Sustainability: Why it Matters and What I’m Trying to do about it.

There are so many facets to global warming and climate change people are aware about, but don’t understand. This leads to a lot of focus on very specific issues, which, in turn, leads to negligence of other problems. For instance, one such facet is decreasing tree cover in urban areas and loss of forested areas. This problem is very simple to understand. People need space to live, and they need shelter to live in, hence, they take a plot of land with trees, cut the trees down to get space and materials for building those shelters. Sustainability here would be planting more saplings elsewhere and restricting yourself to the plot you cleared out initially. If, with time, you lack space, build vertically, not horizontally. Leave room for mother nature. Instead, due to an ever-increasing need for residential and industrial areas, cities continue to expand at a breathtaking pace. Find an image comparing what cities were like ten years ago and what they are like now visually, you’ll see what I’m talking about. Urban areas constantly demand more homes, offices, power generation facilities, shopping malls, roads etc. The list goes on and on. Nature doesn’t. Due to urban expansion and hence reduced green cover, carbon dioxide levels are ramped up with more vehicles to produce it and less trees to remove it. Describing the different ways through which carbon dioxide is produced is futile. More urban areas results in more airports, not just one for each city, but more than one for the large cities. Airports need vast patches of land, which means less tree cover. More airports means more flights, and aircraft are one of the biggest singular producer of greenhouse gases, so that just keeps adding on. This is just one impact of not having enough green cover, some other consequences include higher temperatures (hence more need for air conditioners in buildings and vehicles, which has redundant unit-impact, but a very large aggregate impact), soil erosion, elimination of natural flood barriers etc. It’s bad. You might say that cutting down a small patch of trees has no impact in the larger scheme. You’re right, it doesn’t. But when millions of people say that, that impact adds up, and it leads to the world we’re in today.

Now less green cover is just one facet of the problem, as I said at the start. You might’ve realized the magnitude of this problem, but there are other problems out there that bear the same, if not heavier consequences. There’s rising temperatures, rising sea levels, desertification etc. And these are just other aspects of the same overarching problem: global warming. There are a host of issues out there: space junk, war, plastic pollution etc.

But then, the reason why one can’t solve all these issues is because they’re too large. That doesn’t just mean each one needs too much effort and time, it means that each one needs too much money, on the scale of billions of dollars. Knowing this, I set out to try and make my own small-scale, high-impact solution to the problem of reduced tree numbers: Treephillia.

Planting trees is something we’re all taught as a kid. Kindergarten and elementary school are full of activities where PT teachers show you how to plant a sapling, then you go ahead and plant yours and it feels like you’re doing your bit for the world. It’s something we all read about, and I do believe that the mass media deserves a lot of credit for showing the world just how important planting trees can be. In the developed world, and in a significant proportion of the developing world, most people know about this issue, even though they may not do anything about it or not even care. Awareness is there, but no one knows what to do. Take person X, for example. X wants to contribute by planting trees, but he has no idea about what to plant or how to plant it. He doesn’t know where he should plant it, and he doesn’t know which saplings he should buy from where. X is also aware of how important planting trees is, but is unsure about the impact just one plantation can have. X is representative of the majority of Earth’s population in this matter.

My application tries to remedy these issues. With inputs from experts who have field experience, I can advertise to its users what they should plant. For instance, the Eucalyptus is a 100% no-no, it might look pretty but it stunts the growth of other trees. With a plantation site feature that enables officials within the local forestry department to mark spots ripe for public plantation campaigns, I can tell X where to go to plant his tree. With a map that enables X to see plantations, he gets to know the larger impact. If you have a city with a population of 1 million people, and 1 out of 100 plant just a single sapling, you still have 10000 plantations. If you have a country with a population of 100 million people, via an extension of the same assumption 1/100 plant, you have 1 million plantations. That’s a lot, and that would really matter. My application gives its user the personal interface they need to plant trees smartly in the modern day era. And no, it’s not just limited to the stuff I listed out above. There is a serious lack of incentive surrounding planting trees, so I also decided to implement a voucher feature that rewards users who plant trees. While a voucher should not be a reason to want to plant trees, it serves as a pathway to doing so, and that works.

Now, how exactly does my application in reality? It’s not just for singular users who want more information and who want to record what they actually do. For instance, businesses can use it to have each employee plant a tree in the event of an office birthday and track the trees planted on a map. People can plant a tree on the important occasions of their life, say birthdays, anniversaries etc. Hotels can get employees to plant a tree when a guest has a birthday, or maybe even plant one without any occasion to visually improve the setting their guests stay in. The government can use it to track tree plantations and mark planting sites for the public. NGOs in this sector can use this to reach people who genuinely care and want to have an impact on the world through planting trees.

Personally, tree plantation is very important. As a 7 year old, I helped Dad plant a sapling outside our old house. For four years, I saw that sapling grow from a timid little thing to a leafy tree. Every time I return to that house, I think about just how much that one tree has grown. With this in mind, I’ve always drawn an analogy between planting a sapling and a mass tree plantation movement. Like a sapling, any plantation trend would be small at first. But, with time, it’ll grow. It’ll sprout branches and twigs, wear leaves, and most importantly, grow roots deep enough to keep it stable and strong. However, there is one difference here. Unlike a tree, a movement can’t be ripped out of its foundations or chopped off from its base. It will persist, and so will our planet.

Is migration globalisation?

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What is migration and what are the causes behind it?  Migration is defined as the movement by people from one place to another. There are four types of migration, economic, social, political and environmental and the causes behind migration can be divided into two broad categories, push and pull factors. Push factors motivate people to leave an area whereas pull factors attract people to a new area. The strongest push factors in the modern day world are safety issues, crime rates and war whereas the strongest pull factors are job opportunities, less crime and political stability. Did you notice one thing? It is clear that people migrate to live a better life and politicians such as Trump are fighting to prevent these people from coming in and sending them back to places full of violence, bloodshed and genocide. As the prominent social saying goes “No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.”

“Migration is a feature of globalisation, you can’t stop it, every time a political party says it’s going to be tough on immigration, it fails to deliver and loses trust” – Margaret Hodge

Also, there are a number of disadvantages associated with migration, many of which are simply myths protected by politicians who want votes, not justice. People say that countries suffer from economic recession and increases in unemployment upon the arrival of migrants, this is nothing but a social myth. Research and data published by governments show that an increased number of migrants increases employment levels instead of decreasing them and this leads to more tax revenue for the government, which results in economic growth. Now, you may argue that migrants pose competition to natives for the same jobs and thus prevent many people who have lived in that country for years from getting a job but in the same way, a migrant with a diverse and unique idea may end up creating thousands of jobs, more than covering up for that gap. Another stereotype associated with migrants is that they increase crime rates and commit acts of violence, this is completely baseless. Statistics show that more migrants are arrested due to retaliating against violence by natives than commit acts of aggression themselves. Countries also use the issue of migration to keep out certain groups of people, a popular example is the Aliens Act of 1905 which was passed in Britain. This legislation allowed the British government to keep out virtually anyone they found susceptible, and instead of using this to keep immigration quotas just, they used this law to prevent Jews coming in from Eastern Europe.

“History, in its broadest aspects, is a record of man’s migration from one point to another” – Ellesworth Huntington

Opening your borders also makes you the nation occupying the moral high ground in a region, it also increases your chances of re-election as a political party and will surely ensure that your role in the subcontinental and international setup will be amplified. Currently, in the modern day world, New Zealand and Norway are the two countries which accept the highest number of migrants. The last time Norway faced a threat to national security was in 2011 when a radical detonated a bomb in a public square in Oslo, also, Norway has been experienced steady economic growth ever since then and has faced a stable increment in its real GDP per capita as well, in simple words, accepting more migrants and making its borders more open has led to the benefit of the country instead of its downfall. Crime rates have fallen and the average income has steadily increased too, also, employment levels have increased too. New Zealand too has experienced economic growth and an increase in its human development index, it is one of the world’s leaders in terms of minority rights and has faced a steady increment in labour productivity over the last few years, clearly, the real world proves that migration is a boon instead of a bane. According to statistics published by the World Bank, if all the developed countries in the world let in 3% more immigrants, the lower class throughout the world will have 305 billion dollars to spend, that’s a lot of money!!!

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However, increased migration may have negative effects as well. Migrants may destroy job opportunities for workers with weak skill sets and may lead to decrease the market wage in an economy, as there would be a higher number of workers. Also, if a country is already at full employment, migrants may have to resort to means such as crime and working in the unorganized sector to earn money for their family, no matter how honourable their motivations may be, their deeds will certainly speak for themselves. Also, an overwhelming majority of migrants is forced to resort to manual labour, also, the migrants coming in may have to engage in assimilation, that is, blending their cultural beliefs and values with that of the host country, families which may do not do so may be seen as ‘outlandish’ in a negative way.

To conclude, migration is another matter of perspective, sure, it has negative aspects as well but doesn’t everything in the modern day world? As of now, we know that migration is a part of globalisation but mankind can’t seem to decide whether or not it is something that boosts our growth or hampers it. It seems that the potential benefits of migration outweigh the potential disadvantages but there is still ambiguity, mainly because of the word ‘potential.’ Migration, as of now, is an untested event on the global scale, some countries have prospered because of it and some countries have faced problems because of it but until migration and a system of open borders is tested out on a global scale, no one can say what migration is or what it will prove to be.

Cataclysm

And who are you, the proud lord said,

that I must bow so low?

Only a cat of a different coat, 

that’s all the truth I know.

In a coat of gold or a coat of red,

a lion still has claws,

and mine are long and sharp, my lord,

as long and sharp as yours.

And so he spoke, and so he spoke,

that lord of Castamere

And now the rains weep o’er his hall,

with no one there to hear

Yes now the rains weep o’er his hall

and not a soul to hear.

Many of you would recognize the poem above, it isn’t from a great literary work or from the writings of Shakespeare, no, it’s from the popular television series and novel, ‘Game of Thrones.’ In many ways, this poem serves as a comparison to the modern world. Humanity too stands proud, its achievements standing high behind it. Mankind is full of pride, and sometimes too much pride to admit that it is destroying itself. It fails to ‘bow down’ in front of the problems it is facing and has decided to present lies and falsehoods to the general public. Currently, mankind faces seven major problems, pessimistic social stereotypes, climate change, a refugee crisis, global terrorism, lack of innovation in the field of physics, lack of worldwide and literacy and perhaps the biggest one, denial.

“If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change” – Michael Jackson

What is denial? Denial is when someone is facing a crisis and decides to think that the situation doesn’t exist, that it has been forged and is fake. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we humans have a natural tendency to deny problems. Almost half of the population surely believe that Climate Change is just a small thing that doesn’t threaten anybody and the other half who do view it as a problem feel that we’re already countering it effectively or it is yet to impact humans on colossal scales. Denial is when you look the lion in the eye and force yourself to believe that it is a cat. Denial threatens to collapse the structures of humanity.

“The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis” – Dante

These problems may result in our species going extinct, they’re complex and require dynamic solutions. We can only fight climate change if countries stick together and we can only put an end to terrorism with decisive and strategic strikes. This may seem simple on paper but isn’t in reality. The modern world is full of political tensions and hidden agendas, but sometimes, countries come together to do something good once and for all. A stunning example of this is the International Space Station, an icon of collaboration and a place where people of different nationalities represent only one thing, Earth. It is human nature to not let go of your borders, to try and defeat your enemy and work with your allies but when humans and governments overcome that influence, the results are truly stunning. There are more instances littered through history, instances which experienced mankind banding together. When a species is faced with an extinction level problem, it has a natural urge to eliminate hostile tensions and react accordingly to the situation, it has to evolve or has to die.

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A major question that is littering the modern world is “What will be the next key evolutionary process for humans.” Evolution is the reason we exist, but it may also be the reason behind our extinction. Many people, including scientists and world leaders, are asking themselves whether or not the next evolutionary change will be natural or artificial, what if it is meant to be artificial and our lack of knowledge regarding it may be the reason behind our end. If we were to draw an analogy and term the Earth as the ‘host,’ we would instantly become the virus. The behaviour of our species is viral in nature. In order to better understand this fact, you need to comprehend a key fact, the dinosaurs lived for 66 million years, 330 times the amount of time humans have lived (humans have lived for a paltry 200,000 years). Despite living for a phenomenally long amount of time, the dinosaurs never brought life close to extinction purposefully, nor did they ever change the composition of the atmosphere and they never invented extremely dangerous weapons which could practically reform the face of the planet. Humans are like a virus due to their behaviour. If you had to sum up all of mankind’s history on this planet, it would be similar to the following lines

  1. Inhabited a host
  2. Established states, empires and borders and killed each other like no species ever before
  3. Replicated without order, exponentially, starved the host of its resources
  4. Altered natural conditions on the host,
  5. Getting prepared to leave it, at least making plans to spread to other hosts (Mars, the moon etc.)

Got this? A typical virus inhibits a host, devastates it and moves on and that is what we are doing. If we don’t alter our practices right now, we may never get to experience a binary sunset, we may never breathe in the air of a planet far, far away and we will never get to see movies such as ‘alien’ come to life.

The very existence of life requires destruction, our existence required the destruction of the dinosaurs. If we want to progress up the Kardashev scale and become an interstellar species, we have to destroy these problems, destroy tensions, destroy borders and truly become one.

If you ever think that your actions won’t be able to achieve anything, think about the world you will be creating for future generations, think about what is still out there, what mysteries are waiting for us in the dark expanses of space and with time, where will humans be.

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Diplomatic Warzone

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Above is a picture of Fiery Cross Island, a coral reef subject to a land reclamation process by the Chinese Government, it lies in the South China Sea, a region currently involved in grave tensions between multiple nations, including the USA and China. The above island lies outside China’s nautical territory, and thus invites outrage from multiple nations but what makes it truly special is the fact that six years ago, it didn’t exist.

This island doesn’t stand alone, it has six more companions, built by the Chinese Government in a place in the South China Sea called the Spratly islands, which lie closer to the Philippines than they do to the Chinese mainland. Moreover, China is not the only claimant in the heavily disputed region, six other countries, including the Philippines and Malaysia, lay claim to some part of the South China Sea. Why does this body of water attract so much attention, it’s rich, RICH, in resources such as oil and natural gas, it has various types of fish species along with heavy numbers and also contains key ports that give nations access to a market of 2.2 billion people. Also, almost a third of international trade passes through here, Giving nations with access to the South China Sea an unimaginable economic power. Most nations on the circumference of the sea use the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea as a basis for their claim. However, China states it has a historical claim over the South China Sea, using maps dating back to the  18th and 19th centuries to formulate a claim over the region, ignoring claims put forward by other nations, it calls the boundary of its claimed territory the nine-dash line, and it encompasses almost the entire South China Sea, ignoring the Exclusive Economic Zones of other states.

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The South China Sea isn’t just a zone for extreme tensions, its important in the modern world, the United States of America, on one side, don’t want to risk provoking China but have to protect their long-standing ally, the Philippines. Russia too wants to honour its alliance with China by backing up Chinese Claims, but also wants to ensure some victories for its military ally, Vietnam.

“Look what they’re doing [The Chinese], they’re building a massive fortress against everything. A massive fortress in the South China Sea and yet they’re ripping us off” – Donald Trump, P.O.T.U.S

In all, this crisis has attracted some of the biggest players in the modern, international setup. Steve Bannon, a Former White House Chief Strategist, has already declared that the USA will go to war over the South China Sea in about another decade or so. Any country with access to the South China Sea gets to connect the markets of South Asia and the Middle Eastern economic hubs. If China gets the sea, it could be the first step to becoming not the second global superpower, but the first hyperpower. If the Philippines gets a portion of the Sea, tensions could grow between USA and China, maybe outside trade too.

“We do not need countries outside the region finger-pointing on this issue, let alone making any ignorant remarks” – Yang Yujun, Chinese Ministry of national defense

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The South China Sea dispute is a complex problem, with complex solutions.

Also, see:

The WIMUN Experience