Saturday, February 4, 2012

Rays of Light for 2012: India Advancing Beyond “Meh”

photo from PNike on Flikr

“Meh” is an expression I used in my last blog. On 22 May 2007, “meh” was the Urban Word of the Day and the Urban Dictionary defines it as:
Indifference; to be used when one simply does not care.
A: What do you want for dinner?
B: Meh. 
Hindi has similar terms: “Kya karen?” (What to do?) and “chalta hai” (it happens). “Chalta hai” is actually an attitude, essentially meaning: Things happen and we can’t do anything about it. This was the attitude I labeled on India about environmental issues in my last blog, however that doesn't present the whole picture.

Here are some recent advances that illustrate India’s environmental silver lining.

Report #1: India is the world leader in green light. Really? Yes. (Kind of.) Well first, the “yes” part. According to a Bloomberg study, India was number one in clean energy investment in 2011 at 10.3 billion USD. Yes, number one. This is a 52% increase from the year before, accounting for 4% of the world investment in clean energy in 2011. At this rate India will exceed its 11th five-year plan target for 12.4GW renewable energy by 2012. This is actually amazing when considering the globe's recent track record for keeping to emissions targets, putting lofty climate change goals into the international paper shredder. So India’s green light is not only on but leading the way.

Now for the “kind of” part. The National Solar Mission planned to equally distribute solar projects among different companies to promote competition and mitigate pricing. However according to the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), it seems like that isn’t what happened. One company, LANCO, may have set up front companies to get almost a quarter of the solar energy deal. What the government will do next is yet to be seen. Let’s again look at the silver lining...

Report #2: The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) report may have been bad, but India’s environmental trends were… better. The Yale-Columbia world study ranking 132 countries, putting India 8th from the bottom, ranked India a bit differently in an evaluation tool called Trends EPI. This index pulls India out of the bottom ten, helping it climb past China, Russia and even Costa Rica. Trends EPI ranks a country’s improvement in environmental performance over the last decade. Now to make it fair, for places like Costa Rica (EPI Rank #5), Switzerland (EPI #1) and Norway (EPI #3) which have gone down to lower than eighty in Trends EPI, it is difficult for them to improve more than they already have. So in summary, though India is considered a lower performer, overall environmentally it’s improving.

Graph from the Yale-Columbia EPI study, showing India at lower performance but improving
Image from

Report #3: The reporters. Be it through blogs, news columns, or campaigning on the streets, it’s encouraging and humbling to see those speaking out for society and the environment. It was the CSE that reported about India drowning in excreta, it was the Food Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) that conducted the survey which found adulterated milk, and it was the Naandi Foundation’s report which put the issue of child malnutrition back into the limelight.

So I guess in a sense this an apology for the last blog to those working hard to push India and the world uphill toward a greener, fairer and more sustainable space, to those for whom the word “meh” is not even in their working vocabulary.

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