Europe

The Good News In The Bad News Celebrating a Volcanic Eruption

Sanjeev

Sanjeev

The Kyoto Protocol happened because 2003 was the hottest year in Europe in 500 years, and some 40,000 people died because Europe was just not prepared for this kind of heatwave conditions.

Declaimer: This article was originally in April 2010 and some of the data points may be outdated.

Well, that was because it happened in Europe. In India, we had the worst drought conditions in 43 years last year, followed by the hottest April in 52 years this year (80 dead already), and we are busy celebrating GDP growth. Forget a Protocol, we don’t even have a Water Recycling policy, that creates a market for the most precious commodities, the one thing that could create a calamity on an unimaginable scale.

Katrina appeared in the US when the Global Warming debate was hotting up, and many polls showed that it made a difference. And this, the year in which the Kyoto mandate is to be renegotiated, we have Europe paralyzed because of volcanic ash falling from the heavens.

I can bet that within the next 5 years, there will be a technology to minutely keep out all aerial debris, whether it be

volcanic ash or bird hits, from aircraft engines. My faith is in Germany, the most important innovator in Europe. Starting in 2007, Germany quickly built the biggest Solar capacity in the world (followed by Spain this year). China will, as usual, bring forth its brute force once the Govt decides on it. But it was Germany that innovated (Thin Films Solar came from Germany) both the product and the mechanism to produce-your-own solar with its feed-in 2-way tariffs. That is now being copied by India, thank God.

Imagine the hottest summer in India in 500 years. We would still be tom-tomming about how our GDP kept growing, how we are no longer dependent on agriculture (in other words, we no longer have to eat). Oh, food prices will go up, but if the GDP is growing, who cares about a few million malnourished children in Madhya Pradesh?

So it is just as well that the volcanic ash is spreading over Europe. That is where the Vision for clean, free energy will be made in this year of the post-Kyoto negotiations. That is where there will be a long-term objective of Climate Control (which can only happen with free energy) will be set. It might take a hundred years, but if there is someone on this planet who can think about preventing an asteroid attack, a volcanic disaster, or an earthquake, it would have to be Europe. If someone comes up with a plan to control naturally produced greenhouse gases (GHG), maybe they have less work to do with man-made GHG. Think of all that methane trapped under the Arctic sheets.

India will wait till a water crisis hits us. When it hits us, we will find that we don’t have a Water Recycling industry because we don’t have a Water market. All urban water usage is capable of being recycled up to 6 times, which can reduce our requirement of virgin rain or groundwater by up to 85%, but this is theoretical. Surprisingly, it is establishments in islands like London and Singapore that are adopting these technologies, not anyone in Delhi. And of course, the whole of coastal India is open to water desalination.

Solar and renewables will pick up in India, if only because China has launched a massive program, almost 20 times the size of India’s to convert to Clean Energy. India will not do better than anyone else but will do well by its terrible standards. So what if it is too late for a few million people? They had no right to be born anyway.

Nature may also have learned that if you want to improve the world, it should give adversity to Europe. The tsunami in India did nothing, except to fill the pockets of those who were sent to distribute blankets.

But wait and see. This Icelandic volcanic eruption was conceived in heaven. It has killed no one I know of, hence it has no victims. Just a few sleepless Germans at various airports, grit their teeth and take out the backs of their envelopes to make sure this will never happen again.

Had the same thing happened in India, we would not even have noticed the ash in the air till a few planes went down. Then again, we would have blamed it on Pakistan. And spending sleepless nights at airports does nothing to us…we rather enjoy the free snacks!

For example,  India has excessive Black Carbon clouds, because of soot emissions. China is responsible for 61% of these emissions, while India accounts for 12%. But the Atmospheric Brown Clouds that are specific to South Asia, are resulting in excessive ‘glacier melt’ over the Himalayas, a uniquely Asian problem. That is why nobody is working on Black Carbon emissions, which has already grown to be the 3rd biggest Green House Gas (GHG), after Carbon Dioxide and Methane.

I felt a little relieved that China is the major culprit, because that means that some action will be taken on the issue. Had it been India, we would have been fighting for our right to pollute.

A country-wise, source-wise analysis finds that the cheapest methods of reducing Black Carbon are to be found in India. The dollar cost of reducing GHG is the lowest; if an equitable new Kyoto is found, it will create big profits for India as a whole. Provided we set up a good CER-focused low Carbon economy. Examples are dung burning, coal stoves, and household fuels, which not only affect Global Warming but also public health standards in India.

The funny thing is, the Solar cooker will be invented in Germany, and sold in India and the CERs will be bought by a German polluter to balance his (Carbon) account books. It is perhaps, not a coincidence that the cheapest dollar cost per ton of reducing Carbon is in India; it follows from the rest of the story about our economic productivity.

So what kind of disaster would we pray upon India, to hope that India starts to capitalize on its ‘comparative advantage’ in Carbon reduction? No, I don’t want to pray that millions of people die in the next famine; if it is not going to be pain, could it be greed? A stiff Carbon Tax on India would set off a Carbon Reduction economy, with an efficient CER-issuance mechanism that helps India to capture much of the multilateral (market) transfers of wealth that will happen under the revised Kyoto.

The Govt-to-Govt transfers that India is fighting for, may be a pittance compared to what might be possible if the market mechanism works out. Maybe the West should set its innovative minds to doing that; for once, they would be doing India a favor. In a unique example, the Black Carbon emitted by South Asia has a very short life and, hence will have the maximum salubrious effects on the climate over South Asia (especially affecting monsoon cycles and glacier melt in the Himalayas). All this and Carbon Credits too….

If Black Carbon reduction ranks on par with other GHG reductions, that itself would be an innovation. Suddenly, the innovative genius of Germany would be focusing on Indian dung heaps in Bihar, paid for by the sophisticated polluters of Europe.

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