Indian American Simran Sethi is a contributing environmental correspondent and expert for NBC News. The award-winning journalist is the Lacy C. Haynes Visiting Professional Chair at the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Lecturer in courses on Digital Media and Environmental Journalism.Indian American Simran Sethi is a contributing environmental correspondent and expert for NBC News. The award-winning journalist is the Lacy C. Haynes Visiting Professional Chair at the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Lecturer in courses on Digital Media and Environmental Journalism. She is currently writing a book on the impacts of American consumption for Harper Collins and is the contributing author of Ethical Markets: Growing the Green Economy (Chelsea Green, 2007), the companion guide to the first PBS series on sustainable business Ethical Markets for which she served as host and writer.
Sethi is the co-host and writer of Sundance Channel’s environmental programming The Green, and a featured commentator and former story consultant for the original series Big Ideas for a Small Planet, the 2007 winner of the Environmental Media Award for Best Documentary. She is also the anchor of the Sundance interstitial business series EcoBiz. Sethi co-created, hosted, and oversaw all video and audio content for TreeHugger.com, the largest environmental website on the Internet. Under her management, TreeHugger won the 2006 Vloggie for Best Green Vlog.
Lauded in Vanity Fair’s green issue (April 2007) as the environmental “messenger,” Sethi hosted a forum on global warming with Nobel Laureate Al Gore for MSN.com and created an audio podcast series for Gore’s non-profit, The Alliance for Climate Protection. She has been identified as a Variety magazine Woman of Impact (August 2007), and named one of the top Eco-Heroes of the Planet by the UK’s Independent (July 2007).
Sethi has contributed environmental segments to the Oprah Winfrey Show and has been featured on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, Today Show, and Martha Stewart Show, highlighting ways we can become more environmentally friendly. She is the “eco-expert” on the syndicated green home makeover show The EcoZone Project and recent host of Voom HD Network’s social and environmental series Keep It Green on Equator HD.
Sethi produced and anchored the news for MTV Asia, created and oversaw the MTV India news division, and developed programming for the BBC and others through her own production company SHE TV. She has been named a Goddard Fellow by New York University (September 2007) and is an Associate Fellow for the Asia Society. Sethi holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated cum laude with a BA in Sociology and Women’s Studies from Smith College.
John McCain has one of the most sophisticated climate strategies and he is co-author of the Climate Stewardship Innovation Act which not only would cap emissions through industry and transportation but it would do it in a really aggressive manner.
ASIANCE: What do you feel is the most plausible form of alternative energy for our future in America and for the other parts of the world, in Asia in particular?
Simran: Renewable forms of energy are the most important for us to be looking at. In Asia in particular I would say looking towards solar technology, and geothermal technology is incredibly important. Our challenge is of course that they have not really put a lot of funding into these infrastructures and various renewable energies. So I think it is really essential that United States as well as other global economies take a leadership role in ensuring that every country is exploring alternative energy solutions and in order to do that in countries like China and India it must also be ensured that there is enough funding in place to allow their technologies to move forward without threatening any burgeoning activity in the economies. This is a global problem that needs global solutions. Poverty shouldn’t exclude the advancement of every country.
ASIANCE: What is the biggest threat to the environment in 2008?
Simran: I think the biggest threat would be poverty. It is really crucial. The Inter Governmental Panel on Poverty, the IPCC, has released several reports in the last year clearly indicating the link between human activity and our increasing temperature. Our global temperature. So to me the biggest threat is that people are consuming the way they’ve always consumed, using electricity in ways they’ve always used it. But there is a tremendous opportunity to make changes that will have an impact on the viability of our planet and now is the time to act.
Watch a little video of Simran’s show on The Sundance Channel
ASIANCE: Who do you feel reflects your beliefs the most as a presidential candidate for 2008? Or, to phrase it better, what are some of the best ideas of the current candidates?
Simran: I would say that I am looking at all the candidates very closely. I am a Democrat, but I am not quite sure yet who will ultimately get my vote. I have a little time before I need to make that decision. And I appreciate the fact that candidates’ standpoints are getting clearer and clearer in this election cycle. I think that Cap and Trade is a really important program for greenhouse gas emissions; that’s something Hillary Clinton supports. I think that John Edwards’s stance on opposing nuclear power is one that I’m in agreement with and I think that’s really very important that people are looking at nuclear power as an alternative energy solution which I’m very much against. I think that on the Republican side John McCain has probably one of the most sophisticated climate strategies and he is of course co-author of the Climate Stewardship Innovation Act which not only would cap emissions through industry and transportation but it would do it in a really aggressive manner. So, I really appreciate the expediency with which McCain has sort of laid out a plan, a plan that will actually have specific changes in place by 2012 and then subsequently by 2050. I think some of the other candidates are doing great things in terms of talking about increasing fuel standards, increasing certain types of bio-fuels. I would also say I have concerns for that position on Clean Coal Technology, I really think that’s a bit of an oxymoron and something people should research more closely. So, I think that’s where I stand on things as they are.
ASIANCE: What can we do as the younger generation to give back to the environment? What are some of the best small things we can do where we live?
Simran: There are so many things you can do; one of the best things you can do is get online. If you’re looking for easy tips there are hundreds and hundred of websites that will lead you to your solutions- everything from swapping out your inefficient incandescent light-bulbs to highly efficient compact fluorescent light-bulbs, bringing your own shipping bags so we don’t have to rely on plastic shopping bags or paper grocery bags from the grocery store or other retail outlets. I would say it’s extremely important to vote, particularly in this election. The federal administration has been very sluggish to even acknowledge the problem with climate change. That was only acknowledged this year, which has put us in a very vulnerable position on many levels. So, vote in accordance with what is important to you. And make sure that your elected officials in the local, state and federal levels are accountable for what they say they are going to do. It’s one thing to say something pre-election and it’s another thing to actually enact those programs whatever they are, for social service or what not, once they are in office. I would also say educate yourself. We learn new things about environment initiatives every day and I’m honored that I have the opportunity to tell people about the things I know but this knowledge is available to everyone and it’s truly everyone’s responsibility and opportunity to learn more.
ASIANCE: What are some of your favorite websites regarding these issues?
Simran: I do environmental programming for the Sundance Channel so I have to tell you we are doing a whole environmental justice series for the web and it’s going to be pretty terrific. It’s www.sundancechannel.com/thegreen. And then three sites I look at on a regular basis are www.treehugger.com, www.grift.org and www.greenoptions.com.
ASIANCE: Do you think women care about the environment more than men or is that a myth?
Simran: I think sometimes women are one step ahead on almost everything (laughter). I think the fact that we bear children does play a role in this. I think that for a lot of people having children is a catalyst for perceiving their environmental impact. And you know, for many women they recognize what they put in their bodies would also impact their child when they are going into their pregnancy. Also, they tend to be the primary caregivers within the home. So, for those reasons it does seem that women have a stronger interest in the choices we make- you know, that we’re not putting toxic chemicals in the air, that we look at the cleaning products in the house, and I think on a larger scale that we have a better time trajectory, you know, that we’re not just looking at what’s right in front of us but thinking about what’s going to happen in generations to come.
There are some Asian Americans doing great strides all over the place. There’s a woman I was recently introduced to who is doing amazing work in Harlem her name is Swathi Prakash. She is based in Harlem and is making tremendous strides in regards to environmental justice issues.
ASIANCE: Are there many young Asian Americans becoming involved in environmental issues?
Simran: There are some Asian Americans doing great strides all over the place. There’s a woman I was recently introduced to who is doing amazing work in Harlem her name is Swathi Prakash. She is based in Harlem and is making tremendous strides in regards to environmental justice issues. And that is, really looking at the use of natural resources in all communities. She’s really highlighting the connection between how certain resources are used and what their impacts are and who’s impacted. For example, she’s tracking the air pollution in areas like East and West Harlem, which have some of the highest asthma rates of the country. The way traffic is set up in New York City, diesel trucks are able to barrel through those neighborhoods and that contributes to the air pollution in those areas. So she’s helping to make those connections and understand that environmental rights are civil rights and we all deserve access to clean air, safe food and safe water. I think it’s one of those important connections we are making and there are Asians helping to lead that trend and reveal that insight. So, Swathi is one of them.
I think in general, I haven’t seen any sort of organizations that are working here in the United States comprised of people of Asian origin. But I know that being of Indian origin there is a lot going on the ground of India. There are organizations doing things around farmer’s rights and biodiversity, many in India itself that are highlighting environmental issues and it is strengthening there.
ASIANCE: What are some of the best products to buy as young women, which are good for the environment?
Simran: I can tell you some names, not exactly the only best for the environment. These are some of the best resources that work well and are in my budget and are beautiful: For clothing, I am a fan of lines like Grace & Cello (www.gracecello.com), I really like del forte denim (www.delforte.com). Loyale, with Jenny Kwa (www.loyaleclothing.com) has created some really great pieces of clothing. Simple Shoes (www.simpleshoes.com) make really great sneakers that are completely low-impact, you really get a comprehensive look at everything from the packaging of their shoes to what the ultimate impact of their shoes will be after consumers are done with them, that whole life-cycle. It’s really important because it’s not just about how things are created but where they end up when you’re done with them. Someone like Tierra del Forte of Del Forte Denim lets you take back your jeans and recycle them. I think that’s really forward thinking kind of progress. On the makeup side of things, progress is slower there are a lot of toxic chemicals in a lot of makeup products but that’s a different conversation. But I would say Jurlique has done great thing with beauty products. Aveda is doing really good thing for packaging. Mac has a thing where you bring back six used lipsticks containers and they’ll recycle and give you a new lipstick you know, so, they’ve been doing that for a really long time. Dr. Haushka is a really well known brand. It’s up to people to educate themselves.
Go to any Whole Foods or any health store, and you will find these products, the quality of beauty products is better than it was before. And now they look good and are increasingly price competitive with traditional brands. More important they are something you want to wear, they look good and they feel good and they taste good it’s like lipstick you would want to put on. I think that’s probably the most exciting thing that we really have great choices out there that we didn’t have a couple years ago.
ASIANCE: What is your opinion on agriculture and organic foods in our diet today as consumers and buyers?
Simran: I think that agriculture is an extraordinarily important area to look at particularly in the amount of pesticides and insecticides that are used in countries for food that is exported to the rest of the world mainly rice and wheat. I would say there is also a growing concern among genetically modified organisms. So, the question really is, what are we putting in our bodies? They say, “We are what we eat” so what are we eating? What are the health implications of the things that we are eating? We don’t fully understand or have full scientific proof of the impact of genetically modified organisms, which are being increasingly put into our staple food items. We don’t really know what is going to happen so proceed with precaution. It seems like something that is being pushed forward and not really knowing the health risks of what we are putting into our bodies, into our family’s bodies and it’s really a great concern to me. In addition to that there has been a lot of patenting by large agri-business so the diversity of the kinds of foods we eat has been severely diminished.
There are thousands of varieties of potatoes in the world for example and we basically eat four of them. There are four commercially available varieties of potatoes and the same thing goes with everything from peas to apples. We’re really shrinking our palettes and by doing that we really reduce the amount of bio-diversity that exists in the world and I think it’s a challenge because these varieties have been around for thousands of years and if we breed them out we run the risk of creating a monoculture crop that will be increasingly difficult to grow because there’s no back up. If you lose four varieties of potatoes and haven’t saved all the others there’s really not much of anything left. I think it’s incredibly important to look at agriculture in relation to climate change. The countries that will suffer the most impact of global climate change really are poor nations like China, like India. Those are the people who are probably making some of the smallest contributions to global climate change. The folks with the big cars, running their air conditioning all the time, those are the ones contributing to the problem. But the biggest challenges are going to be faced by those who rely on the land for their livelihood. I think saving our planet is really about saving our food; it’s about making sure we can all breathe clean air and recognizing how it all connects is probably our biggest challenge and biggest opportunity today.
For more information on Simran www.simransethi.com
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Thank you Hiral for your suggestions!