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Image Credit (Book Cover): Notion Press

Review By Pallavi Singh

VERDICT: Environment learning beyond classrooms…this new book by the Chicago-based Dr. Vasudevan Rajaram, and India-lovers Keith Olson and New York City-based Lynn Tiede serves as a useful handbook for senior school children, graduates, and working professionals alike. Based on hard research and rich experience – it is something that you would want to keep around. Go for it..!

SNIPPETS:

Book: Climate Change And Environment. How It Impacts Us All.
Authors: Dr. Vasudevan Rajaram, Keith Olson, Lynn Tiede
Publisher: Notion Press | Pages: 196 | Price: Rs. 295
How to Buy? Click here for details
Publisher’s Summary: Climate Change and Environment offers hands-on exercises and activities that teachers and students can use to make the theory of Climate Change and Environment become practical in their day-to-day lives. The book offers solutions to the impacts of climate change ranging from social response to the impacts, and technologies.

BOOK REVIEW

From about the time the New Education Policy was announced in 2020, there has been a churn in every university, every graduate college, or diploma-offering polytechnic institute. India produces nearly 1.5 million engineers from over 2500 engineering colleges, while only 2.5 lakhs get jobs in the core engineering industry, scarcely 15% to 18% of graduate engineers. India produces about three lakh management graduates annually, with hardly 35,000 of them being employable – it is useful to know that India is home to more than 6,000 business schools offering PGDM and MBA, and a noteworthy number of these Business Schools claim to offer a great quality of management education and placements. The country has 800,000 engineering diploma holders entering the job market every year from over 2100 polytechnics. With 400 architecture colleges that have an average intake of 60 students, we produce around 24,000 graduates per year. There are 320 state-owned universities, and the number of affiliate colleges and deemed universities for Bachelors and Masters Programmes are a staggering 34,000 colleges. More than 10 lakh students graduate every year in India, and out of these, more than 60% remain unemployed or underpaid. A little over eight percent (110 million Indians) are graduates.

The New education policy drew a deal of attention and caused discomfort among many private colleges which were minor money-making factories, among the top rungs of such colleges. The NEP offers the choice for a student to exit after every year of learning, secure a certificate for the year’s learning, and the option to return to the college or another college offering what the student wants at such point of re-entry. This means that private colleges have to ensure they do their best to get the student to stay after every year and through the full 2-year or 3-year or 4- or 5-year program that s/he enters.

India continues to have many students who are first-generation graduates as many from the rural hinterland and from the poorer sections of the urban populace strive to get their children to go past school and head for college for a future unlike their own. And many colleges and polytechnic institutes now face the new uncertainty of revenues year upon year, with the exit option with certification that the NEP offers to students.

As a policy document, you cannot fault the NEP for not getting into specifics of what is taught and the emphasis that colleges and faculty lay on making graduates employable, with the course content being relevant to such potential employment opportunities while building students who are future-ready for the country’s rapidly rising economic development needs. And the challenge has secured a further twist as young Indians face a slew of challenges with the wholly unprecedented crisis on water, energy, the rising mountains of waste that cities put out, eroded soils thanks to degraded forests, and the massive resource efficiencies that every business and industrial segment faces. Nearly all minerals and such exhaustible resources of iron ore, coal reserves, alumina, limestone, river bed sand, and a host of other minerals will not last beyond the next 15-20 years at the current rate of extraction.

Typically, a semester offers about 400-plus hours of learning over 13 weeks of classes. That translates to about 40-45 hours of learning every week. How much of this is dedicated to learning concepts and theory, and what is the quantum of time students spend learning by doing. Should the education imparted continue to teach things that were learned in the 1980s or 1970s? What can teachers and faculty do to get students to girdle up for a future that has simply no precedents as solutions from the past? Can schools and colleges continue to pay lip service with ‘Practicals’ being addressed the way they are today?

This new generation of school- and college-going kids in India have to be sensitized to learning about environmental threats. Young working professionals in the industry, business, and commercial segments have to be put through the ropes of how to grow the business of such employers, while bringing efficiency in the use of water or energy, or of construction materials, and a host of other needs for running buildings. From 20 years ago, when the cost of running a building on its costs of water or energy which was manageable, today such costs have shot up dramatically. At schools or colleges across the country and states, what can be done to bring a conscious shift in the way students are ‘taught’ or how they ‘learn’ these aspects of environmental costs and how they manage and mitigate them into the future.

Even professionals working in areas of urban and environmental planning or sustainability falter when you ask them simple questions on what their apartment of, say, 500 flats consumes as water every day. Ask a Masters in Sustainability in some of the premier NGOs as to what it takes to create a solution for bringing down water demand dramatically, they draw a blank. ‘Writing a research paper on sustainability comes easier for even some of the senior environment professionals, while knowledge and skills to break down the components to understand how a building or a hotel or a factory can reduce its carbon emissions to meet the country’s overall emission reduction goals is appallingly low among many thousands of such sustainability ‘researcher experts’.

Says a senior executive at the Indian Green Building Council, DrShivaraj Dhaka, “The IGBC offers some of the finest rating systems for a variety of building typologies. We even offer Net Zero Water and Net Zero Energy rating systems, in order to encourage such efficiencies in the management of water and energy. But many companies are not able to accomplish such goals because there are not enough experts who know how to guide such Net Zero solutions.”

Climate Change & Environment is a book that is in some ways exceptional for the practical approach it shows. Over a dozen chapters, the book sets down the facts in as brief and crisp a way as possible, while the focus in every chapter is largely on case exercises, field demonstrations that teachers can mentor, and research at very basic applied levels that students can undertake. “The effort,” says Dr. Vasudevan Rajaram, the lead author, “is to get teachers and students to go beyond learning of concepts and into what it means in real life.” Of what use is the teaching or the learning of principles of engineering if the student can’t work out how much water fell on the college campus the last evening with say 10 mm rainfall? Or how much water the rooftops of the college or of the teacher’s house can harvest every year, that can be used for drinking or other purposes?

Ask any student of engineering or environment planning or architecture or urban and regional planner, how much rainfall potentially can fall in a year on a hectare of land or 10,000 Sft of a rooftop, you get vacant stares. “The ability to learn by rote is all we have managed to give our children in schools and colleges over 50 years of education both at school and college,” says ArunSeetharam, a Bengaluru-based advisor for higher education. “Any environment and sustainability course that is taught is because it is a compulsory course ‘ordered’ by the Supreme Court, not because it is important that students have to understand and appreciate that the environment is a challenge.” He goes on, “The Millennial is not anymore interested in the theory of environment or ecology. They want to know why climate change is impacting them, what they can do about it, and how their doing will make a difference. They want teachers to tell them of such defined impact.”

The book’s thoughts on environmental impact open up a window for readers to think about human nature, and how we process the complex idea of climate change. The writers let you think about how you can deal with climate change. It unfolds with examples of how you determine the root cause and find a way to address that. It tells you how much you can really do to make a difference. It shows you many examples of how reducing your personal carbon footprint is important, and possible. Lynn who has spent 3 years as a Fulbright scholar in India, has contributed to the effort to make the Case exercises relevant to the challenges of climate change and India.

One of many activities that the book lists as ‘Activities and Exercises’ runs, “Mahatma Gandhi urged Indians to use biogas using animal waste in villages. How much biogas is produced from such animal waste? Write a short report on biogas production. Is it replacing the use of wood for fuel?” An exercise of this nature, in the good hands of a committed teacher, can raise many questions and satisfy the curiosity of young minds, whether they are in school or college. Or, take for instance, another case exercise, “Review the website of your State Pollution Control Board and write a 5-page report on policies and rules being implemented. Find out if your local government is implementing the PCB rules.” Says a teacher, “This means we have to read a lot more. We have to understand what these regulations are before we can ask our students to take this up as an exercise.”

This book heralds a new beginning. It sets you thinking on what is seemingly obvious: the need to correct the disconnect between textbook learning of things that impact us, and the reality of massive deficits that we see around us in our daily lives in this new and climate-challenged future.

The book is based on hard research and rich experience is evident from the lucid unfolding of different aspects of climate change and all the things that are beginning to hurt us in our daily lives. The authors’ talent for creating numerous examples makes it an easy and compelling read. Through the examples they set, they help every learner cope with environmental changes with little support.

It demonstrates just how worthwhile and easy it is to relate and work together to find solutions to protect our environment. Both the high-end researcher and a graduate can relate to the actions the authors suggest.

This is a book you would prefer not to just read and put away. It is something that you would want to keep around…to refer, to think through new ideas and activities that you can impart to students or to working professionals. It is a book that reminds you that there are solutions, and that you can be part of creating them.

Pallavi Singh, AltTech Foundation, Bengaluru
About the Reviewer

Pallavi Singh is an environment planner and researcher at the AltTech Foundation, Bengaluru.

WOW AF is a multi-city citizen-led initiative now in action in four Indian cities of Bengaluru, Chennai, Trichy, Hyderabad, and moving soon to four more cities in the country, and is led by water experts and citizen leaders who seek to bring water efficiency with water-users adopting solutions to meet a Mission Target of Saving 3000 Crore Liters in these cities.