CementJigsawFairness has always been one of the aspirations of an ideal society. From the school playground to the International Court of Justice, fairness forms the basis of peaceful coexistence. Equality before law, one person one vote, empowerment of women, affirmative action, and the welfare state are attempts at realizing the principle of fairness and building a more equitable society. Environment protection is no exception. The ‘polluter pays’ principle forms the backbone of most multilateral environment agreements, most notably the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Under this convention, developed countries responsible for the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions from 200 years of industrialization have to commit to reducing their emissions drastically. Developing countries can industrialize without binding restrictions for the moment. But for how long? Until they reach a sufficient level of economic development? Until the CO2 in the atmosphere reaches 400ppm? Until the consequences of climate change outweigh the benefits of fossil fuel based industrialization?

Developing countries are prepared in theory to accept binding commitments but with a tricky caveat – the commitments should be based on the principle of social justice and not put a massive handbrake on their economic development. Sure, green energy and the carbon market were designed to achieve these goals but it will take several decades and a total overhaul of the standard development pathway for them to have any effect. Developing countries like China and India that are riding on the crest of a quick & dirty economic boom cannot afford to wait for the promised shipment of green tech to arrive. This is at the very heart of the reluctance of developing countries to accept binding greenhouse gas emission reduction commitments. Is there a way to successfully juggle climate change mitigation, rapid economic development and climate justice?

One solution is concrete. Not as glamorous as gleaming wind turbines or shiny electric cars, this ubiquitous construction material has a lot to offer for little investment. For starters it is the most widely used material on the planet. Currently cement production is responsible for 5-8% of all global man-made emissions. Hence even though the cement industry is notorious for greenhouse gas emissions, there is a lot of potential due to the sheer scale of the stuff we use. To put this in perspective, even a modest 10% reduction in emissions in producing a cubic metre of concrete would result in savings equivalent to the total CO2 emissions produced by the entire steel industry. Demand for concrete is expected to double or even treble by 2050. And guess where concrete demand is coming from?

Emission reductions in concrete manufacture can be achieved in two ways – 1) increasing the energy efficiency of cement plants or 2) partially substituting cement with less energy-intensive materials. The first option has pretty much been optimised with the energy efficiency in the best cement plants touching 80%. The second option has more potential. Fly ash, a waste product from burning coal can replace up to 30% of the cement in concrete production. However, there is nowhere near enough fly ash in developing countries to match the demand for cement. Thus the answer lies in finding a locally abundant cement substitute. This will also go some way in addressing the emissions resulting from transporting raw material, cement and clinker around the world.

A potential candidate is clay. Clay is definitely an abundant raw material and studies have shown that calcined clay (clay that undergoes a thermal treatment process) can replace between 30-60% of cement in concrete without compromising its durability. However, more research is needed to accurately predict the behaviour & interactions of calcined clays in concrete and their long-term performance over the lifespan of a concrete building. That is small price to pay for a key piece in the greenhouse gas emissions reduction puzzle.


Technology Roadmap: Low-Carbon Technology for the Indian Cement Industry

The Laboratory of Construction Materials, EPFL

Nanocem: The Industrial-Academic Research Network on Cement and Concrete




Die monster die…

August 28, 2010

You know how those monsters in the movies are killed in the end, but just before the movie credits roll some slimy body part spookily begins to twitch ? Cue hopelessly optimistic producers hoping to turn the ghastly movie you’ve already regretted watching into a franchise horror, usually replacing the meagre traces of acting with even more special effects and sex.

The same holds true for the mining giant Vedanta whose controversial bauxite mining permit in the Nyamgiri Hills in eastern India was revoked. You couldn’t make it up ; big mining company with a dodgy reputation, picturesque tribals whose way of life was threatened, international organisations who fed the media with Avatar movie parallels, an Environment Ministry that suddenly woke up to its responsibilities and finally even the Church of England withdrawing its shares in Vedanta fearing negative publicity or fall in share prices or both. Vedanta was caught in a perfect storm that had only one inevitable conclusion. They took it in the balls. And like all good movie monsters they slithered to a dark place to lick their wounds and bide their time. We know the beast still lives and breathes and that a sequel is in the offing; But now is the time to rejoice.

Indigenous peoples have always had others making decisions about their lives; where they should live (wherever we want them to), what they should be called (primitive, criminal, scheduled, backward), how they should look (colourful, noble, bare-breasted) and which Gods they should pray to (Jesus, Hanuman, Mao, Capitalism, Marxism). And they have had enough of this shit. So, instead of pretending I know how they feel about being screwed by all and sundry, I give you the Dehradun Declaration of June 2009;

“We, the forest people of the world – living in the woods, surviving on the fruits and crops, farming on the jhoom land, re-cultivating the forest land, roaming around with our herds – have occupied this land since ages. We announce loudly, in unity and solidarity, that let there be no doubt on the future: we are the forests, and the forests are us, and our existence is mutually dependent. The crisis faced by our forests and environment today will only intensify without us.

This is no ordinary crisis. Not merely a climate crisis – or in your words, this magnified self-created monster of a financial crisis. We believe it is a Crisis of Civilizations. It’s no ordinary clash but a fundamental clash between our knowledge systems; of being, of nature and your wisdom, technology, and demonic tendencies. Your world rests on ideas of power, territories, boundaries, profit, exploitation and oppression and you try to own everything, including Mother Nature. This is what drives your civilisation. You need this world of oppression and exploitation; to survive and feel good. If you want to include us in your world by ‘civilising’ us, we will happily choose to remain uncivilised. Call us savages, we do not care! We have learnt amidst these trees, this water, this air, and other forest beings – a life of freedom, of being without boundaries, and yet never forgetting the boundaries of nature. You need your legal monoliths and your structures of governance to attempt to tide over this crisis, but for us the laws of nature, learnt and assimilated over generations are sufficient.

You talk of attaining Independence on August 15 1947… What is that? We, the forest people and the forests have been independent since ages. You tried enslaving us; by trapping us in your illusion that believes in converting living beings into slaves – hollow occupants of servile bodies – a life of death; by capturing our forests, establishing your false laws of oppression and exploitation – contradicting the fundamental laws of nature. We know the way you exploited and enslaved our native American comrades in other parts of the world. Let us remind you that you behaved no differently than those feudal and imperialist ancestors of yours. We, therefore, reject your unnatural law, your civilization of tyranny and cruelty. What freedom? We see no freedom, in being driven out of our forests, separated from water, land, fields, trees, air, and friendly animals, to the ecosystem to which we belong. What freedom, which doesn’t forget to chain its own brothers and sisters. False Freedom! We see no truth in a society that remains haunted by the prosperity of a few capitalists, whilst, never forgetting to oppress the workers, adivasis, dalits, women and poor of the world! We reject you!

Forest Rights Act, you need it more than us. If you think you are bestowing rights on us, then you are wrong. We have lived with these forests for ages. Our ancestors, gods, goddesses, friends and life lived in this and will continue to live here. We don’t define rights, we know what is ours and to whom we belong. We are the forests, the forests are us. Out of necessity, if you want to talk the language of rights, we are ready for it. It’s your need to recognise our rights over the forests and correct the historical injustices and exploitation. However, if by granting pattas (land titles) over a portion of forest you conspire to control, commodify, and sell the rest of the forests, then you are wrong. We understand your vested intentions and are determined to save the forests from your corrupt desires of exploitation, developmentalism, ill-sighted conservation, and technological fixes.

If you think the ghosts of commodity capitalism are going to chain our minds and souls for eternity, then you are mistaken. From the forests, the nature we have learnt that power is not infinite, exploitation is not infinite too. We, the labouring workers, adivasis, and dalits don’t treat the forest a resource to be exploited but as something which lives and supports life.

There is a climate crisis around and no amount of free trade, capital, or technology will eliminate the roots of this crisis. You forget that the crises has emanated from the way your society is structured – an edifice based on an unending desire for resources and a way of life that sees nature as an object of exploitation and extraction. Fools! You are doomed to bear the brunt and suffer the pains of your actions, but we ask you – Why must we suffer? You have intruded in our lifestyle, in the rhythm of Mother Earth. You have corrupted the environs by your vehicles, industries, arms, and development and your actions have created a crisis in our homes. You have sinned against the essence of our being, and amidst our rage and tears, we reject the basis of your being: a thought – of mistrust, of control, of vicious self-interest, of injustice, and blame.

How dare you blame us for a climate crisis? It is the product of un-natural practices, and it has devastated our lives. How could you cut our trees unthinkingly? The temperature is increasing, rainfall is diminishing, and the forests are burning – consuming themselves in pain. Now you want us out of our habitats in the name of conserving our forests! You kill, unsparingly, relish in “terrorizing” busts of tigers, decorating your mantelpiece – all pointing to your moral sensibility – and yet you have the audacity to tell us to leave the forests so that you can protect the Tigers! What law do you know? Who are you to teach what is legal? You are illegal – contradicting the very law of nature – of coexistence. You have no solutions – you only destroy.

You may not care of our times, but spare a thought for the coming generations, their inheritance. Do you wish to present to them a world of chaos and destruction? Are you so blinded by your greed? At least, now – in this crisis – we need to unite, all civilizations, and forest people of the world, to resolve the crisis, to restore our relationship with nature.

Today, at Dehradun, we call for and welcome the solidarity and harmony of all world’s forest people – workers, adivasis, and fellow travellers – on this journey to realizing the fulfilment of our existence, in communion with our forests. We warn your civilization that we are a people, united in struggle against the structure of capitalism – of greed, thievery, and profiteering. We warn the nations of the world, that you must not forget to honour our existence, or else – from deep within our hearts – we shout out loud: NO MORE SILENCE! We will rise from the ashes of your devastating fire! To resist your order, undeterred by your traps. We will rise – a united forest people – together, in strength and solidarity, to challenge the very fabric of your civilization, and become one with nature, again!”

It’s happened again. Tigers wiped out of another National Park in India. Panna National Park now joins Sariska National Park in having ‘lost’ all its tigers. But Panna is different from Sariska in the sense that the warning bells were sounded from 2002 onwards and completely disregarded for 7 years by the State Forest Department in charge of the Park. If there is one word that encapsulates the loss of Panna’s striped felines, it is ‘Denial’ with a capital ‘D’. In India, ‘when the going gets tough, those in charge get denying’. Woe betide the wildlife warden who dares state that the tigers in his park are vanishing under his watch. Admission of failure is non-existent in Government circles and whistleblowers face severe consequences. The Forest Department has complete control over India’s Protected Areas and restricted access ensures lack of accountability. Hell, even the Forest Department does not know what is happening within their Parks.

The officer cadres of the Department usually have no background or interest in wildlife and only join for the ‘prestige’ and ‘salary for life’ offered by Indian Forest Service. Most of them view their training at the Wildlife Institute of India as a punishment and are not too pleased at being posted away from their native place, far from cities. They end up spending most of their time pushing paper instead of being in the field. The lower rungs of the Forest Department; rangers, foresters, forest guards and forest watchers bear the real burden of running the Park. They are poorly paid, ill equipped and lack motivation. The Forest Department seldom has the support of local communities as many of the Parks were designated without public consultation and claims were not settled.

The poaching game has changed and become more professional and organised. An intricate network of poachers, transporters and middlemen has made the big fish even more difficult to catch. Only lately have poachers and middlemen been prosecuted by the law after seizures of wildlife products. The Forest Department has no intelligence gathering mechanism in place on the ground and the recently created Wildlife Crime Control Bureau and National Tiger Conservation Authority only react to events in an investigative role. Poachers are still using snares and gin traps to catch tigers and have not yet acquired automatic weapons like in Africa. However, an armed rebel militia called Maoists or Naxalites could be a major potential threat if they take up poaching to finance their struggle.

Habitat loss has meant that tigers in India are being confined to small forest islands and inbreeding depression will soon be a major problem. But organised poaching and an unaccountable Forest Department could hasten the process manifold.