Friday, December 30, 2011

India "Green" with Heavy Pollution

An interesting piece from the Canada Free Press..

The National Geographic Society ranks India as the world’s ‘greenest’ society. How did India achieve this? The Times of India explains the National Geographic Society’s logic. “That cold water bath that many Indians have because there’s no electricity…that ‘matka’ they use because they can’t afford a fridge…and the long walk they take to work and back because private transport is expensive and public transport shoddy. There’s an upside to the hard life. Indians may be green with envy at the consumption-driven lifestyle in the West, but their own frugal ways and modest means have catapulted them to the top spot in the world’s green index, making them the most environmental-friendly denizens of Planet Earth.” (1)

Reports Todd Myers, “The very squalor that served as a warning to Paul Ehrlich forty years prior (The Population Bomb, where he said that India couldn’t possibly feed 200 million people by 1980) is now presented as evidence the Indian people (now over a billion population) are, in fact, living in harmony with the planet. Exhibit A for planetary destruction in 1968 turned state’s evidence in 2009, arguing that others should follow India’s lead for the sake of Mother Earth.” (2)

The National Geographic Society ranks countries based on how much beef people eat, the number of cars they drive, the type of energy they use for home heating, and the like. For each of these categories the National Geographic Society cites scientific evidence of the relative impact on the planet. (3) That rating system, however, should lead them to conclude that the India of 1968 was even greener yet, with fewer people eating beef, driving cars and using fossil-based energy, or using any energy at all for that matter.(2)

Todd Myers adds, “The National Geographic Society’s focus on resource use has negative consequences because it sends the wrong signals about how to make real improvements in environmental quality. Calling India the greenest country in the world does not alter the fact that in some of the most tangible and important measures of environmental quality, the subcontinent fares quite badly.” (2)

Some Examples:

A 2007 study by a prominent cancer institute found, “Some 70% of people in the city of Calcutta suffer from respiratory disorders caused by air pollution.” Worse, in 2009 New Delhi was determined by some estimates to have the worst air quality in the world. That isn’t the end of the problems for New Delhi residents—the water in the Yamuna River is so polluted that levels of fecal coliform are ‘100,000 times the safe limit for bathing.’ Knowing that they live in the ‘greenest’ country is probably little comfort to Indians dealing with these health threats. (4)

India is growing rapidly and its major cities experience particulate levels often eight to ten times higher than the worst American cities. India is the fourth-most coal dependent country in the world and has enough reserves to last for the next 100 years. India’s coal consumption has been increasing at 6 percent per year since 2000 and its net coal imports in 2009 were 74,000 short tons, about two-thirds of China’s level. (5)

Carbon emissions in India are rising faster than nearly every other country on the planet. Between 1980 and 2006, India’s carbon output increased by 341%, compared to 321% for China, 103% for Brazil, 238% for Indonesia and 272% for Pakistan. (6)

Two cities in India made The Blacksmith Institute’s 2011 report on the ten most polluted cities: Number 3-Sukinda, India- waste rock and untreated water from local mines seep into local water supplies. The air and soils are also heavily polluted, and; Number 4-Vapi, India-more than 50 industrial places discharge heavy metals, pesticides, and chemical waste. Mercury in the groundwater is 96 times higher than World Health Organization standards. Very high incidences of cancer and birth complications have resulted. (7)

Believe it or not! Far more people in India have access to a cell phone than to a toilet and improved sanitation, according to UN experts. Roughly 366 million people (31 percent of the population) had access to improved sanitation in 2008. Meanwhile 545 million cell phones were connected to service in India’s emerging economy. Says Zafar Adeel of the Institute for Water, Environment and Health, “It is a tragic irony to think that in India, a country now wealthy enough that about half of the people own phones, about half cannot afford the basic necessity and dignity of a toilet.” (8)

So, there you have it. If you want to be the ‘greenest’ country in the world be prepared to do without decent sanitation and be willing to live in cities with massive air pollution and squalor.

Todd Myers sums this up quite well, “When it comes to air quality, there simply is no comparison between India and the United States. Ignoring this reality should lead us to question the value of the National Geographic’s ranking system. Their index is more measurement of which countries fit their preconceived notion of green rather than an objective test of how the environment is actually faring. Add this to income and life expectancy disparities between India and the United States, and National Geographic ends up giving the ‘green’ lifestyle a pretty bad name.” (2)


  1. “Indians are world’s ‘greenest’: Survey,” The Times of India, May 14, 2009
  2. Todd Myers, Eco-Fads, (Seattle, WA, Washington Policy Center, 2011), 216
  3. National Geographic Society, “Green Index 2010-Consumer Choice and the Environment,” June 2010
  4. Arvid Padmanabhan and Rajeev Ranjan Roy, “Delhi’s water crisis is set to explode,”, July 29, 2008
  5. Ian Johnson and Keith Bradsher, “China’s rise complicates goal of using less energy,” The New York Times, September 16, 2010
  6. Priyanka Bhardwaj and Robert Bryce, “India chooses coal, not Kyoto,”
  7. The Blacksmith Institute, “Ten Most Polluted Cities,” ,July 27, 2011
  8. United Nations University, “Greater access to cell phones than toilets,” April 2010

1 comment:

Faithful skeptic said...

Imperialists have romanticized colonial poverty for decades. The environmental imperialists continue the tradition. Moving from 'renewable biomass' to gas and electricity will save lives AND might even save trees (if not, land and water can be used for food and feed, even for edible animals).

National Geographic or other tax-payer subsidized charities are rich clubs with rich fancies brewed in imperial academies. (Wasn't it the New Economics Foundation that declared Vanuatu as the "happiest country" on earth without ever having put a foot there or talking to any locals?)