Letter from Delhi, Part 2

What to do?

James K. Boyce

This is the conclusion of a two-part series on air pollution in Delhi. Part 1, on inequality in exposure—on environmental injustice—is available here.

Public awareness of air pollution in Delhi lags behind that in China, where face masks are a common sight and the remarkable film “Under the Dome” received 100 million views within 48 hours when it was posted in March (before being banned by Chinese authorities). But this may be starting to change.

This spring, the Indian Express, one of the country’s leading newspapers, ran a searching multi-part investigative series on Delhi’s air pollution called “Death by Breath.” The Centre for Science and Environment, which successfully campaigned a decade ago for conversion of Delhi’s buses and auto-rickshaws to compressed natural gas, continues to raise public consciousness and advocate for policy remedies.

In the expatriate community, Delhi’s toxic air is viewed with rising alarm. In the past year, the U.S. embassy imported 1,800 top-of-the-line air purifiers for its personnel. “My business has just taken off,” the director of a local firm selling air filtration units told the New York Times. “It started in the diplomatic community, but it’s spread to the high-level Indian community, too.”

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Letter from Delhi, Part 1

Air Pollution as Environmental Injustice

This is part 1 of a two-part series from UMass-Amherst professor of economics and regular Triple Crisis contributor James K. Boyce. This part focuses on disparate exposure to air pollution in Dehli. Part 2, to be posted next week, focuses on solutions to the problem.

James K. Boyce

Arriving in Delhi in January, at the height of the winter pollution season, you notice the air as soon as you step off the plane. A pungent smell with hints of burning rubber and diesel fumes assaults the nose and stings the eyes. On the highway into the city center, a digital screen shining through the smog displays the current level for suspended particulate matter. You don’t need to understand what the number means to know it’s bad.

Delhi has extensive parks, broad avenues, beautiful buildings (like the tomb of Mughal emperor Humayan, shown below), and a vibrant culture. But casting a pall – quite literally – over it all is the worst air pollution of any major city in the world.

Humayan's tomb

Humayan’s Tomb

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Why Some Leaders in Poorer Countries are Championing the Environment

Robin Broad and John Cavanagh

We have heard surprise expressed that two religious leaders from poorer countries, Pope Francis from Argentina and Cardinal Turskon from Ghana, have emerged as leading voices for action on the environment with their compelling June 2015 encyclical.  The surprise comes from the assumption that poorer countries invariably prioritize economic growth and financial revenues—not the environment—and that only when beyond a certain threshold of per capita income do they shift priorities and take action in favor of the environment. As many readers know, this theory that only richer people in richer countries care about the environment is what some call the Environmental Kuznets Curve or the post-materialist hypothesis.

Our research on decisive action to protect the environment in El Salvador and Costa Rica suggests that this stereotype is outdated and the theory wrong. We zeroed in on El Salvador and Costa Rica because both have halted potentially lucrative metallic mining within the last decade due to its negative environmental impact.

In our new article in the journal World Development, we ask “why did these two governments do this?” Our goal now is to share our answers to that question. We posit three conditions under which governments of poorer countries take action to protect the environment, at times sacrificing large-scale financial gain.

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Is All Growth Good? The Case of China

Sara Hsu

Since the seventies, with the assertion by Gunnar Myrdal that economic development should prioritize equality, economists have increasingly come to believe that not all types of growth are wholly “good.” Growth that ignores human well-being and equality are viewed as problematic.  Certainly growth that results in severe environmental destruction, as in the case of China over the past twenty years, cannot be classified as good, either, despite the country’s much-lauded successes during this period.

Real-world views of growth depicted in the mainstream media do not fall in line, however, with the economic development literature. The focus on China’s growth in the news has distracted from a more balanced view of the looming inequality problems or polluting production methods in the world’s most populous nation.  As China’s growth has slowed, headlines have read, “China’s Economic Growth at Stake,” “China’s Economic Growth Slows,” and “China’s Second Quarter Growth Slows.”

Even when inequality and pollution problems are described, they are considered separate from the growth process—as “side effects” of growth rather than issues that detract from the extent of growth itself. Headlines read, “China Blocks Access to Air Pollution Data,” “China Declares War on Pollution,” or “China’s Wealth Disparity Erupts in Protest.” It could, however, be argued that such destructive types of growth both take away from “good” growth and dampen positive growth in the long-run, so we should read about growth and its associated externalities within the same context. This is clearest in the case of pollution, where natural resources are destroyed and rendered unusable to future generations.

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Time for New Environmentalism

Sunita Narain

2014 has brought India’s environmental movement to a crossroad. On the one hand, there is a greater acceptance of our concerns, but on the other hand, there is also growing resistance against the required action. More importantly, every indicator shows that things on the ground are getting worse. Our rivers are more polluted, more garbage is piling up in our cities, air is increasingly toxic and hazardous waste is just dumped, not managed. Worse, people who should have been in the front line of protection are turning against the environment. They see it as a constraint to local development. They may protest against the pollution from neighbouring mines or factories, but even if they succeed their livelihood from natural resources is not secure. They are caught between mining companies and foresters. Either way, they lose.

We must also realise that even as environmental problems have grown, the institutions for the oversight and management of natural resources have shrunk. While the environmental constituency has grown, core beliefs have been lost. In this way, the underlying politics of environmental movement has been neutered.

It is important we point out the fundamental weaknesses and contradictions in the environmental movement. It is only then that we can deliberate on the direction for future growth of the movement.

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Equality, Solidarity, and Sustainability, Part 3

In this third part of a four-part interview, regular Triple Crisis contributor Jayati Ghosh summarizes some major themes in her work and thought, including the prospects for the transformation and revival of socialist movements, the transfiguration of the world capitalist economy and the reproduction of structures like the core-periphery division and landlord domination, new challenges of international labor solidarity and environmental sustainability, and the way forward towards egalitarian societies. (Parts 1 and 2 of the series are available here and here.)

Jayati Ghosh

Challenges of Solidarity and Sustainability

D&S: The ways that capitalism has linked together economies all over the world—trade in goods, international investment, international migration—directly pose the need for labor internationalism. Is it possible to develop the necessary kinds of labor solidarity when that means reaching across divides, say, between native and immigrant, or the workers of one country and with those of another country half a world away?

JG: It is obviously necessary for such bonds to be forged—it is even essential, because global forces cannot be fought only within nation states. But clearly such bonds are getting harder to forge. However, that is not only because of the material reality of physical differences and geographical distances. It is also—and possibly more crucially—because of changing perceptions of community, identity, oneness, and difference among various social groups. So workers from different countries see themselves as competing against one another in the struggle to keep their jobs and prevent their wages from falling.

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Pollution Inequality and Income Inequality

James K. Boyce

This interview with regular Triple Crisis contributor James K. Boyce (Political Economy Research Institute, University of Massachusetts-Amherst) appeared originally at The Real News Network. Prof. Boyce describes the findings from his recent study showing that, in the United States, inequality in exposure to air pollution is even more unequal than inequality in income. The study, issued by the Institute for New Economic Thinking, was co-authored by Boyce with Klara Zwickl and Michael Ash.

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Green Clearance Test for India’s NDA Government

Sunita Narain

Environmentalists are rightly alarmed that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government is busy dismantling the environmental regulatory system in the country. Over the past two months, the media has reported that clearances for projects, from mining to roads, have been fast-tracked. While the website of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) has not been updated in August, in the two months till July end, forest clearance was granted to over 92 projects, which will divert some 1,600 hectares of forest. More recently, it was reported that the National Board for Wildlife has processed many projects located near or in sanctuaries and national parks.

Additionally, rules are being changed, purportedly to speed up the process. This is being done in mainly two ways. One, as much as possible, MOEF is pushing decision-making to the states in the name of streamlining the process. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification has been amended to delegate powers to clear certain projects to the state-level EIA authorities. This is being done with the full knowledge that the state agencies lack capacity and accountability. So, the effort is not to take informed decisions about adverse impacts of projects. The effort is to get rid of the clearance system or at least to push it as far away as possible.

Two, wherever possible the provision of holding public hearings or taking gram sabhas’ [village meeting] consent is being diluted or even removed. For example, small coal mines—classified as producing 8 million tonnes annually—have been allowed to double their capacity without holding the mandatory public hearing. Other changes are also in the offing that will further chip away at this condition, which makes it necessary to get the consent of the affected communities or at least to hear and heed their concerns. Clearly, listening to people is not convenient for industry.

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Green Clearance Test for India's NDA Government

Sunita Narain

Environmentalists are rightly alarmed that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government is busy dismantling the environmental regulatory system in the country. Over the past two months, the media has reported that clearances for projects, from mining to roads, have been fast-tracked. While the website of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) has not been updated in August, in the two months till July end, forest clearance was granted to over 92 projects, which will divert some 1,600 hectares of forest. More recently, it was reported that the National Board for Wildlife has processed many projects located near or in sanctuaries and national parks.

Additionally, rules are being changed, purportedly to speed up the process. This is being done in mainly two ways. One, as much as possible, MOEF is pushing decision-making to the states in the name of streamlining the process. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification has been amended to delegate powers to clear certain projects to the state-level EIA authorities. This is being done with the full knowledge that the state agencies lack capacity and accountability. So, the effort is not to take informed decisions about adverse impacts of projects. The effort is to get rid of the clearance system or at least to push it as far away as possible.

Two, wherever possible the provision of holding public hearings or taking gram sabhas’ [village meeting] consent is being diluted or even removed. For example, small coal mines—classified as producing 8 million tonnes annually—have been allowed to double their capacity without holding the mandatory public hearing. Other changes are also in the offing that will further chip away at this condition, which makes it necessary to get the consent of the affected communities or at least to hear and heed their concerns. Clearly, listening to people is not convenient for industry.

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Rigged Rules: A Rogue Corporation in the World Bank’s Rogue Tribunal

Robin Broad and John Cavanagh

On September 15, in a tribunal that few know exists, the fate of millions of people and hundreds of millions of dollars will be debated and decided in the next six months.

The tribunal is the World Bank Group’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). It sits in downtown Washington, D.C., behind security guards at the World Bank. At issue is the future of El Salvador, some 2,000 miles away, where a global mining company—Pacific Rim, now owned by Australian/Canadian corporation OceanaGold—wants to mine gold in ways that could well poison the river system serving over half the Salvadoran population.

The crime alleged by the mining company is that the government of El Salvador has not approved a mining license for it. But the real crime is that a foreign corporation is trying to stifle democracy in a country where a small landed oligarchy and U.S. intervention stifled it for so long.

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