Saturday, January 12, 2008

Environmental Colonialism

A piece in the Sunday Herald asking when environmental preaching became the newest form of colonialism? Funny how China with its greater population has 67 vehicles per thousand people, and most of these are mid-sized to larger cars that don't get 50MPG. In India with its 7 vehicles per thousand people, Tata has merely announced the Nano, and not yet even built or distributed it to the yearning masses, and already is garnering more environmental rants than China has cumulatively received over the past couple of decades. Talk about a double-standard.


san said...

Anyway, I have to note that China is way ahead in bringing out the innovations like electric scooters. This is something I'd like to see catch on more in India, even with its poorer electricity infrastructure, since it will ultimately make the economy more adaptable and resilient to oil shocks, etc.

Take a look at this new MIT idea:

karyakarta92 said...

Well, nobody would like to see a strong, prosperous India. The mullah Arabs, the missionary whites or the marxist chinese - all of them would love to see India as the sick man of Asia in perpetuity. After polluting the earth and bringing it to the brink of destruction with their vulgar consumption, they suddenly develop concern for the environment when a millions of Indians can afford cars. It is racism pure & simple. The bloody limeys would probably be surprised to know that there are roads and highways in India...

san said...

Well, here's an article that features a video of ABC's Nightline broadcast on the Tata Nano:

Some experts give their pro's and con's, and one seems quite positive and upbeat about the prospects.

Assman said...

C'mon lets not color the issue. What china does and recieves for it is entirely their business. If you have travelled on Bangalore roads, you shall understand the sheer volume of cars that choke any prospects of transport.

I am not saying that nano is a bad idea, but we simply are not ready for it. Our infrastructure and roads should be well prepared the development diffused and not concentrated, then we can sustain this. Under such a situation, we want to have the government give subsidies for this initiative is simply too far reaching.

This is not about India and China, we can develop with out all of this, we have developed without too much pollution. China be damned, in our hindu culture, we worship the nature. Its our foremost responsibility. But we shall not stall development for the cause but can go without too many comforts.

India is my top priority too, but we should not just brush aside these very pertinent claims and should take what is relecant to us.

Anonymous said...

If Bangalore roads are choked then the solution is to focus on building roads, not on ridiculing or blocking the Nano project. It is a wonderful idea and deserves to be supported

Shankar said...

If NYC did not have the kind of public transport it has, the city would have been a major mess apart from choking on pollution (NYC vs LA is a great lesson). Singapore came up with hefty parking fees. Many European cities encourage bicycles, the ultimate exercise machine and zero-emission transporter.

All this aside, we should realise that India needs its own solution. Someone suggested elevated pedestrian ways in Mumbai. That is not a complete solution but something in the right direction.

Imagine 30 cars on the road replaced by one bus, you will appreciate what public transport can do. Even if you build all these roads (I don't know where you will find the space) you cannot guarantee that there will be smooth traffic after a decade or two.

I am not suggesting heavy taxes on cars, but tolls and parking fees. And use of these funds for mass transport.

Assman said...

What happened to our great philosophy or renunciation? We call all earth a family, yet we are prepared to discharge disproportionate amounts of Co2?

I agree that roads and infrastructure should be built, but until ready, the government should not go out its way to give subsidies for the car project.

Middleroad, you talk about the clogging of roads, but what justifies our continuous discharge of CO2 in the atmosphere?

Is is not good that the attention be given to this issue and people turn towards environmental solutions. Is it not better that more people are aware and that they turn to mass or fuel-less transport for their commute?

Why is it that we proud hindus can not muster up enough mettle to take this issue up? Is money blinding us? or are we just going to oppose it because the communists are voicing their opinions?

san said...

I happen to work for a large infrastructure company that is famous for having built and managed some very large toll roads around the world. They were called in by various govts to help address infrastructural shortcomings, and to get major expressways built in record time -- and they most certainly have. Further huge lane expansions were also achieved in a matter of a few months. And I'm talking about state-of-the-art in ultra-modern travel.

Any problem can be overcome, if one takes the right approach. And in India's case, the toll road approach is most certainly crying out as the best solution. Forget about burdening the ordinary common man by paying from the state treasury. The fact is that with only 7 vehicles per thousand people, the common man is still far from being a car driver, and will be for quite some time. Instead, let those who have the cars, and thus the need for uncongested travel, pay for the infrastructural expansion through tolls.

Agreements with the private sector to set up tollways will have to be protected by iron-clad guarantees. I'd recommend Gujarat, Rajasthan, and other places with stretches of empty land to start looking in that direction.

Anonymous said...

There is serious resistance in America to any kind of mandate on vehicle emissions. America refuses to sign the Kyoto protocol. America has an average of 2 cars per family. The worst offender where the environment is concerned is the USA. And yet when India comes up with a technical innovation, the USA tries to pat India down. This car costs Rs 1 lakh, which means that it will still be out of reach of most households. Given that, it is very unlikely that the impact on the environment will be that bad. It is sad that Indians cannot stand behind an Indian innovation.

Sundar Lal Bahuguna said...

We have home grown solutions - we need not look at Us and China.

A government mandated car sharing scheme, owned and run by private players. This is a system where you take non polluting vehicles to a local 'mobility station' where you the cars would always be one the move, or you can book it in advance with an sms etc. Then you share it with all others who are going to the same node. From there you take another non-pollutiong vehicle e.g scooter, shared golf cart sort of vehcile etc to your final destination. Combined with existinf road and rail network, this will immenseley reduce the watage of car space(ie 1 person instead of 4). everyone can ride a car, and you dont need the personal hassles of car pooling.

So what about innovators who are working on such schemes? If Ratan tata the 'innovator' goes ahead and the government is oh so helpless, why are innovators who are working to take out inefficiencies from the current system, running from pillar to post?

nizhal yoddha said...

i can understand your point, bahuguna, being a green party member. but let's face it: people being people, they want cars. unless there are highly punitive taxes and disincentives (as we had in the glory days of nehruvian stalinism) people will buy cars even if there is good public transport. because cars have become a symbol of personal freedom (some say it is a phallic symbol, too, although oddly enough cars appeal a lot to women too). if the tata car can begin to run on new clean tech (eg. the compressed air, or hydrogen or fuel cell) that would be a beginning. unfortunately, we will need more roads and more parking lots, even if the quality of public transport goes up a lot.

Anonymous said...

Let me see if I can make myself clearer. We can tighten our belts. We can tighten them till we are cut in half. It won't help because we are just a small part of the problem. The issue lies elsewhere, so the solution lies elsewhere too. From your post it seems your gripe is about other innovators running from pillar to post. That is not Tata's fault. Fault our government, the babu-driven monolith that kept India from achieving greatness. Jealousy of Tata's achievement is not going to help the "innovators running from pillar to post"

Shankar said...


Realise that there are multiple problems here - 1. Congestion 2. Pollution and 3. Global warming. 4. Dependence on foriegn oil.

Increased commute times due to congestion and traffic jams are a colossal national waste. Parking is a major nightmare already. Pollution makes us a sick nation.

What you said is applicable only to global warming, but then again remember that Asian Brown Cloud is right on India. "The issue lies elsewhere" is such an incorrect thing to say, it lies right on our heads. India is already paying a significant price.

There are some who deny that there is a problem. There are others for whom this is an occasion to blame Marxists, Missionaries and Mullahs.

And let us not ignore the positives:

1. Nano is a rare innovation coming from India Inc.

2. Car is good for families. As long as they use it on weekends and take public transport on weekdays, it is good. This will happen only when govt imposes tolls on private vehicles, specially in cities and on weekdays.

3. A move towards smaller cars is good for us. This is a less glamorous segment of the 4-wheeler market that Tata Motor addressed.

Anonymous said...

My point has been that the Nano is not going to worsen the problem considerably and I don't see anything in your post that contradicts that. As far as the brown cloud is concerned, "It is created by a range of airborne particles and pollutants (e.g. woodfires, cars, and factories), characteristic of biomass burning and industrial emissions due to incomplete burning." It also not unique to India, but affects a large area that India is a part of.

The solution is not to ban the Nano, nor levy polls on people using roads. A comprehensive solution would be to force industries to control their emissions, improve the public transportation system, pass comprehensive laws against woodfires, and ENFORCE THESE LAWS.
Levying taxes seems to be a liberal favorite, but it has rarely worked. Take a look at some of Rajiv Gandhi's dumb ideas.
1. In the 80s, he levied a 15% tax on foreign currency purchase to bring the foreign currency shortage under control. That only pushed people to buy foreign currency in the black. It took Narasimha Rao and liberalisation to fix that problem.
2.When faced with an oil shortage, he mandated that petrol bunks close at 6 p.m. Apparently, to him, this would decrease the consumption of petrol. All it did was result in long queues in front of petrol bunks as people tried to fill up before 6.
We all agree that we need to address the pollution issue. No one denies we have a problem. This discussion is about whether the Nano will cause the environment to collapse.
One point about public transportation in India. In my opinion the buses that are run by the public transportation companies cause more pollution than a thousand Nanos.
Public transportation is always an attractive choice to people in India because it is cheaper. But there is no way Indians are going to find the rust buckets we call public buses attractive unless the government invests in them. Perhaps, before they force people to make hard choices, the government should make some hard choices of their own. Cut down on foreign junkets. Cut down ostentation. Take voluntary pay cuts. Use the money saved to improve infrastructure. THEN ask people to give up their cars. Believe me, there will be wide-spread acceptance of any belt-tightening then.

Sundar Lal Bahuguna said...

Accepting that because we already have a hopelessly screwed transport system, wherein the nano is nothing but a option that we cannot avoid, even at the cost of increased road congestion, wasted productivity, and increased pollution is one thing, going gaga over it and saying that for all the remaining concerns blame the government or that these concerns do not matter is another. Definitely, compared one to one, the nano shines in comparison to the passenger/road space ratio, pollution compared to large cars. Compared to 2-wheelers it is safer. Compared to autoriskhaws it is faster. But at the same time, it does contribute to the worsening traffic scenario severely, or has the potential to. So what I can’t understand is the total lack of communication from any quarter regarding this later issue. I have seen nothing on this except terms like ‘green’, ‘environmentalist’, ‘communist’, ‘green hypocrite’. Why this entire name calling? Ok let’s say we should blame the government, so you accept that are reasons existing for which the government needs to be blamed, and which are not being answered. Why then is everyone so exuberant in the current scenario? In that case, why do we blame the terrorists for their dirty work, why not only the government that allows them to flourish? There are certain questions to which no answers are forthcoming:

1) Let us assume tata nano pollutes little. But many people are worried it will pollute a lot. Why is the government or tata not clarifying how much or how little it will pollute, why is this information blackout? A government that is playing a villain on every other count to the country’s interest, does it look like an angel in this case? Will the situation worsen a lot, or not so much, why are we making sweeping assumptions? Why can’t we have a report on that?
2) Pedestrians are a harried lot in India. Do you think every person will ride a car? How many people can afford even a 1 lakh car? I think the bulk of India’s population cannot. What has been thought of regarding the plight of pedestrians, cyclists, 2-wheelers with increased number of cars on the roads?
3) People will little income can afford the cars, true. But who is stopping the rich people from buying 10 each for the family, one for each kid who used to take the bus earlier, or share dad’s car. Won’t it lead to a surge of demand from all quarters?
4) Rich people can very well move on to choppers, leaving the ones ‘left behind’ to fight for space on the roads. How will the have-nots feel then?
5) Let us forget for a moment that the nano owners are a democratized lot that deserve special treatment. Let us just look at them as new vehicles on the road. Since, the government is a failure in terms of enforcing road discipline in India, how what is its take on how the new swarming millions will adjust on the roads?
6) If another innovator comes along with a Rs 1000 car, or a truck –sized MUV, will we still be as gung-ho? If not, where do we draw the line?

I think Tata car in terms of innovation, is great. Tata can export it worldwide as well. What I and I believe many others don’t like is the way it is being launched i.e. riding on the euphoria to sweep aside all the questions regarding its likely impact on the road use scenario. Of course I am blaming the government, in which all of us have a stake. Blaming the tatas is useless, because only a tiny ratio has a stake in it. My issue is only with the ‘other concerns don’t matter’ approach, and I would close my arguments with that.