We have been here before
Not everything about the climate crisis is new, and we cannot throw away the hard learned lessons from the past, plus an opinion piece by a young economist
A couple of weeks ago, a German friend, Tobias Engelmeier, asked if I would join in a discussion with him and a Kenyan friend to speak about the climate crisis. At the last minute the Kenyan friend could not make it, and while that left two men alone - the dreaded ‘manel’ - we decided to just throw some ideas around.
Tobias is one of those interesting people who is both into ideas and entrepreneurship, and I met him a decade or so ago when he was heading an initiative called Bridge to India, that was looking at investing in India’s renewable sector. He is now using sattelite data and artificial intelligence capabilities to help map out opportunities in certain countries like Kenya, which helps in lowering risks in investment and making strong business cases.
As such, his work is fuelled by a sense of urgency and mission, most of which people like me in the developing world are hungry to hear from people in developed countries. Therefore it it was interesting how often during a brief conversation we disagreed. This may be merely because I am a disagreeing sort of person, but as Tobias talked about the need to act now, about how slowly the world had moved to act on the climate crisis - both things which I agree with - I found myself pushing back, and saying that maybe the urgency of the situation demanded that we actually slow down more.
Maybe this is because, for Indians, we have lived with one emergency or the other, whether it was the food crisis that independent India was born into, or the rolling crisis of adequate employment that we have never figured out how to deal with. And, of course, Indira Gandhi’s abuse of the Emergency provisions (people forget that it was the third time it was used, the scale of the abuse was so large we think it was the only one) has left us with an instinctive fear of the word.
Much like the small, uncertain steps to compensate for the loss and damage suffered by developing countries due to climate - India suffered close to $159 billion dollars according to one calculation, or over 5% of our revenue this year - post-colonial countries have waited forever for some justice for colonial era crimes.
While it is important to continue with such processes for the sake of principle, it was not compensation for colonial ravages that allowed developing countries to grow, rather entrepreneurship and ideas.
It was not as if we did not suffer then, just as we suffer now, for actions not of our own, but we need to possibly place our hopes in a different area, such as the way we managed our food security after Independence.
There is also another fear that acting quickly bears, as India’s Emergency days showed. Quite often in the urge to deal with an overwhelming problem, we act with undue haste. And in countries like India, where communities have suffered various forms of exclusion, the most vulnerable pay the greatest price. So, as India dealt with a crisis of overpopulation, it pursued a policy of the forced sterlisation of the poor, funded by rich countries - as we mentioned in a previous newsletter titled “Consent is key”.
We have been here before. We have seen what works, we have seen what harms.
While the crisis is new, its shape different, there are learnings we have that cannot - should not - be ignored.
In the end, though, Tobias and I share more in common than we disagree upon. We are disheartened by what is happening, we are moved by a sense of urgency (if not haste), and what we hope for is that the generation that follows after us, like the young student Aanya Moturu who writes the opinion in this newsletter, will find a way.
Aanya Moturu is a student, currently in 12th grade. She enjoys dancing and has been learning Kuchipudi for the past 12 years. She is the senior sub-editor of her school newspaper, The Global Times. Her interest in the economics of current events drives her to write about it. This is an opinion piece on looking at India’s future.
On one hand, living in a rapidly changing world is exhilarating but on the other, it is disheartening to see it transform into a place of nothing but pain and pollution. If the earth is so wounded now, will it survive when humans finally decide to make amends? We certainly cannot outlive it.
The pollution in Delhi has caused breathing – a basic human function to become a struggle for many. Even vision is impaired by the dense smoke all over the city. As someone who enjoys nature, I can only rely on the idea of it to derive joy for the reality is as gloomy as the hovering smog. Many people in positions of power argue that climate change is not real. What about the increase in the occurrence of disastrous floods? What about the shortage of drinking water? What about hotter summers and uneven rainfall throughout the year?
Maybe, my senses have truly been hampered by the pollution I am engulfed by. The actuality behind fast shiny cars and tall elegant buildings is not as glamorous as it seems. Entire ecosystems are in grave danger. Development as we perceive it is far from our reach.
Despite all this, economies are said to be growing. Economics arises from scarcity of resources. Based on this, choices need to be made. Somewhere along the way, its essence has been lost and the contrary is being exercised. Not all needs are being met and resources are rapidly being depleted. GDP, the quantitative metric of growth can only tell so much as to how an economy is operating. Neither should its significance be neglected nor should it be considered as an accurate reflection of the performance of the whole of an economy.
In pursuit of growth, we are losing much more than we could ever gain through its attainment. The common goal of all disciplines, theories and principles is to achieve what is ultimately best for human beings. Unsurprisingly, destroying the environment in the process is not the way to go about it. There are always alternative methods to perform any task. Economic growth is essential but the opportunity cost of not enforcing sustainable methods of production is huge.
What truly needs to be achieved is the equal distribution of wealth and resources while ensuring a basic standard of living for all. Putting pressure on the environment is not a pre-requisite to global advancement. Resources are required to magnify the scale of growth through improved technology. But there is a difference between using them efficiently and using them without thought.
The environmental transitions which have taken place over the past few decades are drastic even more so for say, my parents who had the “luxury” of enjoying nature in a much purer form. But it is we, the youth who is suffering; who are recognising the need for change in the first place. Nevertheless, the only change which has truly been caused yet is climate change.
It is bizarre how little to no regard is being given to it whereas the attention is diverted towards futile endeavours. The world no longer remains an accommodative place for living beings. Though the damage already done may be irreversible, in species lost to extinction, while others teeter on the brink of disappearing forever, it is in our hands to prevent further damage. It is important to understand that if we don’t start acting now, whatever little is left will inevitably evaporate like the water bodies are. Someone has to pay for the cruel treatment towards the planet. It will be up to us, the coming generation, to hopefully save and repair what remains.
In just nine months in 2022, India witnessed some form of natural disaster almost every day, says CSE’s new report on extreme weather: India 2022: An Assessment of Extreme Weather Events released by CSE and Down To Earth magazine on November 1, stated that India recorded extreme weather events on 241 of the 273 days between January 1 and September 30, 2022. This means that more than 88 per cent of the time over these nine months, the country was witnessing an extreme weather event of some sort happening in one or more of its regions. These disasters have claimed 2,755 lives, affected 1.8 million hectares of crop area, destroyed over 416,667 houses and killed close to 70,000 livestock – according to an understated estimation of loss and damage. Down To Earth has also launched India’s Atlas on Weather Disasters, an online public interactive database on extreme weather events that would be updated every month.
Forest Rights Act: Over 1.6M Families Face Threat of Eviction From Forest Land: More than 16 lakh tribal people and forest-dwelling families face the threat of eviction as their claims over forest land have been rejected across states. Their fate now hangs on a final hearing in the Supreme Court to conclude the case challenging the constitutionality of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006. If the apex court upholds its previous eviction order, about 78 lakh individuals will be evicted from their land – an unprecedented scale of forced eviction undertaken by a democratic nation. In Madhya Pradesh, officials have rejected at least 2.36 lakh individual claims that were previously rejected or were kept pending and whose claimants had applied for a review.
In charts: India’s long-ignored, understaffed pollution control bodies: Established in 1974, the pollution control boards are semi-autonomous agencies that remain India’s frontline bodies to tackle pollution, with several sweeping powers. However, their compromised functioning contributes heavily to India’s status as hosting 14 of the 20 cities with the world’s most polluted air (as of 2021). A recent study by the Centre for Policy Research revealed a dismal state of affairs, finding that at least 40% of the posts across the State Pollution Control Boards (SPCB) were vacant; almost half of SPCB members were government officers without proper qualifications; and that environmental regulations held little relevance in most states, with the boards ‘balancing interest’ between environment protection and economic growth.
At COP27, Island Nations Want India Also To Pay for Climate Damage: Highly polluting emerging economies including China and India should pay into a climate compensation fund to help countries rebuild after climate change-driven disasters, the prime minister of island nation Antigua and Barbuda said on Tuesday. The comments marked the first time the two nations have been lumped into the list of major emitters that island states say should be held to account for damage already being wrought by global warming. Delegates at the conference agreed to put the topic of loss and damage onto the formal agenda for the first time in the history of international climate negotiations. To date, climate vulnerable countries have called on historical emitters like the US, the UK and the European Union to pay climate reparations.
Extreme weather events drive mass migration in Odisha’s Kendrapara, Jharkhand’s Palamu, says study: Extreme weather events have played a major role in mass migration in two districts in India. These events, coupled with a lack of social protection measures, forced the villagers in Odisha’s Kendrapara district and Jharkhand’s Palamu district into distress migration, according to a new study. Rapid-onset events, like floods, increased the odds of migrating by 687 per cent. At the same time, slow-onset events, like drought, increased the likelihood by 172 per cent, noted the study by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), a non-profit.
Serious gender gaps in G20 countries' climate policy: Study: A recent report found that G20 countries, who are responsible for almost 80% of global carbon dioxide emissions, lack gender-responsive national climate change policies. The report analysed the level of gender integration, or lack thereof, in the national climate policies and Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) of the G20 group. It found that despite the increasing acknowledgement that the impacts of climate change vary depending on gender—and the crucial role of women as drivers of climate solutions—gender has yet to be comprehensively or meaningfully integrated into G20 countries’ climate policies.
Tamil Nadu Paddy Farmers Suspect ‘Implementation’ of Abolished Farm Laws: Tamil Nadu farmers bear the brunt of unseasonal rains during both sowing and harvesting and procurement issues every year. Paddy sacks get drenched in the absence of proper storage facilities at the direct procurement centre (DPC). The insufficient and delayed compensation for crop damage through the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) has pushed the farmers further into debt. The Centre’s decision to fix 12.5% as the maximum share of insurance premium in spite of the quantum of insurance is yet another setback for the farmers. The continuous thrust on entrusting private players to procure paddy directly from the farmers instead of the government has raised suspicions about the implementation of the withdrawn farm laws in different forms.
Kashmir’s Doodh Ganga Has Become a Drain: Since the Indian government split Jammu and Kashmir state in 2019, the local government has been non-responsive and instances of corruption have been on the rise. One such instance pertains to the Doodh Ganga river, which is a major tributary of the Jhelum. More than five lakh people in Srinagar’s uptown area and some areas of district Budgam get their drinking water from the Doodh Ganga supply plant in Kralpora, on the outskirts of Srinagar. However, municipal liquid waste – from homes as well as government pumping stations located on its banks – is dumped into its water without being treated. In October 2022, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) directed the Jammu and Kashmir government to deposit Rs 35 crore as penalty – the largest penalty of its kind imposed thus far in Kashmir – after it determined that local authorities had failed to treat the liquid waste entering the river.
The planet has lost 83% of its freshwater aquatic life in 50 years, finds report: Wildlife populations, including birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and fish, have seen an average 69% decline since 1970, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature’s (Formerly World Wildlife Fund) Living Planet Report (LPR) 2022, released on October 13. Using data from almost 32,000 populations of 5,230 species, tabulated by the Zoological Survey of London from 1970 to 2018, the report found that Asian countries, including India, have seen a 55% decline in the wildlife populations, while the African countries have seen a 66% decline. The most significant decrease has been observed in the Latin American and Caribbean regions where there has been a decline of 94% in wildlife population from 1970 to 2018. The freshwater aquatic life has also decreased by 83% globally in the last 50 years, the report highlights.
Who is extracting Goa's groundwater? Despite Goa being one of the first few states in the country with a Groundwater Regulation Act, researchers and activists say that its groundwater is being extracted rapidly and, in some cases, illegally. Limited data on water, both on the resource and utilisation side, makes it difficult to fully understand how much water is actually being used and where. While better rainwater storage and groundwater recharge methods are needed, a more urgent need is a change in policy, since the rate of urbanisation in Goa is faster than the resource infrastructure it can support. Data on registered wells and tankers, obtained through Right To Information applications in Goa, is used to understand water use patterns in the state.