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Our present consumptive life style is totally unsustainable. For example an average American consumes 350 Gigajules/year-the highest per capita energy in the world. If every person on this earth has the same wasteful life style as an American then we will require 4 earths to sustain it.
Contrast to this with 18 GJ/yr used by an average Indian which is about 5% that of an American. A middle path between U.S. and Indian energy consumption has to be found so that we have sustainable lifestyle. One can live very decently in about 50-70 GJ per person/yr energy consumption. This amount of energy fueled the life style of Europeans in 1970s which was comfortable and with modern high technologies is achievable. If every citizen of this planet consumes this much energy then earth can support all its inhabitants. Thus for a sustainable India and possibly the world we need to change our life style and at the same time look for alternative sources of energy to sustain it.
Most of the R&D for getting a substitute for oil is based on getting it from biomass which is land based. Thus bio fuels are being produced from crops like corn, sweet sorghum, sugarcane, jatropha etc. Recently research is more focused on using biomass residues via cellulose conversion to ethanol. Since the people who own the cars have money, farming in some parts of the world is being driven to produce fuel rather than food. This is creating serious food shortages and consequent price rise in commodities. Thus use of land to produce bio fuels rather than food has dangerous consequences for the world.
All the life on this planet earth is solar energy based. It produces biomass for our food; produces oil from million years of stored biomass; produces wind and is also responsible for our rain and hence all our water supply. As we advance technologically we will follow this existing evolutionary strategy of life. Thus we will live off sustainably from our energy income (land based solar energy) rather than the capital (fossil fuels or stored solar energy). Use of solar energy together with agricultural residues therefore appears to be the best solution to live sustainably off the land.
All the solar based energies like direct solar or biomass are land or area based. Thus it is useful to have a perspective on their utilization and conversion efficiencies. Also the modern industrial society is electricity based, hence we like to convert all forms of primary energy (like oil, coal, nuclear, solar etc.) into electricity.
Direct conversion of solar energy into electricity either through photovoltaic (PV) cells or through thermal power systems is done at an overall conversion efficiency of 10 to 15% respectively. On the other hand conversion of solar energy to electricity through biomass (either through direct combustion in power plants or through alcohol or biodiesel based engine route) is extremely inefficient with efficiencies ranging from 0.05 to 0.1%. This low efficiency results because the photosynthetic efficiency of converting solar energy into biomass is < 1%. Thus direct conversion of solar into electricity is about 100 to 300 times more efficient than converting biomass into electricity! Consequently the area reduction for energy production by using direct solar energy will be 100-300 times. This is a huge area which can become free for food and chemicals production from biomass – something that is necessary for long term sustainability of mankind.
It is also interesting to note that solar thermal electricity generation can produce all the electricity (~20,000 MW) that the controversial nuclear deal will help produce from an area of 640 km2or that of just one taluka. Besides the plants can be set up in couple of years time as opposed to about 10 years or so that a nuclear plant takes to be setup. Also the energy (solar) falls on our country and there is also no problem of disposal of nuclear waste.
Nevertheless conversion of solar energy directly into electricity is presently not cheap since the capital cost is high and also the technology (for solar thermal) is still maturing. Presently there are two methods of producing electricity from solar thermal. In one system parabolic mirrors concentrate solar energy on to a tube which carries high temperature oil. This heats the oil to around 4000C which in turn produces steam to drive a turbine for electricity generation. In the other system called “Power Tower” tracking mirrors concentrate solar energy on to a tower where it heats the salt to around 10000C which in turn produces steam for turbines. Storage of high temperature oil and salt is still not perfected.
In fact the biggest problem in solar systems is storage of energy when sun is not shinning either during night or in the rainy season. This problem is not there in biomass since the energy is stored in biomass itself. Thus tremendous R&D is needed in battery storage for PV systems and thermal storage for solar thermal conversion systems. Consequently the funding for solar energy thermal systems should match that for biofuels.
In India we are hardly doing anything in the use of solar energy for electricity production via thermal route. Whereas close to 1000 MW is already being generated in U.S. and Europe via this method and the cost of electricity generation is coming down and is quite close to that from coal based power plants.
Similarly agricultural residues available in India can presently produce close to 80,000 MW of electricity or nearly 50% of total installed capacity in the country. Nevertheless for the improvement of land fertility it is necessary that most of these residues should be used as fertilizer. Thus emphasis should be put more on solar thermal electricity.
However all these energy development strategies will become untenable if we follow the U.S. life style and do not put a cap on our greed for materials, resources and energy. Present economic models are based on increased consumption and encourage greed. Ever increasing choices available to an average person fuel the greed impulse since the fear of missing out is very high. Spirituality can help in keeping our greed for materials and resources in check since it helps us become internally secure and hence less greedy.
Spirituality is the state of mind that makes us look deeply into ourselves or the spirit and gives a certain perspective in life. As a person progresses on the path of spirituality his or her priorities in life change. The focus of life shifts more towards getting personal happiness through mental peace and is less on material needs and desires and more towards sustainability. Recent examples of Mahatma Gandhi and Einstein have shown that with very few needs and living very simply they were able to produce the highest quality of thought.
The most important mantra in India is the Gayatri Mantra. It invokes the Sun God and requests him to give us wisdom and enlightenment so that we can live better lives. Use of solar energy to produce electricity via high technology and reducing our greed through spirituality is the best way to live according to its ideal. Indeed a combination of high technology together with spiritual growth will be a new paradigm of sustainable development.
(The author is the Director and Hon. Secretary Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute (NARI). He could be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Facebook says it plans to hire 10,000 workers in the European Union over the next five years to work on a new computing platform.
The company said in a blog post Sunday that those high-skilled workers will help build "the metaverse," a futuristic notion for connecting people online that encompasses augmented and virtual reality.
Facebook executives have been touting the metaverse as the next big thing after the mobile internet as they also contend with other matters such as antitrust crackdowns, the testimony of a whistleblowing former employee and concerns about how the company handles vaccine-related and political misinformation on its platform.
In a separate blog post Sunday, the company defended its approach to combating hate speech, in response to a Wall Street Journal article that examined the company's inability to detect and remove hateful and excessively violent posts. (VOA/RN)
Keywords: Facebook, Metaverse, Augmented and Virtual Reality
As children, singing the rhyme Rock A Bye Baby was a fun thing to do. It was a statement of thrill and adventure to imagine a child climbing to the top of a tree and rocking to sleep. Especially in the Indian context, rocking a baby to sleep by attaching the cradle to the tree is quite a common thing. But the origin of this rhyme, or lullaby, seems rooted in other histories.
The most popular notion associated with this lullaby is of women leaving their babies tied to tree branches, rocking to sleep with the wind. It is believed that at the time this lullaby was written, it was inspired by a coloniser who saw the Native American women tie their children in birch bark cradles to the trees. The babies went to sleep rocked by the gusts of wind while the parents went about their tasks.
A Native American wooden cradle Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Another interpretation of the rhyme is that it is an allegory to Betty Kenny, or Kenyon, as some versions record it. The Kenyons were a tree-dwelling family, and they used to live in a yew tree. They had carved the tree branches to fit their babies and allowed them to nestle there during the day. The part of the rhyme that talks about falling off the tree is a little scary in this context, but the speculation is that the tree branches were quite low.
The final interpretation of the lullaby has political allusions. King James II of England, was the last Catholic king. He had no heir and reportedly used another baby to impersonate his own. But he was found out and exiled in the Glorious Revolution that took place after he was deposed. The act of falling down from the cradle is a metaphor for those who make mistakes from being overconfident or proud.
The many versions that exist of the rhyme/lullaby make it confusing to really know why it was written in such a strange and morbid manner. Each version points to a different time in history where certain practices were prevalent. However, despite all the various interpretations available, the lullaby itself works wonders in rocking babies to sleep, and perhaps that is the only reason it has survived.
Keywords: Lullaby, Rhyme, King James II, Kenyons, Native Americans, Colonisers
As kids growing up in different states, Shoba Narayan and Michael Maliakel shared a love of one favorite film — "Aladdin." Both are of Indian descent, and in the animated movie, they saw people who looked like them.
That shared love has gone full-circle this month as Narayan and Maliakel lead the Broadway company of the musical "Aladdin" out of the pandemic, playing Princess Jasmine and the hero from the title, respectively.
"Growing up, there was such little South Asian and Middle Eastern representation in the American media, and Princess Jasmine was really all I had. She was a huge role model to me as someone who was intelligent and strong and independent and beautifully curious, and that's who I wanted to be," says Narayan, who grew up in Pennsylvania.
The pair arrived at "Aladdin" in very different ways. Maliakel is making his Broadway debut, but Narayan is a musical theater veteran, having made her Broadway debut in "Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812" and touring with "Hamilton" as Eliza Hamilton.
She was in "Wicked" as Nessarose when the pandemic shut down Broadway in March 2020. Her agent called in April with the prospect of auditioning for Jasmine. She sang "A Whole New World" over Zoom on gallery mode, pretending to be on a magic carpet. "It was a very unique experience," she says, laughing.
Disney producers flew her to New York to meet face-to-face and go through the material again. Narayan was asked to read with different Aladdin potential actors. She got the gig: "I went from a wicked witch to a Disney princess. Can't complain."
Maliakel, a native of New Jersey, came from the world of opera, a baritone who studied at Johns Hopkins University and the 2014 winner at the National Musical Theatre Competition. He trained his voice to be flexible, waiting for the right window to open.
"I didn't really see a lot of people doing what I wanted to do in the world," he says. "There just wasn't a whole lot of representation. So it's really hard to imagine yourself in those scenarios when you have no one to look up to as a role model or an example of how it could be done."
He played Porter and understudied Raoul in a national tour of "The Phantom of the Opera," which ended its run in Toronto just before the pandemic hit.
"I always dreamed that Broadway might happen someday," he says, laughing. "I'm just kind of dipping my toes into the waters in one of the biggest male roles in the business right now, and it's kind of surreal."
'Aladdin' featured as a Broadway Musical with a cast of Indian origin playing the main roles Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Broadway's "Aladdin" is a musical adaptation of the 1992 movie starring Robin Williams. The musical's story by Chad Beguelin hews close to the film: A street urchin finds a genie in a lamp and hopes to woo a princess while staying true to his values and away from palace intrigue.
Key Alan Menken songs from the film — including "Friend Like Me," ″Prince Ali" and "A Whole New World" — are used. The lyricists are the late Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Beguelin.
The show — and it's two new leads — had a few performances to celebrate Broadway's return from the pandemic this fall before it was forced to close for several days when breakthrough COVID-19 cases were detected. The actors say the safety of the cast, crew and audience are paramount and closing was the smart move.
"This is how we keep theater going in the pandemic," Maliakel says. "The other option is to just not do it at all. And that's not an option. A week's worth of lost performances, when we look back on things in a year or so, I think will just be a little blip on the radar."
They both look back with heart-thumping appreciation at the early performances when they welcomed back theater-starved audiences, who gave the company 3-minute standing ovations just for singing "A Whole New World."
"It is every brown girl's dream to be singing that song on an actual flying carpet," says Narayan. "And the fact that I got to do it on Broadway in the full costume with the lights and the 32-piece orchestra beneath me — oh, my gosh, I really had to hold it together. It was emotional overload for me."
Maliakel recalls that he and his brothers wore out their VHS cassette version of "Aladdin." He remembers having lunchboxes, pajamas and bed sheets with the film's theme. Aladdin was "every little brown kid's prince." Now he is that prince.
"Now, finally, to get to get paid to do it on the world's largest stage — it's not lost on me how crazy that is," he says. "The responsibility of my position right now feels really great. This moment sort of feels bigger than me in some ways, and I don't take that lightly. I think it's a really exciting time." (VOA/RN)
Keywords: Aladdin, Broadway, Musical, Indian Descendant cast,