Flashback to the 80's and 90's- The American Auto Industry Lobby in Washington successfully stalls all efforts by Congress and the Senate to introduce emission and mileage controls on automobiles. The Auto industry argues that consumers should have the freedom to choose their vehicles and the kind of performance it should give. The industry feared that, with tighter laws, the American public would not be able to buy the big gas guzzling Suburban trucks and 4-wheel-drives that they were so fond of.
Coming back to the present. General Motors(GM) is bankrupt. Ford has lost it's position as the second biggest car company in the world and had to sell Jaguar and Land Rover to Tata to stay afloat. Chrysler is considered so toxic that Diamler-Benz(with whom they were supposed to have merged!) removed all associations with them and the company is struggling to find a buyer who can bail them out. The American Auto Industry, once the pride of the American people and the poster-boys of American prowess, now lies in tatters.
On the other hand Euorpean and Japanese Auto makers had to comply with the strict laws that their Governments were putting in place. As a result the mileage efficiency and emission levels of their cars improved drastically. When the era of cheap-oil ended, these manufacturers offered vehicles that were more value for money than the American ones. As a result America lost while Europe, Japan and other countries(most notably South Korea) took over the market.
Now, where is the lesson in this for India???
The Indian Govt's line, in most international forums for climate change, has been that the so-called developed countries should do more to curb pollution and emissions of greenhouse gases. On paper this looks like a good argument, coz if we compare the per-capita emissions of India and the so-called developed countries, our pollution levels are way below. But, having said that, because of our Jumbo size, India still manages to be the 3rd most polluting country on the planet!
Our Govt and members of our elite argue that, if India has to become a fully developed and fully industrialized country, then it needs to have more leeway in fulfilling it's emission and pollution control obligations. They argue that it is simply not acceptable that one standard be set for all because the developed countries have already developed, whereas India cannot afford to set tighter laws and regulations coz that would impede economic and industrial growth.
I think the Govt and others who have taken that line have a fair point. We need economic growth to remove poverty and for further societal development. But should we not accept global norms when it comes to pollution control? Should we leave it to other nations to try and bring down their emissions while we go on with the old way?
Clearly there is going to be a new way. Scientific studies have proved that the old way is simply not sustainable. Oil, Gas and Coal are not going to be replenished and when the world runs out of these sources we're going to have to look at others. This is where my eg of the American Auto Industry comes in. What will happen to India when the world runs out of these sources?
Other nations will have a head start when it comes to developing technology for renewable resources. Since they have tighter regulations in place today, manufacturers and researchers will look for the technologies that will be more Eco-friendly, and in time they will have these technologies with them.
It is bad enough that India is lagging behind today when it comes to industrialization. But if we follow the course that the Govt intends for us, then we are going to be laggards in the future also.
Most of the power plants that we are building today will simply be of no use tomorrow. What about all the money invested in them? We are still going to have to generate power. If we hold on to the line that we are holding on to, then we will soon find ourselves in the same place where the American Auto Industry is today. The rest of the world will be reaping the benefits of foresight, like the European and Japanese car makers are now, and we will be playing catch-up just like we are now. If there is no reason and no incentive for our researchers and manufacturers to develop alternate sources of energy then obviously there is going to be no development in the field.
Analysts estimate that the renewable energy market will be worth 2 trillion dollars by 2050. India's current GDP is a little over 1 trillion. Isn't there a big opportunity for India to try and capture that market? We have to awaken our people to the possibilities of renewable sources and their market potential.
I will continue this essay in my next post. :)