July 22, 2008

HT Changes Tack, Gets Bold On Global Warming

A day after I criticised Hindustan Times' glaring omission of Al Gore's speech on climate change, the paper carries a bold feature on global warming as if trying to compensate. But is it really informed by climate science?

Hindustan Times ran this extraordinarily bold full page feature in today's paper

I made the entry on HT's censorship of Gore's speech on Sunday evening. It was published at four places online and was sent to a bunch of prominent personalities -- Dr. R. K Pachauri, Sunita Narain, Bittu Sehgal, Malini Mehra, Barkha Dutt -- as well as HT editor Vir Sanghvi and three HT correspondents.

Today (Tuesday), the paper carried a bold story on global warming.

It's hard to say that this was in response to my write up but it does seem likely.
  • For one, the full-page feature is very loud and bold (see larger version of the above image) with a massive headline and a huge graphic disproportionate to the small content the story carried.

  • Second, such an aggressively promoted feature on global warming has not come out in HT since last year when the IPCC report came out and Indian print media woke up to this issue.

  • Most important indication is that this is relatively a much smaller story. It was released by the BBC two days ago and Google News has hardly 20-30 mentions of it, none of which are from outside UK. Compare that with 1000+ mentions of the Gore story from all across the world that HT did not publish.

It's as if they were trying to compensate!

A Hundred Months to Act? Not On Earth!

The original BBC story is available here. It's based on a report by a little known British think-tank called New Economics Foundation. My take is that it will be foolish to presume we have 100 months to act. IPCC itself has said, even if we start making serious reductions by 2015 (about 77 months away) we may still reach 2.4 deg C of temperature rise.

Nasa's top climate scientist James Hansen in his landmark testimony to the US congress last month (which was also not covered by HT) said: "the oft-stated goal to keep global warming less than 2C is a recipe for global disaster, not salvation." So you can imagine 2.4C would be a calamity.

We do not have time. This is why Gore's challenge is so significant. It calls for radical reductions right away. But it needs your support.
"I have seen first hand how important it is to have a base of support out in the country for the truly bold changes that have to be made now. That is why I'm devoting my life to bring about a sea change in public opinion that supports the truly massive changes."

- Al Gore at a blogger convention on July 19, 2008.

Hindustan Times' censorship of Al Gore's challenge continued into its fifth day today.


This entry was also made on, Whats With The Climate blog, emailed to IYCN & Green-India discussion lists and copied to the following:
    Vir Sanghvi, Editorial Director Hindustan Times
    HT correspondents: Kinjal Dagli, Shalini Singh and Chetan Chauhan
    Barkha Dutt, Group Editor, English News, NDTV
    Dr. Rajendra K Pachauri, Director-General TERI
    Sunita Narain, Director, Centre for Science and Environment
    Bittu Sehgal, Editor, Sanctuary Magazine
    Malini Mehra, Founder & Chief Executive, Centre for Social Markets

July 20, 2008

Hindustan Times On Gore's Speech: "It Didn't Happen"

The leading national daily keeps the Indian public in the dark about Gore's historic energy challenge by refusing to make any mention of it.

Despite Al Gore's Rock Star status, certain media organisations seem to have a thing or two against him. In the U.S. they have Fox News and in India it looks like Hindustan Times is keen to take on that role.

When Gore spoke in Washington on Thursday on the challenge to abandon fossil fuels, New York Times reported that the plan goes beyond even the most audacious ones. Bill McKibbon, journalist and climate activist went a step further when he said Gore deserved "the prize you get once you've won the Nobel." Nasa's leading climate scientist James Hansen called it "the turning point that is needed."

So how did Fox News report the challenge? Fox's reporting focused not on Gore's call but his personal emissions. Its reporter stood outside the Gore event and counted the number of minutes Gore's driver left the car on idle with the AC on to keep it cool when Gore and wife Tipper returned (it ran on idle for an earth destroying 20 minutes! The horror!).

Editors at Hindustan Times went a step further by pretending that Gore never spoke.

What Does HT Have Against Informed Public Opinion On Climate Change in India?

This isn't the first time Hindustan Times has negatively influenced the Indian public on climate change front. I consider deliberate omission of an important global event from its reporting as a negative influence. There are many many examples of omission on this front in the past. But there are also examples of deliberate negative influence. In early April, HT ran two ridiculous stories challenging man made global warming and discrediting the IPCC.

I exposed those stories on my blog and am currently suing the paper in the Press Council of India for publishing them. Its editor and correspondent have been served notices and I can't wait for the proceedings to begin. Have collected a wealth of evidence to share.

But let's give them some benefit of doubt and see if this omission was really intentional or caused by some other reason. Maybe it was too late for Friday's paper. Maybe they didn't have enough space. Maybe it wasn't relevant for Indian readers. Let's look at each of these reasoning.

"It was too late for Friday's paper"

Gore's speech began at 9.30 pm Indian time on Thursday and ended just before 10.00 pm. Okay that could have been a little close to their cut off time. But earlier in the day, around 5.30 pm Associated Press (AP) had released an interview with Gore previewing the speech. So there was plenty of time for the paper to run a story on Friday.

I was lucky enough to get hands on the AP story just as it was out and wrote about it around 6.00 pm. I found my hands on the actual transcript of the speech around 10, before Gore had finished delivering it in Washington. But by 9.00 pm itself, there were lots of media reports on Google News referencing the AP release. In fact, rival Times of India even published the AP story on Friday and mentioned it on the front page header too. So why did the Hindustan Times ignore it altogether?

Even if one accepts it was too late for Friday's paper, there can't be a reasonable explanation of its omission on Saturday as well, apart from it being intentional. TOI ran an editorial on it on Saturday. A full day after the speech was out when papers around the world were writing about it (1000+ mentions on Google News by now), India's leading newspaper pretends it didn't happen.

"They didn't have enough space"

A story as important as this deserves to create its own space pushing aside other less important ones. But perhaps there were other reports even more important that needed to be mentioned. Alright, lets see what else HT ran in the World section that day.
    World section, page 19 | Hindustan Times, New Delhi, Saturday, July 19, 2008

    Main page

    Happy Birthday, Mandela
    India, China drive up Christie's sales
    Osama's driver to be tried for war crimes
    European terrorists trying to enter US
    Ahead of Games, sex shops shut down
    Pak terror groups getting bolder: US
    Progress on Saarc varsity to be reviewed
    Young's self-published 'The Shack' a hit


    Nature's fury: typhoon kills 7 in Taiwan
    Obama raises $52m in a month for campaign
    Iran expects positive US presence at N-talks
    Sex trade up in Oz during Pope's visit
    Female suicide bomber held in Afganistan
    Libyan sent to jail for lying about Afgan visit


    Emmy nominations
    Python spins out of washing machine

    World section, page 20

    Desperate Housewives to end in three years
    Want free gas? Name baby after radio station
I can't see any of these stories being more important than Gore's challenge which, if pursued, could fix the US economy, end their national security threat and most importantly lead the world into addressing the climate crisis

"It wasn't relevant for Indian readers"

Looking at above stories, it's clear that wasn't the case. Climate change is a problem that will hit India severely. U.S and India share similar challenges in terms of moving from fossil fuels to clean energy sources.

The same is true for China and other Asian countries as well. So I looked up Chinese and Pakistani news publications to see whether they covered this issue. Turns out they did.

Clearly, there are some vested interests at work to ensure that public opinion in India remains uninformed or misinformed about climate change. The effort seems to be working. For example, most people in urban India, even those who consider themselves "environment friendly" do not grasp climate change mitigation potential of their actions or how far their actions go to address climate change, in other words.

Today's (Sunday's) paper, for example, contains a full-page feature titled "Green brigade: Even five-year-olds are doing their bit to counter the dangers of global warming." The stories in this feature are commendable and probably inspiring to some but are largely uninformed about what causes global warming and what kind of actions can address this issue.

Only one of the several examples mentioned in the three stories have something directly to do with lowering energy consumption. Others are about minimising waste generation, saving water, tree plantation, ozone depletion, air pollution, unemployment, recycling and cultural education.

All of these are most welcome and do lower CO2 emissions but only indirectly. They certainly cannot be clubbed together under the title of "examples that counter the dangers of global warming." Even if every kid in India did all of that (and they should!), we'd still be nowhere close to addressing global warming as long as we kept burning fossil fuels. Apparently, even seasoned reporters can't differentiate between good environmental practices and those that mitigate climate change.

I'd rather see real climate change news in the papers. Al Gore's energy challenge is likely to be a historic event in the fight against this issue as I wrote previously. I'd like some answers as to why Hindustan Times kept its readers in dark about it.


This entry was also made on Whats With The Climate blog, emailed to IYCN & Green-India discussion lists and copied to the following:
    Vir Sanghvi, Editorial Director Hindustan Times
    HT correspondents: Kinjal Dagli, Shalini Singh and Chetan Chauhan
    Barkha Dutt, Group Editor, English News, NDTV
    Dr. Rajendra K Pachauri, Director-General TERI
    Sunita Narain, Director, Centre for Science and Environment
    Bittu Sehgal, Editor, Sanctuary Magazine
    Malini Mehra, Founder & Chief Executive, Centre for Social Markets

July 19, 2008

History in The Making: Gore's Challenge Will Transform The Political Landscape

Why Gore's "Generational Challenge to Repower America" changes everything.

Rock Star Al Gore (formerly a politician but now rivaling a rock star in his popularity), pulled a great performance in Washington DC this week when he got on to the stage and sang "Gimme 100% baby."

If you don't know what I'm talking about, Al Gore delivered a landmark speech on Thursday in which he proposed an audacious target of generating 100% U.S. electricity from renewable energy resources by 2018.

Having been frustrated for years over lack of vision on this issue from all of our leaders, the news had an electrifying effect.

Prior to Gore, no one has had the courage to propose such a humongous target. Not the biggest environmentalists, not the doomsday scientists, no journalist, no engineer. The closest someone has come is Lester Brown. In his book Plan B 3.0 he argues for a complete switch to renewables (largely wind power) and an eventual 80% reduction in emissions by 2020.

But even Lester Brown acknowledges that his plan is guided not by political feasibility but the necessity of such a target. Gore's plan on the other hand is unapologetically bold. He argues that not only is it feasible, it's also attractive as it will create employment and will pay for itself several times over. Besides, Gore's target betters Brown's by two years. Every other plan or proposal talks about 2030 or 2050 targets. Even an organisation as radical as the Greenpeace wouldn't have thought of proposing anything as audacious as this.

This is leadership.

Exactly What's Needed

And this is exactly the kind of leadership we need. Every few days a new report or evidence appears raising alarm about the extent of changes to our climate while our politicians are busy sleeping or playing the blame game. When we do hear of solutions and plans, they are piecemeal solutions, half measures and plans that are guided by outdated science.

Not A Technological Challenge

Some reports are calling Gore's plan unrealistic or outright crazy arguing that it's impossible. Well, perhaps they should meet executives of Ausra, the Australian company now based in U.S which is building Gigawatt scale solar thermal plants using a new technology that's cheaper than 2020 cost projections of the current one. Or maybe it's T Boone Pickens they should be meeting who's investing a billion dollars to install world's largest wind farm in Texas.

Perhaps they should pay a visit to Greg Watson of Green and Gold Energy who's installing hundreds of MW of concentrator photovoltaic solar farms around the world that produce energy at three times the efficiency of traditional solar panels and at less than 40% of the cost. Or maybe they need to learn about Blue Energy which has orders worth thousands of MW of their tidal energy turbine platform for the oceans that also works as a bridge.

Gore did not create this target out of thin air. As he said in the speech, he met with engineers, scientists, and CEOs and had consultations over "solutions summits". One such expert was Paul Gipe whom Gore met in January this year. When asked about Gore's target, he said, "Ten years is certainly an aggressive target, but many experts [including himself] who consulted with Gore have said that it is achievable."

As someone who has been tracking emerging renewable energy solutions around the world, I came to conclude some time back that this is NOT a technological problem. We have all the technology today to take this issue head on. What we lack is the political courage. And this is what Gore has attempted to infuse in the leadership by setting up what others are calling an impossible target.

Great Timing

Before Gore gave the speech, fellow Democrats were complaining that it was poorly timed. They thought the party would be seen as "caring more about polar bears than Americans who have had to pay record prices for gasoline." Actually, there couldn't have been a better timing for Gore's challenge.

As Gore said in his speech, rising price of fossil fuels have made renewables more attractive than ever before. Those of us who care more about the environment than the economy have been watching rising energy prices with much glee. Each Dollar per barrel of oil price rise translates directly into reduced consumption of oil and reduced consumption of everything else that gets expensive.

At the same time it also makes renewable cost competitive as the gap between their prices narrows down. So this is absolutely the right time to make the transition to clean energy. As price of oil gets higher -- it's projected to be $200/barrel before the end of this year -- things will only get better.

Transformation of Political Landscape

I have not the slightest doubt in my mind that one or both presidential candidates will either announce that they're accepting Gore's challenge or will be forced to announce it.

Here's how I think things will go: Gore will give Obama and McCain time to announce the acceptance. If after a certain period, they don't, he's going to call out to the public to put pressure on them to do so. Either way, they will have to take on Gore's challenge now or when the oil crisis worsens.

Moreover, each candidate will try to out do the other in being first to make the announcements. I'm certain as I write, they are holding their own consultations with energy experts and are closely watching how people react to Gore's call. One thing is clear though, the public is on Gore's side.

According to an online poll that's currently running on San Francisco Chronicle website, close to 70% people believe the goal of carbon-free electricity is achievable with only 15% doubting it (live results on left). The increasing public support for the plan will mount enormous pressure on the candidates to accept the plan even though they very well understand that implementing it will require nothing short of another industrial revolution.

If the next president accepts Gore's challenge -- and if you ask me, that's close to a certainty -- then climate politics will be altered forever. This is going to set the agenda at G8 and it's is going to inspire UNFCCC to take bold decisions. As has always been the case in recent history, the world will follow the United States.

With a progressive U.S. stance, other nations, particularly the developing world will no longer be able to blame the West. So there's little chance the West will permit these countries to continue doubling or quadrupling their emissions every few decades. In other words, Gore's challenge changes everything.

Planned Strategy

It's obvious that Gore had planned this move a long time ago. It seems to be part of the deliberate strategy in which he refused to enter the presidential race earlier this year despite being pressured from all quarters and enjoying huge public support. Gore has played his trump card at a time when he has endorsed Obama and the latter has openly stated that he will consult Gore on the climate challenge. Now it will be extremely difficult for Obama to ignore Gore's call.

Turning Point

The challenge to generate all of U.S. electricity from clean energy sources by 2018 will give a huge boost to environmentalists and others around the world fighting for big reductions. As I wrote above, this will lead to increasing pressure on nations around the world and might well prove to be a turning point in our fight to combat climate change.

If the applause he received during his speech and the number of news headlines on the topic are any indication, Gore's new number appears to be an instant hit. Now it remains to be seen how it does on the charts. I can't seem to get it out of my head.

Words of Caution

A few words of caution lest anyone should complain of the overly optimistic future gazing above. Admittedly, this is only a speech although it's the very first time that we have someone calling for a bold and visionary response on this issue commensurate with the challenge. The speech has not been endorsed yet by either of the presidential nominees.

If the United States alone meets the challenge ten year later, that does not mean climate change would suddenly end. The developing countries need to move to clean energy as well. Besides, there is still warming already in the pipeline that will continue to worsen climate change for some time.

Another point to remember is that tomorrow if oil drops to $100 a barrel or below it might delay, if not threaten, implementation of Gore's plan. History of past oil crises show that as soon as oil gets cheaper people forget about conservation and alternatives.

This entry was also made on IYCN blog What's With The Climate.

Update 21-Jul: Some news reports are saying that Obama has accepted Gore's challenge. While both McCain and Obama have released statements welcoming the challenge, with Obama embracing it more wholeheartedly, it would not be entirely correct to say that either of them have accepted it.

It is not until they really commit to take it on with an explicit change in their previously stated energy policies, that it would be called an acceptance. John McCain's website does not even mention Gore's challenge (at least not under media releases) while Obama's site still states that he's looking at 80% emission reductions by 2050 and to "invest $150 Billion over 10 years in clean energy."

In other words, Obama has committed to investing 15 billion every year for ten years. This is way off Al Gore's plan which calls for investing several times that sum. Gore has said it will cost $1.5-$3 trillion over 30 years or an investment of $50-$100 billion every year.

July 17, 2008

Reviewing National Action Plan on Climate Change - Index

A series of writings that review the National Action Plan on Climate Change.

The country's most important policy document that will determine how it deals with climate change is here. The National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) released by Prime Minister Mr. Manmohan Singh a little over two weeks ago is a historic document as it purports to address a challenge that is grappling humanity.

In a series of posts over the next few weeks, I will attempt an in-depth step by step analysis of the NAPCC, covering all its contents: principles and approach, each of the eight missions individually, their implementation, as well as areas that are conspicuously absent from the policy.

In my first entry, I will talk about the history of the plan, its scope & implications and how it was was received in the country and internationally. I will be publishing this over the weekend and will continually update this post with links to subsequent parts.

This entry was also made on the blog of Indian Youth Climate Network.

July 10, 2008

BBC Interviews Me (sort of)

Akash Soni from BBC Hindi World News Service, UK called in yesterday to interview me for a ten minute special edition radio programme on climate change.

I wasn't the only one interviewed though. Others featured in the programme include chief executive of Centre for Social Markets, Ms. Malini Mehra and IPCC Chairman R.K. Pachauri.

I think I spoke to them for 20-25 minutes. Out of this, a generous two and a half minute clip made it on air! I can be first heard at around 35 sec into it and then at about 6 min 30 sec. Click the play button below to listen or download the mp3 file.

PS: During the conversation, I also told them about the SunCube solar power device developed by Green and Gold Energy in Australia and their Indian licensee, Square Engineering. They ran a snippet on it right after the climate change programme. Though I don't know where they got the details about output and price.

PPS: According to an independent estimate, around 25 million people in India listen to BBC Hindi Service!

July 01, 2008

India's Climate Change Action Plan Summary

The Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has just unveiled the long-awaited National Action Plan on Climate Change. I've split the first 5 sections from the long document that summarise the policy and put it up on my server. You can download it here [10 pages, 2 MB].

The five sections contain: Overview, Principles, Approach, Way Forward: Eight National Missions and Implementation of Missions: Institutional Arrangements.

The complete policy including section #6: Technical Document, which is over 40 page long, is available on PMO website (a large 16 MB PDF with 52 pages).

I haven't studied it yet but my first impression is that although the initiatives listed are welcome, but...
  • without any firm commitment towards a target of emission reductions,
  • without setting up any time-frame to achieve those reductions and
  • without a commitment to phase out new energy generation from fossil fuels and their subsidies...
it is unlikely to make a significant short term or long-term impact into India's fast growing carbon emissions.

A longer, more detailed analysis including an official response from my organisation (CSM) will follow in coming days.

UPDATE 3-Jul: 'Climate Challenge India' coalition formed by CSM just released an interim assessment (PDF) I had the privilege to be one of the contributors to this report.