Bringing Light to the World’s Dark Problems

20 Sep

I wanted to share with the class this amazing and ingenious solution to a problem millions of people in the world face: lighting for their homes. So before I get into it, I want you guys to watch this video:

Crazy, right? In a world where using up more resources than we have is the norm, communities with next-to-nothing are harnessing the power of the sun to bring light into their homes, save on electricity and lower their carbon footprint.

The “Solar Bottle Bulb” as it’s being referred to started off in the Philippines, in poor communities that either have no power or can’t afford it. Most homes using the bulbs don’t have windows because they’re built wall-to-wall, so they’re forced to either use limited funds to keep a bulb on all day or stay the day outside if their house isn’t powered. The faux-bulb reflects light 360 degrees around a room, with electricity equaling 55 watts. And the best part is it costs little to nothing.

According to the Ecopreneurist, “The chlorine and bleach ‘poisons’ the water to keep molds from developing so the solution can last up to five years. The clear and purified water helps disperse the light through refraction, so the light is not concentrated. It only costs $2-3 to make a solar bottle bulb that is bringing light to dark homes.”

According to statistics from the National Electrification Commission in 2009, 3 million households still remain powerless outside Metro Manila in the Philippines. On top of that, the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) reports a large number of fire-related incidents due to faulty electrical connections. So not only is it an extreme burden and inconvenience, but electricity in the Philippines is dangerous.

The concept has really taken off, lighting thousands of makeshift homes around parts of the world. MyShelter Foundation is working to light a million homes nationwide by 2012. Even though it’s not clear who fist came up with the concept, The Solar Bottle Bulb used for MyShelter Foundation was designed by students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Places like Colombia and Argentina are also taking advantage of this cheap and green idea.

Things like this fascinate me because the concept is just so simple. I know this is not a completely fool-proof idea; the bulb obviously does not work at night and when it is overcast or raining. But even if families could offset the cost of lighting their homes during the day, it could help tremendously. How can we not celebrate lifting off such a burden ?

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The Famous Dolphin Smile: Nature’s Biggest Deception

12 Sep

For this week’s post, I really want to bring light on a global topic I feel very strongly about. It’s about Dolphin slaughters in Taiji and I first found out about them two years after watching a a really great documentary called “The Cove.” (<– Great Trailer!)

The Cove in Taiji, Japan

Just for a little background, ‘The Cove follows Ric O’Barry and his group to uncover the dolphin hunt that happens every September in a small town called Taiji in Japan. Hunters use scare tactics to bring dolphins into  a secret cove where the most attractive dolphins are picked to be sold to theme parks and swim-with-dolphin programs. The rest, about 20,000 a year, are killed and usually sold and given as “free lunch” to the local school system, usually under the pretense of being “whale meat.”

There are a lot of issues with this cultural practice. First off, the multi-billion dollar industry of dolphins being captured and put in tanks in places like Sea World has been under a lot of scrutiny lately. Dolphins are highly intelligent and social creatures, and when put in a tank with only one or two dolphins, they become lonely and depressed. They are acoustic creatures and rely on very sensitive echolocation the way we rely on eyesight. Used to swimming hundreds of miles a day, when a dolphin is put into a tank where its sonar waves bounce off cement walls and filtration systems sounds, it becomes disoriented, stressed and often suffers from physical harm. As well, the dimensions of the usual dolphin tank is the equivalent of confining a human to a bathtub for the rest of their life. A dolphin’s lifespan is 50-75 years, but in captivity only half survive the first 90 days and the rest usually live up to just 15 years. (http://whalecity.com/news/silent-suffering-while-marine-mammals-can-not-be-kept-captivity)

Japan defends the practice as part of its culinary culture, but very few Japanese have ever eaten dolphin. Dolphin meat also carries strong traces of mercury (video) and could be really dangerous to consume.

In response to this yearly hunt, Save Japan Dolphins has asked people around the world to participate in “Celebrate Japan Dolphins Day” on September 1st. The event was global and included countries like Italy, Caracas, Lithuania and the U.S. The countries celebrated in various Japanese embassies and consulates.  More than 50 events were held in 25 different countries. The events encouraged people to celebrate dolphins and make a promise not to visit theme parks with captive dolphins and swim-with-dolphin programs.

I think it’s important to see how even though this is a local issue in a small coastal town, it has global effects. If parks all over the world stopped buying dolphins for entertainment, the dolphin hunt would no longer be profitable and 20,000 dolphins would escape death as a result. Ever since The Cove won an Oscar, people all over the world are listening to Ric O’ Barry’s message that dolphins in captivity just don’t work. The cause has gained even more momentum after a recent death in Sea World Orlando, in which an orca whale killed a trainer . I recommend everyone watch The Cove and learn about this important environmental issue. Plus the documentary is really, really cool.

Syrian Regime Continues to Obstruct Coverage Amidst Protests

6 Sep

I am always surprised by the power social media can have on developing countries.

I recently read an article in The New York Times that highlighted the most recent protests in Syria this Friday. To bring you up-to-date, Syria has been under political unrest since March because of anti-regime and pro-democracy protests, particularly against President Bashar al-Assad.

Syrian security forces in anticipation of protests on the last day of Ramadan.

But what I found interesting about the article was how the reporter obtained the news. The Syrian government has heavy restrictions on independent reporting, which makes it difficult for foreign news organizations to report on what’s really going on. Syria’s own state-run television channel reported that there were no demonstrations at all on Friday. According to one activist, Shakeeb Al-Jabri’s, Twitter, the channels were actually broadcasting old footage and scenes filmed on Hollywood sets. Syria is labeled an “Internet enemy” by Reporters Without Borders for their control over the growth of the Internet, content filtering, watching over internet users, and jailing citizens who use the internet to “weaken national sentiment”.

This type of old-school propaganda journalism, although common in non-democratic societies, still surprises me. The great thing about today’s global communication though is that activists are taking  full advantage of social media to share with the rest of the world what’s really going on in Syria.

For example, although Syrian news insisted no protests occurred Friday, activists said that 11 protesters were killed by the country’s security forces.  They spread the word through Twitter and by posting this video, as well as many other, more violent videos showing police firing at protesters. Thousands have died from Syria’s crackdown. According to Reporters Without Borders , the regime has been arresting, kidnapping and beating foreign reporters trying to provide information on what’s been happening these past few months. From what we’ve read in our textbook, Syria seems to fall under the Authoritarian Concept, which is when the media are controlled by the state or sovereign.

Despite all the violence, another video (provided by regime sympathizers) said to have been filmed that same Friday in Homs, where activists have been under attack for months, show protesters singing and swaying peacefully. A drastic difference from what activists have been reporting.

Thanks the various forms of non-traditional news coverage however, the world is listening to Syrian citizens.

According to BBC News, the Arab Leauge “called for political and social reforms as well as an ‘end to the spilling of blood and (for Syria) to follow the way of reason before it is too late’.” The EU banned oil imports from Syria and “The US had already banned the import of Syrian oil and called called on Mr Assad to step down.”

I’d like to note the similarities between the Syrian activists and the Indian activists in the Hazare hunger strike post I made last week. Both overcame government’s efforts to suppress their protests through this powerfully connected global information world we live in. Without the power of the internet, more reporters would have to resort to the more-dangerous tactics of on-the-scene reporting.

Anna Hazare Ends Hunger Strike in India

29 Aug

Anna Hazare takes a sip of coconut juice, his first drink in 12 days

In the past week there has been a lot of media coverage surrounding the hunger strike of Anna Hazare, a political activist in India who refused to eat until the Indian government agreed to make anti-corruption measures.

As of Sunday, Hazare finally ended his 12-day hunger strike after parliament agreed to his demands and promised to create a lokpal, which is an official appointed to investigate individuals’ complaints against corruption. He will be hospitalized for the next couple days and is proud of the outcome but wont stop fighting for justice in Indian Parliament. In a LA Times article, he said: “I have only suspended my agitation. I will not rest until all the changes that I look to are achieved.”

I chose this article mostly because the outcome surprised me. I very rarely hear about top-tier government conforming to the demands of  extreme activists. But in this case, the newly drafted  Jank Lokpal Bill  will allow a Jan Lokpal to prosecute politicians and bureaucrats without government permission if they are proved to be corrupt. I think it’s important to note the immense power of media here. Anna’s hunger strike was strategic; his followers took full advantage of social media, such as Twitter and Facebook and YouTube videos to gain publicity and support.

It intrigued me to see a man deprive himself of one of our most basic needs simply because he was unhappy with government in his country. I wanted to understand why, so I did a little research on the political climate in India and found that Hazare and his followers had reason to demand change. The indian parliament had been under a lot of scrutiny for several huge corruption scandals. Scandals included an “alleged telecoms bribery scam that cost the country about $39 billion, financial malpractice linked to the Delhi Commonwealth Games and accusations that homes for war widows were diverted to civil servants” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-14705664).

Hazare was not the prime minister, nor did he hold any position in parliament for that matter. I believe that stories like this shed light on the idea that, with enough nerve and perseverance, a small number of people or even just one person can in fact affect change in the status quo of their environment.