The sixth mass extinction?

Climate change as a topic has been discussed time and again on various platforms for a while now. But, it seems like the ones who are aware of it keep updating themselves, while the vast majority overlook the pressing dangers to the environment and, in turn, themselves.

A recent report by the conservationist group WWF highlights a 68% average decline of birds, amphibians, mammals, fish, and reptiles since 1970. The reasons attributed to the rapid decline are the burning of forests, over-fishing in seas and oceans, and the destruction of wildlife habitat. 

The reports add further impetus to some scientific claims of the Earth on the verge of its sixth mass extinction. Mass extinction is the loss of about three-quarters of all wildlife species in existence across the entire Earth over a geological period (<2.8 million years).

While the five previous mass extinctions were natural phenomenon that took place before the arrival of the first humans, the present catastrophe is induced, experienced, and recorded by humans. This human-induced destruction of the environment and wildlife has gradual yet long-lasting effects on the ecosystems and the humans who are a part of it. The ecosystem is a complex network of interacting organisms formed over millions of years of evolution, and a loss of interaction among species could create imbalances in the system.

A classic example is the hunting of wolves in the Yellowstone National Park. Hunting the wolves to extinction by 1930 dramatically increased the elk and deer population. The increase in their population led to unsustainable grazing of the streamline aspens and willows, in turn leading to soil erosion and affecting the songbirds. The decline in songbirds increased the mosquitoes and other insects. However, the reintroduction of wolves in 1995 balanced the elk and deer populations and restored the plant and animal life in Yellowstone. 

The extinction of wildlife and plant vegetation does not only affect the floral and faunal ecosystem. It also has a negative cascading effect on humans. 

  • Three-quarters of the world’s food crops depend (partially or completely) on pollination and seed dispersals by insects and animals. Fruits and vegetables, vital to human consumption, depends on this natural process. However, the significant drop in the population of bees, fruit bats, and elephants has resulted in the extinction of various plant species and a reduction in food crops and fruits.
  • Forests act as climate regulators by absorbing carbon dioxide, thus facilitating carbon sequestration. The destruction of forests results in increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, perpetrating climatic changes, and global warming.   
  • The destruction of habitat reduces the plant diversity and aids monoculture, resulting in increased pests and fungal plants.

Climate change and biodiversity loss are a stinging reality that has been depreciating at a faster rate than imagined. While the loss of wildlife and the environment seems irreversible, hope remains. Nature has shown marvelous recovery rates in the absence of human interference and diligent conservation efforts. The Chernobyl nuclear plant, uninhabitable to humans due to the radioactive atmosphere, has thrived with plants, trees, deers, and wolves. The conservation efforts to save tigers and rhinos in India has raised awareness and witnessed a massive rise in the population of these endangered animals. 

While civil society and conservation groups have helped the environment from the bottom-up, the realm of environment requires measures from a top-down political approach. It is necessary to mainstream environmental issues and politically securitize them. However, it would depend on the general population to rise beyond the petty politics of hatred and look beyond the non-existent security threat to coerce governments to adopt a green stance.

The Ideas of Multitasking vs Serial tasking

The Ideas of Multitasking & Serial Tasking

Tasks reside in many spaces- in our to-do lists, on our mind and on neatly marked off columns in our google calendar invites. A modern life is characterized by carrying out tasks in a successive manner. The clear distinction of time and space between professional tasks and personal tasks are half crumbling at a time where most of us are working from home. This makes home a place where we fulfill all our professional and personal roles (and if you are from a Covid-affected family, the role includes that of  a caregiver). 

Blogs and information is widely available about reframing of the space ‘home’ to accommodate smooth transitions between these roles and effective management of both. However, I opine that there is a need to also take a step back and reframe our understanding of ‘task completion’ and therefore, productivity. This blog post is first in this attempt to explore the understanding of two of the most popularly known ways of working- multitasking and serial tasking. 

Multitasking

A metaphorical image is conjured up when we hear this word. A superhuman figure with multiple limbs which are all doing their own thing and completing tasks in no time. A magical time and space-bending creature that ticks off things on their to-do list faster than even one can count down from ten to one. This has also contributed to a widespread myth that multitasking is a superior modality to achieve a higher level of productivity. 

Many studies, however, point out that multitasking can be quite a myth unless one of the tasks is so well learnt that one does not engage fully, while engaging with the simultaneous task more closely. Psychology Today states “The fact is that multitasking, as most people understand it, is a myth that has been promulgated by the “technological-industrial complex” to make overly scheduled and stressed-out people feel productive and efficient.” This would mean that it is time for us to re-look at what we understand as multitasking. 

Serial Tasking

The literature also states that what folks understand as multitasking could actually be really quick serial tasking. Serial tasking is the process of succeeding one task with another and while it is not a popular champion like its counterpart, serial tasking is known to be more effective and efficient. 

The evidence suggests that the most important part of doing a good job of anything- from a low stress activity like listening to and appreciating music to solving technological problems is the possibility of being present. Being present is the virtuous quality of being able to give complete attention to the task at hand. This often not only leads to better productivity but also helps an individual catch details that might be incorrect or unhelpful much earlier in any of the processes. 

Overall, it is important to decide on the mode of working dependent on the task at hand, the amount of time the task would take, the number of revisions one is allowed of the same and the importance/ significance of the work that needs to be done. 

Covid-19: Responsible Indoor and Outdoor Behavior

This month has been rather interesting: countries across the world have been reopening gradually, as have states in the US. Public health experts, virologists, and policy advisers have all suggested that lockdowns can no longer check the spread of the virus. It is out there, and we have to learn to live with it. Yet, many of the lucky ones can continue to work from home. Ultimately, it is our behavior–both outdoors and indoors–that will determine the course of this pandemic.

So here are some things to keep in mind as we begin our gradual reacquaintance with public life:

  1. If you see people without masks, do your best to stay away from them–physically distance yourself when interacting with them, or try and avoid interaction altogether. This is especially important if we live in close quarters with the elderly. Even if we do not present symptoms, we may be carriers of the pathogen.
  2. If you have in fact come in close contact with someone who presented symptoms, monitor your health regularly. Get tested as soon as possible, so you can isolate and plan recovery (if necessary) in a timely manner.
  3. This is an extension of points 1 and 2: if you’re presenting even mild symptoms, and for some reason cannot get tested, and happen to live in close quarters with the elderly, isolate yourself. Use a separate bathroom, and make sure no one else uses it for at least two weeks. Wear masks indoors, and do not touch your parents or grandparents, or their things for that matter. Stay two feet away from them even indoors.
  4. Carry a hand sanitizer with you when you go out, and also place sanitizers in important locations indoors–such as on your work desk, in the bathroom, by the bed, etc.
  5. If you have washable masks, disinfect and wash them regularly; ensure you do not overuse those masks.

Going out for a walk or a jog to relieve some mental stress is great, but we must ensure basic respiratory hygiene, handwashing, and physical distancing. This is not just for our own safety but also for those who have no choice but to be out and about to earn their income. The elderly are also fatigued by their restricted mobility, and they are gradually venturing outdoors, so it is highly irresponsible to flout safety measures. Finally, it is on us to ensure ICUs do not get overwhelmed again. Doctors and a wide range of healthcare personnel have been working selflessly for the last six months, so these measures are both in personal and public interest.

3 Key Strategies To Working from Home Efficiently during Coronavirus Closures

As we read on about Covid-19 issues, people are grappling with the new normal of limited socializing and school closures. I have written about the silver lining during covid disruptions before, but felt I had to write a proper piece about this jugglery.

Photo by juan pablo rodriguez on Unsplash

The number of people who are working from home and schooling from home is at an amazing high. Yes, we are officially in the era of school from home and this puts a tremendous pressure on parents who have had to work from home. We were looking out to prepare our kids for the real world, but our ‘real world’ seems to be in a flux and we need to cope with the new normal, however temporary. The formal ‘office’, is not a part of the work equation any longer. As we talk and dress less formally, many of us have also had to work while caring for our families. There is a blurring of lines between ‘office’ work and ‘house’ work. 

In this pandemic driven milieu, juggling is the new norm; watching office presentations while stirring a pot, taking an office call while paying for a subscription to help your child with an Inductive Logic class, alternating between figuring out data on an excel sheet and your child’s homework, quickly exiting a Zoom meeting so your daughter can take a class on a shared laptop, mentoring a new employee and your irritable high school child, the list can go on.

All this becomes harder with single parent homes or dual working parents. It feels like a never ending cycle of work and chores. At the onset of the closures, many households dealt with it like a break from regular schedules; only to have chaos reign very soon. Routines are important – both for our productivity at work, ‘house’ work and avoiding burnout

List out the important activities

Listing out actually helps us sift through all that has to be done; a shorter list always seems more achievable. Lists could be made daily, weekly or monthly. Use a scheduler or just jot it down. If the schedule is clashing with something else which cannot be rescheduled, talk to your manager and explain the situation. The work thing could get rescheduled. There is always a certain thrill in putting a tick against tasks on a list which are completed. A sense of satisfaction can be a real high.  

So here are 3 key strategies you could follow:

1. Emphasize cooperative living: 

Lockdown or no lockdown,  co-operative living is a tool. Yes, it is a productivity tool for working from home. In this period when there is a time, space and patience constraint, co-operative living is a necessity. From the littlest member to the oldest (multi generational households are on the increase), members understand that their role is important. Everyone has chores, however minor. People share space as and when they need it. A dining table could double up as a work table. If people have calls or need to attend a class, they get priority. If any member is not feeling like doing a chore, exchange it with another willing member. If it helps, list routines / chores and put it up in a common place. Discussions to sort out differences are better than shouting matches. 

2. Always have an underlying routine

There is a schedule in nature around us and right inside us. Circadian rhythms are important for our health, moods and wellbeing. We need to schedule things while syncing with these rhythms. This helps in managing our time by reducing the surprises of unfinished work, and also freeing up some quality bonding time to look forward to. In these lockdown times, as kids and parents inhabit the same space, it gets real hard to maintain all our schedules. Parents can take turns to do housework and spend time with the kids in 3-4 hours shifts, so to say. Combine this with a clearly prioritized task list, and parents can have some order creep into their day. When you plan a routine, always remember that tasks which involve kids have a tendency to overrun the time allotted. Build this into the routine. Most importantly, build in some bonding time for the whole family. Play, grow something, watch something fun, do a project or just chat with each other. 

3. Cut yourself some slack:

The lockdown, in spite of some notice from other countries, has come as quite a surprise. The pileup of child care, eldercare in some cases, chores, uncertainty, lack of an end-date, and work, has left most of us overstretched. The inability to go out freely has only added to the challenges. Finding long chunks of undisturbed time is next to impossible. The day feels like it’s in pieces with constant needs from both the office and home. Trying to be available for work throughout the day is bad for one’s well-being. Although the flexibility available feels great, we need to understand that we also need to wind down to recharge for the following day. Occasionally when we slip up in all our planning, it’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Be kind. Accept that something went wrong. Apologize. Move on. 

 Even though free movement is still restricted in some places, go out for some exercise to places which are not crowded. Go for a walk. If you have a yard, play. Sit out in the sun. Put a desk outside and work there. With commute times cut out of the picture, there is some freeing up of time, although it does get filled up pretty rapidly with laundry, washing and cooking. 

The morphing employer

For years ‘remote’ work has been touted as the future of work. The word ‘remote’ crept into our language in a surreptitious way, be it remote servers, remote login, remote learning, remote classes or remote work. These Covid lockdowns have created a sort of testing ecosystem for all the theories that had abounded about remote work in large numbers. The formal office meetings have given way to virtual video meetings with kids floating in and out of screens. Emotional barriers are lowered. People are discovering facets of their fellow employees they had given no thought to. 

As concerns about mental health issues increase, supportive employers are stepping forward to help employees cope – even if there are no visible signs of struggle. There is no beating the advantages of a healthy and happy employee base. 

4 things employers are looking at differently:

  • Work time flexibility
  • Support with mental well-being
  • Providing learning opportunities to upskill employees
  • Company culture now includes onboarding new employees remotely and engendering a supportive and appreciative environment to employees

For employers, this has been like an experiment – listening to their employees, reading between the lines and making changes to remote interactions to stay supportive. As the lockdown times have increased anxiety levels, companies like Buffer have experimented with a shorter work week

Wrapping up

Even as employees are trying to cope with the situation, employers are tweaking the rules of engagement with their employees to be attuned to their requirements. Everyone is working differently. Stay calm, prioritize and use these strategies to work efficiently and happily from home.  

 

4 Things About Ken Robinson

By Sebastiaan ter Burg – Flickr: Sir Ken Robinson @ The Creative Company Conference, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=80694632

Sometimes, the beauty of life is the surprise you find around a corner. That is what happened to me when I randomly clicked a Ted talk by Ken Robinson link someone shared with me. He spoke with such ease about two important things in our lives – kids and their education. He helped me understand facets of education which I had never thought of.

Although he has passed away, his words filled with wit and hope for our kids will forever stay with us.

Here are 4 things you should know about Ken Robinson:

  1. He is the most viewed speaker on Ted.com.
  2. His books have been translated into 23 languages.
  3. He was the central figure in developing a strategy for creative and economic development as part of the Peace Process in Northern Ireland. The blueprint created ‘Unlocking Creativity’ was adopted by all parties.
  4. He was a teacher, and his words ‘teaching is an art form’ resonates with other creative teachers.

RIP Sir.

Sound in Our Lives

I was reading about the 30 best films about music, and I got thinking about sounds. Humans have explored sounds for millennia. We have used them for communication, entertainment, worship, defense mechanism, wellness and a whole bunch of other things.

Listening

Photo by Christian Bowen on Unsplash

I remember days spent at my gran’s with great happiness. We would lie down on our grandmother and listen to the sounds from her tummy. She built stories of all that was happening inside her – factories at work she said. She was the one who first introduced us kids to the fact that doctors too listen to the sounds inside our bodies to diagnose things. She made doctor’s appointments fun by coaxing her doctor friend to get us to listen to his body!

As I grew up, I learnt of the word auscultation. Although it sounded very sophisticated, the frenchman René Laennec designed the stethescope to just do what we did lying on our grandma or at the doctor’s clinic – listen to the factories inside us. They are used to listen to the sounds made by our blood circulation, intestines, and our breathing. The frenchman also went ahead and matched sounds to pathological changes in the chest. This listening along with palpitation are two of the best skills required to listen to a troubled body, before it can be diagnosed and healed.

External Sounds

Photo by Peter Idowu on Unsplash

Just like our internal sounds, we can also listen to external sounds which can communicate with us. Parents of young kids can vouch for how sharp their ears become after a child is born. Studies show that infants might be picked up in as quickly as 5 seconds when they cry!

Leaving aside empathy for kids, human beings can hear and identify a variety of sounds and quickly process it for response. Young kids can pick up underlying tensions in our voices and react with a bout of weeping. We can identify sounds subconsciously, and react to only those that need a reaction like when parents continue to work, with an ear tuned to sounds coming from the kids’ room. Interestingly there have been instances of blind people whose brains rewire to ‘see’ with their ears!

How sounds work

In these times of social distance, sounds which are are very comforting:

  • The voices of friends and family we do not see regularly
  • The ding of the microwave, popping of popcorn, sizzle of bacon; all which tells us that our meal is ready!
  • The chatter on Zoom or MS-Teams where our kids meet their friends and teachers
  • Shared watching of a movie between people in a long distance relationship

People can get real inventive and add to this list. The sound of an ambulance can be comforting if it’s coming to ferry a near and dear one to the hospital; it can also make people cooped up at home very anxious.

For parents who do not see or hear from their kids regularly, listening to their chatter within the house, might feel comforting. For others living in cramped spaces, some quiet might be a more welcome thing.

Sound activities you can try

Three fun activities to try:

  1. Get each one to close their eyes by turn. The others take turns to make a sound. The person with their eyes shut needs to guess who it was.Great Stem activity for younger kids where they can recognize animals, instruments and other sounds from nature(be warned that some of us can be terrible mimics!)
  2. Use freesound to download a bunch of sounds. Play it and see who can guess the sound first(kids love the grossest sounds best!)
  3. People can make various sounds and string them together to make music. Record and have fun.

In these times of anxiety and uncertainity, sounds can be both disturbing and calming. Try to use it for well-being. Build memories and songs you can lean on later in life.

 

 

5 Fun Things To Do In Times of Social Distancing

In these times of social distancing, quite a few people are hesitant about going out. Some are being cautious, while others are uncomfortable wearing a mask. It’s a matter of time before a vaccine or a cure is available, and we should all be back leading our normal lives.

Photo by Dawid Zawiła on Unsplash

As life loops along, and people spend more time at home, here are 5 activities to stay entertained. These give you a window out into the wide wide world in these uncertain times. All online and kid friendly. Try them:

  1. EarthCam: Watch the world go by in great cities, small towns, busy places, at night or during the day. You can even join this community. A string of live webcams from across the world. Can’t travel? No problem. You could become an armchair traveler!
  2. Virtual Reality Tours: This is one of the best things digitization has done to our lives. You can practically be anybody anywhere, and can have access to some fun and fine places in the world. No travel papers and no funds required. Enter some of the finest museums and parks at your convenience!
  3. African Safaris: Sit on your sofa by your window if you wish, and then be transported to the jungles to look at wild animals and landscapes you had only ever imagined. The drives are not planned and go where the animals are sighted, making it new trip every time. Want to interact? Go ahead and ask a question, and you will hear back an answer from thousands of miles away!
  4. Geo-FS: This is a flight simulator using photo realistic imagery, which adds to the fun of flying solo. A wide variety of aircrafts and destinations to choose from are on offer – pick your own. Spot landmarks, natural or man made. Go on, start the engine. Bon voyage!
  5. CirqueConnect: These shows from the Montreal based company, are a visual smorgasbord. They have entertained thousands and involve artists, musicians, painters, singers, trapeze artists, acrobats, jugglers, mechanical wizards, variety of technicians etc. Most of these shows are expensive; tickets can be hard to come by in some places, but just for these social distancing months, the shows are free.

Most of these activities can be visited several times without it getting boring. They are entertaining and educational. Most importantly, they keep your mind questing, not letting it slide into a morass of negativity.

Go on, take your pick and have fun!

 

CBS News: Koala Extinction in NSW by 2050

What’s Australia without the koalas? Perhaps the tourist angle can get Australians to do something to save these creatures?

Climate Denial Crock of the Week

Sydney Morning Herald:

A year-long NSW parliamentary inquiry has found koalas are on track to become extinct in the wild in NSW well before 2050 without urgent intervention to stop the destruction of their habitat.

The inquiry’s report, released on Tuesday, found previous estimates of 36,000 of the marsupials in the state were most likely outdated not least because they omitted the effects of the 2019-20 bushfires.

The fires destroyed almost a quarter of the koala habitat on public land, with some areas reporting “a devastating loss of up to 81 per cent”.

“The committee agrees with evidence that koalas were tracking to become extinct by 2050 before the bushfires,” the inquiry concluded. “The committee expresses its sadness and concern for the once-thriving Pilliga population, which has become extinct over the last decade.”

The committee, made up of MPs from the Greens, Animal Justice, Labor and Liberal parties, said…

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Visible and Invisible Clocks

With life looping along we have all been reading, listening to, and watching very random stuff in these Covid times. I have friends and colleagues who are losing track of time. Between worrying about getting my work done and keeping the house in ‘running condition’, I have looked at the clock on my laptop a zillion times. Maybe more. I always kept track of time.

Days later

Photo by Behnam Norouzi

Photo by Behnam Norouzi on Unsplash

As I read an article on excess mortality and z-score in statistics, I glanced at the clock. Just numbers. After weeks of sticking to a schedule during these quarantine weeks, I had slipped. It was easy with long hours indoors, the continuous flow of content, news in shorts and reduced socializing.

Would lundimanche become a part of my vocabulary? Everyday is a Sunday, said my father post retirement. Here I was SunMondaying long before retirement. Not writing enough. Not talking enough. Not working enough. Not eating enough. As I read on about internal clocks getting disrupted, concept of time, the unrelenting movement of astronomical bodies giving structure to otherwise endless time, my stomach growled.

Listen to the rhythm

The growl clicked something on. Hunger? When did I eat last? I had lost track of time.

I realized I had to stop the slip, and immediately. There was no noise or voice telling me what to do. Everything around was cluttered, but my mind was clear. I got up. Cooked eggs. Did the dishes. Cleaned up. Played music. Sang along. Showered. I did five very simple things that day to get back and stay on track :

  1. Ordered myself a wall calendar: Every night now, I cross out the day I have finished before going to bed.
  2. I set the radio to start playing at breakfast, lunch and dinner. I feel hungry (I have always found the Pavlov’s dog experiment to be interesting)
  3. I make it a point to be in bed before midnight. Yes, I tell myself my bed will disappear if I do not occupy it. I read in bed or listen to a podcast which has no cliffhangers.
  4. I call friends or relatives everyday. Call, not text.
  5. I walk for long in the park when its not crowded and the sun is out.

I have stayed on my own for years, and had never slipped. I wrote upbeat emails and texts to friends and family when they going down slippery paths. Now my family has gone visiting for a few weeks; I think I will enjoy the freedom from the clock, so to say, and lose my clock? Entirely? Mindlessness in the times of covid-19?

Thinking back

Why? Why didn’t I notice? Why was I lax? Did it do me good in some mysterious way? The questions were endless. I had learnt of lundimanche; could I be happy in a world where time held no meaning? I don’t know. Writing requires discipline. An enormous amount. People have written reams about it. Why didn’t that anchor me? I need a today and a tomorrow to close shop and revisit my writing the following day. Perhaps it was a phase and I guess it’s human to slip out of the rhythm.

What can I say – it’s good to be back in sync with the universe.

 

 

 

 

Silver Linings during the Covid Disruptions

It’s a strange time.

We are living during a pandemic where people say everything has come to a halt.

Things have come to a halt, but not everything. It looks like the world is standing still – education, transport, shopping, socializing etc. have all come to a halt. But essential services functioned right through. We got our supply of food; meat, fresh fruit and vegetables included. Interestingly more women worked than men. Will these people be remembered as those brave souls who went out and kept the fabric of everyday living in place? Time will tell.

The non-essential folks who have been doing their thing

In a pandemic, research into the virus is crucial, as this decides the protocols required to be put in place. Researchers worked quietly and intensely to help understand the fundamental biology of coronavirus 2. As most researchers have had limited access to their labs and experimental set ups, it has been hard to move academic research forward. This has been considered as one of the biggest disruptions since WWII. Despite this researchers have published more than 13,700 papers revolving around the virus, across the world!

Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

While this is happening on Earth, 140 million miles away in space near an asteroid named Bennu, a spacecraft is ready to fly real close. As social distancing keeps everyone from gathering at the specialized Lockheed Martin mission support in Littleton, Colorado, to monitor it, people working remotely or ‘dial in’ and complete their mission of flying real close, as a part of their long term mission of collecting a sample to bring back to earth. 90% of NASA’s civilian staff is telecommuting.

We all need to do our thing

Just like all these people, in these difficult times of working from home and keeping kids busy, we too need to stay focused on doing what needs to be done. Getting through these times, one day at a time might be the wisest decision ever.