Sunita Narain | Centre for Science and Environment

Sunita Narain


2009 is full of promise

I spent a week at the climate change conference in Poznan, and realized the world is in deep trouble and deeper denial. Worse, the denial is now entirely on the side of action. It is well accepted that climate change is a reality. Scientists say we need to cap temperature increases at 2°C to avoid catastrophe, which means capping emissions at 450 ppm. We know global average temperatures have already increased by 0.8°C and there is enough greenhouse gas in the atmosphere to lead to another 0.8°C increase.

The tale of 21st century’s dinosaurs

Have you noticed how the mighty automobile industry in the US is beginning to sound like the now infamous tobacco industry at the time of its collapse, taking cover behind the people it employed to whitewash its inefficiency and perhaps its sheer inappropriateness? The tobacco industry, in its last days of conviction, when it became clear that the science of toxicity of this leaf was real, hid behind farmers who grew it.

The newer deal for a newer world

After months of downward spiral, the dreaded r-word must be uttered. The world’s major economies are into a recession. Equally recessive is the response of leaders who, after working extremely hard to privatize and deregulate, are falling upon a Keynesian idea, first applied after the 1929 Great Depression in the us, requiring governments to spend huge amounts of public money to bail out the economy.

A complicated bus-ride

What does Barack Obama’s election as president of the us have to do with buses in India? A lot. Obama stands for what he calls ‘change’—in the way we think and do business. But the call will remain rhetoric unless we translate it into practical, everyday life, changes. To do that, we must bring changes in our business model and, most importantly, in what is essential and what needs to be invested in.

Bail us out: consume

Earlier this year, I called the Union budget myopic (see Down To Earth, March 31, 2008). Let me reiterate why. The Union budget did not take into account the fact the world was beginning to face new challenges, all of which were devastating, and related. One, the rising cost of our food—you will recall subsequently prices did go up and food riots took place in many parts of the world.

No let-off till zero discharge

A few years ago I wrote about a textile town called Pali, in Rajasthan, which had completely toxified its seasonal river Bandi with industrial discharge. Then, I said the real story was not about pollution but the anger of farmers whose agricultural lands were destroyed because of effluents, whose well water had turned poisonous, and whose fight led the town to set up the country’s first common effluent treatment plant. The question I raised was: did we know how to clean chemical pollution in water-scarce areas?

The just framework for climate

Let’s cut to the chase. If we are serious about climate change then we have to be serious about changing (drastically) the way the world generates and uses its energy. But even as the rich world talks glibly about ‘decarbonisation’ of its economy it has done precious little to reinvent its energy system and to wean itself from its fossil fuel addiction. Between 1990 and 2005, emissions from fossil fuel have actually increased, in these countries.

Ignorance and arrogance make for good floods

This year, for once, the devastating floods of Bihar seem to have touched us. Last year, when the same region was reeling under what was said to be the worst floods in living history, we simply did not know. Media had flashed a few images, but it was more of the same: rivers flood this region every year, so what’s new? What’s there to say?

Our quality of mercy

Jambudwip is a tiny dot in the Bay of Bengal. A few years ago, it hit headlines when wildlife activists dragged fishermen, who used the landmass to dry their fish, to the Supreme Court. A case was filed regarding ‘encroachment’ of this island, partly covered by mangroves. The apex court’s central empowered committee (cec), which advises it in all forest matters, got into the act. Its report to the court was clear: fish drying was a non-forest activity, so disallowed under the Forest Conservation Act (1980).

Green politics for green technologies

That we need ‘green’ technologies—wind, solar or biomass gasification—for future energy security is no longer a matter of debate. The critical question, now, is: under what conditions can these emerging technologies be introduced into the market? The answer is not so simple. Most innovation and manufacture in these new sectors lie with private players. At the same time, the creation of ‘favourable’ conditions for application is at the door of government and public policy.

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