Global … Warming?

There are two views to global warming today. One is the general view that global warming is bad, it is one of the evils created by the industrialized world and it will lead humanity to disaster. The other view (can we say contrarian for want of a better word?) is that global warming is a non-starter, essentially for two reasons:

1. The data that scientists are basing their predictions on is too small to be able to predict anything like global warming.

2. Global warming would have happened anyway because its part of the cyclic phenomenon we call global climate, so it doesnt really matter what we do.

The interesting thing is there is no way you can actually debate these lines of reasoning. This is because one is based on too short-term a view and the other is based on too long-term a view. I had an interesting discussion with a gentleman today about this, which got me writing this. Whats interesting is that while one cannot debate these lines of reasoning, they do raise a few questions.

One of the questions that they raise is can we afford to err? We may be making a mistake by assuming that global warming is actually happening, or we could be making a mistake by assuming that the data we are basing our conclusions on is too limited. At this point there is no way we can say which of the two is a mistake. The question is, can we err on the side of assuming that global warming is fictitious? It would be ok if it was, but what if it wasnt? Would we be walking over a precipice with our eyes open?

The other aspect is that of these climatic phenomena being cyclical. They might well be cyclical and warming might well have happened, human activity notwithstanding. What i think, based on my limited understanding of Chaos Theory, a dynamical system like the weather may have multiple equilibrium states and the fact that it is in a particular state doesnt mean it cant move from this equilibrium to the other equilibrium state it can have. Having said that, this movement would require some amount of nudging along from somewhere, and the question this brings up is, can we afford to have human activity being the nudge for moving to an alternate equilibrium, which may include extinction of humanity? I dont think so, but then, these are possibilities.


Vegetables

Sometimes i wonder whether i get to know the news thats impacting me or not? At times its more appropriate to think that we get to see the news that the editors of the news channels or newspapers believe we should be seeing, and this is where the media gets to define the scope and topic of debate in society. But there are aspects which probably get left out in all this because they arent very important, maybe.

Let me explain what i am talking about. Those of us who have followed politics in India for some time now will remember how the rise in prices of onions cast its spell over the elections in four states in India. Those of us will also remember the coverage the rise in prices of onions, an essential to Indian cooking, got in the political debates. For those of us who dont remember, you could read bits about it here or here.

What i am concerned about is how little space is being given to the price rise that we are seeing today. Yes, there is talk about it somewhere in between the columns on the inner pages. One could say that this is because there arent any elections round the corner thats why the price rise isnt as important an issue to be covered as it was a decade ago. But then this would imply that even then the coverage wasnt of price rise for an essential, but was coverage of an election issue, and this would imply that the debate is not about price rise and its impact on people but about elections and the impact of the price rise on elections. Now i am not saying that price rise hasnt got coverage but not the way when elections were round the corner.

Whats interesting about the price rise is who benefits from it. The vegetable walla told wife that if a Cauliflower is bought for Re. 1 from the farmer it is sold for Rs. 25 in the market. This means that the benefit of this price rise doesnt pass to the farmer but to a set of traders, middlemen if you may in the supply chain, and this is an aspect which not many seem to be talking about. Shouldnt this be something which should be the core of the debate and shouldnt this debate be at the core of the discussion in the country? To me, i believe, the two areas which should dominate the debate in the country are the impact of this price rise on common people and of course the ongoing negotiations at Copenhagen, which again are inspiring quite a bit of cynicism, like the one i read somewhere (dont remember where) … If the climate were a bank, it would have been saved.

Are there any areas which you think we need to focus on more as a nation? Please do write your comments, maybe we could start something?


Globalized?

It is quite routine these days to read about the world we live in as a global village increasingly interconnected with more and more integration of the different parts of the world into one unit. This is indeed a wonderful thing. But what is the extent to which it is happening is the question which needs to be asked. Why am i asking this question? Can there be a reason other than Copenhagen? Maybe Copenhagen will become the second Scandivanian city to have a phenomenon named after it? The other maybe is not too pleasant a syndrome, one would say.

Over the last year or more since the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the ensuing mayhem one thing became very clear. That the global exonomy is indeed global. That is, no country can today say that their economy is isolated from the effects of the economies of countries around the world. Some maybe more some less, but nevertheless. This gave the feeling that governments around the world are coming to the understanding that unless the world faced the global crisis as a single unit the consequences would not be pleasant for anybody. There was a growing acceptance of the globalized world we live in today. Thing is, this bonhomie lasted only as long as we were talking about money. When it comes to the climate we arent quite as globalized as we think we are. Or is it that this is my pollution and that is yours? Are we trying to believe that your pollution is not going to impact me?

Lets look at the stark reality. We are indeed a globalized world. And nowhere more so than in terms of the weather. And either we all swim through or we all sink. True, some people will be impacted more than others. Rather, some countries would be impacted more than others. But the point we need to appreciate is that no matter which country, the poor would be the ones who would be impacted the most. Agriculture would be the area which would probably be impacted the most (from what we read). Question is, can we bring the cooperation of global economies to the sphere of global climate? The stakes are high, and we all need to understand that this is our world. Unless we cant look beyond the next two quarters?

I read an article which said that ISRO data shows that the rate of depletion of glaciers in the Himalayas is slowing down (cant find the article so if you can find it, please post the link). Positive sign. Things can be reversed? Certainly. Question that we need to ask ourselves (otherwise our children or grandchildren may not even get the chance to ask the question), do we have it in us to do it? OK, this is beginning to sound rhetorical, but thats because its meant to be. I am not an expert on the issue of climate (or on anything but i am not going to admit that), but trying to look at the problem from a simple common-sense approach. Any thoughts, please feel free to write.


About Copenhagen

This is a topic which a lot of people are discussing. These discussions tend to be quite interesting at times, and whoever is discussing seems to bring a lot of passion to it, though of course the direction your passion flows to depends on your viewpoint. I try to be not passionate about the topic, but its a little difficult, which is why i havent written about this till now. But there would be a time when i would need to write what i feel about Copenhagen and our stand there vis a vis what the other nations would do.

The edit in the Hindustan Times today was quite interesting. There are a few things which come out of this. To quote:

But no one, other than a starry-eyed few, doubts such a shift will carry a large economic price tag. While they may be cloaked in planet-saving language, the fact remains that climate change negotiations will be about which country will bear how much of this price.

This is a very important consideration when it comes to negotiations. One step more than required and the government could be seen to be selling out and one step less and the government could be seen to be not doing enough for the sake of the survival of our home, the only planet we can call home. Which is what makes the entire negotiations very tricky. However, it should not be so tricky, i think. Let me try to explain why.

To begin with, we, and not just we, but all nations of the world must understand that in this negotiation there wont be a scenario where some win and some lose. Either all will win or all will lose. If we are able to bring the Earth back from the brink of disaster (which is where we may find our planet to be at) we all will win, and if we arent able to, then we all lose. Its as much our climate as it is any other country’s. Its our planet as much as others. Having said that, though, there is also the aspect which we must understand and that is that every nation, including India, has developmental needs (perhaps India more than a lot of nations) which we need to aspire to, and the question is how best we can meet those needs while ensuring we minimize damage to the planet. The problem as i see it is that a lot of nations seem to believe that they can win the game even if others lose.

If thats not correct, and all nations understand that either everyone wins or no one does, then the question comes down to negotiating who will pay how much of the cost for cleaning the environment. One aspect that we need to understand is that India and China, countries representing a third of humanity have a need for development which is much greater than a large part of the world. Bring in another dimension and the developed world needs to understand that the use-and-throw culture is probably something which needs to be a thing os the past and that no country can afford to follow the path of waste. Instead, nations need to follow more the dictum to reduce-reuse-recycle if we are to save the planet. There was an article in the Times of India today which mentions that Americans waste 40% of their food. Now, this is a lifestyle which has been developed over a period of generations but having said that there needs to be an understanding that this cannot be afforded much longer if we are to save the world. While maybe two decades ago this might be a sign of affluence, it shouldnt be seen in the same light today.

To cut a long story short, we need to understand that the cost needs to be paid (the HT article puts it quite well) and at the same time the world needs to understand that this is an opportunity which hopefully comes only once (to save the planet) and that we need to grab this opportunity with both hands and understand that either all win or all lose. Once we can do that, we can understand that we can build a world which is far more comfortable with itself. One aspect which we need to build into the cost models is that there is a cost associated with the human potential which lies untapped in two of the most populous countries in the world, and this cost must also be factored into the cost calculations which i am sure everyone is talking about.


Nuclear Unclear

I have wondered time to time whether it is a coincidence that the words nuclear and unclear are acronyms and the more one sees of the world of nuclear technology the more one gets convinced that it is not a coincidence but some wise chap who thought that the similarity of the two words may also mean a similarity in their meaning. And this probably is not at the level of their application in the scientific terms but also in their application in the political terms. Which is why these reports didnt really surprise, maybe not just me, but a number of people across the world, or at least in India. The reports are carried by the leading dailies of some of the nations, of India, Pakistan, and the US. Needless to say, the way the content is presented depends on the country from which the daily comes.

Thing is, to a lot of people this doesnt come as a surprise. Here we find that two nations who have some dispute or the other with India (lets not even get into the whole thing of nations being enemies of each other, thats just too strong in terms of terminology, and just stick to facts without getting into conjecture, and see what questions or answers this leads us to) are collaborating in a way so as to ensure that India is none the better off. Who would find this surprising? Though its another thing to try to deflect the content by saying that this is only a ploy to take the pressure of India. One wonders whats the pressure on India, and why would any of these dailies try to take the pressure off India (ok, maybe Time of India, though being a free newspaper thats debatable but even so, but Washington Post?).

Even if we look at the official positions there is a question which the Times of India raises. What would be the reaction of Mr. Obama to this report? Or rather, what would be the reaction of the American foreign relations establishment to these revelations? Would America continue with their erstwhile policy of being committed to non-proliferation while at the same time not looking at what some of its allies may be doing, or whether Mr. Obama would take a stand that proliferation is not good whether done by friend or foe? To quote the Times of India report:

Unless Obama takes note of the disclosures and acts on them, he will be seen to joining a long list of US Presidents, including Reagan, Bush, Clinton, whose concern about proliferation were largely cosmetic and selective, resulting in a free pass to China and Pakistan.

What is it that makes the nuclear program of Pakistan different from that of Iran or for that matter China (member of Security Council, remember?), for example? A question which Times of India seems to be raising is whether Mr. Obama would actually try to do the right thing or simply believe that geo-politics comes secondary to a number of other considerations. Agreed, India-Pakistan relations need not be a zero sum game but the question of whether funding need be given for nuclear proliferation is something which is different altogether. After all, the establishment in Pakistan has said as much that they have diverted American aid to fighting India. Question that remains is whether this will have an impact on the way foreign policy is crafted, or whether it should have an impact at all? Since i dont know a thing about foreign policy please leave your thoughts and maybe we will all learn a lot.


Pakistan Conundrum

A question on the minds of many people … where is Pakistan headed from here? While i dont think i know that, there is a question which does come up from time to time. Why does it seem that Pakistan is looking to self-destruct? People have probably had this thought for some time, but more and more, people are thinking on these lines today, given the violent goings-on in the country. Why, it seems, that Pakistan is ready to slide down the abyss as long as it can take India with it? Well, that may be rather long-fetched, but you get the idea, i suppose.

Now, i am not an expert on international affairs. Nor am i an expert on Pakistan politics. But, i have studied my share of history. And, i have my set of questions, which impel me to, like a lot of people, to probe. The questions we can look at later, for the moment, let me explain the idea i have about Pakistan.

I read a rather interesting book named The Indus Saga … in fact, i have blogged about this earlier. The central part of the book looks at the question of what defines the modern-day Pakistani. Of yore, the Pakistani may have been defined as the guy from Indus Valley … or, over a period of time, the guy from the frontiers of the Mughal empire … or, as people like to believe, the Mughal ruler of “Hindustan”. Now, Hindustan is a term which itself is not quite clear, but nevertheless … This is is something i have heard a few times. But, of today, post-independance, what defines the modern Pakistani is the question the book delves into, and tries to establish that the Pakistani is much more than “not-Indian”. That the Pakistani has a definition which g0es beyond just trying to identify the differences from the Indian. This question, though, leads to another question. This is the question about existence. What was the reason for the creation of Pakistan? It was a negation of the single-nation concept, and an endorsement of the two-nation theory. That the Muslims of the sub-continent are not safe in a Hindu-dominated India. Now, this is a theory which has been quietly shelved with the passage of time, but it does raise an important point. The point is that if this is the reason for the creation of Pakistan, then the raiseon d’etre for the creation of the country is misplaced, once the objective is achieved. This means, in a nutshell, that a “not-India” platform becomes self-defeating the moment it is achieved, because once it is achieved, then there is nothing more for the country to look forward to. What is the next mountain to scale? What are the next things to achieve? Is there a social, or economic agenda for the country? This cannot be answered by the “non-India” concept.

This is a concept which needs to be changed. Pakistan, as a nation, is much more than “non-India”. No matter what your political affiliation, if you are from India, this is a reality you cannot ignore. So, whatever your leaning, and whatever your feelings towards Pakistan, reality cannot be ignored. Which means that it is in our interest that Pakistan move beyond the “not-India” ideology, and create a definition for the long-term trajectory for the nation, economically, socially, and politically. This is not just in the interest of Pakistan, but also in the interest of the world.

Coming now to the question i have. What is it that makes a city, which is called the City of Sin and Splendour (wonderfully described in this blog), into one which is the headquarters of terrorist organizations? What is it that gets people to change in ways so fundamental? What is it that changes the path society moves on, and the path which creates faultlines in society?


The China Debate …

There seems to be a tectonic shift in Indian foreign policy. Or at least, the way the establishment in India looks at the geo-political situation in our neighbourhood. I am not an expert in foreign policy, but still, felt there are a few points which are probably not being adequately highlighted in the debate which is going on these days.

It seems that it started with recent Chinese incursions into Indian territory. And with the Chinese display of military might on the occasion of their national day, there is a lot of attention that China has got in the media. The question which a lot of people seem to be asking is whether China is India’s enemy number one. Why i call this tectonic is because with this, the mindshare of Pakistan seems to have fallen quite a bit, and Pakistan’s loss is China’s gain, if they would like to call it that.

So what is the question? In simple terms, should we read anything significant into Chinese incursions, or into their show of military might. Are we repeating the mistake of 1962? The question that this question raises is whether the India of 2009 is the same as the India of 1962, and whether internal geo-politics is the same, or even similar to 1962. But then, is the China of today the same as the China of 1962. The answer to both questions seems to be no. Which means that we need to learn the mistakes of 1962, but place them in the context of today.

First of all, we in India face a psychological threat from China, probably more than a real one. Ask normal people, and you will get a reply that India can anyday beat Pakistan militarily. Ask the question about China, and the same confidence seems to be missing. Let us keep this in mind when trying to answer this question lest we allow this prejudice to influence the line of thought with respect to this question.

Let’s understand something clearly. Whether China intends to attack India or not, or whether China is simply trying to browbeat us, or whether this display of military might is meant for global consumption, rather than for Indian consumption, is one dimension of the problem. Another dimension which we need to keep in mind is that it is not very pertinent to think that China sees India as a threat. However, that, to my mind is a short-term point of view, as a lot of economists believe, that the Indian economic and political model is much more enduring if you look at the long term. Another dimension is that it is one thing to put up a show of strength, and quite another to sustain it over time, as we have seen from the Soviet experience.

Looking at this, it is difficult to determine the Chinese intentions. Even so,common sense says that its better to be safe than sorry. This would mean that one would need to be on the guard. To make sure we are prepared for eventualities. But take it too far, and military preparedness could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Having said that, though, we also need to understand that military tensions are something neither China nor India can afford, given the march towards prosperity we are both engaged in, while competition can only bring out the best in both.