Water: It’s Kind of Important

The Center for Scientific Research (CSR) in Auroville is exploring many avenues toward a sustainable future, including “renewable energy systems (wind, solar, biomass), appropriate architecture & building technologies, waste water recycling and sanitation, and the transfer of these technologies through training programs” (https://www.auroville.org/contents/356 – CRS Website). From our visit to CRS, we learned of the Auroville Geometrics project.

Geometrics is essentially the process of translating any and all physical geographic features into statistical data points that can be easily read and interpreted. This involves mapping topography and elevation, vegetation, water tables, land use, meteorology, and even human populations to name a few. The focus of the Auroville Geometrics Project is mapping all of the above in Auroville and addressing the water stress that is currently facing both the city of Auroville and the surrounding regions. Some of the main challenges in addressing the water crisis is that groundwater alone won’t be enough to sustain all activities and therefore water management needs to address sustainability in the long run.

Because water stress affects the whole region, it has been a focus for several of the organizations we have visited. EcoPro is working to reduce water waste through the invention of sustainable toilets, for example. In taking similar action, the Geometrics project has several proposed solutions that include rainwater collection, recycled water, desalinated water, ground water, and perhaps most importantly, water saving. With only a team of three, they are collecting and mapping all of Auroville’s geographic data to see where water usage is excessive or inefficient, and sources from which water can be collected. For example, they analyze which areas receive the most precipitation and integrate topographical data to see which directions rainwater flows. They are also keeping a very detailed record of water levels – which are decreasing in volume.

It is normal for the water table to fluctuate. In this region, the dry season of very little or no rain at all lasts about 5 months. Under stable climate conditions, the water levels replenish when the rain seasons come. However, with the growing threat of climate change, the water levels are not recuperating from the loss incurred in the dry season. In tracking yearly sum of rainfall over the last three years the levels of precipitation have fallen from 1090 cm in 2017, 900 cm in 2018, and only around 720 cm in mid-December of this year. This trend is not unique to Auroville. The latest 2019 IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land and on the Oceans and Cryosphere released this August show harrowing projections for earth’s conditions with our current emissions trajectory. (https://www.ipcc.ch/srccl/ – Land) (https://www.ipcc.ch/srocc/ – Oceans and Cryosphere)

This work is clearly important. Though the goal of the CSR is sustainability, the man who spoke to us stated “I’m not a fan of sustainability. I’m a fan of collapsology.” He went on to explain that the damage humans have done to Earth and our climate system in the last thirty years cannot be repaired. Sustainability, he said, is not a possibility because not only are almost no human activities sustainable, but 1.5 degrees of warming is, at this point, inevitable. Once we reach that global mean temperature many positive feedback loops (such as permafrost thaw) are triggered, and our climate systems will be characterized by uncontrollable chaos. Unlike the mindset of sustainability, collapsology accepts that the world is, well, collapsing, and shifts all capacity toward adaptation. Adaptation is truly the aim of the Geometrics project in Auroville.

Aside from the water and climate related challenges, the program is also staring down the barrel on a major fundraising challenge. In addition to being important, this program is expensive. The project received a $100,000 grant for the last three years. Of those funds, $45,000 go toward equipment alone.  Geometrics budget is ending this coming March. They asked us to help with a fundraising video but none of us chose to help. It was very surprising to me that the funding is not coming directly from the government. As one of the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world, if this project is continued and completed it could be broadly applied as a water-management template in areas throughout India.

A great historical tragedy (and major theme of this practicum) is the power of indigenous knowledge and the implications of its loss. Indigenous populations throughout India used to have reliable and inexpensive water management techniques involving massive tanks underground resembling a man-made aquifers. When the British came to colonize areas of India, the knowledge of these techniques was effectively erased. But with the knowledge and technologies available, if the goal of the Auroville experiment is to create a sustainable utopic community, clean and well managed renewable sources of water seems like a sound investment.


Written by Clark Marchese.

From Useless to Useful: Upcycling Studio

Most people are, or at least should be, familiar with recycling. The process breaks down municipal solid waste to its most basic form in order for the materials to be used again. It is a fairly simple concept that requires little thought or energy from us. Both in Paris and in Auroville it doesn’t go much further than throwing certain items into a yellow bin. However, with the world of waste in which we all reside, it is time to start exploring other, more creative methods of waste management. Upcycling is the innovative concept of taking waste in its current form, which would otherwise be discarded or recycled, and renewing its purpose. The Upcycling Studio is a small business in the Auroville community with that goal.

Our group from AUP was fortunate enough to visit the Upcycling Studio as well as two other organizations on the subject of waste in the same day: Wasteless and Ecoservice. At Wasteless, we learned of all the different types of plastic that exist and what can be done with each of them. For example, there are some plastics like PVC which can never be recycled. At EcoService, we were able to see how and where all the municipal solid waste in Auroville is managed. Both were very effective in contextualizing the magnitude of waste humans produce and all the challenges that follow.

The founder of the Upcycling Studio, “OK,” as we have come to call her, spent 20 years working for a French fashion company in South Korea. After coming to Auroville in 2008, she started the Upcycling Studio in order to find originality from waste and to reject the commercialism which dominates the fashion industry and has contributed to the consumerist economy and mindset responsible for our mass global accumulation of waste. In her studio, her team of six takes in waste that has found its way to the EcoService facility in order to create a range of products. Perhaps most common in the Upcycling Studio is the production of handbags. That said, they produce a range of products including furniture, cushions, jewelry, notebooks, key chains, bookmarks, art installations, electrical outlets, home décor, and many others.

One of the most used materials in the Upcycling Studio is PVC plastic, which as we learned from Wasteless cannot be broken down and recycled, so in this case upcycling is more effective than recycling. Additionally, recycling consumes a significant amount of energy. Upcycling at the Upcycling studio often only uses a needle and thread. Every product begins as a craft and each is unique. The business model is quite sound as well since all their materials are obtained for free. In addition to EcoService, a lot of the Upcycling Studio’s materials comes directly from Aurovillians. If anyone has a unique or large material, they can suggest it to the Upcycling Studio and many of the customers are local so there is a high degree of community building as well.

Several boutiques throughout Tamil Nadu carry products from the Upcycling Studio and they have their own kiosk in the Auroville Visitor’s Center. Currently, the products are not available for online purchase as they are still looking for help building a website. The operation is very localized. From a global perspective, thankfully there has been an increase and a shift in the discourse on consumption and waste generation. Upcycling as a concept is gaining momentum in that discourse. Applying the concept in a local context at a global scale would significantly reduce energy consumption, reduce the amount of un-recyclable waste, and serve as an outlet for human creativity. The Upcycling Studio acts as a pioneer in making our useless waste useful.


(https://www.facebook.com/upcyclingstudioauroville/ – Upcycling Studio Facebook Page)

Written by Clark Marchese; Photos by Clark Marchese.