Sunita Narain | Centre for Science and Environment

Sunita Narain


Our smaller future

A year ago, in this very column, I discussed the myopia of budget 2008, which did not touch upon events then beginning to unfold. Since then we have seen the world collapse and, perhaps, even change forever.

Climate lectures don’t make lessons

There was a jamboree in my town recently, a gathering of the powerful and famous, to discuss the climate change agreement the world must carve out in Copenhagen by end 2009. But what happened was rather discomforting: We Indians were publicly lectured, castigated and rapped on our knuckles for being bad boys and girls by one and all. UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon told us developing countries must make more efforts to address climate change and get on-board with industrialized world for solutions.

The Satyam in our oil

Which cooking oil is best for us? Why do I ask? Are we not bombarded with advertising messages telling us there is a healthy oil that is good for the heart? They talk of monounsaturated fatty acids (mufa), and polyunsaturated fatty acids (pufa) and of course, catch-us-words like omega properties. I am sure you, like me, try to understand this scientific jargon and conclude that any oil that has all these elements, must be good.

The Satyam in our oil

Which cooking oil is best for us? Why do I ask? Are we not bombarded with advertising messages telling us there is a healthy oil that is good for the heart? They talk of monounsaturated fatty acids (mufa), and polyunsaturated fatty acids (pufa) and of course, catch-us-words like omega properties. I am sure you, like me, try to understand this scientific jargon and conclude that any oil that has all these elements, must be good. Then we presume if we are being told the product is healthy, somebody must have verified the claim.

The public relations republic

Let me dare to predict how regulatory and corporate India will resolve IT major Satyam’s scandal/saga. The government will stand tall, its arms and branches spread out in never-ending enquiry, to provide tactical cover. Some fall-guys might be found: now-disgraced chairman B Ramalinga Raju could be sentenced, as could the auditing company official who signed the accounts; but it takes time to prove guilt, so that they will probably live a retired life in the comfort of their homes, out on bail. Meanwhile, the media will bray for blood.

2009 is full of promise

I spent a week at the climate change conference in Poznan, and realized the world is in deep trouble and deeper denial. Worse, the denial is now entirely on the side of action. It is well accepted that climate change is a reality. Scientists say we need to cap temperature increases at 2°C to avoid catastrophe, which means capping emissions at 450 ppm. We know global average temperatures have already increased by 0.8°C and there is enough greenhouse gas in the atmosphere to lead to another 0.8°C increase.

The tale of 21st century’s dinosaurs

Have you noticed how the mighty automobile industry in the US is beginning to sound like the now infamous tobacco industry at the time of its collapse, taking cover behind the people it employed to whitewash its inefficiency and perhaps its sheer inappropriateness? The tobacco industry, in its last days of conviction, when it became clear that the science of toxicity of this leaf was real, hid behind farmers who grew it.

The newer deal for a newer world

After months of downward spiral, the dreaded r-word must be uttered. The world’s major economies are into a recession. Equally recessive is the response of leaders who, after working extremely hard to privatize and deregulate, are falling upon a Keynesian idea, first applied after the 1929 Great Depression in the us, requiring governments to spend huge amounts of public money to bail out the economy.

A complicated bus-ride

What does Barack Obama’s election as president of the us have to do with buses in India? A lot. Obama stands for what he calls ‘change’—in the way we think and do business. But the call will remain rhetoric unless we translate it into practical, everyday life, changes. To do that, we must bring changes in our business model and, most importantly, in what is essential and what needs to be invested in.

Bail us out: consume

Earlier this year, I called the Union budget myopic (see Down To Earth, March 31, 2008). Let me reiterate why. The Union budget did not take into account the fact the world was beginning to face new challenges, all of which were devastating, and related. One, the rising cost of our food—you will recall subsequently prices did go up and food riots took place in many parts of the world.

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