Sunday, November 22, 2009

Indian green lessons for the West


Ahead of next month's climate change negotiations in Copenhagen there's a lot of anger in India about the West's pressure on it to sign up to emissions cuts. The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder travelled to India's most industrialised state, Gujarat, to see at first hand some very effective - if homegrown - attempts at tapping renewable energy.

In the middle of an open field, a man crouches over some cow dung and uses two pieces of metal to scrape up large amounts of it before deftly depositing it into a pan.

He then transports this to a large biogas plant - essentially made up of three silos sunk into the ground and connected via an intricate maze of pipes to a large collection bin in which the cow dung is collected.

This is where the dung is mixed with water and fermented to create gas, which is then piped to a large temple next door, the Jagganath temple in Ahmedabad, Gujarat's biggest and most polluted city.

The temple uses the gas to cook food for 1,000 pilgrims every day.


Thick smog

The biogas plant is often showcased by the government of Gujarat to emphasise its commitment to green energy.

Rajiv Gupta is a senior official who co-ordinates Gujarat's headline grabbing climate change initiatives.

"We have been emphasising on renewable energy, we have been emphasising more on solar and wind energy, and we have been taking a number of measures that probably were not thought of also, let alone being taken, in the West, 25, 30, 40 or 50 years ago," he says emphatically.

"See, ultimately every development, wherever it takes place, has certain costs. Our effort has been to reduce those costs to the bare minimum."

But despite the drive to create a greener state, temple kitchens powered by cow dung are not the norm in Ahmedabad - it's a city of chimney stacks and thick smog, where you get the impression that "climate change" is still unknown to most people.

But in the city's schools there's a definite sense that this may be changing.

Grade seven at the Rachana school could be straight out of a Charles Dickens novel, the girls and boys huddled together inside a grim classroom, lit by a solitary fluorescent bulb with paint peeling off the walls.

But what's surprising is that the students here are not just being taught maths or physics, they're being given a lesson on climate change.


'Colonial nightmares'

"This is actually a national programme and it goes to 200,000 schools," says Kartikeya Sarabhai, who designed it.

One of Gujarat's most passionate Greens, he's a bit like an Indian Al Gore. So it's surprising to learn that he is bitterly opposed to India signing up to emissions cuts at Copenhagen.

"I think that pressure from outside is negative. Having a Western country come and monitor us is taking us back to colonial nightmares. And you must realise that we've come out of colonialism and that we are a proud country," he says.

It's not just the adults - after class, I discover that even 12-year olds resent the way they are being singled out by the West.

"I think in USA they use more appliances and vehicles than us," says one boy.

"They use more electricity, they always use their vehicles to travel small distances. We use public services like buses but they don't use all this," says a girl.

As dusk approaches, a thick smog settles on Ahmedabad and the green activist Kartikeya Sarabhai drives me into a teeming shanty-town of densely packed tin shacks.

Women dressed in colourful saris hunch over stoves, cooking dinner while half-naked children play on top of a rubbish dump. Looming large behind them are three giant chimneys from a coal-fired power plant, belching thick black smoke into the air.

It's a perfect illustration of the dilemma that India finds itself in - to improve the lives of its poorest it needs to develop further and in the process build more carbon-emitting thermal plants among others.

But Mr Sarabhai believes that there are other solutions and the answers may well lie in the slums.

"You need to look beyond the squalor and see how efficiently they live their lives," he says as he takes me on a tour.

Most of the houses, he explains, are built from broken bricks, tiles, stones which have been left over from construction sites.

"They dry their clothes on the roof and in the process cool their homes. They live close to their workplace," he explains.

"Sometimes poverty offers us the most creative solutions. You don't have to waste to grow rich."

It's a message that India will take to Copenhagen - that the answer to low-carbon growth lies in homegrown solutions.

And rather than being told what to do by the West, they could actually offer the world some expertise of their own.


Courtesy :
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8353651.stm


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

No comments: