Over at my companion blog 3000 Quads, I recently wrote “This analysis shows that India can potentially shift its fuel portfolio slightly in a ‘greener’ direction, but meeting the economic needs of its people will almost certainly mean continued use of large quantities of coal.”
Sometimes I hate being right. India is cutting off funding to the Indian offices of Greenpeace, freezing seven bank accounts and proceeding with their long battle against the Green NGO. I’m not a big fan of Greenpeace. I believe they ignore the poor in their quest for environmental Jerusalem and I certainly do not consider them to have a balanced or even sane view of climate change. India does not want Greenpeace interfering with their new plans to mine more Indian coal instead of buying it from Australia and Indonesia. Although I understand the government’s actions, I somehow wish a reasonable debate could take place between the government and somebody–maybe not Greenpeace, but somebody–about how to meet India’s energy needs without killing millions of Indians. But India needs fuel to run its power plants and coal is the fuel they have access to. Coal is the fuel used to provide 44% of India’s energy needs–and right now they are importing 42% of their coal despite having huge amounts of coal in India. Regulations, corruptions and Byzantine corporate practice make it very difficult to get coal out of the ground in India, something their new prime minister is trying to change.
There are 167 million families in rural India that don’t have access to electricity. Although I’m a big fan of rural solar electrification programs to get some power to the people quickly, in all honesty India needs large scale power plants and the only fuel they can afford today is coal. This is a mortal pity, because India is just as polluted as China–it just goes mostly unnoticed.
There is a solution. Really.
What Greenpeace could do is lobby intensively for Western countries to provide at no cost the scrubbing technology needed to make India’s inevitable dash for coal as clean as possible.
They won’t, of course. Scrubbing technology doesn’t reduce CO2 emissions.
Coal is much, much better for Indians than burning dung or firewood. It’s better for their health, better for their environment, and, dirty and emissive as coal is, is a major improvement on the kerosene used for heating and cooking today.
It would be wonderful if India could skip a rung or two on the energy ladder and go straight to hydropower, nuclear, wind and solar. And they are working very hard to bring those fuels online. But today, Old King Coal is still the answer to India’s energy crisis. It would be nice, if a bit fairy tale-ish, if our Green organizations could find a way to help them make it work. But I guess there’s a whale to save somewhere, or an archeological treasure to trash.