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Earth Hour/G20 and doing somethig real for the environment

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These pictures of various landmarks all over the world during last Sunday’s Earth Hour are quite breathtaking.

But can someone tell me why is it necessary to keep the lights on at that swimming pool Water Cube thingie in Beijing for the remaining evening and all the other evenings in the year (unless some event is on)? Or why the Eiffel Tower needs all those lights (as if some Parisians or tourists would bump into it accidentally at night) ?

I always get pissed off by these gimmicky let’s save the environment by doing doing something symbolic for a short time movements.  Why switch of lights for just that one hour ? Be sensible, and switch off whatever lights/fans/AC is not necessary every day; replace all your incandescent bulbs with fluorescent ones; don’t leave your desktop running overnight; drive less, walk more. There are quite a many ways in which you can contribute to saving the environment, and save yourself some cash while doing so.

Which brings me to the G-20 summit currently being held in London. One of their agendas is to do something about the environment. Dudes, just do your discussions via tele-conferencing and save the environment by not flying world leaders and their entourages (to say nothing of the press, or the emissions from all those protesters making their trip to London) halfway around the globe for meaningless photo-opportunities. And the countries save money as well. Would be such a better gesture, if symbolism is what you are looking for.

Finally, in context of the G-20, wanted to point out this recent remark by British PM Gordon Brown: “The option of doing nothing is not available to us” ( heard on the Bugle podcast), in essense admitting that governments were doing nothing previously !

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Written by BongoP'o'ndit

April 1, 2009 at 9:11 pm

This Nano doesn’t shuffle

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But it can carry you from point A to point B. The Tata Nano.

The much anticipated Nano (a name I don’t really care for much) was unveiled today amidst much fan-fare. Touted by Tata as ‘the people’s car’, it is the world’s cheapest automobile. Additionally, if you are so inclined to think such manners, it is an ‘environmental nightmare’ (even though there seems to be evidence to the contrary) and an assertion of India’s growing economic might [1].

Speaking of global might, it is possible that in addition to the cheapest car, Tata will also own some of the most expensive brands if their bid to buy Jaguar and LandRover goes through. Talk about a spectrum.

[1]: Check the link – even while talking about cars, there is a sly dig at the recent cricket controversies. 🙂

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Jaguar’s potential sale to Tata, however, hasn’t made everyone happy. US car dealers apparently think it will dilute the brand value (of Jagaurs).

“I don’t believe the U.S. public is ready for ownership out of India of a luxury car make,” Ken Gorin, chairman of the Jaguar Business Operations Council, told the Wall Street Journal. “And I believe it would severely throw a tremendous cast of doubt over the viability of the brand.” (link)

Hmmm…..I can imagine the before and after scenes. Pre-takeover:

Customer: I want to buy a luxury car.

Dealer (showing a Jaguar): How about this one. It will break down often, cost you high maintainence, and is generally unreliable. But ….oooooh look……. it is a Jaguar, the Brits make it and Ford owns it.

Customer: hmmmm…..

Dealer: it is enormously expensive and a great status symbol.

Customer: Yay-diddly-doo – thats the one I want then. Where do I sign?

Post Tata takeover of the brands:

Customer: I want to buy a luxury car.
Dealer (showing a Jaguar): How about this one. It will break down often, cost you high maintainence, and is generally unreliable. But ….oooooh….. look it is a Jaguar, the Brits make it and errrr…an Indian company called TATA owns it.

Customer: hmmmm…..

Dealer: it is enormously expensi-

Customer (interrupting): ….wait did you say – India ? Dammit – I don’t know how to drive an elephant.!! And I really wanted something faster……..

Dealer: ….but sir, its still a car, in fact the same car as before – not an eleph-

Customer (interrupting again): and do I have to wear one of them turbans ? I can’t do that – everyone’ll think I am Osama !!!

Dealer: sigh ! forget about it.

PS – here is an even worse piece on Tata’s takeover bid: dripping with post-colonial angst. Will rant about it separately.

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Written by BongoP'o'ndit

January 11, 2008 at 1:14 am

Green Baggys

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(image source)

 

 Most of you are aware of the famous Australian baggy-green cap. But in the two months or so that we have been here, our eyes have mostly caught the ubiquitous green bag. From the early morning shoppers at the farmer’s market to the fashionable strollers around trendy downtown boutiques, almost every second person or so seems to be carrying one of these.

The motive behind the bags is of course to reduce the environmental impacts of non-biodegradable plastic bags (which not everyone recycles) by encouraging people to carry their shopping in reusable bags. Since these are cheaply priced (1 AUD) and widely available at grocery stores and retailers , even if you forget to bring your bag while shopping, you can always pick up a new one (we have three in our collection already). The bags are also quite sturdy enough to hold about a third of regular weekly grocery for two people (non-scientific observation by yours truly).

Not surprisingly, the concept came about through a government initiative that threatened retailers with huge fines if the use of plastic bags was not discouraged. But Australians have seemingly bought into the ideology in a big manner taking the green bags to the level of fashion statement of sorts. Additionally, following the success of green bags, you can also find black bags at liquor stores (often with nifty separators for ease of carrying multiple wine bottles), pink bags from the teen-fashion outlet Supre etc.

Of course, there has been criticism too – most notably of environmental snobbishness and hypocrisy. Not to mention that the bags themselves are not biodegradable. But while the bags themselves are not a solution to all environmental problems, I am for anything that encourages re-usage. It would be difficult and indeed unnecessary to completely abolish plastic bag usage, but having a cheap alternative is a great way to prevent wastefulness.

(in an unrelated note, most Australian grocery chains don’t put their logos on the plastic bags unlike their US counterparts)

Interestingly, growing up in India, I remember every household having similar kinds of bags for daily or weekly gorcery shopping. Plastic bags did not really appear in the Kolkata markets till the late 80s when ironically they gained huge popularity.

In the US, I think green-bags will be a non-starter other than certain urban enclaves and San Francisco. In Carborro, NC where I lived for a while, the local cooperative did offer similar bags, but those were priced too high (although they did offer the bags free when you signed up as a member). Note that Australia uses Chinese manufacturers for the bags which keeps the costs down – you cannot be both pro-environment and pro-local industry while being cost-conscious. Moreover, even if the green-bag is to gain popularity in US, the dimensions of the bag need to change as most items in Australia are sold in shelf sizes much smaller to what is available in the US !

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

July 18, 2007 at 9:44 pm

Posted in Australia, Environment

Global Warming: India, China and the US

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Cross-posted from here. My not so subtle manner of letting people know that I am co-blogging at yet another blog. Details later.

Over at Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen outlines various options/scenarios vis-a-vis India and China’s fossil-fuel consumption (and consequent contribution to global warming) and possible responses from the US.

1. China and India are less locked into fossil fuels than is the United States, and as Brazil has done they will take the lead in moving toward energy alternatives. America does not need to get them “on board,” and given their cooperativeness American energy policy will matter at the margin.

2. We can cut a deal with China and India at a suitably presented international convention. China and India will enforce this deal and abide by it, overcoming previous problems they have had ruling their provinces and avoiding excess decentralization.

3. Forget about the international conference, we can pressure China and India by twisting their arms. Like we’ve done with the Chinese currency. We also can threaten them with trade taxes, as has been discussed in Europe.

4. We are best saying nothing to China and India and calling no conference. There is some chance they will act unilaterally, out of pride and the desire to upstage the United States. External pressure will be counterproductive, remember British imperialism and the Opium Wars?

5. China and India will continue to be major polluters. If we tax American-generated carbon we pay a big price in terms of economic growth but make no real progress on global warming.

6. We do not know what China and India will do, but the United States is a world leader and ought to move first, set a good example, and do the right thing.

As noted later in the post, the cost for either India or China to be reduce global warming contribution might not be very high in real terms, but the important problems are institutional.

There are potential incentives (#2) and disincentives (#3), both political and economic, that might compel the two countries to overcome such barriers. But I doubt that either country will act unilaterally (#4) out of pride or to upstage the United States, even if under the remote possibility that USA is able to set a ‘good example’. Conventional wisdom says that while protecting the environment and reducing fossil fuel consumption are noble goals, China and India’s interest at this stage is obviously better served through economic growth and that is where all policy will be directed.

What interests me though is the flip side question: will investment in cleaner energies now actually make the Chinese and Indian economies grow at at a more rapid pace ? I am not an expert by any stretch and would welcome comments from those who are. However, a couple of intuitive points come to mind.

First, cleaner burning systems means more efficient systems, which should be beneficial in economic terms, right ? Second, independence from natural gas might serve the political interests of the country, since it would not have to pander to the interests of oil rich countries to ensure smooth economic growth.

As noted in the original post, Brazil has taken a lead in innovation towards energy independence – would be interested to know if how that has helped the growth of their economy.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

January 10, 2007 at 12:18 pm

Posted in Economics, Environment

Vertical Sprawl ?

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What Matters ?’ discusses the impact of the recent US Supreme Court ruling on wetlands and asks if they can be saved by building vertically.

But why are we in this situation? Have we run out of land to build now? Is the population pressure in the US too great that we have to start filling up the wetlands? I think we can try to limit our sprawl into environmental areas in the US quite easily – all we have to do is grow vertically instead of horizontally.

That blog, which is taking its baby steps, is written by the person nearest and dearest to Pondit’s heart. :}
The few entries in the blog are definitely worth checking out.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

June 22, 2006 at 7:26 am

Posted in Environment, Politics