Spectacular disinterest on Climate Change in Mumbai

Even as New York City – and many more cities globally – saw one of the largest public congregations demanding action on climate change, the silence in Mumbai was nothing short of spectacular. I was informed of only one very small and local march in Dadar (West) but there was nothing like the big euphoria and prior planning and social media drum up before the event. There has been absolutely no coverage of even the global events in any of the English dailies and clearly the editors know their audience very well.

I had thoughts about organising something but I am now nowhere as active as I was in the last decade.

Towards the mid of last decade Mumbai too came to be swayed by the great outreach carried out by Al Gore and team in taking Inconvenient Truth to the world. To me it was annoying to see every tom dick and harry to be organizing screenings of the movie. I never saw any interest in the same people and organisations – the Rotary’s and business chambers of the world – towards any of the here and now issues.

I was involved in so many of those here and now environmental issues in the front line and trenches and could have done with some show of mass enthusiasm and support on them. Saving the mangroves, cleaning the Mithi, improved public transport to avoid emissions and congestion, energy efficient buildings, solid waste management and the usual jazz. Support for Al Gore was easy but not for one of them within the city. And then India wants to become a super power when it doesn’t have the faintest of clue or interest in what soft power is – of course I should not forget Bollywood and the influence of Amitabh Bachchan. In 2007 even the US government was recognizing some of my leadership by inviting for the IVLP program but there was no interest in any government authority here.

That was also the time when I was more motivated and enthused with the co-benefits of tackling climate change. The here and now benefits compared with what will happen a bit down the century. How better public transport is as much about climate change but has an immediate relevance in better quality of air and quality of life, how saving mangroves prevents floods now as much as provide resilience to climate change decades down the line. I had my doubts whether all those so enthusiastically screening the movie and the droves attending it had any serious interest in doing something about the issue. And it seems vindicated with the response in the past month to the People Climate March.

To me the craze with screening Inconvenient Truth and Al Gore was symptomatic of the the craze to be associated with all things white and American which this country suffers from. There were so many of these wealthy middle class teenagers and those in their early 20s organising all kind of arbitrary events on climate change – distributing solar lamps, organising talks by teen counterparts in America, equivalent stuff in the adults. There was the Indian Youth Climate Network formed.

So now when there is such a poor response in Mumbai to one of the most significant events globally, I am left wondering what happened to all those enthusiastic – though I found them very shallow- kids who were doing all the jumping around on climate change in the last decade? A lot of last decades events were given a push up by supporting US organisations and I guess that is what was missing this time around. Left on their own the folks here are incapable.

Even then it was becoming clear to me that in the youth most of the enthusiasm revolved around showing extra-curricular activity on their resumes when they make applications to the Universities in America and Europe. Very little of their enthusiasm and motivation was about any serious interest in developing India’s response to climate change. It is easier to mouth generalities working in the UN and WB than handle their city governments within. It is quite apparent that at least in Mumbai there is no significant new strong young leadership coming up to champion for environmental issues in general or climate change.

Nothing more to say except mark a milestone in my recording of India’s response to climate change  – which is quite pathetic – on which I was posting mostly in the last decade. More in the link below. I think I am quite vindicated about the poor opinion I had about all those who were so enthusiastically organizing and watching the Inconvenient Truth screenings.


The Pied Pipers of India

I have been reading intensely (not as much quantitatively as much as I would have wanted to) on the climate change negotiations leading to Copenhagen and various other related topics like technology and the legislation’s being proposed.

I would maybe not express myself as I find below, had I found some credible amount of diversity in India’s positions on climate change as I find in many of the Tier – I industrialized countries (developed in popular lingo). Almost all of the discussion on climate change in India displays a lack of deep research and creative thinking. Almost every article in mainstream papers seems like some kind of a copy paste kaleidoscope. The more dominant ones display a hard headed thinking or smack of a clear vested interest influence. In fact most of the efforts in India are being financed by vested industry interests. Independent thinkers – and I would count myself as one – live a life so starved of resources that I even wonder why I take the trouble of writing right now.

Also its time we stopped calling ourselves a developing country (Tier II industrialized would be my lingo). We should call ourselves so only if we allow the real poor and backward people drive the India negotiations. All the India climate change negotiations are being led by Indians who know English better than the Queen, are more well versed with worldly issues than the average American and yet call themselves developing.

A hard headed way of thinking and approaching an issue is integral to India. You see it everywhere; people can’t do 360 degree thinking, cannot quickly create or respond to new scenarios, think creative solutions, accept mistakes and make amends. The result clearly is that once we take a position we end up we remain wedded to it, for good or worse, mostly worse.

Socialism was failing us by the late 60’s itself but we dragged it for two decades more. The country’s thinking was firmly in the hands of a few hard headed mono-visioned people. The millions (hundreds of) who make up India are like the rats who followed Pied Piper.

Most in India didn’t care much about what was going on which, lead to 1991, did not participate in bring about that change and then hardly blinked an eye lid before a transition and new generation passed the goodies through their digestive tracks. And it is on the strong shoulders of these indifferent people that Ministers stash of billions of dollars to Swiss Bank accounts by just keeping the dope of cricket and cinema flowing liberally. In this dreary desert has my country awoken and tries to lead G-77 on climate change.

The hard headed are generally the best at making coalitions and taking charge and in ensuring resources to feed their operations.

And in the climate change dialogue and in India’s ‘official’  – and more importantly the more vocalized – positions it clearly is not one but a whole troupe of Pied Pipers who are leading millions of rats to heaven. Millions of educated Indians (not those ‘disgusting’ beggarly brown skinned non-english speaking types) are brazenly unaware of what is climate change, those who are aware are no different in initiative from the generation which partnered in India’s downfall during the socialism years.

Millions go about completely unmoved by the need to address the more pressing and immediate issues facing the country. Poverty, the overwhelming corruption, being short-changed at every level of the government. May be that is also an element of the ‘more superior’ Indian intelligence and spiritualism, which understands that one day climate change will anyways square it all of so what is the point of engaging oneself in all these issues.

And it is from such a country that some have the gall to take a moral high ground by saying blatant lies about how India’s development will be affected by emission caps, these pied pipers ask about cash and technology transfers, while home talent is frustrated and denied opportunities to even implement good laws which already exist and are observed more in their neglect.

Some recent interesting international articles I read, which came as a break in the intellectually starved media reports in India.

The lucky country needs to act responsibly on climate

A wonderful dispassionate, objective and ethical look at their own position.

Old King Coal

Lack of global climate deal won’t crush green tech

Jairam Ramesh comments & American Clean Energy and Security Act, 2009

Even as we debate rages on the climate change talks and fresh brouhaha over Jairam Ramesh’s statements, it is important to be aware of what other countries are doing.

I happened to go through (glance over the contents list more like it) the American Clean Energy and Security Act, 2009, a whooping 1428 page document which must be covering everything under the sun. (since the pdf is huge it takes time depending upon the speed of connection)


A summary of the same is here – http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h111-2454&tab=summary

I am also re-visiting my views expressed in 2009 and this post is going to be work-in-progress!


I came across the following good link on Jairam Ramesh’s comments (the content is from IANS)


and came across the following statement –

Sunita Narain, director of the think tank Centre for Science and Environment, fumed: “The idea of changing India’s position to bring the US on board is completely retrograde and immature.

“The US is not only the world’s biggest polluter, but has shown no willingness to do anything concrete about it. New climate convert President Obama’s administration has been no different from that of president Bush.”

The exhaustive Act above and the numerous other steps being taken in the US are certainly not indications of a country which is showing no willingness to do anything. I think proportionate to the amount they have polluted they are also putting in the efforts.

When we compare India’s efforts it seems criticizing the developed world wholesomely seems our only achievement. Of course we are doing a lot but most of the action seems in the domain of the carbon credit seekers who are a different world all together.

In a stupendously complex arena like climate change negotiations I think being absolute in ones positions – the correctness of my approach versus the absolute incorrectness of the others approach – and a complete refusal to change ones stance and accommodate other viewpoints will not take the negotiations anywhere. We might as well not come to the table.

Mumbai goes six inches under

I went through a multiple set of emotions and thoughts after watching Age of the Stupid. And one of those was the almost complete unlikeliness of the situation being as grave and desolate in 2055 as shown in the movie. Humanity has been a more than superb adapter over the years. The do gooders may get fed up and frustrated with humanity and its enormous shortcomings and wish it Armadegon, but the fact remains that there is more to play here than just our frustrated thoughts.

Take the case of Bombay, India’s most important coastal asset and the imagery of water rising up and inundating our coastal cities and areas. If we go by the worst case scenario of all of the poles, Greenland and the glaciers melting, the projection is that the sea levels may rise 50-100 meters. The moot question is that does all of this water rise at one fixed point in a future date? So do you have a scenario like below? (This is only to counter the drastic sea level rise argument, not discounting the other areas of climate disruption.)

(you can skip this if in hurry and read from section marked in red)

January 10th, 2032 – when we are all going about with our work in Bombay ( I will be 57 then and hopefully around),

Its been difficult of late, with infrequent rains, rains in months which never had rains and then cloud bursts.

One fine day on 5th June, 2032, 10:00 am

We wake up with morning news telling us that things are not going well and it might just be possible that the sea waters, which all these decades were projected to rise might just rise today. Even as people have started to panic a bit, the first few inches of water rise takes place during the high tide at 10:22 am . Instead of touching the high tide line you find that the streets are inundated with six inches of water. The tide was supposed to be at a little above the four meter mark but clearly it went way above the 5 meter mark to actually enter the city. Nothing unbearable but its the first time something of this sort has happened. Its not raining. The weather is bright sunny and very hot and humid.

The panic bells are hit. All programs stop on the television and images of the city at various places start going up. The Chief Minster and the Mayor and the Municipal Commissioner and other functionaries are shown rushing into meetings. News has also started to come that the same is being seen around the coast. The National Disaster Management Center is overwhelmed.

The cars and buses, bikes and pedestrians are still able to wade through the water but there is confusion and panic. Everybody has been fed to enough imagery of the rising sea but everybody knows well that there is no contingency plan. All these years none of the governments took any initiative to envisage this kind of a situation and accordingly have a drill. Now a lot of people make quick calculations and decide it might be just right to make a dash for the exists before things get worse. Its only a few thousand people who think like this and that is enough for panic to spread like wildfire. Some hit their bank accounts to remove their money, some get home to get their belongings and family.

The most important job of the police right now is to prevent a grid lock of millions of vehicles trying to hit the bridges and other outlets out of Bombay.The police has called in the home guards and the army but everybody is making a futile effort in the wake of the massive flood of humanity. A large number of the city which does not have cars have straight away come on the roads waiting to walk it out. There is no question of a vehicle gridlock. There is already a human gridlock.

Even as the initial panic is raging the tide has started to go back. At 1:00 pm the water is not exactly back into the sea but still not in the streets. The low tide is at 4:2ipm but hope has completely evaporated. No body is sure how the next high tide will be.

No body has done any calculation of how much time does it take to evacuate the whole city? Alternatively if you have only 12 hours to evacuate how many can be removed? And how many will have to be left to die?

5th June, 2032, 4:22 pm

The tide has not gone down completely. It was supposed to be at the 2 meter mark but it is clearly only a little below 4 meters. The next high tide could potentially be even worse .

5th June, 2032, 9:59 pm

This is the next high tide and supposed to be a little below 4 meters but the waters are gushing into the city. Its clearly more than 5 meters high. A lot of areas which did not get touched with water in the morning tide are also being inundated now. And this time around it seems that the tide will not be going down after all.

News is coming in that thousands of kilometers of ice shelves are taking to the sea in a matter of hours. Helicopter crew from around the world are hovering over Greenland and flashing the frightening scenes around the world. The government in Bombay actually takes a decision to not let those images to be shown to prevent out of control panic.

Those who are close to the creek and the bridges have either walked or swam across. There is shock grief and anger over everybody’s face. But nothing can be done now. All this is happening within hours on 5th June, 2032. By 11  pm the water is two feet and its madness all around. The children and shorter people have climbed on top of buildings hoping that the waters will stabilize around the first floor by which time the helicopters of boats will take them away. None of that happens.

6th June, 2032, 6:am

The low tide has come and gone early in the morning and the city wakes up to more than three feet water in the streets. The waters are only steadily rising.

10th June, 2032,

The waters have unbelievably reached 15 feet. The water has now risen to the height of three floor buildings. Everything is over. All across there is only water, with the tops of four floor buildings visible just a few feet above the water level. The taller buildings stand out. To somebody who is staying in Anchorage building, one of the taller buildings next to the coast, in Versova the site is unbelievable. From their 15th storey terrace anybody who has stayed around can see water till somewhere below the national park hills with a few building tops. Just nothing else – only water.

At 5 meter level rise (and I still dont know what the baseline is for this) the situation will probably be like this for Mumbai http://flood.firetree.net/?ll=19.0232,72.9904&z=7&m=5


Most probably if it happens then on 5th June, 2032 at 10:22 am when the tide will be at its highest for that day the water will for the first time come into the city upto 4-6 inches on a bright sunny day. This too after the same has been understood and deliberated upon for months before and the affected people have been evacuated. By then the city would have well done the calculations. The more affluent and resourceful would have left the city for the Deccan plateau, Pune, Nasik and beyond.

With the economy beginning to get affected, a lot of poor people migrating to the city from UP and Bihar and other parts will choose to die of hunger in their native land than on the water filled streets of Mumbai. All this will not happen drastically within 24 hours. There will be more than sufficient time for the transition to take place. There will come a time (this century or next) when the six inch permanent waters on the streets will become a permanent feature for years. During this time also the city will continue to function with some adaptations. But the outflow would be very systematically underway already. There will be no human or vehicle gridlock of millions making a dash for the exit points.

The reason I write this note is to show how arguments like Age of the Stupid actually do little to help support climate change mitigation measures because they show too much disaster too soon and to a species, which might have a short memory of disasters it has suffered but which has developed incredible resilience and resources to battle out adverse situations.  I may argue that people today seem far stupid than their counterparts in other centuries but such was the case even in those centuries. The response of technological resources in a drastic disaster are questionable but you cannot win an argument or work towards making a game plan by making arguments which are primarily driven by frustration. In my almost 2 decades of close involvement with important public environmental functions in the city I have always felt a bit embarrassed with those who choose to give their arguments like the Furher – fanaticism, absoluteness about the outcome to be exactly as they profess, and vitriol on those who don’t see their side of the story.

Is it not surprising that with so much talk on sea level rise we still have no discussion on even ballpark projections about when and how the sea levels will rise? We have enough super computing to tell us that.

Even with a 200 meter sea level rise, there will be a situation maybe where even after large scale deaths, a 100 million odd population of people will be still found on the earth living very comfortably and in a position to take the race forward – hopefully with wisdom. The situation will certainly not be like the one in Age of Stupid – one sole survivor who is a caretaker for a musuem which doesnt find any land so has to be built on top of a tower surrounded by water everywhere.

An overwhelmingly large number of todays ‘stupid’ are aware of the same and are willing to take the gamble that they or their offspring may not be among the 100 million who survive but the human race rest assured will go on. By showing them a stark, false and highly exaggerated picture of future misery we close doors for them to buy in to even our moderate and sensible arguments. And stupid as they may be the masses are not without any intelligence all together.

The way to move ‘stupid’ people is not by making stupid arguments. The intelligent do not have the luxury of stupidity. They have to continue refining their efforts and getting better with till the first water rise.

Series of articles on India and Climate Change

Articles from EPW – Aug1, 2009 – http://www.epw.org.in

Climate Change: India’s Options

India and Climate Change: Some International Dimensions

Climate Change: Challenges Facing India’s Poor

Keeping India’s Economic Engine Going: Climate Change and the Urbanisation Question

India and a Carbon Deal

Climate Change and the Energy Challenge: A Pragmatic Approach for India

India’s super stupid position on climate change

Response to Down to Earth editorial


Dear Sunita,

Another nice but particularly stirring editorial, which moves one to respond. I am sure you agree but as the heading for this post goes, I think India really has a very bad position on climate change. I have been of the opinion for a good many years now and only now getting to write about it. This post is not about your editorial alone but the general Indian position that the developed world needs to do a lot more before India will do something.

While there is truth in your castigation of the developed countries, I think the single biggest point of contention I have with you is about your statement Fact remains our constraint is the making of the rich world.”

The same has been the pathetic, sympathy seeking stance of the government of India for the past whatever years, a fig leaf over its complete disregard for taking a responsible position.

I think each and every constraint of ours is of our own making. In fact I would go ahead to say that our ability  to make constraints for ourselves is in fact responsible for the constraints of many other developing countries and also developed countries. Which in essence means that we have for half a decade been in a situation where we could have shown leadership on many issues thus paving the way for many others to emulate.

I get reminded about numerous small to big decisions which have a clear impact on climate change and resource consumption where there is absolutely no application of mind from an environmental perspective in India.

Smaller roads and streets in Mumbai are being paved with paver blocks made from cement. Previously the roads were made from asphalt bitumen and would keep developing potholes, arguably because of flooding but mainly because of corruption which leads to compromise in quality. All this while I am aware of well made asphalt roads in Mumbai itself which have easily lasted a decade. While I don’t have the number here but cement clearly must be having more embodied CO2 and accordingly the decision to pave the streets with millions of paver blocks is completely anti-climate change? No discussion in the city about this.

The Bombay Municipal Corporation saw great revenues in the past few years as a result of the economic boom and so the councilors decided to have a splurge. How much discussion on climate change takes place in the BMC? Now we will head for a recession, revenues will go down and then we will look for doles from developed countries. Squander your wealth and then beg in the streets of Switzerland?

Very much linked to the issue is what we do with the huge amount of construction debris we generate. Since 2003 I am aware of perfectly sound processes to convert the debris into BIS quality paver blocks. But the Municipal Corporation and authorities keep side stepping the issue. In the past 5 years massive amount of debris has been generated and disposed off (many in sensitive coastal ecosystems) which could have been reiutilised if not for roads then footpaths.

Another issue is of waste disposal. We continue to follow a super stupid method of pick and dump – thus running millions of truck trips every years, generating emissions, besides landfill emissions. All this could have been changed. But the SWM department is alleged to be the most lucrative thus inhibiting any progressive move. All this while 100s of people wait with alternate solutions and thousands of green jobs would be created by following decentralised and intelligent means.

These examples are just for supporting evidence. There could easily be a hundred such areas where your statement does not apply – Fact remains our constraint is the making of the rich world.”

I keep reading of the approximately 1.5 trillion dollars of Indian money stashed in Swiss Banks and wonder where is the funds shortage? Maybe we do not deserve a rap from the developed countries but we deserve a rap all the same – an even harder one from within.

The BIG constraint is in our intention.

I think that the time has come to substantially disengage from an ‘only global’ engagement policy and come to a very strong local engagement policy whereby we don’t wait for the Bali’s and Poznan’s and Copenhagen’s but are very strongly engaged within the country to coordinate efforts towards mitigating climate change. How often have we engaged meaningfully within the country to discuss climate change mitigation? How many of our bureaucrats and politicians understand or show the inclination to solve even the most basic of our problems – leave aside climate change. I have somewhere completely lost interest in what developed countries do or do not.

Hope you agree to some degree and consider it worthwhile to carry my views in the next issue.