The continuing debate on Delhi’s air quality underlines that we are dealing with the symptoms and not the causes of the problem.
Population expansion –
The population shift into the middle class in cities raises three policy questions.
- First, since much of air pollution is caused by activities that lead to climate change, there should be a comprehensive plan for cities.
- Second, the West, with one-fifth of the population, uses four-fifths of the natural resources. We should identify and modify, not adopt their wasteful trends.
- Third, the courts with their reliance on regulation and bans will not change behaviour.
What should be our response?
- Values matter: Instead of following Western priorities of technological solutions for the consequences of human behaviour, we should really consider how to change that behaviour itself. Driving a little less, recycling waste, and pushing renewable energy will not appreciably lessen the impact. Wasteful ways of life must be questioned.
- Well-being and resource use: Industrialisation, infrastructure development and urban consumption patterns cumulatively contribute to well-being as three distinct but related trends. Infrastructure has used up half of the material stock but it has no substitute. By modifying long-term trends, we can enhance the remaining budget and abate urban air pollution. Urban consumption will continue to be propelled by the shift of the economy to the services sector. Two-thirds of the energy use and emissions of carbon dioxide come from cities; two-thirds of this is from vehicles, the major cause of poor ambient air quality, and buildings and diet.
- Changing behaviour: The optimum solution is to lower energy demand in all dimensions while maintaining the level of energy services. For the next few decades, it would not be possible to meet the growing energy demand through renewables alone. Energy efficiency has the potential to reduce total demand in 2050 relative to current levels by one-third per unit of economic output, or well-being, without affecting the service provided and a cheap option. But how do we change behaviour?
Fundamental conceptual shifts are taking place in cities in this area. Housing and roads are being seen as part of the social system, rather than the alternative of providing for automobiles. There is a focus on mobility instead of transport. This should be the core of ‘smart cities’. Elevated roads are a temporary fix and the priority should be redesign for public and shared transport, and ultimately electrification.
Well-being within ecological limits requires a societal transformation redefining ‘happiness’ in accordance with our own rather than Western values.
Source – Livemint
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