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A Choking City: What the Ongoing Toxic Week in Delhi Means for its People

Manak Suri

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A joke on the morbidity of New Delhi is circulating among Delhiites (people from Delhi) that while the lives of the citizens were disrupted in November last year due to ‘note-bandi’ (ban on currency), November of this year presents an even tougher test for the people with ‘saans-bandi’, a ban on breathing. The receding autumn or advent of winter was a once beloved season of a good number of people in the city who welcomed the change with a complete revamp of their wardrobes with colourful woollens. It is now characterized with bleak skies, an air of gloom and a little bit of grey in everything you see outside of your house.

For the past three days, I have been acutely aware of the air I am breathing, felt unproductive and apprehensive in spells for no good reason, and felt the need to confine myself to my house for as long as possible. These are some of the less apparent effects of the thick blanket of smog that has engulfed the national capital region. As a number of people donned with different types of masks on the roads and on Snapchat serve as a constant visual reminder of how the city is choking, a flurry of articles and news updates have presided over my feed. One of them included a horrifying viral video recording of vehicles ramming into each other due to poor visibility on the Noida-Agra Expressway as people scrambled to get themselves and their children out of the way, while some other articles argued about how currently breathing in Delhi for a day is the equivalent of smoking twenty cigarettes.

A sudden state of emergency

Less than two days ago, when the air quality in Delhi visibly worsened, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal likened the city to a ‘gas chamber’. The PM 10 and PM 2.5 levels in different parts of the capital have rocketed above the levels that are considered safe, and the Safar (System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research) has declared the air quality as ‘severe’ for at least the next three days after which the level may drop to a not so safe either ‘very poor’ level. In some parts of the city, the AQI (air quality index) was detected on monitors at 999, the highest possible reading, which suggests that the level might be even higher. The visibility during the early hours has also dropped to very low levels. Among the different reasons for the observed level of pollution in Delhi, slow winds at this time of the year have been identified as the prime contributor along with stubble burning by farmers in the neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana. Combined with the dust particles present in the air, omissions from vehicles that plague the roads in the region throughout the day, and those from factories and construction activities, these factors dictate a recipe for creating uninhabitable conditions.

Making amends: A scramble for order

The Indian Medical Association on 7th November declared Delhi to be in a state of public health emergency, urging the Delhi government and other bodies to take adequate steps to ensure minimum risk to citizens, especially young children and the elderly, who are most likely to suffer from the effects of pollution. After a worsening situation, the government has ordered all schools in the capital to remain shut till Sunday, and has rolled out plans to implement the odd-even scheme for vehicles in the city from next week. Parking fee throughout the city has also been increased fourfold and the prices for travel by the metro have been substantially reduced for the time being to promote the use of public transport. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has also banned all construction and industrial activities till November 14 in a bid to provide the citizens of Delhi a breath of better quality air. Mr. Kejriwal has also approached his counterparts from Punjab and Haryana over the issue of stubble burning by the farmers but it remains to be seen how the move plays out in the coming days.

As the government battles against the situation, the public is taking measures to protect themselves in whatever way they can. An increasing number of doctors and specialists on the matter have advised people not to go out for morning walks or outdoor activities so as to not inhale excessive quantities of toxic pollutants. Some doctors have even advised their patients to leave the city for the time being if possible. Air purifiers for houses and masks for travelling outside have seen a huge rise in sales as nearly everyone has become an expert on the subject of filters and N95 and N99 have become trending words from pharmacies to WhatsApp conversations.

A year ago, while New Delhi wrestled with more or less the same conditions, UNICEF had called on the rest of the world to consider the situation as a wake up call. “It is a wake up call that very clearly tells us: unless decisive actions are taken to reduce air pollution, the events we are witnessing in Delhi over the past week are likely to be increasingly common”, it had said in a statement. If we are doing better than last year, it is still not enough, and all one needs is less than a minute in the open to be convinced of that. As the world battles with the effects of climate change, India’s bid to have a major global footprint in the coming decades is bound to take a serious hit if so many of its cities, and especially its capital follow a trend of being unlivable for a chunk of time at the end of every year.

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A student of economics with a keen eye for developments in the geopolitical sphere, Manak is a curious individual with a penchant for writing about anything that makes him ponder long enough.

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Day Zero: A Desperate Warning from Cape Town to the World

Manak Suri

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The unpreparedness of the human race has slowly but steadily come to the surface over the previous decade when it comes to ensuring our own survival and more importantly, that of the following generations. Before we even attempt to realize the impacts of climate change that are thrown into the faces of some community who then serve as the unfortunate examples of what’s going to happen, another repercussion pops up into the frame at the cost of another unsuspecting community, a country, or even a city. The city of Cape Town in South Africa serves as the most recent of those examples, and the crisis in the city bodes an ultimatum like never before to other thriving cities on the planet: mend your ways or follow suit.

“Day Zero”: as dire as it sounds

The event currently underway in Cape Town could be aptly described as probably its worst drought in nearly a century, one that has seen its people and authorities struggle to obtain water in the wake of depleting natural sources in order to sustain even their daily hygiene rituals. The city is quickly closing in on what has been dubbed as “Day Zero“: the day when the city will run out of its water. When that happens, it would be the first occurrence of such an event for a major global city. “Day Zero”, originally estimated to occur on April 22, was more recently moved up to April 12 with Cape Town’s 4 million strong population finding it difficult to adjust to the demands of reduced consumption.

A point of no return, is it?

The authorities, including city mayor Patricia de Lille have urged citizens to restrict their usage to 50 litres per person a day with effect from February 1 to accommodate the shortage and help prevent the situation take a turn for the worse. However, most citizens have been ignorant of these warnings in the past month and have irresponsibly consumed more than 87 litres per day, the restricted amount in place till the end of January. “It is quite unbelievable that a majority of people do not seem to care and are sending all of us headlong towards Day Zero” she said, adding, “We have reached a point of no return.”

Despite the comments of the mayor, it can be safely mentioned that many people of the city are realizing the weight of the crisis, and have begun to get creative with the different ways in which they can collect and reuse water in order to restrict their consumption to the stipulated limit and escape hefty fines. Long queues to purchase bottled water for household consumption in supermarkets has also become a common sight over the weeks.

Former mayor Helen Zille, who will also direct the disaster management response on the arrival of Day Zero has sounded hopeful, going so far as to say that Day Zero can be avoided should everyone realize the implications and make a concerted effort towards conserving water. “That is not difficult if we all put our minds to it in our homes and in our workplaces,” she said of the situation. Ms. Zille, along with other officials have provided tips to the people for saving water and getting the maximum use out of the water that they use: turning off the taps of toilet cisterns and using the grey water from washing in the toilets instead and showering less often. “No one should be showering more than twice a week at this stage. You need to save water as if your life depends on it because it does” were her words.

Not a crisis out of thin air

The crisis that the people in Cape Town are facing is not sudden by any standards. In fact, first warnings against the occurring were given out in the 1990s which were largely ignored. One main factor identified behind the crisis and its scale is the city’s population of about 4 million individuals, which has seen a high rate of growth over the years and is still growing strongly. Coupled with the drought that the population is currently facing, the strain on the resources for water has increased. South Africa hasn’t received sufficient rainfall for three years now. The drought in turn arises from climate change and the El Nino effect. There are six dams that supply water to the city and are currently 25.8 per cent full. The figure stood at 85% in 2014 and 38.4% a year ago.

What the dawn of Day Zero would mean for the people of Cape Town

On the dawn of Day Zero, Capetonians would be allowed just 25 litres of water per person a day, or roughly 7 gallons. To put that into perspective, you can take the average amount of water that Americans use: 80 to 100 gallons. A single flush of a toilet amounts to 2 gallons, and a 90 second shower could use up 4 gallons. To keep the restrictions in check,  most taps in the city would be switched off and residents will have to get their daily share of water from any one of 200 allocated points in the city. Plans are also being made to store emergency water in military installations. The sooner the city head towards Day Zero, the sooner Capetonians will need to prepare for a new lifestyle, one that is significantly astray from that of entitlement that we all are living in right now. The crisis in Cape Town is a crystal clear warning to us, and one that will likely be not be given the consideration it is due.

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All Steam Ahead as Europe Goes Green

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Red, amber, green: and Europe is off on its big green venture. Yep, it’s true, Europe is finally on the right track in regards to future-proofing against climate change. To see just how it is doing this and what it is doing in regards to this, make sure to read on.

The abolition of fossil fuels by 2050

Some of Europe’s biggest countries are seeking to go fossil fuel free by 2050, and it’s brilliant. Denmark, a country widely regarded as being a leader in the struggle for a green future, is one such country seeking to do this. Yes, it might be ambitious. And yes, Danish officials openly admit that it is an ambitious venture. But, this old Nordic country is going full steam ahead with its ‘Energy Strategy 2050’ enterprise anyway in the hopes that within 32 years the whole country will be completely dependant on things that do not hurt our world. In fact, Denmark is even seeking to go one step further and go completely cashless. Well done, Denmark!

Cities are building green infrastructures

It appears that many European cities have seen the light in regards to what they need to do to save our planet and are now building green infrastructures to hold themselves up in the future. Yep, many cities around this famous old continent are changing the habit of a lifetime and going against a grain that has been in place for thousands upon thousands of years by swapping out their old, harmful infrastructures and ushering in new, safer ones to replace them. Bratislava, Slovakia is one such example: it has had a complete overhaul of its transport system and only runs low-emission buses, tree planting has become a serious occupation, roofs around the city have been made green and rainwater retention facilities have popped up everywhere. Yep, the Slovakian capital really has built a green infrastructure, despite a tight budget, and many other European cities are following suit.

Many big cities are clambering for green funding

Speaking of tight budgets, there seemingly is one across the whole of Europe when it comes to going green because many cities within the continent are having to clamber for funding in regards to it. But, thankfully, having to do all of this isn’t stopping these cities from doing so and going as green as they can. Yep, cities across the European continent are using a combination of EEA grants, municipal funding, crowdfunding and green bonds in order to go green: Copenhagen has done so and used its funding to upgrade is floodwater management and lighting systems to make them more eco-friendly, Paris has done so and used its funding to plant in excess of 20,000 trees and Essen, Germany has done so and used its funding to be named European Green Capital for 2017.

So, as you can see, the historic old continent of Europe is more than willing to embrace the future and, more specifically, the future needs of our planet. Let’s just hope that the rest of the world and its leaders *cough* Trump *cough* follow suit before it’s all too late.

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Will The World Ever Make The Renewable Energy Shift?

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Contrary to global warming deniers, the world is getting warmer and humans are playing a big part. But, just as we exacerbated the problem, we can come up with the solution. In fact, there are numerous fixes such as solar, wind and geothermal energy to name but three. Yet, China still churns out fossil fuels at a frightening rate and Delhi is shrouded in poisonous smog. Even though the people in charge and the public understand the shift, there doesn’t seem to be any hurry. So, will the world ever get to the necessary levels to combat climate change? The answer is yes, and here are the reasons why.

Hardliners Turning Soft

In the past, the governments of China, India and Russia were against slowing down energy production. Although the USA and the rest of Europe were not angels, they were at least trying to come to a compromise. Now, as the situation escalates, the hardliners are beginning to see the need to change their turn. The Paris Agreement, even without the US, is a huge potential turning point as the most powerful nations look to set an example. Sure, America might not agree, but the fact that the majority of the powerful players are on board is a positive sign.

The Sleeper Stats

It’s easy to make a sweeping statement such as fossil fuels are and always will be the leading resource of energy. And, that is true to a degree as coal still leads the way. However, signs from 2015 onwards have been encouraging. In fact, that’s an understatement because they have been music to the ears. According to the IEA, more than 50% of the world’s energy in 2015 was developed by renewables. The better news is that the stats for the end of 2017 suggest the gap to coal is closing rapidly.

Personal Accessibility

Often, global warming centres on governments and countries and what they can do to change. But, the truth is that everyone on the planet has a role to play to lower their carbon footprint. Whereas that was almost impossible to do in the past, it’s far easier today. Not only has renewable equipment reduced in cost, but companies like Wunder Capital now exist to provide funding. Then, there are the common tools, such as energy-efficient light bulbs, which chip away at CO2 one Watt at a time. Finally, there is the education factor and the fact that homeowners want to make a difference. And yes – it’s already happening.

Techno Faith

When renewable energy sources first appeared, they were less than well equipped to deal with the level of output. As a result, people lambasted them as useless and not the way forward. However, patience has proven this to be false as they have increased dramatically over time. Now, solar panels and wind turbines are as efficient as they are helpful to the planet. Because the technology will only get better, it’s logical to assume the results will go the same way.

There’s no doubt it’s a long and tough battle for the planet, but the signs look positive. And, they are due to get better.

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