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Meanwhile in the real world

18 Nov 2020 | OP ED Watch

The National Post runs a brief “Four things to know about autumn pollution in India” piece (subscription required) that explains that the air in much of northern India including the capital New Delhi is reliably awful in the fall for geological and man-made reasons. But unlike just about every other story about the environment, this one is real. It concerns not “carbon pollution” but the real kind, causing a real health crisis requiring real solutions and, alas, running up against real government stupidity.

The first problem the Post identifies is natural. With the coming of fall a combination of lower temperature, more moisture and less wind traps real pollutants in the air longer. Then with the end of the monsoon season the wind direction changes and blows “dust, industrial emissions and vehicle exhaust” toward rather than away from major urban centres.

The second problem, and the third, and the fourth, are man-made. Even if you don’t count Delhi having nearly 10 million vehicles, which would be less of a problem if governments in India had not spent decades pursuing ambitious 5-Year Plans that kept their people poor and their cars old, poorly made and dirty. For instance, people burning trash because, again, bad government policy has kept them poor. And even burning fires to stay warm outdoors as too many have to do. And the fact that years of massive mining for rocks and construction sand in the Aravalli mountain range have weakened a natural barrier to natural dust from the Thar desert in Rajasthan west of Delhi.

Then there’s a complicated man-made problem. The mechanization of agriculture around New Delhi has led to more efficient harvesting of rice crops that, regrettably, leave far more stubble and straw in the fields than the old backbreaking manual approach. But with time short for planting winter crops like wheat and canola, farmers tend to burn off the residue. And to make it worse, the government has been trying to give out subsidies to buy even more equipment, of a sort that will mulch or otherwise remove this plant rubbish without using a match. “But farmers say lengthy bureaucratic processes to claim the subsidies forces them to burn their crop waste.” And finally, the Post reported on Monday, there’s the issue of people setting off so many firecrackers for Diwali that it had a measurable impact on air quality.

If you’re wondering what any of this story has to do with climate change, well, directly nothing. As in it’s not causing the problem or even worsening it. The news stories didn’t even try to drag it in. But indirectly it has a lot to do with the situation, because the Post story is a tale of real pollution causing real misery and illness and requiring real and expensive solutions. Instead of which the best and brightest want the Indian government like others to spend their time on money fighting carbon “pollution” and in the process leaving many of their people too poor to afford efficient indoor heating and cooking, proper farm machinery and the other things essential to ridding Delhi of the choking smog you no longer find in Western cities from London to Los Angeles.

Fighting purple dragons is not a harmless hobby.

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