Opinion

Simple solutions for big environmental challenges

Neeraj Akhoury | Updated on June 09, 2021

Finding them requires, among other steps, more public spending on grassroots level innovation

There is an ancient practice that is quite common even today among the more conservative households in the South. The families mix a little rice flour with the limestone powder used for drawing kolam (or rangoli) outside every portal in the house. The thinking behind it is that most creatures that come crawling into our homes are looking for food and therefore serving the rice flour even before the creatures enter our homes seems to be a simple and humane solution to a common household challenge.

There are innumerable examples of such ‘home remedies’ for environmental challenges in every corner of India. The common elements that bind these solutions are that they are mostly simple, humane, and local. Most of these practices are woven into our daily lives and, therefore, have become second nature to us, to a point where we do them unconsciously now. Even by today’s standards, there is no serious technology behind many of these ideas that have withstood the test of time. While the role of big and advanced technology is invaluable, there is also a case to be made out in favour of simple solutions that can be accessed by common citizens.

Plastic removal project

A plastic removing project is currently being piloted in Mantola Canal (Yamuna River) in Agra that uses bubbles produced by compressed air to push junk to the surface. The plastic wastes are then collected and processed in a local cement plant as alternative fuel.

Further, aeration in the water body also increases dissolved oxygen levels leading to an overall improvement in the water quality. While this ‘bubble technology’ is new in India, it has already been successfully put to use in Europe. The impact of replicating this across all water bodies in India can be quite amazing.

The most recently available data places India third in the list of countries that emit the most carbon dioxide, though much lower than China and the US and around the 20th rank in terms of per capita CO2 emission. But given the size of the challenge we face today and its impact on the health of the population and the economy, it is going to take an all-hands-on-the deck approach to solve our environmental challenges. Environmental science is a very large tent in which thousands (if not millions) of smart people are working and investing billions of dollars to find sustainable solutions to our challenges. However, there is also enough room for all kinds innovations including simple ones that are technologically and financially suitable for a particular country or location.

For example, a small engineering start-up near Delhi is producing black ink and paint captured from the exhaust pipes of diesel generators. In spirit, this idea shares a lot with the bubbles that are cleaning up the Yamuna — simple, clean and comes with a viable economic roadmap.

However, our success in finding several such simple solutions to the environmental challenges will depend on the kind of ecosystem we create.

First, while it is good to see youngsters around the world becoming more active these days, the message has to reach every school-going child in the country. Second, we need to constantly rekindle the spirit of science and make it more universal in terms of access to learning.

Third, increase public spending that will encourage more grassroots level innovation. One can only guess how many good ideas are collecting dust in semi-urban and rural parts of India. Finally, create a self-contained ecosystem that provides access to capital, technology and market to find green solutions.

The writer is CEO India, LafargeHolcim, and CEO & MD of Ambuja Cement. Views are personal

Published on June 09, 2021

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