Published: Thursday 31 October 1996

Closer to the end

This is with reference to the Leader and Editor's Page ( Down To Earth , Vol 5, No 6). It is interesting to note that any discussion today in the media on the issue of oil production and consumption concentrates primarily on its economic aspect. Even the search for alternatives boils down to those that are cheaper or to the options that pollute less. While it is true that the economic angle is of serious concern to the common person, it still remains a blinkered view of the matter.

Everyone appears to have forgotten or prefer to ignore the fact that oil reserves are finite and nearing the end of their stocks. This is totally in contrast to the '70s and early '80s when grim forecasts about the depletion of fossil fuel reserves were issued and there was talk of impending crises (both oil and coal), when stocks would run out. The urgent need for alternative energy sources was stressed. Most books and papers on the subject during this period were sure to announce a deadline by which the reserves would be exhausted.

It is ironical that today, when we are closer to those deadlines, with no major new reserves of oil being found, consumption is only increasing. Both economists and environmentalists let people believe that the Earth has unlimited fuel reserves and promote conservation only as an economic necessity or to fight pollution and the greenhouse effect. The booming automobile industry puts up a new model in the market almost every month and encourages people to spend more on new 'fuel-efficient' cars, thus ignoring altogether the need to encourage the quest for alternate fuels. In such a scenario, should our government encourage fossil fuel-based projects such as Enron? By the time the project gets completed and thousands of crores have been wasted, there may not be much fuel left to operate the plant.

The media should also play its role in making the masses aware of the true situation or else there may come a time when bullock carts once again become the prime mode of transport, while we struggle to live in a world that is fuel-less. ...

Keep up the good work

Down To Earth continues to be the most stimulating and authoritative communication effort on environment and development. My best wishes to you. Keep it up. Being a development professional, the magazine makes priority reading for me.

Habitat ii, held recently at Istanbul, Turkey, had not been covered adequately or seriously by the Indian Press. But your coverage of the event was really good. In fact, more should be done along these lines. I wonder if we should follow it up with a workshop on the Indian urban scene involving persons who are particularly sensitive to the urban challenge. I had in mind people like you (Anil Agarwal), Ashok Khosla and a few others, who can look at the urban situation in the country in a candid and constructive manner and come out with a realistic approach for the future. There is much conformity as far as thinking on the subject goes, thanks to the domination of the West. Government policies on urbanisation lack urgency and sensitivity....

The last laugh

I wish to reply to the letter written by A R Kundaji ( Down To Earth , Vol 4, No 23). It was indeed Korea and not Korwai, as he had pointed out, where the last of the cheetahs were shot. I would like to refer to the letters page of Hornbill (1996(2):9), brought out by the Bombay Natural History Society.

In reply to a letter, the editors of Hornbill have stated that Korea -- in Madhya Pradesh -- is indeed the place. They have quoted the Imperial Gazetteer which describes Korea in these words: "Korea is a tributary state in the Central Provinces, lying between 2256 and 2348 N, and between 8156 and 8247 E. It is bound on the north by the state of Rewah, in the east by Surguja, in the south by Bilaspur district and west by the states of Chang Bhakan and Revah." Korwai is a separate entity....

Better late than never

Down To Earth (Vol 5, No 9) carried an article on the recently released State of the Forest Report 1995 brought out by the Forest Survey of India ( fsi ). Here is the response to certain clarifications sought from S N Rai, the director of the fsi, which reached us late.

Why does the Report not differentiate between actual forest cover and plantations?
The 1995 assessment of forest cover is based on interpretation of satellite data ( irs -18). Diffrentiating between natural forests and plantations is difficult because reflectance of the two is the same. Moreover, young plantations, plantations of thorny species and those with yellowish green or reddish leaves do not also give proper reflectance.

What are the factors that have contributed to an overall decrease in forest cover?
The decrease is mainly because of the continuing fall in forest cover in the north-eastern states and the low rates of increase in others.

Going by the Report, jhum cultivation has resulted in large losses in the north-east but of late the practice has been waning. This seems a bit confusing.
Shifting cultivation is still practised and the area affected by it is shown in table 1.5.

What is the reason for the considerable increase in mangrove forests in Gujarat?
Protection from grazing and other biotic pressures has resulted in the increase....

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