Sunita Narain | Centre for Science and Environment

Sunita Narain


Pollution: the great leveller

A harried parent called a few weeks ago. She wanted to know if the pollution levels in Delhi were bad and if so how bad. The answer was simple and obvious. But why do you need to know? Her daughter’s prestigious school (which I will leave unnamed) had sent a circular to parents, saying they are planning to shift to air-conditioned buses because they were worried about air pollution. She wanted to know if this was the right decision.

More to junk food than meets the eye

Junk food is junk by its very definition. But how bad is it and what is it that companies do not tell people about this food? This is what the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) laboratory checked. The results were both predictable and alarming. What was equally predictable was the response of big food companies and their spokespersons—denials and dismissals. But they are missing the point.

How India is getting gas and coal policy wrong

Two monopolies. One private and the other public; one in gas and one in coal. Both equally disastrous for the environment. I speak here of Reliance Industries Ltd and Coal India Ltd.

Grand distraction called river interlinking

Last fortnight, the Supreme Court issued a diktat to the government to implement the scheme to interlink rivers. The directions are straightforward.

Shale gas: dubious game-changer

The United States has always been the climate change renegade. For the past 25-odd years, since negotiations for a global agreement to combat the threat of this potential catastrophe began, the US has been the naysayer, pushing against a deal, weakening the draft and always hiding its inaction behind the legitimate growth of emissions in countries like China and India.

New business for new renewables

It was a trade exhibition abuzz with the restrained chatter of busy suited executives at company stalls making contacts and finalising deals. Nothing out of place except that this trade was about renewable energy technologies, which have unconventional reasons for growth. First, these technologies are seen as the most economical and feasible source of energy for millions of people unconnected to the electricity grid and having no electricity to light their houses or cook their food. This energy poverty is disabling and needs to be eradicated.

The inconvenient truth

Many years ago, in a desperately poor village in Rajasthan, people decided to plant trees on the land adjoining their pond so that its catchment would be protected. But this land belonged to the revenue department and people were fined for trespass. The issue hit national headlines. The stink made the local administration uncomfortable. They then came up with a brilliant game plan—they allotted the land to a group of equally poor people. In this way the poor ended up fighting the poor. The local government got away with the deliberate murder of a water body.

Why excreta matters

Water is life and sewage tells its life story. This is the subject of the Citizens’ Seventh Report on the State of India’s Environment, Excreta Matters: How urban India is soaking up water, polluting rivers and drowning in its own excreta. It has a seemingly simple plot: it only asks where Indian cities get their water from and where does their waste go. But this is not just a question or answer about water, pollution and waste. It is about the way Indian cities (and perhaps other parts of the world that are similarly placed) will develop.

From protests to where in 2012?

2011’s person of the year, according to Time magazine, is “the protester”. Clearly, this is the image that has captured the world—from dissent against the lack of democracy and repression in large parts of West Asia to anger against economic policies in vast and disparate parts of the world. People, all over, are saying enough is enough. But what will happen to these voices in the coming years? Will the movements of protesters be enough to change the way the world runs its business? Do these movements even know what they want?

Equity: the next frontier in climate talks

In 1992, when the world met to discuss an agreement on climate change, equity was a simple concept: sharing the global commons—the atmosphere in this case—equally among all. It did not provoke much anxiety, for there were no real claimants. However, this does not mean the concept was readily accepted. A small group of industrialised countries had burnt fossil fuels for 100 years and built up enormous wealth. This club had to decide what to do to cut emissions, and it claimed all countries were equally responsible for the problem. In 1991, just as the climate convention was being finalised, a report, released by an influential Washington think tank, broke the news that its analysis showed India, China and other developing countries were equally responsible for greenhouse gases. Anil Agarwal and I rebutted this and brought in the issue of equitable access to the global commons. We also showed, beyond doubt, that the industrialised countries were singularly responsible for the increased greenhouse gases.

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