Sunita Narain | Centre for Science and Environment

Sunita Narain


Count the natural debt, too

Now that Europe’s debt crisis is unfolding all around us, shouldn’t we question why the world is determined to live beyond its means and not worry how it sabotages our common future? The debt crisis is a mere symptom of a deeper malaise. The fact is that countries, private companies and individual households can run only if they can borrow against their assets and hope that the debt will grow slower than the value of their asset. Most financial analysts will now tell you that this business is doomed because of the Ponzi scheme nature of the loan business, where borrowing is used to speculate to get more loans and so repayment becomes difficult and over time impossible.

Diesel: when bad policy makes for toxic hell

Just consider. Every time petrol prices are raised, oil companies end up losing more money. Simply because the price differential between petrol and diesel increases further, and people gravitate towards diesel vehicles. More the use of diesel, more the oil companies bleed. Worse, we all bleed because diesel vehicles add to toxic pollution in our cities, which, in turn, adds to ill health and treatment costs.

How to rewrite the Durban script

It’s that time of the year again. Climate change talks are heating up, with the next conference of parties scheduled in Durban in end-November. There is heat but no light. The negotiations are stuck despite the clear signs of climate change: dangerous and potentially catastrophic extreme weather events.

The bogey of green clearances

The environment is holding up growth and economic development. This is the common refrain in circles that matter. So when the Group of Ministers tasked to resolve the issue of coal mining in forests asked for a report on what needs to be done, it was told that the best would be to dismantle green conditions, almost completely.

20 years to…where?

Next year, in June, world leaders will get together in the joyful city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to mark 20 years of UNCED—the Earth Summit (see Down to Earth, May 15, 1992).

A monsoon warning

As I write this my city Delhi is drowning. It started raining early this morning and within a few hours the city has come to a standstill. The television is showing scenes of traffic snarled up for hours, roads waterlogged and people and vehicles sunk deep in water and muck. The meteorological department records that some 60 mm of rain has fallen in just about 6 hours; 90 mm in 24 hours; and with this the city has made up for its deficit of rainfall this season. In other words, in just about 24 hours Delhi and its surrounding areas got half as much rain as they would in the entire month of September. Delhi, like all growing cities of India, is mindless about drainage. Storm water drains are either clogged or do not exist. Our lakes and ponds have been eaten away by real estate. Land is what the city values, not water. So when it rains more than it should the city drowns.

Lessons from Kakarapalli

We were standing at the edge of what looked like a swamp—grass and pools and streams. On one side was heavily barricaded land with high walls, barbed wires and armed security. A board read: East Coast Energy, Kakarapalli. This was where a bloody battle had taken place a few months ago. People protesting the takeover of their wetland were shot at and three lost their lives. Now the site of the 2,640 MW thermal power plant is under siege—locked and in court.

Parking that can’t be found

Khan Market in boulevard Delhi is said to be the most expensive real estate in India, maybe even in the world. But in this richest shopping destination, buyers do not want to pay for parking their vehicles.

Mining bill gets it right

Sustainable mining is an oxymoron. Environmentalists will tell you this. Mining—coal to limestone—takes away forests, devastates mountains and leaves the land pockmarked. It also destroys livelihoods of people and displaces them. Worse, modern, mechanised mining takes away livelihood based on land but does not replace it with local employment—all estimates show that direct employment in the mining sector has fallen sharply. It provides wealth, but not for local development.

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