Author Archives: Thabit Pulak

About Thabit Pulak

Thabit Pulak is currently a sophomore, potentially majoring in Environmental Policy on a pre medicine track. He has extensive interests in affordable water purification for the developing world to combat health problems.

Laudato Si – my thoughts!

“Warming has effects on the carbon cycle. It creates a vicious circle which aggravates the situation even more, affecting the availability of essential resources like drinking water, energy and agricultural production in warmer regions, and leading to the extinction of part of the planet’s biodiversity. The melting in the polar ice caps and in high altitude plains can lead to the dangerous release of methane gas, while the decomposition of frozen organic material can further increase the emission of carbon dioxide.”

From who do you think this statement came from? Personally, if I didn’t already know, I would have figured this statement came directly from the mouth of a scientist, warning about the future of our planet. Even better, it would be a concerned global leader. I was quite stunned to realize that these were words of the pope, written out in his statement concerning the state of Earth’s climate, called Laudato Si.

In light of the weak obviously weak rhetoric of the Paris Agreement, I admire the Pope’s clear stance on climate change , as well as other pressing issues like pollution on a global scale. While the language is overall a bit verbose, it is much more dense with useful, constructive content, than the wishy washy language present in the Paris Agreement. The Pope addresses the duties of not only the governments of powerful nations to take initiative to save our planet, but also addresses the people on a personal level. This is what I admired about the Laudato Si – it can be read by everyone, and no one will not feel a sense of obligation after reading it. The eco media challenge that we did no too long ago fits in fairly nicely with what the Pope would perhaps admire – I can imagine my picture with a recycling bin during the challenge would be in line with the Pope’s hopes that the public can change their overall mindset of consumption to help create a future that is sustainable for our planet. My picture with the hybrid (Prius) goes in accordance with the Pope’s earnest hopes to help curb pollution in our planet.

To wrap up this blog post, it only seems fitting to end with a great quote by the pope himself : “The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all.”


Laudato Si’ (24 May 2015) | Francis. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 May 2017.

The Paris Agreement – is ignorance ultimately bliss after all?

My past roommate of two years had always told me one thing that stood out in my head “Ignorance is bliss – try it!”. I would usually retort and tell him he’s crazy – and say that I’d rather be informed and attempt to try to fix a sad reality than be ignorant and think all is good. However, when I do take a step back, I do see merit in that statement. As I’ve grown older, I’ve started to realize that there are so many things that are out of my control to such a degree, that it almost seems fruitless to even think of making an effort to change anything. One of the topics I tend to feel helpless in is foreign policy – I feel that no matter what I as a person feel, and no matter what I do, I feel that the American government will continue to fight wars that aren’t worth fighting , and innocent civilians will continue to die. I feel a similar sense of helplessness when I think about other big issues that affect the world, like climate change. As a nation, we have the single highest impact on climate change across the world – and many smaller nations with much smaller economies are being hurt because of our actions. My ancestral country of Bangladesh, has almost 25 million people at risk of losing their homes annually because of rising sea levels that get worse during the monsoon season in the summer. In front of my own eyes, I’ve observed the situation get more and more dire in Bangladesh over the last decade. I turn to countries like the United States to hope that there will be something done, but no matter how indisputable the scientific evidence that comes out (from universities in our own nation!), I can’t begin to fathom how our politicians turn a blind eye to this.

So when talking about the Paris Agreement, it simply served to reinforce this sense of helplessness that I get when I look at issues like these. The Paris Agreement is definitely an agreement – an agreement to remain fairly complacent on what is possibly the world’s greatest challenge to come. Sometimes I envy my roommate, who likely doesn’t know (or care) about the Paris Agreement – he seems happy. I can’t do much about it right now – so why shouldn’t I just be able to ignore this and be happy?

Such are life’s tough questions.

My take on Permaculture


When I was learning about permaculture, I started to realize that the “permaculture movement” in America, and perhaps in other developed nations, is already something that is to some degree, a way of life for many people across the world. Bangladesh, which is considered one of the world’s poorest countries, is known for it’s natural beauty. The people of Bangladesh take great pride in living in harmony with the beauty of the country side. The endless rows of rice paddies mixed in with other crops in neat lines, with homes spread out between, show the dominance of nature, and the people who live within living in harmony with it.

In the permaculture film, Inhabit, I realized that many of the techniques that were being used, such as rainwater harnessing to later water rooftop gardens, were already well implemented in Bangladesh. It is a common practice in Bangladesh to have highly elevated containers which contain rain water, which would then generate a natural gradient of pressure to a hose connected to the tank. This would then naturally function as a water hose to water plants that are beneath the tank. It made me happy to see that people in a densely populated city like Manhattan saw the value in these things, and were seeking to spread such a movement. Ultimately, I feel that no matter how much humans tend to actively “spread out” and “build their own way” in the world, it is ultimately impossible to be completely separated from the nature that envelopes us. So why not embrace it, and compliment our lives with it? People across the world have already been doing it – perhaps it is time that we do too.


Bangladesh Photo Gallery,Bangladesh Photo,Bangladesh Nature,bangladesh Tour. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 May 2017.

Thabit Pulak Final Project Abstract/Points to focus on

Final Project Abstract- Points of Focus

Project: A practical proposal to save water in Edens 1C Dorm
What to consider:
* Analysis of the current shower head and toilet appliances in the dorm
* Lookup the current water consumption on the shower heads and toilets online
* Test the shower head water consumption via a bottle fill up test (to corroborate online information)
* Do a literature review to assess what typical water consumption habits in a dorm are like (i.e shower length, toilet usage, etc)
* Do research on affordable shower heads and toilet alternatives that use reduced water
* Perform calculations via excel with raw data first, and then synthesize into proposal to advertise potential water and cost savings

Venetus – The Earth’s last saving grace

  1. Superpower :  Her steps leave plants behind, and she has vines sprout out of her hands. Also brings dead plants back to life. Speaks to animals and plants
  2. Name:  Venetus (green) , Flora  (general name)
  3. Motto: Everything deserves to grow
  4. Outfit: Varies: sometimes it is a mummified green yellow wrap when she is in superhero form
  5. Appearance: Lives on a permaculture farm, and looks normal – always looks like she is slightly jaundiced (skin is yellow) . She appears perpetually weak on the outside, and people think she is always weird and sad loner.
  6. Transportation: Her real car is a prius. Her superhero car is giant bee that can shoot out little sting needles. It pollinates anything underneath it.
  7. Weakness:  Heat and smoke (for her bee), pesticides hurt her
  8. Sdiekicks: Has a dog with green spots
  9. Villain: Humans doing environmentally unfriendly things, ozone killa
  10. Form/species: Gender-neutral alien
  11. Backstory:  Was in a earth-like planet, raised by parents, sent in a plant pod because planet was dying because of anti-eco friendly stuff going on, resulting in severe climate change. So she comes here, and gains superpowers.

By: Thabit Pulak, Victoria Grant, Nanki Singh

Thabit Pulak: The Flint Water Crisis – Not simply an honest mistake

The Flint Water Crisis – Not simply an honest mistake

In spring 2014, residents of Flint, Michigan were struck by surprise as they turned their taps to receive brown-colored contaminated water. It was later found out that the water was contaminated with lead concentration pushing hundreds of times beyond the acceptable limit, effectively poisoning the whole city’s population. With America’s per capita GDP pushing $53,000, as compared to the worldwide average of about $10,000, we are one of the wealthiest nations on this planet. To other nations, the United States is often viewed as the beacon of success – a place where everyone lives in comfort, and happiness. But such an image doesn’t hold up well when one takes a look into the living situation of those residing in Flint, Michigan. As a city stricken by a dangerously contaminated water supply, with some of the poorest residents in the nation, Flint is a grim reminder of the suffering that some residents in America actively endure on a day to day basis as a result of the gross negligence of both attention from leadership, as well as a lack of allocation of resources. What specifically happened here? What impact did this ultimately have on the people of Flint?

April 25th, 2014 was the fateful day when the officials of Flint, Michigan officially switched the water source of the city from the Detroit Water and Sewage Department (sourced from Lake Huron) to that of the Flint River, citing that this was a “temporary switch”. The ultimate goal was to build a pipeline to the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA), which would allegedly save the city 200 million dollars in the next 25 years if executed properly, according to officials. Officials tried to keep the public relaxed about the decision, claiming that “Flint water is safe to drink” [1]. However, officials didn’t attempt to proactively do any tests for themselves to see whether such a drastic change in water source change would affect the corrosion within the pipes. One of the biggest red flags was that the pipeline system of Flint Michigan was made of lead – any type of corrosion would pose a big health risk to the citizens. Yet, the officials decided to take a “wait and see” approach, as characterized by the Michigan Radio at the time [2]. The officials didn’t have to wait long. The reports of contaminated water came almost directly after the switch was made. In May, reports of E. Coli in the water prompted the city to put up a boiling advisory for water before use. Eventually, it turned out that the water from the Flint River was indeed corroding the pipes, and a harmful amount of corrosive flow through was coming out of people’s taps. In fact, in October, General Motors decided to stop using the water, as they were fearing it would corrode the machines in their facility. By February of 2015, it was determined officially that there was extensive lead contamination of water supplies across Flint Michigan (this was already known before – it just took a while for city officials to catch up to the fact) [3]. The interesting thing to note here is that it took several months before city officials could even acknowledge officially that there was contamination of something dangerous in the water. What could possibly suggest such a delay?

The Michigan Civil Rights commission published a 129-page report, after a yearlong investigation of the Flint Michigan water crisis. Over 150 residents’ testimonies were heard, and compiled in the report. The commission concluded that the problems in Flint could be connected to “historical, structural and systemic racism combined with implicit bias”. The report specifically zeroed in on how the reckless decision of the emergency management to switch the water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River without being more careful, disproportionately affected communities of color, which predominantly make up Flint Michigan. According to the US census, Flint is over 57% black [4]. Over 41% of the citizens in flint live below the poverty line. Democratic U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, representing the city of Flint, stated “It’s hard for me to imagine the indifference that we’ve seen exhibited if this had happened in a much more affluent community”.

Upon further analysis of the crisis, there are some potential conflicts of interest that arise of the politicians that have been involved in making some of the decisions. Governor Snyder of Michigan’s chief of staff was Dennis Muchmore, who was with the Flint water issue. During this time, his wife, Deb Muchmore, was also the spokesperson in Michigan for Nestle, which happens to be the largest private owner of water resources in Michigan. Given that Nestle has a business model that revolves around bottled water, it is not unlikely for one to see that there is definitely a conflict of interest. Michael Moore elaborates on this “The Muchmores have a personal interest in seeing to it that Nestles grabs as much of Michigan’s clean water was possible — especially when cities like Flint in the future are going to need that Ice Mountain.” While Moore might be slightly alarmist in his rhetoric here, there is a solid point to be seen. The Michigan government recently allowed Nestle to expand groundwater retrieval extensively from sources just 120 miles from Flint Michigan, for a measly $200 per year [5]. This decision to let Nestle get access to such vast amounts of fresh water for little to no benefit to the state led to a big controversy from the people of Flint. Finding out the finer the details of the arrangement with Nestle is also still unclear, as the specific terms hadn’t yet been disclosed. Unfortunately, substantial information regarding this deal is unlikely to come out about, especially given Michigan’s dead last ranking of transparency, according to a recent national study of state ethics and transparency laws [6].

Regardless of the debate of the underlying intentions of how the flint water crisis came out, at this point, there is at least one thing that everyone can agree about – that the entire city was exposed to noxious water. This toxic, lead-laced water has already affected the population, and will very likely have long lasting effects. It was concluded via a study by Virginia Tech University, that Flint Michigan as a whole was contaminated by levels of lead that far exceeded safe limits. Furthermore, certain parts of Flint had households that had lead levels exceeding 13,000 parts per billion (ppb). This is an extremely high amount – for comparison, 5,000 ppb is considered to be a level of contamination equivalent to that found in industrial waste. 5 ppb is considered to be the level of lead from which one should be concerned. Extended exposure to lead at concentrations of 5 ppb and above lead to various neurological and developmental problems, which means that children are particularly susceptible [7]. With such extreme concentrations, citizens of flint were already being affected by the lead poisoning within a very short time window.

As of now, 6 officials have been criminally charged in the Flint Water Crisis case [8]. There were intentional efforts to cover up the facts of the crisis – according to the Detroit Free Press, “ Some people failed to act, others minimized harm done and arrogantly chose to ignore data, some intentionally altered figures … and covered up significant health risks.” The fact that there are now criminal charges being filed indicates that the notion that the overall situation as an “innocent mistake” was untrue.

When was the last time we heard about such an issue affecting an affluent population? Had it affected a richer population, would the actions taken by the government been much quicker and more effective? Would there be willful negligence by the leaders to such an extreme scale? Such questions we might never find the answer to – and that is the irony of it all. While officials argue over who is to blame, and who isn’t – a neglected population continues to suffer. Down the road, what does the future of America look like? Can we work to prevent underprivileged populations from suffering disproportionately from manmade environmental problems? The situation at Flint, Michigan tells us that we have a lot of work left to do. Only time will tell if we are learning from our mistakes.

Work Cited

1. Snyder, Rick. “Snyder Email.” State of Michigan. Executive Office, n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2017.

2. Smith, Lindsey. “After Ignoring and Trying to Discredit People in Flint, the State Was Forced to Face the Problem.” Michigan Radio. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.

3. Roy, Siddhartha. “Hazardous Waste-levels of Lead Found in a Flint Household’s Water.” Flint Water Study Updates. N.p., 01 Sept. 2015. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.

4. “Population Estimates, July 1, 2015, (V2015).” Flint City Michigan QuickFacts from the US Census Bureau. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.

5. Ellison, Garret. “Nestle Bottled Water Plant Upgrade Driving More Groundwater Extraction.” N.p., 31 Oct. 2016. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.

6. Egan, Paul. “Michigan Ranks Last in Laws on Ethics, Transparency.” Detroit Free Press. N.p., 09 Nov. 2015. Web. 06 Mar. 2017.

7. Mayo Clinic Staff Print. “Lead Poisoning.” Mayo Clinic. N.p., 06 Dec. 2016. Web. 03 Mar. 2017

8. “6 State Employees Criminally Charged in Flint Water Crisis.” Detroit Free Press. N.p., 29 July 2016. Web. 03 Mar. 2017

Only technology can save us from climate change – Thabit Pulak

Being at Duke, we all probably realize that we are pretty much living in an echo chamber when it comes to issues like climate change. The overwhelming majority of us in this bubble here will likely agree that climate change is human made (as do 97% of scientists) , and poses a threat to our continued existence if nothing is done about it. But yet as it stands, nearly half of Americans don’t believe that climate change is man made. America is one of the richest countries in the world, with one of the most “educated” populations in the world – but yet how can so many people think this way, despite concrete evidence? I was suddenly curious – was this problem limited only to America? Did other countries also have large amounts of climate change deniers? I personally hypothesized that perhaps countries that have economic reliance on fossil fuels (which is mostly developed nations) are perhaps more likely to have a larger portion of the population deny the human impact of climate change, due to dominant internal politics of that nations.

I found it surprisingly easy to look up the statistics of climate change opinion by country. Wikipedia had a table listing all the countries from first to last – and just at a cursory glance, it seemed immediately clear to me how low America ranked on that list (where higher up on that list indicates a higher portion of the population supporting the fact that climate change being man-made). What surprised me even more, is that so-called progressive European nations like Germany, United Kingdom, and France, all had similar percentages of climate change deniers to the United States (at about half the population, if not more!). I took a look at an analysis by Pew Research, and they concluded my suspicions – according to them, “People in countries with high per-capita levels of carbon emissions are less intensely concerned about climate change”. This makes sense – if you are emitting a ton of carbon, you likely depend on it, and perhaps are unwilling to give it up. Internal politics within those nations are likely to keep this going. It is simply too economically “worth-it” for these nations to make any change, especially if they are not immediately affected by climate change.

I’m not going to lie – I am quite pessimistic in this issue as a whole. I don’t actually think that the world can come to a consensus in quick enough of a time to regulate carbon emissions worldwide. Well-meaning environmentalists scattered throughout the developed world might put pressure on their own governments to change, but it simply will never outweigh the immediate economic benefits of mining fossil fuels. The current pressure on countries like India/Bangladesh and other developing nations to curtail their activities such as population growth is hypocritical, and in the large scale – not impactful to the scale of saving the planet. The average American emits over 35 times the carbon of the average Indian (who already consumes somewhat more relative to other developing nations). It is clear that the developed nations have done much more to impact climate change in a negative way than most developing nations can ever dream of. Putting the burden on the developing nations is not reasonable, unless it is facilitated by the developed nations themselves.

I personally think that for this issue in particular, the best solution we will have is if our technologies advance to the point in which clean energy is so economical, that it makes no sense to mine for fossil fuels, IN THE SHORT TERM, as well as the long term. Most people care about the short term more than the long term (unfortunately) – this is why green energy hasn’t picked up the steam it should have, despite arguments by scientists on the benefits in the long term. Science can save us – green energy needs to be viewed by the capitalistic market as the sole economically viable choice.

Wike, Richard. “What the World Thinks about Climate Change in 7 Charts.” Pew Research Center. N.p., 18 Apr. 2016. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.

“Climate Change Opinion by Country.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 25 Feb. 2017. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.

Thoughts on Pumzi, Oil on Water, and The Petrol Pump – Thabit Pulak

Out of all three pieces which we had the opportunity to engage with, I felt that Pumzi had the deepest effect on me. When it comes to issues of the environment, especially if describing a future apocalyptic-type scenario, I feel that visual media is the best way to go about it. Pumzi paints the grim picture of how a society in East Africa lives in a future where water is scarce. The interesting thing about Pumzi was that technology was quite advanced – much more relatively to what we have today. Yet it appeared that the living standards – as in the comforts that we humans are typically accustomed to in the modern world today – have dropped substantially. It appears that not only is water incredibly scarce, but energy seems to be at a premium as well – humans are required to get on exercise machines, and take turns running it in order to power the living facility. It appears that the technological advances in the future are solely serving the purpose of sheer survival, and nothing much more. Pumzi is a possible glimpse into a future when people don’t care about their careless habits in the present.

The Petrol Pump was the next most impactful piece on my mind. I honestly have never read anything like it before – the entire writing piece focused on a space in time that was perhaps no longer than 30 minutes. It was quite remarkable to me that the writer was able to wring out so much meaning and introspection within that constrained time frame. I felt myself asking questions about the environmental/societal implications of my own day to day actions as the writer talked about his thoughts during the process of finding gas to pump into his car.

Oil on Water by Helon Habila wasn’t a bad piece by any means – but I place it last simply because Pumzi and the Petrol Pump were so good! In this story, Habila describes the fight between Nigerian Militants and the oil companies for their mutual desire for oil in the country. Habila vividly describes the destruction of natural land via the exploitation by the developed world.

One thing I feel however, is that Oil on Water – at least compared to the other two pieces we engaged with – seems to shift blame on environmental destruction more to large corporations and foreign interests rather than the individual. While there is a very important truth to this, I don’t think this is the best truth to push forward. What I mean by this is that these corporations are ultimately run by people. These people at one point in their lives, were young children, growing up and learning from their surroundings. I think the best messages are those that push forward individual responsibility as well as bringing awareness to the problems big corporations have made to the environment. The Petrol Pump seems to reconcile these two things better than Oil on Water.

Works Cited

Pumzi by Wanuri Kahiu
Calvino, Italo, and Tim Parks. “The Petrol Pump.” Numbers in the Dark: And Other Stories. New York: Pantheon, 1995. 170-75. Print.
Habila, Helon. Oil on Water: A Novel. New York: W.W. Norton, 2011. Print.

Cars in the Anthropocene

I miss Jim. I used to be his main man – taking him wherever he’d want to go, as fast and comfortably as possible. I was there for him everytime he went to work. I was there for him when he needed to pick up his kids from school. I was there when he needed to go home. That all ended about 20 years ago though. Jim never gives me anymore attention. I am no longer Jim’s number 1, it is clear. I can’t understand even why Jim prefers to go to work in what I’d call a small eggshell on wheels. It was incredibly ugly. It was so compact, it would barely carry Jim and his wife, let alone his kids. When he turns it on, and leaves for work, I grimace at the sight and smell of the slightly metallic , white water vapor coming out of the eggshell. The eggshell mobile made no noise at all – that’s no fun. It was also slow as hell. I’d remember Jim laughing every time he’d push me to my limits – the loud roar of the engine was enough to wash all of his worries away. Those were the days where 0-60 in below 5 seconds was enough keep everyone happy. But things have changed. I am no longer in style…and I can’t quite understand why.

Blog Post #3 -Thabit Pulak

How do environmental issues register differently in different cultures? (Or do they?)

At their core, I think communities will always deal with issues that are relevant to their wellbeing. Especially in regions that are not economically well-off, the issues that the communities deal will only be of utmost importance to their survival. These different communities will have different cultures as well – often the cultures of the communities correlate to the social living conditions, sometimes dictated by the economic conditions of the area. We can see this clearly in the story “Staying Afloat” by Angela Pemrose. The central environmental issue is that affecting Mexican community, from the flooding mountain plains. This was directly affecting the ability for farmers to be able to farm their land. The issue of global warming on the other hand, will not be on the radar for this community, as this isn’t an immediate priority (also, this farm isn’t probably a big contributing factor to global warming).

The story “Staying Afloat” also demonstrates how different cultures respond differently to such environmental issues. In communities like the one described in the story, simple resources, such as even things that other would call “junk”, are utilized to solve the environmental problems. I personally find it amazing and I think it is incredibly innovative to be able to come up with such solutions when more expensive, complex alternatives exist. In Bangladesh, I personally have witnessed many inexpensive solutions to environmental issues. Pollution in many city areas is a very big problem, and gas-burning vehicles have been a large contributor to the problem. Recently, affordable electric rickshaws have been propagating throughout the country, which can seat up to 8 passengers (even up to 10, if really necessary!). I’ve personally driven and ridden in these – they are quite fun, affordable, and quick! They aren’t anywhere near as fancy as electric cars in America (Tesla, anyone?) – but they do a wonderful job solving a pressing environmental problem in Bangladesh that is affordable to the people, and is highly useful!

Penrose, Angela. “Staying Afloat.” Loosed Upon the World: The Saga Anthology of Climate Fiction. Ed. John Joseph Adams. Saga. 323-40. Print.