Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Could Gandhian values offer an ideology for a more sustainable India?

South Asia, and India in particular is heading towards a ‘perfect storm’. A deadly concoction of a serious resource crunch, an urban boom and impacts of changing climate, which could push the sub-continent over the edge.

India’s population is still growing and urbanizing with 10 million people moving into the metros each year, it is expected to be one of the largest migrations in the world. There are also a large number of peoplemoving out of poverty and will soon have access to all of the trappings of a high energy consuming, middle class life.

In India, like the SUV, today’s “gas-guzzling” high rise, glass buildings have become a coveted icon which we are in awe of but require much more cooling and consume many many more kWh of energy. The saleof air conditioning units is growing at 20 percent annually, with Mumbai estimated to have the same potential cooling demand as a quarterof the United States. With 80 percent of India not yet built, the expected increase in energy consumption is quickly leading to an extremely concerning environmental crisis.

By 2050, energy demand from buildings could be so large that India will need to build 900 new power stations to operate them. This level of growth in energy consumption from just one rapidly developing country will mean that we will start hurtling towards a 6 degree warmer world!
Source: Photo: Gideon Mendel/Corbis/ActionAid
The changes in climate are clearly apparent and obvious. Just last summer,we witnessed the highest recorded temperature ever in India. The Delhi Smog this winter has brought attention to the fact that NewDelhi is the most polluted city on earth right now . The great deluge of Mumbai in 2005, when almost a meter of rain fell in just one day was unnatural and damaging and the Chennai floods of 2015, exposed the failure of planners,builders, administrators and the common person to fathom the sheer power ofnatural events. These are but a few signs of things to come.

“Didn’t Europe have poor environmental conditions during its industrial age?”  

It is tempting to draw an analogy with the poor environmental quality during the industrial revolution in Europe and brush the environmental impacts mentioned above as growing pains that every country must go through in its journey to economic development. But there are two main differences in the context between 19th century Europe and modernising India.

The Industrial Revolution changed the relationship between humans and their environment Source: Wikipedia
Firstly, Europeannations had colonies to draw cheap resources from that allowed them to grow economically by focusing on creating manufacturing jobs and profits from exports.  India, on the other hand, is resource starved. 30 of the 35 largest cities face severe water scarcity. 14%of India uses “fossil water”, a resource which is simply irreplaceable.  Indian cities face 30hours of power outages per week. India has very little raw energy within the country to fuel our cars and charge our smart phones. The situation with construction materials is so bad that we even have a “sandmafia”. India has one of the lowest Material Footprints among large countries, an indicator of raw material availability and consumption.

Secondly, during the Industrial Revolution, Europe was home to a fraction of India’s current population and its GHG emissions, although significant in terms of accumulated “historical’ emissions, started at a time when very few countries were industrialised. The World has very little “carrying capacity” left to accommodate that level of consumption and pollution. To get a sense of scale- according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), to improve the possibility of keeping warming below 1.5degrees (which scientists believe is a safe global temperature goal) requires total emissions over the industrial period to be capped at no more than 2250 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. Subtracting historical emissions from this goal, requires future emissions to be lower than 400billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. If all Indians were to live like Europeans do today, additional GHG emissions from India alone will cross 500 billion tonnes by 2050.

It feels unjust and inequitable but unfortunately there is just not enough capacity left in the world for India and other emerging markets to adopt a “western path.”

How can India ease the threat that its resource constraints pose to stability?

Gandhi: "patriotic duty of every Indian to weave his own cloth"  Image source: Wikimedia 

India had a decisive moment like this more than a century ago. To reduce the dependence on imported goods which was draining the Indian economy, India’s founding fathers chose to boycott the import of western fabric and started TheSwadeshi Movement. Every Indian was expected to spin his own cotton and weave his own cloth- self-sufficiency rather than growing dependency. A sense of pride swelled through the Indian masses as they boycotted British goods and started wearing khadi. 

Gandhihas emphasised opposite values to those of the consumer society: Could it have answers for today’s growing carbon intensive lifestyle that would prevent us from destroying our world?

Focusing on the buildingssector, which is predicted to grow by 80% in India and could be responsible for almost half of its GHG emissions, one wonders what would our cities and buildings look like if we took Gandhi’s Swadeshi path? What if we could construct and renovate our homes, offices and communities to be more self-reliant? More practical and smart? With a home grown philosophy that worked for India?

We have the knowledge and the technology that we need to build a better future tomorrow. Bio-climatic architecture can ensure low energy demand. Solar energy can produce most of our energy needs and through water treatment systems we can recycle our water on site for most of our water needs.

Once when, Gandhi was at Buckingham Palace, he was asked if he had felt underdressed.  His response was, “The king had onenough for both of us.” He chose the traditional loincloth as a rejection of Western culture and a symbolism of self-reliance and independence from conformism.

To deal with the energy crises relating to buildings, perhaps we can apply these values and principles by producing most of the energy and water close to us as well as live within our means. It is not about making the cloth alone but needing less of it.

Could we use Gandhi’s principles to manage our consumption through awareness and self-restraint and by designing better buildings and adopting efficient technology?

It is in our control to design buildings to be slim so as to bring in light and ventilation.  We can be frugal with the amount of glass on the façade and ensure that we shade and insulate them. Through technologies such as heat pumps, we can generate hot-water at one end and cooling on the other. Can we bring back openable windows in our offices so that during the day when it is pleasant outside, people can open them? Can we reinstall ceiling fans in our work space for when it is less pleasant so that even when turned on, an AC need not take all the load?

There are some signs that this may be happening already.

D Suresh’s house inChennai satisfies all his needs- from growing food, using solar power, harvesting rain and generating gas for cooking using a domestic biogas plant. DineshPagaria’s house in Bangalore not only uses on-site solar power and battery banks to run the home but also used solar for the actual construction of the house. Odanthuraivillage in rural Tamil Nadu is trying to ensure that 8000 homes will receive electricity from wind and solar energy farms by leveraging the community's collective savings to obtain a bank loan to be energy independent.
Image courtesy of Ashok B Lall Architects: Mahindra Life Spaces brings affordable housing scheme to serve urban households with environmentally secure and healthy shelter

Gandhibelieved that his basic message would only have its main impact many yearsafter his own death. Had Gandhi lived in the 21st Century, he most likely would have accepted the benefits of urbanisation and the concept of the global economy, all the while expecting that we maintained our dignity and self-reliance by disrupting the ‘western’ status quo to benefit India and in turn the world. Could Gandhian values offer an ideology for a more sustainable India that may be emulated as a movement for change globally?


Siva Kishan said...

There is no explicit mention of Gandhian values in your article. Taking the 7 social sins as a reference, (as said by Gandhi)
Wealth without work.
Pleasure without conscience.
Knowledge without character.
Commerce without morality.
Science without humanity.
Religion without sacrifice.
Politics without principle.
the current situation inventivises us to perform all the seven sins. Unless the social incentive is to avoid these sins, your wish that our buildings become better through Gandhian values won't come true. I have read 'Hind Swaraj' by Gandhi a couple of times. I think Gandhi would have never come to terms with the benefits of urbanisation. He saw India as a federation of 6 lakh village republics. YMMV.

Prashant Kapoor said...

Siva, thanks for sharing your views on the subject.

I wonder if the value of self-reliance counts as one of his? By self-reliant I mean making efforts to do as much as possible for one’s self.

Best regards

Sachu said...

Certainly self-reliance is the path forward, not only for Indians but for all countries I would argue. "Glocal" is the growing trend in some regions. The largely unplanned and haphazard expansion of our cities is a serious concern. Definitely building guidelines should insist on some kind of energy efficiencies, water conservation and local sourcing norms.