Over-consumptive humans are literally eating away the planet, asserted Sailesh Rao, executive director of Climate Healers, at the second annual West Coast conference of the India Development Coalition of America here Nov. 19.

“We’re eating ourselves into extinction,” said Rao, whose new book, “Carbon Dharma – the Occupation of Butterflies,” was released in late October. 

The day-long conference brought together a handful of speakers working on rural development, education and mitigating the effects of climate change in India. IDCA’s conference here – at the India Community Center – preceeded an earlier conference held last month in Chicago. Neelima Mishra, a 2011 winner of the Ramon Magsaysay award for her work empowering village women in India, was a keynote speaker at the conference there.

Rao likened humans to caterpillars: “blind, voracious consumers who eat everything in their path.”

The global citizenry must move to the butterfly stage of its existence – pollinating, sparingly sipping nectar – to undo the damage created by the caterpillar, asserted Rao.

The founder of Climate Healers, which has recently developed a better solar cooker that can store energy during the day to cook a meal quickly at night, noted that the extinction of species has occurred at a faster pace over the last century than in the five billion years of the earth’s history. He credited the extinction crisis to humans’ needs for convenience, comfort and longevity.

Rao, who is attending the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Durban, South Africa next week, told India-West he held little hope for the global talks to be a driver in mitigating global climate change. Individuals must themselves take action, reducing their consumption of resources, including meat and dairy products, he said.

High school freshman Rama Sai Prasad introduced her project aimed at reducing meat consumption amongst high school students. Prasad — who began the project “Balanced Menus” as an eighth grader at Harker School in San Jose, Calif., — is now working with Physicians for Social Responsibility and San Jose, Calif., City councilman Ash Kalra’s office to get the initiative implemented in local high schools, which would reach more than 18,000 students.

The goal for “Balanced Menus” is reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases by livestock, which currently produce about 18 percent of the world’s GHGs, thus becoming a major threat for climate change.

A secondary goal is reducing the number of food miles – the distance between where food is produced and where it is consumed – which also contributes to climate change. In the process, food costs are reduced and students are healthier, stated the young Indian American.

IDCA is sponsoring two conferences on climate change and poverty in India next year; the first conference will be held in Jaipur, Rajasthan Jan. 11 and 12, followed by a second conference in Hyderabad, Feb. 4 and 5.

At the Milpitas IDCA conference, Pranji Lodhia spoke about the work of the Chinmaya Organization for Rural Development, which is creating sustainable development in 650 villages across India.

CORD was founded in Himachal Pradesh in 1985 by physician Kshama Metre, after a chance meeting with Swami Chinmayananda. Metre has won several awards for her work with CORD, including the Padma Shree in 2008.

The organization directly serves 45,000 villagers in Himachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Orissa. Metre began by training rural dwellers to become multipurpose health workers who could provide basic care to their villages.

“We encourage people to come and learn and then go back to serve their own communities,” said the eloquent Lodhia, adding that all of CORD’s initiatives are managed at the local level.

CORD has branched out to address the underlying issues relating to poor health, such as poverty, illiteracy, access to resources, and women’s empowerment, added Lodhia, noting that the latter was especially important. “Women uplift the entire family, whereas men are sometimes the problem,” he said.

Battered women can come to mission outposts to record incidents of domestic violence, and mission volunteers will follow up on the case with local police, said Lodhia, noting that domestic violence is prevalent in women’s lives in India, but rarely are the perpetrators brought to justice.

Veteran broadcast reporter Don Hardy, co-founder of KTF Films, and his partner Chelsea Matter, presented a trailer of their upcoming film, “The Human Experiment,” which examines the effects of man-made chemicals on human health.

Modern day households all over the world are filled with chemicals that often have devastating health impacts, said Hardy. “A lack of knowledge about this issue has made all of us human guinea pigs,” he said.

Matter noted that one in eight women in the U.S. will get breast cancer, and autism and infertility rates have substantially increased in the past 30 years, likely as a result of greater exposure to toxic chemicals. 

“We want our film to spark a moral outrage, that our actions and the things we produce have consequences across the world,” said Matter, noting that “The Human Experiment” is set to be completed and released in 2013.

U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg, D-New Jersey, has introduced the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011, which seeks to amend the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, which severely prohibits the Environmental Protection Agency from safety-testing or regulating chemicals.

Other speakers at the IDCA conference included Vishnu Sharma, executive director of the Foundation for Excellence; Nilima Sabharwal, founder of the Home of Hope; and Raju Reddy, co-chair of Sevathon, which annually brings together organizations from across the San Francisco Bay Area to participate in a charity run.

Also speaking were Mirielle Mather, executive director of the Foundation for Sustainable Development, which funds and monitors several initiatives in Rajasthan; and Nita Kumar, president of Nirman in Varanasi, who spoke about creating sustainable livelihoods for rural dwellers.

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