Air Mail Pilot was recently challenged: could we use the words “teenager,” “ironing,” “smog,” “prize,” “prince,” and “Shakira” in a single sentence?
Why, yes we could! Here it goes: A teenager in India who invented a solar-powered ironing cart to combat smog and global warming is a finalist for a new environmental prize that was founded by Prince William and will be judged by Shakira.
Best of all, it’s a true sentence.
Some background: As in parts of the U.S., the streets in India’s cities and towns bustle with food vendors. But India’s sidewalks have something America’s most often don’t: ironing carts for getting the wrinkles out of people’s clothes.
Are Indians sharper dressers than Americans? Or do Americans just prefer to press their shirts, trousers, and dresses behind closed doors? These are questions above Air Mail Pilot’s pay grade. But all told, India is home to 10 million ironing carts and shops.
Charcoal is typically burned to heat the irons—11 pounds a day for each cart or shop, according to government estimates. Nationwide, that makes for a lot of air pollution—and deforestation to provide wood for the charcoal, another contributor to global warming.
It’s a problem on a local level, too. Vinisha Umashankar, a 14-year-old girl who lives in a medium-sized city in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, was upset by the big piles of burnt charcoal dumped by her neighborhood ironing vendor. She was also concerned about the his wheezy breathing—an obvious effect of so much smoke. She decided to do something about it.
Vinisha’s solution: a prototype for a solar-powered ironing cart that she somehow put together in a mere six months, working after school. Panels on the cart’s roof generate electricity that can be used right away or stored in batteries. A full charge, which takes less than five hours under sunny skies, can power the iron for upwards of six hours.
“I calculated the enormous quantity of charcoal being used, the pollution from it that worsens climate change, damages Mother Earth and human health,” Vinisha said in an interview. “I wanted to create a renewable resource that would replace charcoal.”
She noted that some parts of India get 300 days of sun a year. Who knows, with a little adaptation her design might also work for selling tacos on the streets of Los Angeles, say, or arepas in Miami.
Last fall Vinisha won a Children’s Climate Prize for her cart. That’s a Swedish award that gave her 100,000 krona (about $11,500) so she can continue to develop her cart, which she hopes eventually to manufacture.
Now she’s one of 15 finalists for the Earthshot prize, which Prince William established last year to encourage environmental innovation. Five winners will each receive £1 million ($1.17 million). And yes, Shakira, the Columbian pop star who performed with J.Lo at last year’s Super Bowl, is a judge. So are Australian actress Cate Blanchett, British soccer star Dani Alves, Queen Rania of Jordan, and Japanese astronaut Naoko Yamazaki.
Among the other finalists is a company in Kenya that trucks human poop and other organic waste (like food garbage) to a factory where, according to the Earthshot Web site, it is “consumed by black soldier fly larvae” and turned into fertilizer and—yum!—“insect protein for animal feed.” That’s no doubt a very good and not gross idea, but Air Mail Pilot will be rooting for Vinisha. —Bruce Handy
In 1971, when Judy Collins was 17, she decided that she’d had enough. A soccer fan since England’s 1966 World Cup victory, Collins was eager to get off the sidelines and onto the field. She wanted to play soccer—which, as a Brit, she calls football—at school in Cullercoats, in northeast England. But girls “had to play either netball or hockey,” Judy recently told The Times of London. “I didn’t like either.”
Judy played at home with her brother and his friends until, one day, she felt it was finally time to play in a real league. First a devoted fan of the West Ham team—and its handsome center-back Bobby Moore—and then the Sunderland team, Judy wanted “to be able to play the same game they were playing.” So Judy put out an ad in the local paper to recruit players for an all-girls team.
Judy enlisted her cousin’s boyfriend as the coach, and soon 15 girls were showing up on Sunday afternoons to play. But they eventually “lost interest,” Judy said, “because we had nobody to play against.” The group disbanded, and Judy returned to the stands to watch boys play.
With her soccer dreams dashed, Judy went on to work as a school teacher. She recently retired, but still works part-time as a lollipop lady and lunchtime assistant.
With more time on her hands, Judy decided to give soccer another go and started the Age U.K. North Tyneside’s Women’s Walking Football group, a soccer team for older citizens in which players walk, rather than run, around the field.
For now, there are only 3 members, including Judy, but she is hopeful that people have begun to see the sport as “not just for men,” she says.
“Hopefully it will snowball.” —Elena Clavarino
Breaking news from the savanna: Though elephants tend to be regarded as the region’s most dignified animal, giraffes can now be considered its most civil. Why? A new study from researchers at the University of Manchester reveals that when giraffes duel, they adhere to very specific codes of conduct.
Zoologist Jessica Granweiler and her research team monitored male giraffes at the Mogalakwena River Reserve in South Africa. It turns out the animals spend much of their days partaking in practice duels.
The researchers found that giraffes begin their practice jousts by moving their impressive necks. However, rather baying for blood by swinging at each other with full, brutal force, the duels are courteous affairs, used to establish a social hierarchy.
And they abide by very specific rules. Giraffes only pick on someone their own size—a large male would never fight a young one, for instance.
Researchers also found that, similar to how humans are right- or left-handed, giraffes have a preference for which way they swing their necks. Like boxing, some are southpaws (left-necked) while others are orthodox (right-necked). If an orthodox and a southpaw spar, they line up head-to-head. If two left-swinging giraffes duel, they line up head-to-tail, so each can fling their neck properly.
If a giraffe swings so forcefully he gets turned around, both animals engaged in the duel “immediately stop and resume the correct position, and then start again,” Granweiler told The Times of London. And if one giraffe isn’t ready to fight, the other will wait patiently. “There is a mutual respect that people don’t always assume is present in animals.”
Older giraffes serve as referees. On the instance a good-natured spar turns hostile, the referee intervenes to break up the fight. But sparring very rarely goes awry. —E.C.