Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Nano Dilemma in the Fight Against Global Warming

In an op-ed piece in The Washington Post, Anne Applebaum points out a disturbing issue raised by the marketing of the Tata Nano, the $2,500 car that has just been introduced in India. She states that:

There must be a way to reconcile mass car ownership with global warming, but, at the moment, we haven't found it. There is no profound reason that good environmental policies have to come into conflict with economic growth, but they often do. In many countries, the desire not to be poor is stronger than the desire to breathe clean air.

It is hard to ignore that the fight against global warming seems to be on a collision course with efforts to provide masses of poor people in developing countries with better lives. Or as Applebaum states it:

What happens when the laudable, currently fashionable movement to improve the environment comes directly into conflict with the equally laudable, equally fashionable movement to improve the lives of the poor?

Right now there do not seem to be any good answers. China is said to building the equivalent of one coal-burning power plant a week. That certainly will improve the lives of tens of millions who lack electricity but pretty much negates efforts around the world to reduce carbon emissions. India seems to following the same course but at a slower rate. The situation appears even more hopeless when you consider the situation in the United States where everyone has electricity but about 150 coal-burning power plants are in the planning stage to meet projected increased electricity demand presumably because of such reasons that people are no longer satisfied with watching a 30-inch cathode ray tube television but want an energy gobbling 60-inch plasma screen instead. In the US more energy is needed to lift tens of millions of people out of a materially great life to an even more fantastic life. The world leaders who will be working the next two years to create an agreement to limit global warming may need something close to a miracle to succeed.

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