Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Environment: A Look At On Road Diesel Danger

On November 14, 2006, Centre For Science and Environment (CSE), New Delhi, lead by none other than Sunita Narain, gave out a press release: The Leapfrog Factor: Cleaning the air in Asian cities. In the release CSE gave some figures on the mounting vehicle registration in the city of Delhi itself as "in the last 10 years, the total number of personal vehicles has risen to a staggering 105%. In the same period, cars alone have increased by 157%. It is shocking to note that diesel cars during the same period have increased by 425%. The share of diesel cars, which was a mere 4% in the total car registration in 1999, has climbed to 20% in 2006 maintaining a growth of 16.6% per annum. This can be devastating in a city desperate for solutions to smoke particles and NOx* " (Nitrogen Oxide: See hyperlink below)

The recent feature in Outlook Business Magazine, May 20, 2007 edition, further added " The passenger car market which grew 22.7% to 1,076, 408 units during FY07 from 8,82,208 units in FY06 will see much more action in the diesel car this year." said Arvind Mathew, Ford India President, in the same issue " Currently, diesel vehicles account for about 30% of the market. By 2012, it could account for about 42% of the market."

Delhi (and I mean the politicians as well) has always been myopic, hypocritical and maliciously double standard – phasing out 12,000 diesel buses to escape from the lethal effect of diesel particles, but having, nor willing to have any control of " a conservative estimate of the 118,631 diesel cars on the city roads which is equivalent to adding particulate emission from nearly 30,000 diesel busses", is a rude shock to realize, once you are out of the pink-cloud effect of all is going to be well.

Meanwhile, after making a hash of world climate, America is in a hurry to find alternative fuel. Quoting from Down to Earth May 15, 2007 issue, Sunita Narian says in her editorial " US President George Bush has this year called on his country to produce 132 billion litres of biofeul by 2017, to cut dependency on foreign fuel. The US’s favourite fuel ethanol, is produced from corn starch and in Brazil, which is the world’s largest ethanol producer, mostly from sugarcane source."

Countries who have contributed majorly to global warming will have to pay a karmic price. It is now estimated that in this century, the temperature will rise between 2 – 4.5 degrees centigrade. In fact, the alarm has sounded in our Parliament as well with the news that in the next two years there is the probability of a rise in 2 degrees Celsius in temperature. This is already evident as ice is melting all over – in Greenland, The Antartica and in our own Himalayas, causing the seas to swell up. It’s almost time to plan for the second phase of Noah’s Ark.

But industry does not think so. Profits are all that is the concern and no matter what any corporate mouths, the bottom line is the same – profits. Car manufacturers have read the writing on the wall and are going for the kill. Almost every car manufacturer in India except Honda, perhaps, is racing against each other for the diesel car variation. Says Abdul Majeed of PricewaterCoopers India; " Diesel-driven vehicles are gaining popularity because of the ability to produce advance technology that is cleaner, quieter and more efficient than the technology of the past. Moreover, with the subsidies, diesel fuel is approximately 42% cheaper than petrol as the government attempts to grow the urban and the rural economies by selling the fuel below cost".

Does the dreaded Indian Environment Scientist, Sunita Narian think so? No! Quoting from The Leapfrog Factor ( See hyperlink below) " Diesel cars and SUVs not only emit several times more particulate, but also ….emit three times more NOx compared to a petrol car. ….deadly facts about diesel toxicity and evidence of acute cancer-causing potential of diesel pollutants are pouring in from around the world. Diesel fumes have been found to bear a lot more particles and NOx than petrol exhaust and are several times more toxic. Clean diesel solutions are still not available in India".

Outlook Business says " A convergence of factors in the Global Markets are causing automakers, consumers and the US government to look beyond the petrol status quo towards alternative power-train technologies. These factors include the need for energy security, a mounting environmental lobby and a growing socio-economic conscience. Of the alternatives, diesel fuel offers the greatest potential".

So it is no surprise, then, that US government has sanctioned $ 2.34 million more to research to find alternative fuel. What alternative fuel you ask? Alternative fuel from plastic! Scientists across the globe we are told by Outlook Businesses are struggling to make motor fuel from waste. But Richard Gross, professor of chemistry at Polytechnic University, in Brooklyn, New York, is turning plant oils, of the kind already used to make biodeisel, into "bioplastic".

"It’s all chemistry, " he says – " Fatty acids are separated from plant oil and altered chemically to form polymer. Polymer is heated and shaped into useful plastic shapes. After its use as a plastic container, it is chemically broken down into diesel fuel."**

So easy? Why did we not think of it before? Environmental Scientists warn " (If) We want to explore something on renewable source of energy as we understood the non renewable sources are getting scarce, we need to trade off between air or water. We can not have the cake and eat it too".

We hope that this time US will keep it’s own waste in it’s own backyard and not dump it in ours’. India is in the habit of courting rich men with large and lucrative price tags and a social conscience that awakes only after the damage is done. Then instead of cleaning up their own act, they begin to bully others to clean theirs.

Poor thinking. Rich man’s rubbish. Extreme consumerism.

Are we to leave behind a legacy of the stinking heap? And air we cannot breathe?

Steps we can take to preserve the air we breathe:

1. Initiate stringent on road checks on smoky vehicles
2. Intensify dedicated bus and rail services
3. Use car pool
4. Discourage Men’s Cloakroom Competition – " Mine-Is-Bigger-Than-Yours "– syndrome, by discouraging them from buying SUVs which is slowly becoming a trend.***
5. Maximize walking wherever possible.
6. Encourage bicycles wherever possible.
7. Increase awareness via media against harmful effects of diesel. Carry out Fear Campaigns
8. Include environment studies at home and in schools for children.
9. Learn from climate-savvy Europe.

NB: In this piece I have not dealt with pollution caused by Aviation boom.

News you can use:

Mobile phone wallpapers and ringtones of endangered animal and bird species are now available for free download on www.rareearthtones.org and are increasingly getting popular. Go join the movement to save biosphere.

* Nox: Nitrogen Oxide
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nitrogen_oxide#Definition_of_NOx_and_NOy_in_atmospheric_chemistry

** Gas from Garbage: Professor Gross Develops Bioplastic that Breaks Down into Green Energy - 03-20-2007
http://www.poly.edu/news/articles/article103.php

*** Tank Travel by Manjul Bajaj
http://manjul-bajaj.sulekha.com/blog/post/2007/02/tank-travel.htm



Recommended readings:

CSE Press Release: The Leapfrog Factor: Clearing The Air In Asian Cities

http://www.cseindia.org/campaign/apc/press_20061114.htm

Climate Change Affects Low-Lying Areas, Puts Poor At Risk

http://downtoearth.org.in/full6.asp?foldername=20070515&filename=news&sec_id=34&sid=37

MUST READ: The Great debate on this subject
http://xebecbooks.sulekha.com/blog/post/2007/06/environment-a-look-at-on-road-diesel-danger/comments.htm
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