India is “hot” now. I just got the recent issue of The Economist (February 21st), whose cover features a personification of India, riding high on a very attractive elephant that has a jet engine strapped to its side. With most of the world in some sort of stagnation, India, with its newly elected Prime Minister (Narendra Modi), is leading the way in economic growth among the large developing countries. The US, meanwhile, is in a very strong position among the large developed countries. President Obama visited India last month and met with Modi and other Indian officials. They have agreed to cooperate on the development and implementation of sustainable energy sources but – unlike with China – did not make any specific commitments. The main reason for this is that climate change is only one of the major concerns that India has in terms of its energy policy; until India can find satisfying solutions that balance these concerns, it cannot securely commit itself to any global agreements on energy use.
Given the pending December 2015 meeting in Paris, where many hope to finally get global commitments to take efforts to mitigate climate change, these meetings go a long way toward giving the world confidence that these commitments will not only be made, but also followed.
A few years ago (September 3, 2012), I described what I called, “Three Shades of Deniers.” Of these, the following is the one that concerns me most, especially because it includes some very good scientists:
The fatalists. This group fully agrees with both the science and its predicted impact, but believes that since the task of preventing it is so enormous as to be practically undoable, they might as well enjoy life for as long as it lasts. Unfortunately, many in this group are good scientists.
The first example that most of these “fatalists” bring up is India. I was focused on India’s efforts to balance between the pressing needs to alleviate poverty and mitigate anthropogenic contributions to climate change for many years. Many of these efforts can be quantified through the IPAT identity (November 26, 2012 blog):
There is a useful identity that correlates the environmental impacts (greenhouse gases, in Governor’s Romney statement) with the other indicators. The equation is known as the IPAT equation (or I=PAT), which stands for Impact Population Affluence Technology. The equation was proposed independently by two research teams; one consists of Paul R. Ehrlich and John Holdren (now President Obama’s Science Adviser), while the other is led by Barry Commoner (P.R. Ehrlich and J.P. Holdren; Bulletin of Atmospheric Science 28:16 (1972). B. Commoner; Bulletin of Atmospheric Science 28:42 (1972).)
The identity takes the following form:
Impact = Population x Affluence x Technology
Almost all of the future scenarios for climate change make separate estimates of the indicators in this equation. The difference factor of 15 in GDP/Person (measure of affluence), between the average Chinese and average American makes it clear that the Chinese and the rest of the developing world will do everything they can to try to “even the score” with the developed world. The global challenge is how to do this while at the same time minimizing the environmental impact.
The figure below, taken from my book, shows the dependence of the GDP/Person on Energy Use/Person for 26 countries, including both developing and developed countries. The data for this graph were taken from the 2002 CIA World Factbook.
On superficial observation, the dependence in the graph looks linear. Linear dependence indicates that the energy intensity, defined as the ratio of GDP/Energy Use, is constant and independent of the GDP of a country. The energy intensity is a true measure of the efficiency of energy use. The approximate independence of the energy intensity to GDP, directly contradicts the often-heard perception that developed countries use their energy more efficiently than developing countries.
More careful observation shows (Yevgeniy Ostrovskiy, Michael Cheng and Micha Tomkiewicz; “Intensive and Extensive Parametrization of Energy Use and Income in US States and in Global Environments”; International Conference on Climate Change: Impacts and Responses; 12 – 13 July 2012; Seattle Washington) that the energy intensity is weakly dependent on the GDP (inverse square root dependence), not because developed countries are more efficient in their use of energy, but because service starts to play bigger and bigger roles in developed countries and is considerably less energy dependent as compared to heavy industry.
In the next few blogs I will focus on the difficulties in reaching an international agreement on limiting the use of fossil fuel, what China and other developing countries are doing to change their energy use, and how the USA is reacting to these developments.
Since my paper with Ostrovskiy and Cheng is now published in a refereed professional journal, my focus has shifted to India, which, as I showed in the previous blog, is a somewhat more difficult, example. India is poorer than China. It’s also a democratic country, meaning that the issue shifts from trying to convince governments to take a certain action to trying to convince voters in a fast growing population that already numbers over a billion people.
The IPAT is not just a “formula.” It actually describes the driving forces for the anthropogenic contributions to climate change.
Figure 2, taken from the latest IPCC reports, shows the relative contributions of the four terms with the carbon intensity of energy defined as CO2/energy summarizing the last two energy terms. The balancing act of the socioeconomic terms with the energy terms is clearly visible, resulting in increased emission with the increased contributions from the socio-economic terms, dominated by the increased affluence of developing countries. The increase in emission associated with the first two terms of the equality is only partially compensated by the energy terms.
Decomposition of the change in total global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion by decade (IPCC Fifth Assessment Synthesis Report)
A few years ago I went to India to try to see the balancing act for myself. Here is what I wrote about this effort (April 29, 2014):
I was able to interest a colleague of mine, Prof. Vinit Parmar from our film department, and we went exploring. We went to a region of India called the Sundarbans, which is part of the West Bengal State, near the city of Kolkata (Calcutta). The region is shared by India and Bangladesh and is the home of one of the world’s largest deltas, formed by the outlets of the Ganges, the Brahmaphutra and the Meghna rivers into the Bay of Bengal. About 4 million people live on the Indian side of the border. The land’s topography has made it difficult to extend the Indian electrical grid, and until 1995 most of the inhabitants lived a Hunter-Gatherer way of life: “hunting” fish and gathering honey in the Mangrove forest. Around 1995, the Indian government (with some help from the US government) decided to do something about it and try to deliver electricity to the region. They decided to do it by skipping the coal stage, instead delivering the electricity in the most sustainable way that the budget would allow.
We tried to monitor this process through a documentary film; to accomplish this we needed some help but the result, along with the full list of contributors, can be seen in the short film “Quest for Energy.”
The film illustrates the initial delivery of electricity in the small town of Gosaba. This delivery comes by way of a microgrid that runs through some of the main streets in town. Here, the microgrid doesn’t function as an additional, supplemental aspect of the main grid. In fact, since in this case, the microgrid is the only grid, in a sense, it resembles the main grid in the US more than 100 years ago. The proliferation of microgrids in rich countries is a boon to developing countries like India because it promotes further exploration and improvement of such technology. Hopefully these innovations will continue to be applicable not only in rich countries, where the microgrids function mostly as a form of adaptation, but also in poor countries where in many regions they are the only game in town.
Figure 3 – Global lack of access to electricity and reliance on biomass
The same seminar documents describe how India’s inhabitants fit in to the world’s access to and use of electricity as follows:
Of the 1.6 billion people today have no access to electricity, about 80% of these people are located in India (580 million) and sub-Saharan Africa (500 million). Four out of five people lacking access to electricity live in rural areas. By 2030, in the absence of radical new policies, 1.4 billion will still have no electricity
The next few blogs will continue my discussion of India, as I describe the country’s present energy situation and its efforts toward energy transition. I also plan to address the difficult balance it strives for between reducing its energy needs overall while also recognizing that some energy expenditure is necessary in its attempts to alleviate poverty.