhododendrons bloom in winter

Something unusual happened this year in the hills of Uttarakhand in northern India — the rhododendron bloomed in January. The blooming, celebrated as flower day (phool sankranti) across the Himalayan state, usually heralds the onset of spring. But the blooming of the flower two-three months early, due to an unusually warm spell, could be a result of climate change, some researchers say.

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Water Resources

River turns drain, drowns villages in sorrow

Till four decades ago, Ghaggar river in Haryana and Punjab was the lifeline of the villages along its course. Incessant dumping of sewage and industrial effluents, however, has choked the life out of it and has reduced it to a drain or nullah, as locals call it, now. Its water has become unusable and those who come in contact with it, mostly farmers, contract skin ailments. Water-borne diseases such as jaundice and diarrhoea are common in settlements along the Ghaggar. Early greying of hair in children is another disturbing trend. Even the underground water has turned black or yellow in many places.

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Decoding Nature

The deepest-dwelling fish in the sea is small, pink and delicate

Thanks to movies and nature videos, many people know that bizarre creatures live in the ocean’s deepest, darkest regions. They include viperfish with huge mouths and big teeth, and anglerfish, which have bioluminescent lures that make their own light in a dark world. However, the world’s deepest-dwelling fish – known as a hadal snailfish – is small, pink and completely scaleless. Its skin is so transparent that you can see right through to its liver. Nonetheless, hadal snailfish are some of the most successful animals found in the ocean’s deepest places.

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Climate Change

Nilgiris threatened by climate change

The Nilgiris district, part of the 5,520 sq. km Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a biodiversity hotspot. The district has an average elevation of 1,800 metres above sea level and is defined by its evergreen shola forests and montane grasslands. The region was mostly untouched till two centuries ago, but has witnessed large-scale destruction ever since.

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Decoding Nature

For Australia’s fire-starting falcons, pyromania serves up the prey

Some birds in Australia use smoldering sticks to spread wildfires and flush out smaller birds, insects, frogs and other prey, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Ethnobiology. This fire-spreading behavior isn’t a new discovery, the authors of the study say. Australia’s indigenous peoples have long spoken of “firehawks” — a generic term for the black kite (Milvus migrans), whistling kite (Haliastur sphenurus) and brown falcon (Falco berigora) — intentionally spreading fires in the country’s tropical savannas. But much of the examples remain fragmented.

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Conservation

Green energy, red tape & last stand of the Great Indian Bustard

The Great Indian Bustard is classified as “critically endangered”–just short of extinction–in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List. Like the tiger, the bustard is supposed to be protected as a “schedule I species”–endangered, threatened or of special concern–under India’s Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. But the bustard isn’t as well known as the tiger, and it lives in areas where its life is in growing conflict with human development. The main threat to the bustard comes from an ironic source: Renewable energy.

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Conservation

How we uncovered the feeding habits of sharks, thanks to plankton ‘post codes’

In recent years, great advances have been made tracking animals (including sharks) with electronic tags, but it remains very expensive and relatively few animals have been tracked. Not only that, but knowing where a shark is doesn’t necessarily tell you why it is there. A team of 73 scientists from 21 countries came together to use chemistry to try a different approach to these burning questions.

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Climate Change

Climate change amplifies superbugs’ resistance to antibiotics

Bacteria that have become resistant to one or all known antibiotics called superbugs, could multiply more rapidly in India because of climate change, low access to sanitation and toilets, lack of wastewater treatment, no regulations for antibiotic release in pharmaceutical wastewaters and indiscriminate use of antibiotics among the public. India is among the countries with the highest bacterial disease burden in the world, and thus the consequences of ABR could be devastating.

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Three women carrying pots. Christopher Prentiss Michel/Wikimedia Commons
Women and the Environment

Cooking imposes heavy burden on rural women

She wakes up at 5am when it is still dark and the rest of the family is asleep. She walks 4 km to reach a hillock and starts gathering firewood. By daybreak, she is back and starts cooking for the family. What about water for cooking? That involves another trek.

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Climate Change

Global warming, pollution supersize the oceans’ oxygen-depleted dead zones

Vast swaths of the world’s oceans are turning into “dead zones” as global warming and pollution strips them of oxygen, threatening marine life on a massive scale, a new study shows. The analysis, which reviews the major research on ocean oxygen loss, is the first to investigate the causes, consequences and solutions to low oxygen concentrations in the open oceans and coastal waters.

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Livelihoods Under Threat

Is it worth the salt?

The fields are silvery white with raw salt crusts in the vicinity of Nawa, a small town on the northwestern banks of Sambhar lake, India’s largest inland lake. Nawa lies about 90 kilometres east of Jaipur. Also an extensive saline wetland and a Ramsar site, the blinding white salt flats stretch as far as one can see. The place is a key wintering area for thousands of pink flamingos and other migratory birds from northern Asia and Siberia.

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Biodiversity

So long, UNESCO! What does U.S. withdrawal mean for the environment?

The U.S. is quitting UNESCO, the United Nations organization that coordinates international efforts to foster peace and sustainable development, and to eradicate poverty. The Trump administration made the announcement on 12 October. The withdrawal takes effect December 31, 2018, and the U.S. will remain a full member until then.

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Cutting Edge

Driverless cars could see humankind sprawl ever further into the countryside

Self-driving cars will change how we live, in all sorts of ways. But they won’t just affect us humans – the coming revolution in autonomous transport has significant implications for wildlife as well. Nature conservationists and planners need to think hard about the impact of driverless vehicles, most notably in terms of renewed urban sprawl.

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Agriculture

Konkan farms reap the bounty of bamboo

Nestled among fields of mango, cashew, coconut and areca palms, and dotted with houses roofed with Mangalore tiles in between, bamboo vies for attention in Pinguli village in Kudal taluk. Grown in homesteads till now, it has started making its presence felt in farm plots as well. The scene is similar in Kolgaon, Hirlok, Ranbumbuli and Konal villages, all in different administrative divisions of Sindhudurg district.

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Climate Change

Of dusty snow and rotten apples

On April 16, Roshan Lal Negi woke up to find snow carpeting the courtyard of his home in Jangi village. Boys with smartphones quickly made videos to share on WhatsApp but more than a month later, the dusty snow still sits on the lower parts of most peaks in Kinnaur district, Himachal Pradesh. Particles from a dust storm in the northern plains might have travelled to Kinnaur and mixed with the unseasonal snowfall, suggests Dr Manmohan Singh, director of the meteorological centre in Shimla, giving the dusty appearance. The jury is still out, but most agree that this rain shadow region is experiencing a drastic shift in its weather patterns. Rains are increasing, snowfall is declining, and temperatures are rising, which all have great impacts on an area prone to landslides and fed by glacial melt.

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Cutting Edge

Jet fuel from sugarcane? It’s not a flight of fancy

Airlines are under pressure to reduce their carbon emissions, and are highly vulnerable to global oil price fluctuations. These challenges have spurred strong interest in biomass-derived jet fuels. Bio-jet fuel can be produced from various plant materials, including oil crops, sugar crops, starchy plants and lignocellulosic biomass, through various chemical and biological routes. However, the technologies to convert oil to jet fuel are at a more advanced stage of development and yield higher energy efficiency than other sources.

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Climate Change

Benchmark glaciers in the Himalayas keep receding

Located just three km from the Hindu shrine of Badrinath, Mana is the last village near the India-China border. At a height of over 3,000 metres, Mana is a special attraction for pilgrims and tourists alike. Known for its condiments, handicraft and herbal tea, the village also has something special to offer. It is the gateway to an arduous walk to two important Himalayan glaciers — Satopanth and Bhagirath-Kharak. With enthusiastic trekkers trickling in, Mana remains abuzz for at least six months from May to October. However, these two glaciers are retreating, slowly and continuously.

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Collateral Damage?

The world is facing a global sand crisis

Skyrocketing demand, combined with unfettered mining to meet it, is creating the perfect recipe for shortages. Plentiful evidence strongly suggests that sand is becoming increasingly scarce in many regions. For example, in Vietnam domestic demand for sand exceeds the country’s total reserves. If this mismatch continues, the country may run out of construction sand by 2020, according to recent statements from the country’s Ministry of Construction.

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Conservation

Citizens could save India’s environment, if a 15-year-old law is used well

As time progressed, Baiga Chak–the officially recognised traditional habitat of the Baiga tribe known for its myriad species and their inclusion in the local diet, lifestyle and healthcare–started losing its biodiversity. A nonprofit, the National Institute of Women, Child, and Youth Development (NIWCYD), established “forest study groups” in various villages in 2005. The approach was unique: Instead of getting experts to research on the changing ecosystem, villagers were trained not only to analyse the situation but also to suggest conservation plans.

In short, they were to become citizen scientists.

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Collateral Damage?

Light pollution lures night-time pollinators away from plants

Populations of bees, bats, butterflies and other pollinators have been declining for decades due to habitat loss, disease, pesticides and climate change. Now, scientists have documented yet another threat to pollinators: night-time light pollution.

In a recent study in Nature, ecologists showed that plants growing near streetlights were pollinated far less often at night and produced fewer fruits than their unilluminated counterparts. In turn, this may compromise the efficiency of daytime pollinators in the same fields, the authors conclude.

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Livelihoods Under Threat

Why fishermen fear Netravati river diversion

Rathnakar Salian is a traditional catamaran fisherman from Sasihitlu village in Mangaluru district of Karnataka. He learned how to throw the net, how to pull it out, and how to look for fish in the sea from his father and uncles. Using small catamarans that can carry four persons and their limited gear, he fishes by the coastline, not going deeper than one nautical mile. The waters he fishes in is the point at which the west-flowing Netravati river joins the Arabian Sea.

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Decoding Nature

Sykes’s lark: The male with more voices gets the mate

In the hot, arid grasslands of central and western India, a volley of birdsong is not always what it seems. It may not be a flock of different birds, but just a diminutive, brown one, soaring into the air, hovering and delivering a fusillade of calls. It could be the call of a male Sykes’s lark (Galerida deva), which has the ability to mimic many other birds while serenading its partner.

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Lessons Learnt

Nepal earthquake reconstruction won’t succeed until the vulnerability of survivors is addressed

Despite good intentions to rebuild Nepal to be more resilient, 30 months on little progress has been made. Of more than 400,000 homes that were earmarked for reconstruction, only 12% have been rebuilt. Little of the US$4.4 billion in aid pledged for reconstruction has been disbursed. The Nepali government instituted a reconstruction program in October 2015 that identifies beneficiaries and entitles them to three instalments of compensation. The payments are dependent on progress and building code compliance. Those who do not own land are locked out of reconstruction support.

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Collateral Damage?

India is losing its night to light, at 3 times world average

Light pollution is an outcome of the excessive use of artificial light at night. This “loss of night”, as Christopher Kyba, 39, a Canadian-born physicist and the lead researcher of the study calls it, poses a significant health risk to humanity and is impinging on the habitat of nocturnal animals. India is losing its night more than three times faster than the global average. Between 2012 and 2016, the study period, India’s area exposed to light pollution grew by a third, Kyba told IndiaSpend in the course of a Skype interview.

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Agriculture

Farmers are making Kashmir a land of honey

Kashmir Valley, with huge resources available, especially vast tracts of horticultural land, has a great potential for beekeeping and exporting honey to different Indian states. This has prompted the agriculture department of Kashmir to promote beekeeping in the region. Horticultural farmers who took to beekeeping are reaping rewards for their efforts. Apiary business has also given rise to successful processing units.

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Energy

Geothermal energy could light up rural Ladakh

Geothermal energy is not new to India. As early as 1973, the Indian government submitted a report on geothermal hotspots of the country. This happened after the Geological Survey of India (GSI) performed shallow drilling exploration, which showed the potential hot springs and geothermal locations. It is estimated that India has the potential to generate 10 GW of geothermal power.

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Agriculture

Can CRISPR feed the world?

By 2040, there will be 9 billion people in the world. ‘That’s like adding another China onto today’s global population,’ said Professor Sophien Kamoun of the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, UK. Prof. Kamoun is one of a growing number of food scientists trying to figure out how to feed the world. As an expert in plant pathogens such as Phytophthora infestans – the fungus-like microbe responsible for potato blight – he wants to make crops more resistant to disease. Potato blight sparked the Irish famine in the 19th century, causing a million people to starve to death and another million migrants to flee. European farmers now keep the fungus in check by using pesticides. However, in regions without access to chemical sprays, it continues to wipe out enough potatoes to feed hundreds of millions of people every year.‘Potato blight is still a problem,’ said Prof. Kamoun. ‘In Europe, we use 12 chemical sprays per season to manage the pathogen that causes blight, but other parts of the world cannot afford this.’

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Energy

India becoming biggest emitter of sulphur dioxide

While the world has been preoccupied with reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which is generated by burning fossil fuels, sulphur dioxide (SO₂) emissions have not received the same attention. Produced by burning coal, wood, petrol, diesel or farm stubble, SO₂ forms a large part of the pollution haze enveloping cities in northern India every winter. Most of the SO₂ in Indian skies is emitted when power plants burn coal to produce electricity. Typically, coal contains 3% of sulphur, but coal from Assam in India is known to have higher content.

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Interviews

If we ate less rice, Delhi’s air could be cleaner

It is commonly believed that mechanised harvesting of the rice crop creates stubble. Combines, the machines used to harvest, thresh and clean grains, cannot cut the crop close to the ground the way manual harvesting can. If you put the average height of a paddy plant at 100 cm, this generates 50 cm of loose straw and 50 cm of standing stubble. Is this true?

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