Thursday, June 7, 2012

Bottom-Up Solutions

I think we need some better news...
A little over 30 years ago, a teenager named Jadav "Molai" Payeng began burying seeds along a barren sandbar near his birthplace in northern India's Assam region to grow a refuge for wildlife. Not long after, he decided to dedicate his life to this endeavor, so he moved to the site where he could work full-time creating a lush new forest ecosystem. Incredibly, the spot today hosts a sprawling 1,360 acre of jungle that Payeng planted single-handedly.

The Times of India recently caught up with Payeng in his remote forest lodge to learn more about how he came to leave such an indelible mark on the landscape:

It all started way back in 1979 when floods washed a large number of snakes ashore on the sandbar. One day, after the waters had receded, Payeng , only 16 then, found the place dotted with the dead reptiles. That was the turning point of his life.

"The snakes died in the heat, without any tree cover. I sat down and wept over their lifeless forms. It was carnage . I alerted the forest department and asked them if they could grow trees there. They said nothing would grow there. Instead, they asked me to try growing bamboo. It was painful, but I did it. There was nobody to help me. Nobody was interested," says Payeng, now 47.

While it's taken years for Payeng's remarkable dedication to planting to receive some well-deserved recognition internationally, it didn't take long for wildlife in the region to benefit from the manufactured forest. Demonstrating a keen understanding of ecological balance, Payeng even transplanted ants to his burgeoning ecosystem to bolster its natural harmony. Soon the shadeless sandbar was transformed into a self-functioning environment where a menagerie of creatures could dwell. The forest, called the Molai woods, now serves as a safe haven for numerous birds, deers, rhinos, tigers, and elephants -- species increasingly at risk from habitat loss elsewhere.
Indian Man Single-Handedly Plants a 1,360 Acre Forest (Treehugger)
For more than a decade, Chartwat has been working with like minds to sensitise residents of Amnat Charoen to rethink their problems and their roles to try to change their situations instead of being on the receiving end of top-down policies.

Town hall-style meetings have since become a fixture in communities across the province so that shared problems can be discussed. Among them: Low rice prices, indebtedness, health problems from farm chemicals, the school system that makes the children look down on parents and local culture, destructive development, degraded natural environment, high costs of living, exploitation from the middlemen. They are the same problems suffered by the rest of the country. So is the red-yellow divide. "But when we focus on our shared problems, shared goals and the need to work together, the colour difference is no longer important," he explained.

On Feb 13, nearly 15,000 people turned up at the city hall to declare their Amnat Charoen Charter for governance by the people's agenda. The first of its kind, the charter specifies the blueprints on local governance, social welfare, education, ecological farming, the environment, and access to information on policies that affect their community. "Our charter is not a set of laws to force people to obey," said Chartwat. "It's our shared visions and community rules for us to abide by in our work to create well-being for people in Amnat Charoen."

For example, village councils are responsible for setting up development plans from bottom up. Public hearings will be carried out up to the district and provincial levels. The final development plan for Amnat Charoen will then be presented to the governor to comply with the will of the people. "If people are strong and work together, they will create a social force so powerful that politicians and officials cannot deny it. We therefore must empower people first."

His conclusion came after successive disappointments with many progressive laws which have failed to result in changes. "It's because those laws still entrust power in the top-down officialdom. And the laws can be distorted when people remain passive. We then have to change strategies. We must empower people first. With the law to support our work or not, if we insist in implementing our development plans ourselves, change will happen anyway and it will grow, until there must be a law to recognise it."

Political violence and coups cannot change Thailand because power is still concentrated at the top, he said. Nor any high-minded laws, even constitutions, when the majority remain passive. "But we can change Thailand at the core if the locals realise their power, that state policies must support their agenda and their well-being. This requires much hard work on the ground, and much stamina against difficulties. But it is the only way real change can take place."
Change will only come from the bottom up (Bangkok Post) via Naked Capitalism
“Things are much easier now,” Anand says, describing how he used to go through 5 liters (1 gallon) of fuel a month, almost half of it bought from the black market at four times the price of government kerosene rations. “There was never enough.”

Anand is on the crest of an electricity revolution that’s sweeping through power markets and threatening traditional utilities’ dominance of the world’s supply.

From the poorest parts of Africa and Asia to the most- developed regions in the U.S. and Europe, solar units such as Anand’s and small-scale wind and biomass generators promise to extend access to power to more people than ever before. In the developing world, they’re slashing costs in the process.

Across India and Africa, startups and mobile phone companies are developing so-called microgrids, in which stand- alone generators power clusters of homes and businesses in places where electric utilities have never operated.

In Europe, cooperatives are building their own generators and selling power back to the national or regional grid while information technology developers and phone companies are helping consumers reduce their power consumption and pay less for the electricity they do use.
Farmers Foil Utilities Using Cell Phones To Access Solar (Bloomberg)

The Messy Art Of Saving The World (Core77)

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