Envisioning Carbon Neutral Villages

I am very pleased to share my paper on Envisioning Carbon Neutral Villages published in Current Science Journal. 

This is an outcome of my 5 year engagement of working closely with rural communities in India for a climate change adaptation programme. It had 10+ thematic areas of research and intervention. I focused on local money flows, climate risk impact assessment, carbon neutrality, livelihood resilience and alternate energy. 

This paper integrates all those thematic interventions, through a systems thinking approach, and positions them as enablers for transiting towards carbon neutrality. These interventions qualify as mitigation and adaptation both. Thereby, it also breaks the stereotype of ‘either/or’ and highlights the synergies between mitigation and adaptation.

It presents a scenario where social, technological and environmental interventions could potentially mitigate emissions, strengthen sinks and ultimately enable them to reach equilibrium.

With the risk of ‘runaway climate change’ increasing, I personally think lot of bottom up pilots need to be done in order to demonstrate that carbon neutrality could be achieved. Relatively soon and we need not wait till year 2100 (as science and models suggest). 

It is the need of the hour! By design or destiny… 

I hope you like reading the paper!.

Paper Link: http://www.currentscience.ac.in/Volumes/110/07/1208.pdf  



These are a set of presentations on various topics which I have presented at different forums. It is being made freely available for non commercial use and source attribution would be highly appreciated. For any questions, clarifications or corrections please write to me.

Source: Presentations

The Idea of Localisation

Here is a note on my views of localization and why it is an effective way of achieving a sustainable society.

I welcome reader’s comments on this.

Vision: Communities thrive on resilient exchange of local goods and services in sustainable ecosystems for their overall well-being.
Mission: Enable social transformation towards more localized economy through regeneration and conservation of ecosystems and creation of local green jobs

Why go local?
Many reasons,
a. Learning is a feedback process. Behavior would modify if we receive feedback on our actions in relatively short time. Eg. While driving a vehicle the speedometer provides a feedback, similarly the fuel gauge also provides a feedback where we can take proactive steps to refuel in time. On these lines if our daily actions start providing us with feedback it will help us to be aware of the consequences our actions would have and affect behavior modification. Hence, it is important to collapse the space time between cause and effect. This is not possible if distant actions affect remote communities and ecosystems much beyond the temporal and spatial boundaries of the people living in those places. This delay creates blindness and hence restricts their learning process and awareness towards the consequences of their actions. The large delay involved between the unsustainable consumption practice and its impact on environment could very well close the window of opportunity where proactive actions could be taken to recover the situation or adapt to it. Thus it is important to go local and as much as possible have a close loop economy where what goes comes back in relatively short time. This could enable a self-governing system.
b. Complexity needs to be managed and harnessed. Tools which help us analyze data and make sense are good to understand situations which we don’t know. But at least here we are aware that we don’t know. Hence, it can be known through use of methods, tools, technology etc. But what happens when we don’t even know that we don’t know? The current situation of climate change, ecosystems degradation, governance issues, and economic uncertainty is interrelated, interconnected and interdepended in nature. I am not very sure how the tools which we use to understand complicated stuff would work in this complex situation. Hence, if the world is banking on technology, mathematical modeling and other forecasting tools to help us understand what we don’t know then it could be a recipe of disaster. The world has become too interconnected for us to comprehend its mischievous nature. Thus we need to decouple and start working with subsystems. We have to first make it manageable and then harness the complexity involved in it. Thus, going local is more manageable to develop models of change which may get adapted when the time comes.
c. Many subsystems make up the entire system. Top down approaches for development and policy often get disconnected with the local context. Hence set of best practices does not account for local diversity rather it relies on standardizing practices and one size must fit all type of approach. Rather a bottom up approach which self optimizes itself over a period of time would ideally take into account the local diversity and priorities. Policies and practices evolving from ground could have more acceptance and endurance as compared to top down planning.
How to go local?
a. Local but not isolated. Going local does not imply cutting ourselves from the external environment. It does not imply boycotting or living on isolated territories. In fact 100% local would not allow for risk transfers to take place through exchange of resources. Thus, it is only advisable to have semi closed economy where local substitution takes place for goods and services which are consistent with local priorities and are feasible in the near term.
b. Import substitution. Participatory appraisal would be the key for deciding on what to substitute, what resources are required for that substitution to take place, what their state is and how to maintain or achieve the desired state.
c. Green jobs. In most likelihood the state of local ecosystem and ecosystem services would be below the threshold for their sustainable consumption. Thus, it could very well be the case where regenerating and conserving ecosystems becomes the immediate action and people, institutions engaged in these activities earn their livelihood by providing their services. These could also be termed as local green jobs. It is of utmost importance that they earn through regeneration and conservation of ecosystems since this would provide them immediate incentives instead of motivating them for long term anticipated benefits.
d. Local currency. If green jobs are to be paid then a local revolving fund where the medium of exchange is not rupee but a local currency which cannot be used outside the locally decided boundaries but can be used for purchase and sale of local goods and services can be established. This initial infusion would then keep revolving within the community through exchange and transaction of local goods and services. But we will have to put more thought on the design of such a system.
e. Building credibility. Going local may not be the solution to all the problems and that’s not the idea of localization. It has to be seen as a systemic response to the multiple stresses of resource depletion, climate change and macroeconomic oscillations. The objective is to establish a proof of concept and test our assumptions in a safe manner. Most of our learning would come from failures and the pedagogy would evolve as we keep experimenting. Hence, the project should be done in the spirit of experimentation and not to prove success. We should seek to build credibility of the approach/concept and enhance our own understanding in an evolutionary manner.
f. Safe fail approach. It is only ethical that the size and nature of interventions should be such that even if they fail they don’t hurt the community or cause long term damage. They have to be small, diverse and must be developed in participatory manner.

Why Models are Wrong and still Useful!

Reflections from the Q&A session at INSEE conference presentation on system dynamics and on occasion of completion of 1 year of system dynamics work at TERI.


We always use models. Sometime we know that we are using them while most of the time we are not aware about it. Here is an example. When you go to buy something for a friend or family member how do you make a decision on what to buy? Suppose I go to a shop to buy a shirt for my father, I create a mental image of him in my mind. It is a model. I use it to see if the shirt will suit him. I am now creating simulations. Based on the results of my mental simulations I take a decision of either to buy the product or not. Is my mental model right? No. It is a reflection of reality. My image of my father is a partial reflection about him. But it is still useful. I cannot do away with it. Does that effect my decision? Yes. At times when I am not sure about how the shirt will look on my father, I ask the shop keeper if he would exchange it. On other days, I would shortlist the shirt and say I will come back with my father. What is happening here? I don’t have enough confidence on my mental model. But I am still using it to make a decision. It all depends on what model we have the highest confidence upon. We use them all the time. Even better, I would prefer to have my sister, mother or wife with me to make the decision of buying the shirt. I would consult them. I would want them to use their Mental Model and share their simulation findings with me. I am testing and validating my model. Does this make my model right? No. But it helps improve my understanding of my model. It helps me to make an informed decision. I use my mental model and other’s models to arrive at a conclusion. At times it works, at times it does not. My father may not like the shirt, or he may like it or we may not like it as much as we thought we would. But does that mean that we don’t use our mental model and simulation for making a decision? No. We all use models all the time, Knowingly or unknowingly.

The real question to be asked is whether we are aware of the fact that we do so. Do we have easy access to the assumptions which go in creation of our mental models? Do we communicate them well to others while making a decision or a policy? What tools can help us elicit our assumptions and create a schema of our mental model so that we can share it with others and so do they?

I believe the answer to the above questions is the use of system dynamics. It is a tool which can help us improve our understanding of our mental models and open it up for others to review and improve. This in turn improves our understanding of the system we are dealing with for effective decision making and policy planning.

Does this mean that we shall find solution to all the problems? No. Does this mean that our model shall be right? No.

But it would allow us to test our assumptions and improve our decision making process. Simulations also give us the power to understand the unintended consequences of our actions. At the end it can improve our confidence levels on the model which we shall use to make decisions.

Further reading on Models and System Dynamics:





Low Carbon Pathways are not enough…. Consumption Cuts a Must!

The article, which we published recently, argues that:

  • Economic growth based on consumption is dependent on the exploitation of natural resources
  • Sustainable development demands lifestyle changes as much as technology and innovation
  • De-growth of the wealthiest economies rather than clean technology is the need of the hour

Aricle Link: http://www.scidev.net/south-asia/sdgs/opinion/sustainable-development-and-de-growth.html

Activists demand labeling of GM mosquitos!

Reposted from: http://ashishkothari51.blogspot.in/2015/10/demand-for-labeling-gm-mosquitos.html

Activists from across India have demanded that if the government agrees to release genetically modified (GM) mosquitos, they should be labeled as such. This follows the news (http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/fighting-mosquito-with-mosquito-a-gm-size-bite-against-dengue/) that India may allow the GM bzzzers in a bid to contain normal mosquitos, for if the two mate, the offspring will die before reaching maturity, thereby eventually wiping out the population entirely. Since however no-one knows the timing of the ‘eventually’, both GM and normal mosquitos will continue to bite, hence the demand for labeling.

Industry and government sources have said, under conditions of anonymity, that this demand by activists was, like most demands by activists (this part was especially why they requested anonymity), untenable. Labeling each of the  modified insects would be costly and time-consuming. Given that health budgets had also been Modified by the government, and in view of strictures from the very top to expedite all projects and schemes, neither adequate money nor sufficient time was available. There would, however, be an attempt to introduce some physical feature in the GM biters, so that bitees could identify them and take evasive action (or not). One such possibility was an extra gleam in the eyes, or a zzzzzzbing rather than a bzzzzzing sound. An industry scientist with a sense of humour even said they could try to make the sound pleasantly lullabyish; for the first time in history mosquitos may actually help people go to sleep. He added, with an extra gleam in his eye, that this sleep-inducing feature may be especially targeted at activists.

Animal rights activists have meanwhile decried the GM experiments on mosquitos. They (and some cultural rights folks) are especially upset about the zzzzzzbing thing, saying that mosquitos have been bzzzzzzzing for millennia, and it was cruel to force them into reversing this ancient chant. Anti-abortionists and pro-lifers have also joined in, denouncing the ‘offspring won’t live till adulthood’ feature.

Some activists are also worried about the gender dimension, stating that since women have sweeter blood, they may be affected more. However this was decried by some feminists as ‘essentialising’ women.

Though this is not yet confirmed, the first of the GM mosquitos to be released may be called Bzz Aldrin; sources denied any connection to the astronaut, or to the pesticide, they said it ‘just sounded groovy’.

(Reported, on the basis of extensive talks with industry insiders and bzzybody activists, by Ashish Kothari)

P.S. What is a Minister of State’s visit to Quito called? MoSQuito!

Many Policies, One Reality – Overshoot and Fall!

Is there a way to sustain growth? Many people would say yes, let’s go green… lets become more efficient, improve technology… Well, read the paper and we can have a discussion on it!


In this paper we test three key policies which are very popular in the global agenda for sustaining our economic growth. 1) Green Growth, 2) Resource Efficiency, 3) Technology Advancements and expanding resources.

The paper presents the outcomes of these policies by modeling their impacts on renewable resources and economic growth using system dynamics modeling. Very importantly it shows that even with resources which are renewable, there are limits to growth. The WORLD2, WORLD3   models of Limits to Growth showed it 45 years ago but using only non renewable resources.

I hope you enjoy reading the paper (the text is not long, less than 5000 words).

Come back and we shall together ponder over the following questions:

  1. How do we define, understand, perceive true sustainability of resources?
  2. What conditions (social, economical, physical) would enable sustainability?
  3. How much time do we have left to act on them?