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Why India is a Prominent Global Warming Sceptic

I grew up in Chennai, proudly known as the automotive capital of India and home to Standard Motors. While it makes me very happy to see Chennai back on the automotive map, it also points me to the fact that India needs to be involved in the long-term reduction of heat-trapping emissions. This is not going to help…

BBC NEWS | Business | India eyes 25 million automotive jobs

India’s labour intensive car industry has become a tremendous job creator and as such a crucial driver of economic growth.

Already, some 10 million people are working in factories across India – making cars and motorcycles, tractors and trucks – or in sales and service centres.

And their numbers are set to swell.

By 2016, the automotive industry should have created employment for 25 million people in India, according to government predictions, set out in its Automotive Mission Plan.

I realize that India has a loooooooooooooong way to go before it catches up with the US and the rest of the developed world as far as per capita heat-trapping emissions are concerned. I also admit that infrastructure development, job creation, manufacturing prowess, etc., are critical for India in order to mitigate its soul crushingly large poverty and development issues. But, by putting so much emphasis on conventional car technology, and putting so many more CO2 emitting monsters on the road, India is putting itself in a position of playing the development vs. environment game.

Is it necessary that India and China tread the same path as the U.S and Europe? Does India have to make and use cars that are built using technology developed prior to our knowledge of global warming? The same company that gets cautious praise from the Union of Concerned Scientists for its “leadership” role in global warming will turn around and build factories in India that carry the status quo forward for another 30 years. When you’re starting from the foundation, and you know that the plans provided to you will lead to your house crumbling in 20 years, would you use the plans anyway because your contractor provides you with no alternative? The logical answer seems to be no, but is this process logic driven, or enforced by the existing power structure?

The vehicle industry is entrenched in the US and therefore, resistant to change. It is understandable, not optimal, not desirable, shortsighted, etc., but understandable. Change requires effort, and a lot of the time, the effort is motivated by external factors, such as strict regulation. Without these external factors, it is very easy to keep chugging along merrily.

But, does India have to make the same mistakes? Does India have a choice here? I am afraid not. The pressure to build infrastructure quickly leads India to seek foreign investment and the investment will only come in the way of companies like Ford. And Ford will do exactly what it needs to do to make money in the short term (apparently, they’re not very good at that either!).

What is the answer? The developed countries have to pass legislation that pretty much forces the car companies’ hand. Strict increases in fuel economy standards, tightening of loopholes, and strict enforcement are all required. As this UCS report shows, fuel efficiency improvements of up to 40% are possible using run of the mill technology (as in, no hybrids, no electrics, nothing). But this is not sufficient. While the US market is focused enough that the highest regulation (California) pretty much drives the market, will car companies simply make a set of third world cars and a set of first world cars?

There’s clearly another piece to the puzzle, encouraging technology transfer of the most carbon efficient technologies to emerging markets so that they can build infrastructure correctly, using current knowledge instead of following the only blueprint currently available to them. Yes, this hits upon intellectual property issues at times, but when your village is being submerged by the sea, intellectual property needs to take a back seat. This technology transfer needs to happen either through incentives (tax breaks, non-profit/UN funding), or disincentives (carbon taxes, etc.). the Kyoto Protocol does have some technology transfer programs built in, but without the participation of the US, the protocol is not going to work.

Do I see any of this happening? Not really, so I guess we’re stuck with recycled global warming denialism like this one from one of India’s prominent columnists.

Almost as soon as the Kyoto Protocol on global warming came into effect on February 15, Kashmir suffered the highest snowfall in three decades with over 150 killed, and Mumbai recorded the lowest temperature in 40 years. Had temperatures been the highest for decades, newspapers would have declared this was proof of global warming. But whenever temperatures drop, the press keeps quiet.

Yes, the country that produces great intellectuals has come down to this. But, this is the prevailing wind in India. As a country, it has swallowed the American line on development being at odds with the environment. As a country, it is poised to greatly increase its heat-trapping emissions and fight vigorously, any efforts to restrict its emissions. India is right in most ways, its per capita energy consumption is miniscule. It already only uses half the energy per dollar of GDP that the US uses (of course, this is at the expense of quality of life for millions). So, any attempts at pointing fingers at China and India are irresponsible. But, that is the past. Looking forward, every country needs to use the most efficient technologies possible, and this Ford factory driven development model ain’t gonna work.

I leave you with the energy intensity chart…

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