Sunita Narain | Centre for Science and Environment

Sunita Narain


Sunita Narain

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Sunita Narain has been with the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) since 1982. She is currently the director general of the Centre and the director of the Society for Environmental Communications and publisher of the fortnightly magazine, Down To Earth.

Who’s afraid of 2°C?

The latest fuss about the 2°C global temperature target India apparently acceded to at the Major Economies Forum in L’Aquila, Italy, is important to unravel. The declaration by the world’s 20 biggest and most powerful countries recognized the scientific view that the increase in global average temperature above pre-industrial levels should not exceed 2°C. The statement was widely criticized in India as a sign we had ‘given in’ to pressure to take commitments, to cap our emissions.

Rain or no rain

Last fortnight a dominant image on TV screens was drought. This fortnight, vast parts of the country drowned in water. An uncertain, unpredictable and variable monsoon is still impacting us. Late rain has delayed or jeopardized sowing; or intense rain has thrown life asunder and flowed away rapidly, creating months of (future) scarcity. Regional variations are huge, too. So there is drought in otherwise moist northeast and in paddy-growing Punjab and Haryana. A different monsoon, perhaps signalling the climate-changing times ahead.

It’s raining GDP

This is the fortnight of India’s budget. Pink and white papers scurry around for comments on what the finance minister will do for India’s economy, completely missing the bigger questions. What will happen if the Indian monsoon fails—or fails in the critical period when farmers sow the kharif crop? What will happen if reservoirs—holding water for drinking or electricity—do not get their supply from the sky? Will we have water to drink in cities? Will we have water and power to operate industries?

Can we afford not to change? Can we afford the change?

The to-be-or-not-to-be question of our age. Given the crisis that confronts us—inequality and poverty in our immediate midst and growing climate insecurity in our world—we have no choice but to change. But how will this change be afforded? If we cannot find an answer to this one, what we will get is a lot of talk and little action. In fact, we will regress, literally and deliberately.

Another co2alition of the willing?

It was the biannual gathering of over 100,000 Protestants in Bremen, a small town in Germany. As the articulate minister for environment, Sigmar Gabriel, came to participate in a discussion on energy security for a climate-secure world, many stood up. Soon the hall was full of blue placards, held high, all saying: “No to coal.” The minister, I could see, was riled. He believed he was the environmentalist in the crowd. He said he would build coal power stations, because the country was phasing out nuclear power.

Time to be different

The new (old) government is back. The question is if it has learnt its most important lesson: how to enjoin its political agenda to the agenda of government.

The real pandemic

The influenza A(H1N1) virus is not transmitted to humans by eating pork, that much is now known and said. But what are the origins of this virus, winging across our air-travel interdependent world? Why is this question never asked? Why are the big doctors of our world looking for a vaccine for all kinds of influenza without checking on what makes us so susceptible to pandemics, year after year? Is there something more to the current contagion?

The challenge of the chulha

About 24 years ago, I was in a house in a small village some distance from Udaipur town in Rajasthan. A government functionary was explaining how an improved chulha (cookstove) worked— they had installed it in the kitchen. At that time, India was waking up to forests being devastated. It was believed then (wrongly, as it turned out) the key reason was poor people cutting trees to cook food. It was also being understood smoke from chulhas was carcinogenic and that women were worst hit by this pollution.

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