I suppose I have been spoilt by the temperate conditions in the paradise that the Willamette Valley is and am no longer able to bear the weather conditions in which I spent the first twenty-two years of my life. Power supply eventually resumed after a few hours. After a couple more days in Chennai, I headed to the cooler temperatures of Mysore to, at least temporarily, escape from the heat and humidity. As I was walking around a little after the sun went down in Mysore, everything turned dark because of load shedding. With the entire area in darkness, the well lit Royal Palace stood out as a fantastic spectacle to behold, while being simultaneously a symbol of India’s paradoxical problem of shortages and consumption.
When I wrote in this paper a few months ago about energy and water problems in India, I had no idea I would experience the shortage within a short time. In addition to the power shortage, there are widespread worries about water shortage as well because the monsoon is delayed, and is expected to be below-normal.
A below-normal monsoon might well be the proverbial last straw to this country of a billion that has managed to weather the Great Recession without too many problems. Agriculture, which is mostly rain-fed, will have significantly lower productivity as a result.
Electricity generation will drop as well with a decrease in hydro-power. Like China, India too will ramp up its consumption of coal in order to produce electricity in order to try to keep pace with the dizzying growth in demand. Which means a larger carbon dioxide emission from the power plants.
There will be a lot more of carbon dioxide—from automobiles. One report suggests that automobile sales can be expected to double in the next fifteen years. Tata Motors, the manufacturer of the much talked about Nano—the $2,000 car—has enough orders to keep it going for years. It is the same Tata that is also the owner of the upscale Jaguar and Land Rover, which it has introduced into the Indian markets.
Meanwhile, Nepali and Indian scientists have been collecting and analyzing data on glaciers and glacial lakes in the Himalayas. Preliminary reports indicate that the lakes have become larger. Yet, this is no cause for celebration, and is a reason to worry because the increased size of the lakes comes from glaciers that are melting.
All these experiences from this trip thus far are valuable indicators on the intense arguments that are forthcoming when the world gathers later this year in Copenhagen for the United Nations Climate Change Conference.
It is clear that the energy needs of India are immense, and will continue to grow at dizzying rates that will match China’s. We can expect both these countries to continue to state at the conference that advanced countries are higher polluters on a per-capita basis and that, therefore, should share a larger burden than the much poorer India and China, which are low per-capita polluters. I am confident that Bob Doppelt, who has been writing in these pages about climate change issues, will agree with me that India and China will press hard the case that slowing down their economic growth rates will not be politically or morally feasible for them.
At a casual dinner table conversation about Chennai's pollution levels, my parents asked me whether America, too, polluted a lot. It was a tough question in many ways. For one, I was representing America at the table. And, as an academic, I am expected to be “neutral” and stick to the facts. I gave them examples, from places where I have lived, of how America also polluted its way to economic prosperity—from how even the Willamette River was a convenient dumping ground to how Los Angeles used to be even dirtier than what it is now.
I then added that the old American model is not sustainable. America has got to change its habits, and other countries need to avoid the unsustainable aspects of the American model. Well, if my dinner table conversation is an indicator, then maybe the Copenhagen meetings will be successful only if it is attended by a lot more mothers.