Environmental Literature | Social Justice | Sustainable Futures

Author Archives: Nanki Singh


April 22nd, 2017 | Posted by Nanki Singh in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)


Colonialism and Indian Forests

The project will be a narrative/social commentary that will encompass:


  • The history of forests in India
  1. In ancient Texts
  2. In The Indian Dynasty
  3. In The Mughal Dynasty 
  • People’s relationship with the Forests (Then)
  1. Folk Stories
  2. Poems
  • Colonialism
  1. What forests meant for/to the Imperialists
  2. Change in the Indian Topography
  3. Beliefs and Attitudes
  4. Predominant species of Trees/ Introduction of new Species
  5. Laws and Regulations 
  • Current Situation


  1. Highlight and find laws that are from the British era
  2. Assessment of current use of Forests
  3. What is our attitude towards the forest now?





April 8th, 2017 | Posted by Nanki Singh in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

I have always had a strange fascination with peoples’ interactions with their environment. However, for most of my life this understanding has been seemingly constrained to the one sided explanation of how the environment shapes human interaction and behavior. The telling of how human behavior and interaction impacts nature is typically exiguous if not absent. It is summed up in- the serious yet hackneyed-  Global Warming; Climate Change, Deforestation.

Understanding the environment itself is often a missing aspect of this discourse. Our focus lies within the narrow, yet complex realm of human factors, the human gains and losses and the human outcomes, the environment is just a background; nay a silent back-drop.

In this vein, I seek to understand the environmental effects of colonialism in India. To understand the intellectual and political decolonization of nature-its knowledge, practice, and history. The British Raj in India was not only accompanied but also supported by the exploitation of forests and environmental destruction for economic gains. Indian Independence brought a new life to the exploited people, but it forgot the exploited lands, waters, forests and wildlife. It ignored the crevasse left between local societies and their relationship with natural resources, that only continued to grow.

What were the specific modalities and methods that were used to colonize the environment and nature during the period of British colonialism in India? What were the environmental relationships and practices of the colonized population? Why were the “environmentally sustainable,” and nature-nurturing communities replaced?  In what ways has the separation of the categories of “nature” and “culture” itself been the construction of modernity? What was the aftermath of the environmental practices of the British in India- are these effects still felt today?

Answering these questions involves a holistic understanding, with a culturally specific view; it involves interweaving two mindsets, two peoples and two histories. I seek to explore the time after Mughal Rajas and their perennially colorful gardens and before the common man began living under a socialistic, republic, democratic government.


April 6th, 2017 | Posted by Nanki Singh in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day

runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures.

It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth

in numberless blades of grass and breaks into tumultuous waves

of leaves and flowers.

It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth and of death,

in ebb and in flow.

I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life.

And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood

this moment.

– Tagore (Translated from the Bengali poem ‘Praan’. Praan simply means life.)

The dots on the map -marking places where permaculture is being practiced- are multiplying, slowly but steadily. Although the permaculture edifice is an old one, it is beginning to see an increase in the awareness of its principles and benefits only today. What was once considered a lifestyle choice for a few, not too long ago, based off a set of ethics, principles and techniques, is now starting to look like a movement.

Permaculture sounds complex, in theory and in practice. And perhaps this is because its flirtation with the average human has always been so discreet. There are no lobbies, no demonstrations and certainly no fuss surrounding it. Yet, it is omnipresent, manifesting itself in so many ways, we just have no idea. And most of all, it works!

When I think of the word ‘Permaculture’ a weird notion comes to my mind. I think of innovation and I see the word ‘intrepid’ sitting next to it. And next to intrepid, it’s their distant cousin ‘creativity’. They must sit together on a bench, perhaps a loveseat, and it is their conversation that can make a change, that engenders exactly what permaculture is. Yet, in this time and age, why does a large segment of our society still remain so curiously resistant to innovation in this respect? Permaculture is after all a science. It is basic biology put into practice. Permaculture urges us, not to a rustic existence bound by rigid cultural constraints, but to local cooperative farming and industry, progressive education and renewed culture and creativity. As stated in the movie “Inhabit” the appeal of permaculture is that, it isn’t just allowing us to continue living by  maintain a status quo with the current levels of detriment we have caused to the environment. But, its ameliorating, healing and soothing to the earth, in addition to satisfying our needs and wants to a large extent. We have been asking for an answer, to scale back all the damage we have done, and the answer has been right in front of us all along. All that is left to do now is to act. Act before it is too late.

Environmental Art, Knut Bry

March 23rd, 2017 | Posted by Nanki Singh in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

See: http://www.tinagent.no/photographersdirectors/knut-bry/water-for-everyone

Knut Bry is a widely acclaimed photographer who hails from Norway. His photography is simple, non-abstract, yet deeply profound. In my mind, this is why he elicits strong emotional responses to his photographs. Last year, he began posting pictures of water. However, with hashtags that read “boycott Nestlé” and “water is for everyone”.

When I asked Mr. Bry the reason behind his hashtags, he told me “Several years ago, Nestlé diverted a river and cut off the only water source for two towns and a large Native reserve in British Columbia. The company declared that the water was a universal commodity for the taking, not a natural resource guaranteed for Canadians. They had armed guards at the gate from the U.S. and a large number of the locals were badly affected resultantly.”

Water is a limited resource, and a necessity for every life form on earth. However, problems begin to arise when large Multi National Companies -bolstered by strong lobbies- such as Nestle begin to exploit these resources. In turn, they cause damage not only to the environment but also to the people of the areas. Often, these people belong to the weaker sections of society. Institutional forces are arrayed against them, making them voiceless in the face of companies like nestle.

Despite the severe droughts in southern Ontario, Nestlé continues to extract four million liters of groundwater every day from an aquifer near Guelph. In fact, Nestlé pays approximately $15 per day for this precious resource. It only pays a mere $2.25 for every 1 million liters of water it takes. They then ship this water out, using plastic bottles and sell it all over the Americas- at a high profit. (Ferreras)

Knut Bry is not alone in believing that water is a human right, and that the turning of water into a commodity for the profit of the highest bidder- a travesty. Privatization of access to water is a slippery slope that has cost many countries- especially developing nations- dearly by selling the right to water to multinational corporations, who in turn are only interested in profit from sales to the highest bidder. Poor local residents are given last access after the profit is taken.

#boycottnestlé #waterisforeverone

The paris agreement

March 11th, 2017 | Posted by Nanki Singh in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

The most powerful members of society belonged to this family. After many years of internal contention due external pressures, they engendered an offspring. Due to the family’s preeminence and power, the rather vacuous offspring came to be much celebrated. There was much a-do about nothing.

I felt the need to poorly personify the Paris agreement, just to make lucid how poorly fruitful the agreement was. The time, effort and resources used to produce it were all but effectual. After analyzing and scrutinizing the particulars of the Paris Agreement, one can conclude that the most prominent achievement of the Paris climate agreement is perhaps, that there was an agreement at all.

We have been lingering in an old paradigm for a long time. It was over 2 decades ago, in 1992 that the UN officially acknowledged the hazards of greenhouse gasses, and the greenhouse effect. It in turn adopted the Framework Convention on Climate Change. It has been an annual reoccurrence since 1994, that the members of the convention “meet in one place, call for reports, work out procedures, discuss and bicker and walk out on each other, able to do much except the one, crucial thing: formulate a global resolution that would slow and eventually halt climate change” (Meyer)

To my mind, climate change is our modus operandi. The great story of the 21st century man. No other narrative enshrouds the human race in quite similar a manner. Climate change forces answers about: the ethics of the global economy, of oil and gas, of technology and innovation, of food security, of democratic republics and command capitalism, of colonialism, dictatorships and the indigenous peoples, of who is rich and powerful and who is poor and voiceless.

We are living in the middle of history. As countries continue to have conflicts over boarders, increase investment in weapons of mass destruction, and abominate refugees in their midst. In Paris, they tried, miraculously and inadequately, to care for their common good. (Meyer)

So, if climate change does pique your curiosity, and you too feel worried about our not so distant future, then make an effort. Its individuals who make the government, the state and the nation. It may sound clichéd, but individual action leads to collective action. We cannot expect a piece of paper to miraculously save us from a mess we’ve been making for years. We cannot stagnate and continue to cling to models of the past, because the future is now. We need to show concern for our environment in the way we vote, in the way we spend our civic attention and in the way we communicate our concerns to the policy makers. We have been having the same discourse of the ruination of our environment and the depletion of our scarce resources. We need to act. Fast.




Corbyn, Chloe. “The Paris Agreement on Climate Change – A Summary.” In Brief. Assemblywales.org, 04 Apr. 2016. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.

Meyer, Robinson. “Is Hope Possible After the Paris Agreement?” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 12 Dec. 2015. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.

The Prodigal Son, Elon Musk and Global Climate Change

February 24th, 2017 | Posted by Nanki Singh in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

“Save the Earth.”

I would be lying if I said, that this isn’t a hackneyed phrase in the crusade against climate change.

In this light, Margaret Atwood’s article “Climate Change is Everything Change” is not only thought-provoking, but a necessary and exigent voice in the global climate conversation today. It is simple, yet perspicacious, effectively relaying the gravity of climate change, offering insight into our future alternatives and in this vein, hoping to inspire action.

Economics dictates, that all humans act in rational self interest. So, what possibly could be more important, than saving and conserving the only planet, that we are capable residing on? (until, that is, Elon Musk colonizes Venus)

There is a cataclysm that we ourselves have been brewing, yet we are beginning to understand as global climate change only now. Backed by wealthy corporations and powerful governmental officials, it is embroiled in polarizing, conspiratorial political fights that deny its existence. How can you even begin to solve a problem, whose existence you refuse to acknowledge? And yet it exists nevertheless.

Everything we have, everything we were born into- the life sustaining air we breathe, the rich and varied food we eat, the showers of winsome rain, the colorful and creepy bugs, the gusty winds, the yellow sands. Like the prodigal son we are squandering all that we have inherited. It is true, if the climate changes, everything changes. In chaos theory, this phenomenon is explained by the butterfly effect. This is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state. But our changes are no longer small. Our race to accumulate more and more petro-dollars, our rapidly growing economic and technological advances are unparalleled- In history and in terms of the damage they are doing. Changes in weather patters, increase in sea levels, melting polar-caps, increasing diseases and dying species, all are pointing to our reckless and selfish behavior. We are guilty, and we need to act fast. History has repeatedly demonstrated how novel technologies can potentially abrogate established markets, and effectively transmute the way people behave, transport and communicate. It is imperative to keep in mind however, that the key to maximizing these revolutionary innovations is concurrently creating the infrastructure to sustain them. Whether Elon Musk’s gigafactory, or switching to Hydro/solar/wind power- we need to act. What we cannot do is stagnate, and cling to models of the past. The future is now, and we are responsible.



Works Cited

“Butterfly Effect.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 21 Feb. 2017. Web. 24 Feb. 2017.

Effect, Cool. “How Climate Change Will Destroy Our World If We Don’t Act Quickly (Cool Effect).” Mashable. Mashable, 07 Oct. 2016. Web. 24 Feb. 2017.

Roads in the Anthropocene

February 16th, 2017 | Posted by Nanki Singh in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

I’m poured out, and over. Over and over.

Humans claiming as theirs, what never really was.

Each layer of my unnatural being, slowly enshrouding what was once green, and alive.

But, man’s always been this way. He walks over everything, just like he walks over me.

Hard rubber soles, hollow souls. Building all these roads.

Roads that run in every direction, but roads that lead to nowhere.

Roads that they envisage pave the way to a better tomorrow

Purposefully oblivious that today might be their last.

Oil on Water/ The Petrol Pump: Habila, Calvino.

February 10th, 2017 | Posted by Nanki Singh in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Time has been but a silent witness to the increasing need, exploitive acquisition and externalities due to the human dependency on oil. Countries have gone to great lengths, to acquire the capacity to either produce or be assured the free-flow of oil. People have been subjected to war, to conflict, and to enmities that find the root in this dependency. But a greater problem is engendered. One that’s oft ignored- the devastation and damage that is caused to our Environment. In our imperceptive manipulation and blind greed for oil we have, and are rapidly eroding the very source of our being.

In this light, neither Habila nor Calvino could have chosen a more pivotal topic to write about. Both stories, although disparate in their writing styles, are analogous in the way they interweave the impending issue of oil production and use. Habila entwines the deleterious, yet labyrinthine politics of Oil in Nigeria, with Petro-dollars, the government and the plight of the people. The story is enveloped by a nuanced human essence, that calls to our attention, as to how and where the problem begins. “The oil industry has been associated with corruption, violence and bloodshed, wreaking ecological devastation on the Niger Delta region and its fishing and farming communities, which benefit little from the enormous profits involved, fueling ethnic conflict and guerrilla activity. At the same time as local lives and livelihoods are constantly endangered, the kidnapping of foreigners for ransom has proliferated over the years, with opportunists vying with self-selected freedom fighters.”(The Independent)

A young Nigerian reporter- Rufus is the protagonist of Habila’s first-person narrative. In his book “Oil on Water”. Rufus is paired on a mission with his mentor, acclaimed journalist Zaq. Zaq although an alcoholic, still has erudition to impart. In their pursuit to find a kidnapped British woman, being held hostage by militants, they expose many more realities- to themselves and the reader. The exploited peoples, the militants fighting to protect their environment from oil companies, the army with its own vested interests and the oil companies themselves. Habila shows how journalism is a tool that not only can challenge a government, but also give a voice to the faceless people in a country. In “The Petrol Pump”, Calvino elicits an impactful, yet nuanced confluence. He envisions oil’s ubiquity and its inadequacy in the face of human wants. From the millennial time scale for oil’s creation, to the nexus flows of money, power, and technology that make the current global economy- fueled by oil. He highlights in his allegorical short story, that although time and oil are running out, our needs and wants are not. Both stories bring to the forefront the unseen issues in the production and exploitation of Oil. They appeal to the reader to no longer be ignorant towards the calamity we are now facing, a problem we have created for ourselves. They impart a sense of urgency for us to do something, anything- to save our planet, its resources and its inhabitants- before its too late.


Works Cited

Calvino, Italo. “卡尔维诺中文站.” The Petrol Pump – 尔维诺中文站. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2017.

“Environmental Impact of the Petroleum Industry.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2017.

The Independent. “Oil On Water, By Helon Habila.” Ed. Margaret Busby. Independent Digital News and Media, n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2017.

It can be taken as given, that culture plays a fundamental role in all aspects of our lives. Human behaviors, meanings, attitudes and cognitions are dictated by the cultures we are brought up in. In this context, the meanings we assign to the environment, and our relationship with the environment are defined by our cultural constructs. We often remain oblivious to this nuance of culture- its so deeply ingrained in our upbringing- that it becomes normative. However, the centrality of culture involves a paradox. On one side the possession of culture is viewed as the defining attribute of humans. It is an inescapable aspect of any human phenomenon, including how people shape the environment, use the environment and interact with it. Concurrently, culture divides the single human species into groups that are so varied that they can be seen as sub-species. This is why people differ with the extent to which they perceive environmental issues. This variability is thus an important attribute of humans. It prescribes an individuals role and attitude, with respect to the environment. Are we above the environment? Are we a part of the environment? Does the environment exist simply as a resource for our use and consumption or is it something we have a reverential attitude towards?

Attitudes towards environmental issues, tend fall along a continuum. from not being concerned to being very concerned. “Each of these sets of concerns reflects different underlying values. We refer to these as egoistic, altruistic, and biospheric attitudes. Egoistic concerns are focused on the individual, and reflect a concern about environmental problems for self. These concerns include personal health, financial well-being, quality of life, and availability of resources. Altruistic concerns focus on people other than self, including friends, family, community, future generations, or humanity. Finally, biospheric concerns focus on all living things, including plants, animals, ecosystems, and the biosphere.” (Shultz)

“The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2006, recognizes that, “Respect for indigenous knowledge, cultures and traditional practices contributes to sustainable and equitable development and proper management of the environment”

Muslims believe that all creations of Allah i.e. animals and trees, glorify God in their own way. “Seest thou not that to Allah bow down in worship all things that are in the heavens and on earth, -the sun, the moon, the stars; the hills, the trees, the animals; and a great number among mankind?” (QURAN 22:18) “But waste not by excess: for Allah loveth not the wasters” (Quran 6:141, Yusuf Ali translation). Looking at Christianity, Genesis 2:15 says “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Hinduism advocates the worship of the sun, wind, land, trees, plants, and water. Likewise, respect and conservation of wildlife are part of the cultures’ ethos. Buddhism teaches, “Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I undertake to cultivate compassion and learn ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to condone any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life.“Globally, bodies like The Convention on Biological Diversity (1992 Rio Earth Summit) are dedicated to promote sustainable development. They recognize biological diversity and the need to protect the environment as a trans-national and inter-cultural issue. They believe it encompasses more than plants, animals and microorganisms and their ecosystems— it is also about people.

Ultimately, there is no escaping one truth that remains the same for all members of this planet. We all inhabit this earth, as have our ancestors and as will our successors. We are being blatantly selfish, and killing a system that supports us. Whether we choose to follow, or ignore what our culture advocates, we cannot ignore the escalation of ecological problems, especially those we are currently facing. We must recognize the inevitable ruination that we will all be subject to, regardless of our culture, gender or nationality. Our ignorance and apathy is leading to deaths and we must effectively work to solve the issue.



Works Cited

Chhibber, Bharti. “Indian Cultural Heritage and Environmental Conservation through Traditional Knowledge.” Indian Cultural Heritage and Environmental Conservation through Traditional (…) – Mainstream Weekly. Mainstream Weekly, n.d. Web. 03 Feb. 2017.

Schultz, P. Wesley. “Environmental Attitudes and Behaviors Across Cultures.” . California State University, n.d. Web. 03 Feb. 2017.

Blog Dos: Why are we Hell-thy? Health and the Environment

January 27th, 2017 | Posted by Nanki Singh in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

There is one common mechanism of causality, with respect to an urban population that – owing to increasing rural-urban migration – is shifting along virtually every axis- the Environment.

The Environmental issue is like a rope: at first it seems to be one thing, one entity, until you start teasing the ends, and then it begins to fray. And perhaps this is its most challenging aspect: there’s no one problem, which means there’s no one solution. Factors combine and connect: forces intersect and amplify, and people all around the world, regardless gender, caste and creed are affected. Today, more than ever before there is a need for extensive discourse on environmental affairs that plague not only us, but also future generations to come.

But why are we suddenly so aware of environmental issues? Let’s be honest, just for a second. Do we really care if the Balinese Tiger sub specie has gone extinct? Does it perturb us in the slightest, to know that the glaciers in the Himalaya’s are melting? I didn’t. You probably didn’t either. But our purposeful ignorance, can’t help us when we get sick. When someone we love falls sick.

For 3 years, I worked in a slum area in New Delhi. A curiously isolated enclave, it is a land without time, populated by rickshaws, street dogs, and narrow winding lanes. The vicinage was plagued with disease, delinquency and despair. The stench of urination and unbathed bodies would remain in my clothes as a staunch reminder even after I left. Open sewers served as a cesspool for multiple diseases, and as a swimming pool of sorts for the children that lived there. Cows, pigs and dogs lived in close contact with the people, there was open defecation and toxic garbage. Disease lingered in the air, just waiting for a chance to strike. I grew close to a girl, she was unsure of her age, but no more than 17 at the time we met. She was a wife, a mother, and a victim. A victim of our apathy, a victim of our ignorance, a victim of the disaster we are all responsible for. The water they got there was infected by pollutants, and her baby contracted diarrhea. Uneducated and unaware, she lost her child. Her husband works as causal labour in a cement factory, and has carcinoma of the lungs. Almost everyone in this tiny slum is living with TB or has latent TB. Yes, some might argue that adequate treatment might have saved her baby, and yes it might have. The husband should be wearing a mask and, the government should have more effective prevention strategies. If you’re asking these questions, I’d compare you to a goldfish in a bowl. Putting forward questions, only to do nothing about them, refusing to accept the reality that is.  Why did the child have to fall sick in the first place? Why are people living in such hell holes?

The lack of access to potable water, living in a toxic dumping ground and being subjected to every kind of pollutant is a reality that exists for many. It’s the best option, when no alternative exists. This made me aware of the dichotomy that exists in my society, and society’s globally. A certain segment of society chooses to be ignorant of the environmental issue, yet contributes the most to its detriment. The other segment bears the repercussions, and they are shunned in oblivion. However, there isn’t much time before both segments face the reality of the latter- and then it will be too late. We need to understand and show the correlates of health and the environment beyond a statistical abstraction. While basic Economics dictates, that correlation does not necessarily entail causation- it is a fact, that when Health and the environment are concerned it is.

I look around me now, almost ever other person I know is sick. Sick with a disease that is preventable. A disease they wouldn’t have contracted, had we stopped sweeping the environmental issues under the carpet, a long time ago.