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India's Middle Class Dream is World's Climate Change Nightmare

Thursday, January 10, 2008

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  • the $2500 Tata Nano

    the $2500 Tata Nano

Written by Josh Dehaas

India is a place that still evokes images of poverty and underdevelopment in many Western minds. That image is simply outdated. India is now a middle class nation which boasts a middle class greater in number than America's. Time Magazine estimates that each year more than ten million Indians cross the line from poverty to middle class, joining almost 300 million others.

Much like Westerners, Indians see automobile ownership as essential to their transition from poverty to middle class comfort.

Tata Motors, India's biggest car manufacturer is ready to make their transition complete by offering a $2500 car, the Nano. Tata motors plans to sell at least one million Nanos per year. Tata Motors

While the Nano represents a dream for India's middle class citizens who will now be able to enjoy the freedom offered by a car, the Nano looks like a nightmare for scientists worldwide who are fighting to reduce green house gas emissions.

The Nano also represents increased safety for Indian families, as company chairman Ratan Tata is quick to point out. "Two-wheelers - with the father driving, the elder child standing in front and the wife behind holding a baby - is very much the norm in this country. In that form two-wheelers are a relatively unsafe mode of transporting a family. The two-wheeler image is what got me thinking that we needed to create a safer form of transport." Ratan Tata, Tata Motors

While the improvements in comfort and safety are undeniable, the environmental impact of millions of Nanos on the road is enough to make any environmentalist trade in their Prius for an Escalade. The car itself may meet European emissions standards but the sheer number likely to be sold in India - not to mention on the export market - is of breathtaking concern. According to Report on Business, with the introduction of the low-cost vehicles India is expected to release 1,467 million metric tons of carbon from vehicles alone, according to the Asian Development Bank. A staggering number when compared to Canada's own emissions. Report on Business

In 2004, Indian exhaust pipes released 219 million metric tons of carbon into the air. Comparatively, Canada's total fossil-fuel use peaked in 2004 at 174 million metric tons and that includes all fossil fuels, not just cars. While Canadians stand around and bicker about our inability to meet the standards agreed upon in the Kyoto Accord, developing countries like India are rapidly increasing their emissions. Developing countries, after all, are fully exempt from the emissions reductions of the Kyoto Accord.

If projections are correct, if Canadians were to stop using fossil fuels altogether today - that is, no more cars, no more coal, no more natural gas - new cars on Indian roads would replace our emissions reduction entirely in just 3.75 years. The projected growth of India's emissions from cars in the next twenty-seven years is equivalent to, get this, seven times Canada's total emissions in 2004. Union of Concerned Scientists

When you add in the fact that official Chinese policy suggests that each family should own a car, the growth in emissions from developing countries makes our potential emissions reductions a mere raindrop in the flood.

While Western scientists and politicians battle out carbon taxes and emissions trading schemes in Bali, it appears the developing world's thirst for western lifestyles is rendering their decisions obsolete. If climate change - or any environmental cause - is to be addressed, we must realize that global participation is key. Even good-intentioned decisions in the West must take into account different circumstances in the developing world. Otherwise efforts in here will be thwarted by developing nations where new purchasing power has met the Western model of development.

While Nanos will initially be sold only in India, you can prepare for them to to burst onto the export market in the future. That which India produces is bound to end up here. Until then, visit / www.tatapeoplescar.com / and "build your dream car."

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  1. Posted by: Derek Pieper on Jan 15, 2008 @ 11:08am

    Hi Josh,

    Great article. As a member of the Canadian Youth Delegation to Bali I experienced the negotiations in Bali first hand. A positive outcome of that meeting was that major economy developing countries, including China, Brazil, and South Africa (and to a lesser extend India) indicated that they are ready to set reduction targets. However, a lot of this hinges on how much developed countries (who bear the historical responsibility for emissions) are willing to cut. So in short, it really does matter how much countries like Canada are willing to reduce our emissions because this will be the standard that countries like India will follow in a post-Kyoto Protocol international agreement (Kyoto expires in 2012).

  2. Posted by: Robert on Jan 15, 2008 @ 12:42pm

    I think there's an issue of fairness that should be examined here. We're free to purchase which ever car we want, shouldn't the rest of the world be able to do the same? We should be wary of criticizing others for seeking luxuries we freely enjoy ourselves. I think it's more representative to look a country's emissions on a per capita basis. in which case Canadians emit tones more CO2 than the Indians. I'm sure developing nations are aware of the environmental damage they're causing to themselves. If not they soon will from the resulting influx of human health problems. Ideally clean energy cars would become economical for everyone. Until then we should look to ourselves for

    I don't see any side mirrors on the Nano, maybe it's not so safe after all.

  3. Posted by: Douglas on Jan 15, 2008 @ 1:19pm

    This article is taking a definite side here, obviously in favor of the environment, which isn't such a bad thing. Even though if there is a side to be on it should be mother nature's, Robert's comment before me has some valid points. I think the line in this article that says "...India's emissions from cars in the next twenty-seven years is equivalent to, get this, seven times Canada's total emissions in 2004." is a highly opinionated one, and the article shows very little evidence to support the argument, apart from being backed by some concerned scientists. If India was to continue to build more cars and its population was indeed able to support that industry, perhaps they would no longer be considered a developing country by Kyoto's terms. This statement also assumes that there will be no changes to the global efforts on dampening the CO2 emissions in the next 27 years, which is a stretch to say the least. These things aside, the article does bring to light some interesting facts about climate change away from home.

  4. Posted by: Asher on Jan 15, 2008 @ 9:24pm

    Congratulations to India for its financial and developmental success.

    Well, they might be a few decades too late. Western development got there first, fucked it up first, and now we're trying to fix it. I heard about the Nano in passing a few days ago but didn't think about it much until reading this article.

    If global warming is indeed being influenced (not necessarily directly caused) by human-generated carbon emissions, then the proliferation of the Nano could be disastrous. There are a lot of ifs, but it's not like we're going to be able to force India to block the Nano. So we'll just have to wait and see what kind of effect this has. It'll essentially have the impact of adding another U.S.A. to the global emissions pool.

  5. Posted by: Asher on Jan 15, 2008 @ 9:25pm

    Douglas, I think you underestimate the ability of scientific institutions to collect accurate data. The number 1.47 billion metric tons is a relatively simple predictive calculation using projected sales and usage of the car combined with its known operational emissions. Data from the Oak Ridge National Research Laboratory indicates the U.S. in 1996 put out 1.45 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions - TOTAL. The number given for India is just for vehicles, not including industry or power generation. Canada put out 112 million metric tons. I realize these statistics are from 1996; Emissions have increased since then, but I don't have a direct source for the data so I'm sticking with what I can verify.

    The line about India's emissions is not "opinionated" - it is an objective, quantitative claim that is either true or false and has nothing to do with opinion.

  6. Posted by: Mike on Jan 16, 2008 @ 2:10am

    I found this to be an informative article about the Indian car industry. I think, however, the above comments are somewhat irrelevant. The bigger picture is that the outcome of Nano's success is a global concern. While I agree that it is unfair that the people in developed nations have had the resources & means to live more luxurious lives than those people living with less commodities it is an insignificant point. The real concern I have is that we seem to be wasting time arguing. It should not matter which point Josh Dehaas made was true or false. What should matter is that we react to the basic, general fact and take some form of action. Check out this link about global climate change:

    youtube.com/watch?v=mF_anaVcCXg

    It's worth the 9min - it is about global climate change and soundly explains the essence of the issue. I think it had some media attention as well, and the man in the video has made several expansion packs that are also informative.

  7. Posted by: Cid on Jan 19, 2008 @ 9:45pm

    Global Climate Change is a planetary problem.

    While I appreciate the attempt to look at this issue from another angle, the feeling I was left with after reading this article was similar to 'they are much worse than we are!'. It felt like an attempt to refocus the problem on anyone but us.

    Truth is, if we are not doing anything productive to stop climate change here, then we have no right to criticize others.

    Canada lives a lifestyle based off oppressing others, stealing resources, and funding miltaries to do the dirty work outside our borders (cops inside our borders) to get what we 'need.' In order to make any kind of shift that would impact climate change the whole notion of 'Western lifestyle' would have to be broken apart and made into a culture based on subsistence, not destruction and pollution.

    Though I think it's interesting to think about how other countries are ALSO impacting the climate, this issue is OURS and we need to deal with it head on; where we live first!

  8. Posted by: faizal on Dec 23, 2008 @ 1:04am

    having nano price & properties

  9. Posted by: AJ on Dec 29, 2008 @ 12:51am

    Hi...Do you know tata nano is more enviroment friendly than other cars... check out this article...
    http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.instablogsimages.com/images/2008/01/11/tata-nano-is-greener-than-most-cars_5810.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.ecofriend.org/entry/tata-nano-is-greener-than-most-cars/&usg=__JrMO_Fbs4Y50yJ1v8uypk7Xr49o=&h=367&w=550&sz=29&hl=en&start=18&sig2=tH9CwU5BqLmwDSHp4XITPw&tbnid=CS02m6yhaxf5AM:&tbnh=89&tbnw=133&ei=W2JYSb27J4WFtgeYjaGtDg&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dtata%2Bnano%26gbv%3D2%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DG

  10. Posted by: on Mar 13, 2009 @ 2:29am

    I live in the so-called "developing world" (South Africa) and owning a car around here is definately not a case of seeking "first-world comfort" - it's a vital requirement to hold down any form of employment, since public transport is virtually non-existant. It's wonderful for the rich to prattle on about the environment while driving around in expensive Prius's or commuting on smoothly-operating public transport systems, but they will have to remember that for most of the world's population putting food on the table is a definite priority over global warming.

  11. Posted by: tgSF on Mar 23, 2009 @ 4:57pm

    Dries: I believe you've unintentionally hit the nail on the head.

    "owning a car around here is definately not a case of seeking "first-world comfort" - it's a vital requirement to hold down any form of employment, since public transport is virtually non-existant."

    -and THIS is where we need to be focused: infrastructure. Not private markets selling privileged items to individuals on an individual basis. The continued acceptance of the automobile as 'the only means' of getting anywhere is way past over.

    "remember that for most of the world's population putting food on the table is a definite priority over global warming."

    -I agree, absolutely, and it's only a rational response. This raises the very uncomfortable issue however: our resources CANNOT sustain more and more of human consumption, so, we have a few too many humans, don't we? THAT is another thing we need to start focusing in on.

  12. Posted by: Ali C on Apr 2, 2009 @ 1:51am

    Shouldn't the increase in emissions from one million Nanos be somewhat counterbalanced by the expected reduction in emissions from the removal of one million polluting motorbikes from the road? Surely the cars will just be replacing people's existing transportation modes.

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