What, From Where And How Should I Consume?

by | Jan 29, 2021

I often used to get frustrated, even dejected wondering about how critical status-quo has become for us, as a barrier to acting urgently in order to fight climate change. I was constantly hearing about water scarcity and the stressed world, be it Day Zero in Chennai or floods in Bihar and Assam, droughts in Maharashtra, Hurricane in The US, cyclones in East India, forest fires in Australia and California. All these are extreme events and their frequency has been on a rise.

About the use of plastic, its nano-particles are infiltrating in our food chain and water, thereby leading to health related issues in every section of the society, ranging from malnutrition to cancer. Increasing number of campaigns everyday, are talking about sustainable menstruation, gender equity, terrorism, NRC-CAA, mental health and world politics right from Indo-China relations to Arab spring and US elections. Each of these topics and issues is unique, or are they?

Each time I read on these, I feel disgusted about the current scenario. There’s a prevailing sense of Now or Never. These are just some of the questions I’ve been asking myself.

Why haven't I tried to unravel the context more deeply for myself?
For what or whom do I want to consume all the factually correct information?
Do I have enough time to get into the history?
From where should I read more?

Why do I become polarized by what I read, so much so that I feel that only one side is right and that I would be on that side when history will be written even though the only difference I'm making, is in my mind?

Which side to pick?
Who decides what's authentic and ethical?
Who monitors and regulates the authenticity and ethics?
How to build an understanding in areas where I have no prior knowledge?
Why is every system becoming too complex to understand,
or have I lived in a different reality until now?

Based on our backgrounds, each one of us has developed their own world-view. I wasn’t even sure of the complexity of the word ‘complex’. Human beings themselves are complex and its commendable where we stand today, with our evolution, struggles and progress. But do we really understand ourselves and our surroundings ?

The present age is an age of information, with unlimited access to data that can have unimaginable consequences. Often, we feel that we are well informed, and hence, jump into discussions based on what we have read on the internet. Simplified generalizations often ease us but half-knowledge can be dangerous. News, real or fake, is driven by numbers, data, graphs, and pie charts. Intentionally and unintentionally, all of us are sharing those numbers and data to imply urgency, intensity of the existing situation or possibly, to distort contradictory information. While it make sense to break something down in order to make it easily understandable, but to what extent that can be done, is debatable.

Disclaimer – I’m just trying to share some of my realizations and see if it resonates with you. There are 4 google forms and 3 lessons which I learned.

Please fill the form, the next part of this blog post is based on it.

[googleapps domain=”docs” dir=”forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScsvGG6ohWe7w5zNXEcJJDXjGLIEDxX7Oao7QvbAC3Hwqqm6w/viewform” query=”embedded=true” width=”700″ height=”520″ /]

Yes, forest fires are terrifying. They occur every year, at an average of 64,100 fires per year over the last decade1. It causes disturbance, sometimes even deaths of people and animals living around. It increases pollution, and carbon emissions by multifold. If you browse internet for news on forest fires, you will find several of them ongoing right now, in one or the other corner of the world.

Are the reasons behind forest fires, human made? Arguably, we should not interfere with the natural processes of our planet that make it habitable. Controlled burning is an option but it requires expertise, and we may face its consequences much later. Plastic, lead, radium – all these elements have had their glory days. Political institutions are so driven by the vote-bank that even if they’re willing to take a step in this direction, they won’t. All other stakeholders also have their own incentives and interests to act upon.

LESSON 1: Only extreme events are reported, that too from places relatively easier to reach, and then the outcomes may often be exaggerated. If one really wants to make a difference, one needs to know all the sides. Commitment also means updating oneself and reading up, instead of blindly trusting higher officials who are also humans, just like us.

This article, How inclusive is the Smart Cities Mission, talks about the mission from a policy perspective. It’s great if you could read it. If not, here are the key highlights:

  1. Nearly 31% of India’s current population lives in urban areas and contributes 63% of India’s GDP
  2. In 2011, 68 million Indians lived in slums, comprising one-quarter of the population of India’s 19 cities with more than one million residents
  3. Slum households in the country are at 13.7 million
  4. The 2011 Census of India’s ‘Housing Stock, Amenities and Assets in Slum’ found that 70% of the slum population has television and smartphone users, almost equaling urban figures. Yet 64% of households were not yet connected to sewerage systems.
  5. About 22% of seasonal migrant workers in India did not possess voter IDs or have their names on the voters’ list. A staggering 83% of long-distance migrants reported missing voting in elections at least once because they were away from home, seeking livelihood options, says a study2

Now, could you please answer a couple of related questions…

[googleapps domain=”docs” dir=”forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdojHnJ13PUO3lI_syUR77fZKqpy0owO9AFQULy9fcZOdfT8g/viewform” query=”embedded=true” width=”640″ height=”1025″ /]

I have no prior experience in designing polls and this one was mainly to trick you. As you may have seen, I tried to limit the number of options so that you end up selecting the wrong ones. I hope to have failed miserably but the point is that any poll can be designed based on what you want to see as a result of the survey. Percentages are misleading, more often than not. The way to present the statistics also has an effect – 78% respondents possess voter IDs (as per the study) while 22% don’t possess (as per the article).

Now, it is possible that they surveyed 1,00,000 people and thus 22,000 is a significant number but it is also possible that they only surveyed 100 people. To give the actual numbers, this survey was done with 686 migrant workers from 15 locations across 5 states.

Based on this graph, please attempt these questions.

[googleapps domain=”docs” dir=”forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeAKP1fDZ7m5iG4LX7__2QOIt0tWHbI1igsuDG9vGawdIx10g/viewform” query=”embedded=true” width=”640″ height=”912″ /]

One may need more information, beyond the graph, to answer those questions. It is important to know at least the sample size in any study or survey, to reach a conclusion.

LESSON 2: If you’re looking only at ratios and percentages, ask for the absolute numbers. Averages can be misleading as well. Give yourself time to read up.

This is the last one, divided into two parts – about Climate Change and a bit of its history.

[googleapps domain=”docs” dir=”forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScX8GtVu93akWD4T-pTCnAgzPYRXaJ_R544M8QtrrARrsLmng/viewform” query=”embedded=true” width=”640″ height=”2900″ /]

[googleapps domain=”docs” dir=”forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeSK-mmCR7w4gF9g-hhpAYXnJfVZZhG3jDRN7FE2Om8CRcOGw/viewform” query=”embedded=true” width=”640″ height=”1072″ /]

Yes, it looked like there was no global warming during 1998-2013 but only if you selectively chose to see the red range here. A major El Nino event occurred during 1998 which increased the Global surface temperature substantially and thus brought in these speculations. Once our atmospheric concentration was 2000 ppm, many species still survived because well, life on land started with 7000 ppm.

Climate Change has several aspects which still need to be studied over longer periods of time. Many speculations reached after shorter spans have been proved wrong, yet the global surface temperatures are rising. These days, all the research studies and reports are somehow related to climate change, be it in the field of agriculture, floods, forest fires. We are also experiencing uncertain weather year after year, but that’s just a small part of the climate. We need advanced studies to make better future predictions, and more accurate models.

LESSON 3: Graphs and pie charts can be misleading too, based on the range and scale selected. Again, give yourself time to read.

It is possible that I might as well be using preferable statistics to prove my point. It’s a request to please find the reliable information yourself. Finding the right source is challenging because often, no one knows the whole truth. Our conditioning is such that the temptation to prove ourselves right, at any cost, is really high. Even while writing this blog, I considered manipulating or skipping those parts that won’t say what I want to say.

I am still developing the habit to cross check, find relevant sources, and be humble about my opinion. Being aware of anomalies will help a bit to navigate. For further reading, I’d recommend these two books to start with – How to Lie with Statistics and Factfullness. Hopefully, I added some valuable inputs. Reflections and critics are welcome.


  1. Largest Wildfires Of The Decade
  2. Political Inclusion of Seasonal Migrant Workers in India – By Aajeevika Bureau

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