Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Trees, Grasses and Humans

Few people realize how much of our food comes from grass. Wheat, Sugar, Rice and Corn are forms of grasses. Animals we depend upon for food, such as meat, eggs and milk, produce that after consuming grass.

Grass as bamboo is an excellent building material. In fact more research is needed for construction of human dwellings based on a structure of bamboo combined with minimal use of wood, plastered with mud, inner walls covered with wallpaper made of grass and the outer surfaces covered in waterproof paint. Floors may be made of jute matting and roofs out of clay tiles and solar panels. One need not avoid cement, steel and glass completely but all of them use copious amounts of energy for their production and it is wise to minimize their use. With proper design such a hybrid building can be just as strong and elegant while being much greener.

Just as humans stand out amongst oxygen breathing life forms, the tree stands out in the plant world. Trees as a food source have not yet been fully utilized by humans. Besides the nuts and fruits that trees produce, many types of tree leaves are edible and nutritious. One such tree – the drumstick tree has been discussed in an earlier post. Tree leaves can produce much fodder for diary animals as an alternative to grass.

While cities have been expanding on our planet forests, and grass lands have been shrinking. Cities and towns need not have been designed like that; there are examples of towns where the forest and tree cover exceeds constructed space. A Himalayan town – Nainital described in this blog is one such. However, unfortunately even here the proportion of green space has reduced considerably over the last five decades. The adjoining photo is from Nainital captured earlier this year.

All life forms green or otherwise depend on fresh water for their survival and it is trees that are most helpful in attracting clouds from the oceans and causing their even distribution on land.

It has been mentioned earlier in this blog that plants are living things too. Hayden has put up an interesting post on that recently. Plants have life just as we do and their life form too is based on genes and chromosomes like us. Some of the genes are even common between humans and plants. They are a complimentary life form that breathes carbon dioxide, producing oxygen, while animals and humans breathe in oxygen, producing carbon dioxide as waste. An imbalance is created whenever one life form such as humans begins to destroy the green side of life such as forests and grasslands replacing them with cemented and paved urban spaces and roads. Replacing grass lands with farms is not such a bad thing provided portions are reserved for trees but replacing grass lands or forests with barren land or paved spaces is to strip mother earth naked or dress her in a garment of steel and cement so that birds and squirrels may no longer play in her bosom. Our subconscious mind knows that, and therefore it is not surprising that many humans derive immense peace and joy in wild green surroundings as compared to urban landscapes. Neither life form can survive without the other. It is true that there are humans that derive little pleasure from nature preferring cityscapes. But then ancient philosophers have said that creation is an interplay of opposites, light and dark, good and evil, the destructive and the creative. One ancient text from India states that evil humans are born to destroy the world just as the good ones are born to nurture it.

Trees are effective in capturing any surplus carbon in the atmosphere. In my view, pressing for a reduction in carbon emissions is not an effective route. That is something that will happen on its own as fossil fuels are exhausted or become expensive and alternative sources of energy become viable. A more fruitful approach to my mind is to press for increasing forests and grasslands on our planet.

Undoubtedly nature is powerful enough to restore balance eventually but that restoration may be painful. A wiser course is to make attempts towards restoring the balance voluntarily to avoid much of that pain. As an average human, some of the contributions we can make in this direction are to plant a tree whenever possible while at the same time voicing our concern so that it is heard by governments and others. A citizen can even take a pledge that he would only vote for a party that promises to spend atleast one fifth (or some other such number arrived at after consideration) of its defense budget to increase green cover. To care for the environment is an expression of love for the planet we live on. Spiritually it is an eminent thing to do. It expresses our interconnectedness with all life and the universe.


Hayden said...

Thanks for the mention, ashok.

I guess my huge bias against coal/petrochemicals etc. is that the benefits and costs aren't distributed appropriately. While the company pays the cost of 'recovery' of the material, the larger costs - repairing the landscape, dealing with toxins left in air/ground/water - is born by the rest of us. Or rather, by those not wealthy enough to move away.

One way of looking at emissions controls is a way of equitably distributing those costs, and refusing to allow them to passed to the innocent. Sometimes that means that the cost shouldn't be paid by children still unborn, sometimes it means that it shouldn't be paid in toxic well water and sludge floods like the recent one in Hungary.

If I'm willing to pay a higher cost to equip myself with solar and yet still have to pay to clean toxic well water and filthy air, how is that fair?

We need to force each industry to bear the entire burden of it's costs. To hide - as many do- behind a mask of benevolence and suggest that it's a benefit to the poor to keep costs low is hypocritical. The poor are historically those worst impacted.

ashok said...

I completely agree with all you have said Hayden and it is only fair that the polluter is made to pay. Unfortunately you are right that the world is far from fair since a lot of it runs on greed. Yet some of it runs on love to. That is what sustains and provides hope for the future.

I have stopped to worry much about fossil fuels now. Fortunately they are depleting. They have played their positive role in some respects by propelling the world forward rapidly. In time they will be gone and that will result in a lifestyle change for many. Some pioneers like you have already made that change and are spearheading that movement.

Hayden said...

I'm afraid that as the supply runs out the destruction will be even worse. Reclamation of oil sands in Canada is destroying First Nations land/livelihood that had survived till now, and in the US the drive to level the Appalacias is gaining force. Horrific.

ashok said...

That does sound tragic Hayden. The destruction of environment in other areas such as mining is going on over here too. What is unfortunate is that the zeal to restore other parts of environment is missing.

Democracy is a good form of Governance but it suffers from a major drawback that lot of money is required to fight elections. Some of that money and therefore the influence comes from the very industry that destroys the environment.

I think the ancient Athenians had a wiser democracy. They chose their leaders for short periods by a random ballot.

Hayden said...

Yes, I like the ancient Greek approach - but - it was more of an oligarchy than a democracy. Everyone who might have been chosen was (or had been) a warrior, a land owner, and well educated. No one else got to participate, including no women.

As you might imagine, I see problems in this.

ashok said...

I agree Hayden if we consider the Athenian systen now it woul have to be modified - but something along those lines that eliminates campaign expenditures needs to be considered.

Hayden said...

this takes us in a different direction, but I do believe in universal military service, and believe that only participants and survivors of that system should be allowed to vote. And NO contractors. NONE. Not in ANY capacity on foreign soil.

it would eliminate George Bush-style opportunists and introduce a heaping dose of reality into the notion of "foreign adventures." May not eliminate them, but at least it couldn't be forced by those who are capitalizing on others to do the dying.