Emergency measures likely as pollution levels touch high levels

As Delhi and the National Capital Region continue to inhale toxins, the Environment Pollution Prevention and Control Authority is laying down procedures and emergency measures to curb the deteriorating air quality. The authority, appointed by the Supreme Court, has suggested the Delhi, U.P. and Haryana Governments would be required to ask the District Magistrates to take immediate steps to improve air quality when pollution level reach “severe plus”. It is now for these governments to draw up a list of these measures.

Meanwhile the Delhi Government has again asked school authorities to restrict outdoor morning activities to protect children from toxins in the air when they are at their peak in the small hours and even later.

Even as temperatures might or might not have dropped, increased humidity and low wind speeds gather smoky fog instead of dispersing it in large parts of northern India, especially the overcrowded National Capital Region. Pollution levels rose before the end of November just after a few days of sunshine. December and January are unlikely to bring any relief. The somewhat good weather was short-lived; long chilly nights and even days lie ahead unless strong winds blowing from the Himalayas temporarily clean up the local air quality. But high levels of moisture have so far occurred because the wind speed has dropped from 7 km. per hour to 3 km. per hour.

But highways, city streets, airways and railways are already getting slowed down, increasing travel time and making commuting to work places and back home journeys a long haul, even hazardous. Visibility is expected to drop to 1km, if not even lower. With restrictions like odd-even on motor vehicles on the horizon, people will be forced to look for alternative ways of mobility: buses, taxis and metro services will get overcrowded. It wouldn’t bother local Delhi government whether high levels of impure air laden with chemicals cause harm.

Pollution continues to take a heavy toll on the quality of life and continues to increase health hazards. Is there a long-term or short-term solution or how does one learn to live without much relief? School going children or even the little ones are the most vulnerable. But the poor breathing spaces spare no one, regardless of age.

In this scenario, there is an official projection that by the year 2030, there will only be electric cars on the road, but it is not stated how the cars already in use will be phased out. Will batteries not be charged by existing fuels? Nor is it known whether by that time electricity will be generated only by tapping solar or wind energy.

Even if India can raise the solar energy levels to 200 or 300 Giga bites, will it meet all the energy needs of the country? Will coal mining stop and will pet coke and furnace oil cease to be produced? Will oil refineries stop producing diesel and petrol? Will they produce only high value petro-chemicals, including plastic products? Will nuclear energy plants be shut? Will hydro-electric generation replace most, if not all polluting power plants? Will the railways’ electric traction be possible through non-conventional energy sources?

Fifty or sixty years ago it was widely believed that the world would run out of petroleum extracted from land and offshore in 30 years from then. However, quite the reverse has happened. Petroleum production has gone up ten times or even more and there is now an oversupply in the world markets. Major oil producers have cut their output by 10 per cent to ensure that crude prices do not drop and remain at $60 to 65 per barrel, if not $70 per barrel.

The world today produces about one or two million electric cars a year and about 50 or 60 million diesel or petrol-driven cars. Will the world shift to electric cars at that high level even in 40 or 50 years even as driver-less cars are being tested in the US, Europe, Japan and possibly China? Will artificial intelligence take such a big leap that human intervention in work places will diminish greatly?

Will the world then become a land mass of lotus eaters or just players of football, cricket, golf and a host of other games? Will it be all play, fun and games and no work? Is that kind of utopia on the cards?

Yet a world led by the superman President Trump is trying to nix all endeavours to reduce deterioration of climate and let enterprises have a free run to make hay whether the sun shines or refuses to.

 

Lalit Sethi is a Journalist of long standing and a commentator on Political and Social Issues.