Age of dinosaurs

The greatest threat to cleaner, new age technologies is from fossil fools

By Sekhar
Published: Tuesday 15 May 2001

-- Mahatma gandhi had announced an award of Rs one lakh to anyone who could improve the design of the charka (manual spinning wheel). That was 1929. Today, it would amount to as much as Rs two crore. That was the Mahatma's way of encouraging development of sound technologies -- sustainable and people-friendly. The charkha was the Mahatma's way to counter the centralised technologies the British colonialists used to plunder India.

There are a lot of obstacles that a new technology faces. Inevitably, it is harmful to the interests of those who earn out of older technologies. They come in several names and garbs. Take George W Bush, an oilman who has become the president of the most powerful country in the world with the largest economy. Unabashedly, the champion of the fossil fuel sector has just gone ahead and cut the us energy department's renewable energy budget by 37 per cent as compared to 2001. But that wasn't enough. A cool us $150 million has been proposed for clean coal research programmes. The door has been resonantly slammed in the face of environmentalists campaigning for the us , the world's biggest polluter, to move towards non-polluting technologies like fuel cells. If the richest country in the world will not support cleaner technologies, what will happen in developing countries?

Well, it is not very different in developing countries. Take the case of moving Delhi's public transport to compressed natural gas ( cng ). The Union and Delhi governments have done all they can to scuttle the almost three-year-old Supreme Court order. It is clear that the resistance to cng is at the instance of the diesel lobby, which doesn't want the truth about diesel to take away the country's biggest vehicle market away. Perhaps the most dangerous is when they get help from the civil society. The Tata Energy Research Institute ( teri ) is bending over backwards to push ultra-low sulphur diesel ( ulsd ) through as a clean fuel alternative to deal with the extremely high pollution levels in Delhi. Scientific research from across the world shows that cng is a far better and option than diesel, especially when future regulations are taken into account.

The push for cleaner technologies is at the instance of environmentalists. It is a moral imperative. At present, clean technologies don't enjoy the market framework to surge ahead. The government, which ought to encourage these through subsidies, is pushing for diesel. Any new technology, no matter how much it may promise for the future, has to face hurdles like these. But the powerful dinosaurs have something more powerful working against them: the fact that human survival depends on innovation and development of better technologies. They are likely to win several battles before time makes them obsolete.

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