Posted on 03-12-2009
Filed Under (Environment) by Rashtrakut

Suketu Mehta with a passionate column on how 25 years after the Bhopal gas disaster legal immunity from corporate structures, government apathy and the unspoken fact of a lower value assigned to deaths in certain places have contributed to the continuing environmental and human catastrophe in the area.  Some of the charges against Union Carbide fit into the caricatured stereotype of  the evil multi-national that will have superior safety standards in the West but will ignore them in the third world.  The Indian government also fully lives up to its stereotypes of incompetence and bureaucratic apathy.

Bhopal also presents the delicate balance between a company’s legal and moral obligations.  Right now the legalists are winning.  So while the activists complain, the Indian government dithers, Dow claims legal immunity the contamination in the area continues, people still fall sick and die and as usual nothing gets done.  The dead in Bhopal are currently the collateral damage to India’s aspirations for the future for which future profits will not be endangered.

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Barack Obama’s recent trip to China has received much criticism for its failure to achieve much of substance, giving a short-shrift to human rights issues and even raising a minor storm in India from an otherwise innocuous press release.  However, the trip may not have been entirely wasted.  Richard Wolfe notes that lost in the press coverage (and he charitably does not mention the American media’s obsession with Sarah Palin’s new ghost-written book) were agreements reached regarding emissions targets.  This along with talks held with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his state visit last week (which also helped defuse the brouhaha over the joint statement with China) could help break the deadlock at the upcoming Copenhagen talks.

The Chinese visit may have also contributed to the China joining the recent censure of Iran by the IAEA.  The deliverables may not be as groundbreaking as previous presidential visits abroad but address two upcoming issues on the President’s foreign policy slate.  Success in Copenhagen could reaffirm the goodwill that exists for the administration on the ground in Europe.  Bringing India and China into any global agreement to cut emissions will blunt one of the major criticisms of the Kyoto Protocol.  Likewise any Chinese help on Iran is to be welcomed.  These are small steps at present, but they could lead to greater rewards down the road.

 

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Posted on 13-11-2009
Filed Under (Environment) by Rashtrakut

Noticed this chart on linked on Andrew Sullivan’s site.  The chart is misleading however, since all that landmass may not be usable or arable.  This link may provide a better understanding of the population pressures a country may face.

For example while the first chart makes it appear that China has all this unused land the second table paints a different story.  With 3 times the landmass, China has less cultivated land and less arable land than India.  The United States with similar cultivated land and arable land as the two Asian giants has only about one-third the population.

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Posted on 06-11-2009
Filed Under (Environment) by Rashtrakut

The giant statutes at Easter Island have long stood mute witness to its ecological disaster two centuries ago.  Now the crush of tourists to see the same statutes is raising new fears and calls to curtail the number of tourists.  Tourist destinations often face a tricky balance between balancing revenue and making sure the crush of tourists does not ruin the tourist experience or the sites people want to visit.  After seeing the degradation of tourist sites in neighboring Nepal, the reclusive Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan which opened up to foreign tourists only recently limits the number of permitted tourists a year.  With globalization increasing the number of people able to travel internationally, many other tourist hot spots will be faced with the choice Easter Island faces.

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Posted on 05-11-2009
Filed Under (Environment) by Rashtrakut

The Wall Street Journal has an article about deer who will still not cross the formerly fenced and electrified border between Germany and the Czech Republic.  A now abandoned human activity from a generation ago still impacts the migration patterns of today.

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Posted on 03-11-2009
Filed Under (Environment) by Rashtrakut

Global warming is on its way to making the title of Hemmingway’s book a thing of the past.  This continues a patter with the melting of arctic ice flows and the disappearing Himalayan glaciers that make North India’s rivers perennial.  Yet a vocal contingent of global warming deniers insist that all of this is exaggerated and we may actually be in the middle of global cooling.  The mind reels.

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Posted on 27-10-2009
Filed Under (Environment) by Rashtrakut

Scientific American has an interesting read on a new analysis that seems to confirm the sometimes derided hockey stick graph of global warming.  I don’t share the optimism that it will change the minds of prominent global warming deniers.  As in the debate over evolution, emotion trumps empirical evidence.

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Posted on 26-10-2009
Filed Under (Environment) by Rashtrakut

How to deal with emerging economies has been a huge stumbling block in climate change negotiations.  The Kyoto treaty foundered in the United States because it did not place requirements on India and China.  India and China point out that their per capita pollution is a fraction of western countries and they would need assistance in terms of technology transfer.  This position has been cynically exploited by resource rich countries like Saudi Arabia.  However, faced with the impact of global warming the Indian environmental minister is internally lobbing around a proposal to kick start negotiations.  However, as the article suggests that none of this will work without American leadership.  And American leadership is imperiled by climate change deniers (See a slideshow of some of the most vocal deniers) many of whom who control the ideology of its opposition party and a national chamber of commerce too short sighted to explore the opportunities that a clean energy policy could provide.

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Posted on 22-10-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Environment) by Rashtrakut

With global warming melting the Himalayan glaciers an interesting read on a local attempt to limit the fallout.   Water will be a major flash point in South Asia in the coming decades as the perennial rivers like the Ganga, Yamuna and the Indus could become seasonal rivers and the rain patterns that feed agriculture and aquifers across the subcontinent change.  The Economist discussed this issue a month back.  A friend has often joked about India’s constant position as an emerging power – that it is full of “potential energy” rather than “kinetic energy.”  In addition to the other domestic, structural and regional issues India needs to solve, this looming water crisis adds to its development burden.

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Posted on 22-10-2009
Filed Under (Environment) by Rashtrakut

Or rather the radioactive rabbit poop…I kid not.

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

On a serious note, the United States still has to figure out what to do with its nuclear waste now that the Yucca repository fell prey to NIMBYism.  Reprocessing the fuel like the French do could be an option, or at least worth further review.

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Posted on 14-10-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Environment) by Rashtrakut

As the world considers limiting oil consumption to fight global warming, Saudi Arabia is tossing a cynical ploy to delay negotiations. After decades of profit from the Western addiction to oil Saudi Arabia now wants to be compensated so that it can be diversify its economy.  Given the Saudi logic, maybe the rest of us should be reimbursed by OPEC for the cartel’s manipulation of oil prices.

OPEC’s plea for assistance is very different than that put forward by China and India. For years the rulers of OPEC states have squandered their oil bounty in bribing restive populations or lavish largesse to its leaders. Very few emulated Malaysia and Indonesia in diversifying their economies. This was even after the drop in oil prices in the 1990s showed the folly of relying solely on oil revenues. It is hard to feel sorry for resource rich countries who already have the money necessary to diversify their economies.

As it stands, even with reduction in oil consumption OPEC’s oil fields are not going to run dry any time soon. Even if the oil consumption in the West drops, it will rise in China and India. While OPEC may not enjoy the record profits of the last few years, the shower of oil money will continue for some time to come. Maybe instead of exporting Wahhabi fundamentalism abroad or bankrolling totalitarian dictatorships, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and other OPEC countries will use this as an opportunity to improve their societies and economies. The world will be a better place for it.

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