Okay, after a fairly busy couple of weeks, I’m going to try to get back into this. We leave India tonight, so I’m going to start by talking about one of the negatives we’ve encountered here, before writing a separate post about the many highlights.
Perhaps it’s only the most salient thing because it’s kept us in our hotel all day today, but the air in Indian cities is terrible in a way that’s hard to appreciate without seeing it. It’s not something that we came into blindly, but I don’t think either of us really knew just how bad it would be, and how persistent. Coming into Delhi yesterday, it was hard to see buildings just across the street through the haze. On our train from Bangalore to Agra, nearly every stop smelled like methane or trash fires. At this point all of our clothes smell, and we’re very much looking forward to using the washing machine when we get to Vietnam.
We were planning to go to Old Delhi today and see some of the old city, but when we woke up the air ratings were so bad we decided to stay inside and rest up before our red-eye flight tonight. At one point I went outside to go two blocks to find an ATM and all the hotel security staff were wearing face masks. Looking out our hotel room window, we could barely see across the street.
Anyway, for a country that’s obviously already struggling with overwhelming poverty, I can’t imagine the strain that the air must put on public health. Within a week of being here, both of us got sick, and the lack of clean air made it difficult to recover quickly. But there’s obviously not a fast or easy solution. Even beyond the pervasive and persistent traffic, the country seems to be heavily reliant on fossil fuel in ways I never even realized. Just one example, the street vendors making and selling sugar cane juice use a gas-powered engine to process the cane. Even in rural areas, people use wood fires to heat their homes and water. Smoke and smog are just everywhere.
Near the Taj Mahal, the government has had to enact specific emissions standards, including limiting the use of cars immediately around the Taj (tourists can take an electric golf cart in some places). Beyond the immediate area, there are restrictions that reach far outside of Agra, intended to keep the Taj’s marble as white as it’s supposed to be. And that still doesn’t keep the entire city from smelling like smog, and the air from being a dull shade of orange.
It’s really hard to imagine any solution to this problem that doesn’t involve an absolutely massive investment in clean energy infrastructure. And it’s hard to imagine that happening without some kind of global initiative. And it’s… just hard to imagine that happening. In Delhi, there’s an effort to get people to switch to natural gas, which at least would be somewhat cleaner, but would still release a ton of CO2 into the air.
Anyway, nothing I’m saying will be news to people in the public health field, and I’d be interested to hear if any of my friends (or anyone else) can suggest something good to read about this. I’m a total novice on the subject, but it’s hard to overstate how massive a problem this is, since it will clearly affect hundreds of millions of people for generations.