Pieces of the Green Puzzle

Maldives is an island country in the Indian Ocean-a perfect natural combination for the ideal tropical holiday destination. At just 4 ft 11 above sea level it is also the lowest country.

World meat production has more than quadrupled in the past half-century to some 220 million tons annually. The increase has been driven by rising incomes, population growth and urbanization particularly in the emerging meat markets of East Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. 1

Tata Motors Ltd announced the launch in India of Jaguar and Land Rover vehicles, the marquee brands it bought from Ford Motors last year.

The truth is that falling oil prices and the deep recession are directly related. When this worldwide recession ends and economies begin to grow again, oil prices will again become a burden on the economies of all nations. Thus we are really talking about a sleeping giant that will eventually awaken and attack us again.2

For those of you who are still wondering what connects the above, you have to read on. For those of you who have already connected the dots, my objective is to open your eyes and ears to the environmental challenge.

Environmental change is in the news. It looks as if everyone’s “going green.” So what is going green all about? Is it about reducing artificial lighting at offices, making it a habit to turn off the lights when you’re leaving any room, switching off your computer when not you are not using it and wasting less paper for printing?

While going green is all of the above, it is actually much more. Have you considered for example that today, e-waste is the fastest growing component of waste. That’s because people now upgrade mobile phones, computers and televisions more frequently than before. I am not being judgemental about how to lead one’s life. But being open to multiple points of view is an important criteria for an evolved society.

Environment today is still a back seat for most policy decisions in developing countries. One might say that developed countries have had their share of growth and now they can’t bully the developing counties into accepting strict environment norms. Developing countries, including China and India, believe it is the responsibility of wealthy industrialised nations such as the UK and US to set a clear example on cutting carbon emissions. For example, the rapidly growing Chinese economy has recently overtaken America as the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide. Yet America has historically emitted far more emissions than China, and on a per capita basis Chinese emissions are around a quarter of those of the US.3The Chinese government argues that it has a moral right to develop and grow its economy — carbon emissions will inevitably grow with it. Another interesting point is that most of the emission related activities are outsourced to developing countries.

But who is suffering?

Maldives, a small Asian country, is just 4 ft 11 in above sea level-the lowest country on the plane. If global warming proceeds apace, sea levels around the Maldives will rise 60 cm in the next 50 years, swallowing large tracts of the country.

Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed correctly points out –

We need shared responsibility. You can’t ask countries like India to stop consumption. We might be the victims but there are millions and billions of others. I shouldn’t be so selfish to push for that. Countries like India should invest heavily in renewable energy and maintain lower emission levels and higher energy consumption. I think the winners of the 21st century will be those who are bold enough to venture into new technology. We are on the verge of a technological breakthrough, a revolution again that would have more impact than the industrial revolution perhaps.

He is very correct to point out that people are still not that concerned about environment. Countries still don’t have climate change as a major election issue. Until it becomes an election issue, politicians aren’t going to take notice. But it will become one in the next five years.

Let’s look at another point largely ignored -meat consumption. Meat demand rises strongly as countries grow wealthier and urbanize. What if the key actors in climate change are…cows, pigs, and chickens? argue Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang , in World watch Magazine.

They point out that whenever the causes of climate change are discussed, fossil fuels top the list. The life cycle and supply chain of domesticated animals raised for food have been vastly underestimated as a source of Green House Gas (GHG-carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide) and in fact account for at least half of all human-caused GHGs. They estimate that livestock and their by-products actually account for at least 32,564million tons of CO2e per year, or 51 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions .If this argument is right, it implies that replacing livestock products with better alternatives (Soya Milk??) would be the best strategy for reversing climate change.

We will be forced to research and develop alternative energy sources. Our current rate of fossil fuel usage will lead to an energy crisis this century. Take automobiles for example. American obsession for oil and it being one of the cheapest liquid available in the US led to the development of oil guzzlers like Hummer. A normal Hummer gives around 500 meters to a litre of diesel. But the next generation of cars will be Hybrid cars- a vehicle which combines an internal combustion engine and one or more electric motors. The company which comes out with an economically viable car in the alternate fuel segment will emerge a winner. So where does Tata, one of India’s largest manufactures of cars comes into the picture. Swami Ankleshwar Aiyar in his article Swaminomics makes a very good observation-

I cheered when Tata Motors acquired Jaguar and Land Rover (JLR), two global luxury brands. But that acquisition has poisoned your balance sheet, and threatens your whole future……

JLR dragged Tata Motors into a net loss of Rs 329 crore in the April-June quarter, following a whopping Rs 2,505 crore loss the previous quarter. You hope JLR will turn the corner in 2010-11. But this assumes a return to business as usual, and that may not happen. The luxury car market may have changed forever – in the direction of electric vehicles. You ignore that change only at your peril.

Six years ago, the world auto industry talked of hydrogen-powered cars, using fuel cells, as vehicles of the future. That turned out to be a passing fad. Actual market fashion moved in a different direction – toward huge sports utility vehicles (SUVs). The biggest of these was the Hummer of General Motors. Every big auto manufacturer shifted to SUVs.

However, the market was transformed when oil crossed $100/barrel in 2007 and touched $147/barrel in 2008. Simultaneously, the Great Recession arrived. Demand for SUVs crashed as buyers switched to more energy-efficient vehicles, and the switch drove General Motors and Chrysler into bankruptcy…….The era of cheap oil is over…..

So, Mr Tata, let’s hope we hear soon from you about JLR going into hybrids and electric plug-ins. The aim is not to save the planet, just to save JLR – and maybe even Tata Motors – from extinction”

Any discussion on environment cannot end with 1000 words article. I will conclude with our obsession with Oil and how it affects our political, social and cultural lives. And though the dwindling oil supply may not be as ecologically catastrophic as global warming, it is likely to start having an almost immediate impact on every aspect of our daily lives and the luxuries we have come to take for granted. Charles Dickens begins his novel, the Tale of two cities, with the most memorable lines- it’s the best of times, It’s the worst if times. May be while we are enjoying the fruits of human advancement, technology, limitless supply of energy, it’s time to stop and ponder if all this is going to last forever or are we living with borrowed resources from the next generation ?

Prithwish

References

  1. http://atlas.aaas.org/index.php?part=2&sec=natres&sub=meatfish
  2. http://www.centerforajustsociety.org/press/forum.asp?cjsForumID=1168
  3. http://www.abdn.ac.uk/~src167/Copenhagen.htm
  4. Documentary- A crude Awakening, the Oil Crisis
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