India Pollution

In the US we hear frequently about the environment and how we are doing so much damage to our environment. It would be good for people to visit India to see actual pollution in action on a large scale.

As we drove around Delhi, the smog was amazing, even with all the vehicles that converted to CNG from diesel (in this picture you can see a tuk tuk in “CNG” yellow and green colors). In this photo there are a couple of huge office buildings right off the road but you can’t even make them out in the smog. We asked our guide if the CNG over diesel made any difference and he said that in the days before the conversion “if you wore a white shirt outside it would be colored grey from all the soot in one day”.

This photo shows a jet flying over a famous minaret in Delhi. You can see the smog there, too.

I felt like one of those cartoon characters where when you cough “dust” flies out of your mouth. One of my close travel mates blew her nose and it just came out black. And we were in a tour bus much of the time that was just from being outside seeing the monuments (and then getting herded back in the bus).

With the CNG and investments in public transport it seems that India is trying but the current state seems unimaginable to a Westerner. I really don’t think that I’d be able to survive in Delhi for an extended period of time since I have allergies unless I never left the house.

Cross posted at LITGM

16 thoughts on “India Pollution”

  1. There are no steel mills left in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh has clean air (but not clean enough). A lot of men lost their jobs when the mills closed down. That was 40 years ago and those guys are dead now.

    The mills moved to India and China. Now they got the polution and whenever the US needs steel we buy it from them. The US buys lots of stuff from India and China that used to be made here. And we can keep doing it as long as our money’s good and our bombs are bigger.

    So most people lie around all day, breathing clean air, don’t got a job, living off China and India. And we got them Mexicans to grow our food for us.

  2. In the USA we practice ‘feel good environmentalism’. We pass air and water regulations, adding cost to manufacturing.

    Meanwhile we expound on the merits of free trade and rationalize it via a convoluted interpretation of Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage.

    Manufacturing moves to India, China and other places that pass no such environmental regulations.

    Global water and air are no better – worse, in fact – but it isn’t here – it got shipped to the third world – other side of the planet to places we have exempted from the global environmental protocols – so we get to feel good about our commitment to the environment because lour air and water are pristine.

    Best of all, our citizenry thinks they got cleaner air and water for free since the goods now come from some jerk water place with a wretched environment, instead of having to pay the price we piled on US manufacturing. What is not to like about environmental regulations when they come at no cost?

    For that matter, we transfer the cost of OSHA and the EEOC to third world places too!

    But they do have a cost … unemployment or under-employment, balance of trade more and more out of whack, debt piled on our grandchildren, loss of our ability to control our own national defense … what do we care though? The stuff at Walmart is still cheap.

    The economists and politicians tell us it is good economics – Ricardo said so (although I have read him backwards and forwards and can’t find the section on imbalanced government regulations.)

    Only the naïve believe manufacturing is going to India and China for cheap labor.

  3. Air pollution in urban areas is nothing new and not even anything associated with the industrial age. Open fires burning wood and dung caused significant air pollution in pre-industrial times, especially in doors, and remains the primary cause of lung ailments in the world today. London was nicknamed “the Smoke” going back to at least the 16th century long before the widespread use of coal.

    Air pollution is actually a good sign because it indicates a vibrant and growing industrial economy. The health benefits from industrial material wealth e.g. cleaner drinking water, vaccinations, antibiotics etc easily swamp the illnesses aggravated by air pollution. You can see that in our own history in which life expectancy and overall health exploded in tandem with increased air pollution from industrial technology.

    In the developed world, were actually in more danger from indoor air than outdoor air owing to the insulation mania that the government imposed in the late 1970s. Buildings used to naturally ventilate but now they are almost hermetically sealed. Any airborne contaminants in the building circulate endlessly and concentrate over time. That’s why we have so many problems with mold and “sick building” syndrome with modern buildings made of synthetic materials even though they have far less mold food than traditional all organic buildings did.

    Of course, the Indians will have to eventually switch over to non emitting power like natural gas and nuclear power because they will otherwise saturate the ambient environment’s ability to absorbed the by-products of emitting fuels but if they don’t use the emitting fuels now, they won’t have the material means to create and deploy the non-emitting power technology.

  4. I remember when the NYC taxis went on strike in 1965. Wow, suddenly the air cleared, the sun shone, and you could see way down the avenues.

  5. Bill Waddell,

    Only the naïve believe manufacturing is going to India and China for cheap labor.

    Yes, and I don’t think that can be stated enough. Labor cost, at least in wages and benefits paid in the present to make goods sold in the present, are a relatively trivial cost in production. At worst, labor cost hurt in pensions paid out from current income for work performed decades, ago, work that adds no value for current customers.

    The real damage comes from the active interference in the planning and operation of the manufacturing process itself. The base assumption of the American Left is that business people are inherently evil and must be constantly forced to do right. To that end, the Leftists inject themselves into every part of the production process from the siting of new factories to union work rules that dictate, in detail, how the work is actually performed. Increasingly, American manufacture is “managed” by decisions made by naive regulators and/or judges and juries in lawsuits. It’s no wonder they can’t get any work done.

    The “rustbelt” had it’s origins in the 1959 Steel strike, a nine month strike that almost triggered a recession before Eisenhower ended by Presidential fiat. The core issue of the strike was “job security” a union euphemism for blocking the use of new, labor saving and productivity enhancing steel making technology.

    Most American steel plants had been built no later than WWII and by 1959, they were growing obsolete. The Steel Worker’s Union fought any modernization because modernization always does more work with fewer inputs, including labor. The Union’s business model benefited from more from having more members than it did from fewer but better paid members so they struck to block the modernization.

    From that point on, American steel was doomed. The old plants could never compete with the plants using the latest technology being built in Japan, Korea and Taiwan. Those plants would eventually produce superior quality steel to the archaic American plants. Add in the tidal wave of regulation in the 1960s and 70s and the job was done.

    Telling, there are a lot of American metal smelting companies but they are small speciality manufactures most who began in 70s. They are largely non-union or low union companies employing smaller numbers of highly skilled and highly paid technical workers. They leverage high technology to make high margin speciality metals and that allows them to support the overhead of working in America. As long as you can escape the interference from the left, you can run a successful manufacturing business in the US in many states.

  6. I had a fascinating tour of Virginia City, NV – once the world’s wealthiest city. Not that you’d want to live there if you made it – that’s how San Francisco was really built.

    But I was told that you could get off the train there at noon and the sky would be almost black – from the smelting of the silver ore.

    Seems when a country is going up they don’t mind pollution – once they’ve “made it” they put all kinds of restrictive rules in.

    I’m told China is terrible.

  7. And India is supposed to be a ¨proud¨ signatory of the Kyoto Protocol, ratifying the treaty and all its annexes I and II, same as China, Malaysia, Peru, Colombia, Brazil, Russia, Iran and many other nations where you can open a factory tomorrow and openly pollute the environment and employ children in labor-intensive manufacturing, a lot of times with the acquiescence and favor of the local and state authorities, happy to get their 10% under the table, or less.

    Many in the world and in the US demonized George Bush for refusing to sign it, he was right, the truth is that the Kyoto Protocol is nothing but a yoke for countries with no history of regulating their industries and protecting the environment, like China or India, the largest world polluters, states that don`t have the political and social will and neither the administrative capability to enforce the treaty and protect the environment. Had the US signed the treaty, thousands of factories would have closed down while factories in many countries around the world continue polluting unmolested by anyone.

  8. An acquaintance of mine lived in Krakow, home of the Nowa Huta steel mill, during the early ’90s. When he had a physical during a visit to the US, his doctor told him that he needed to stop smoking, to which he replied, “But I don’t smoke.”

  9. Jaime, Roberto,

    An acquaintance of mine lived in Krakow, home of the Nowa Huta steel mill…

    Yeah, I think they called that region going down into the former Czechoslovakia, “the brown triangle” owing to the staggering air pollution. The communist were burning not just coal but “brown coal” which is actually just compressed earth with a higher than normal amount of bio matter in it. When it burns it’s does so very incompletely throwing out soot, creosote and silica particulates of all kind. I’ve heard breathing it described as like being downwind of an oil fire in a sandstorm.

    The environmental damage done by socialism is staggering. A lot of the concentration of damage we see now in India and China is the consequence of them having to hurry along to make up all the time they both lost to socialist retardation of their economies during the Cold War era.

  10. }}} Only the naïve believe manufacturing is going to India and China for cheap labor.

    And only the ignorant believe manufacturing is still going to India and China. The term is “reshoring” and it represents the return of much manufacturing to the USA as labor costs in China rise with the internal competition for labor there as China gets to the second tier of Industrialization, reducing the benefits and increasing the significance of transporting the finished good halfway around the world.

    The reshoring doesn’t translate to lots of new manufacturing jobs in the USA because the factories are far more heavily robotic in nature and aren’t forced to keep deadwood labor around due to union contracts. The reshoring DOES represent massive increases in factory labor productivity, though, since one person is now “doing” the work that used to take five (robots are doing the ACTUAL work, mind you — the humans are making sure things are occurring correctly).

    And I have no data to prove this but I’d lay odds the smog in India and China is similar per capita to what was common in the US during the 50s and 60s, esp. if adjusted for population densities. Remember when Lake Erie caught fire? As the wealth in China and India increase, I’d bet the percentage of wealth directed to control pollution will increase as well.

    This is likely the natural order of development. As people get wealthier, and further from outright subsistence income, they are more willing to spend a part of the wealth they have to keeping things clean. And so the capitalist system (and, probably, to a notably lesser extent) responds to that desire. This happens at the household level. Whereas a vacuum was unusual in 1910, it’s now in virtually every home. Not just because of electricity but just because we’ve got enough extra money that the expense is considered worth it vs. the convenience and effectiveness…. but clearly most of us don’t need that level of “clean” in our homes, man lived for millions of years with far less.

    And that’s not to suggest that some regulation in that regard doesn’t go vastly overboard, after all, that’s the government way… Especially when liberal twits with no concern for costs are In Charge.

    Someone noted that the Swedes had a remarkably simple solution for dealing with most water pollution which didn’t require a phalanx of government inspectors — factories were simply required to place their discharge UPSTREAM of their intakes. If they didn’t self-clean they’d be in a feedback loop where they were sucking up their own wastes, a deadly thing for most industrial processes.

    Not saying that solution is perfect, but I’d lay odds it works pretty well.

  11. }}} The environmental damage done by socialism is staggering.

    Indeed, the USSR used the former Czechoslovakia as its toxic waste dump. Not only the general pollution of its own industry was dumped there, but toxic wastes from all over the USSR were often dumped there as well.

  12. Kirk – I can remember driving down I5 the smog would be so bad – like a thick fog. Your eyes would be burning. That was a long time ago – the 60s?

  13. Bill, can’t speak to the 60’s, I visited Orange County in January of 76 and was amazed at the visible pollution. Growing up in Tacoma, WA we had no shortage of air pollution, mind you, but it really majored in the invisible stuff–bad-smelling pulp mill discharge and lung-searing sulfur dioxide (dissolving into atmospheric water vapor and becoming H2S04) from the Asarco copper smelter.

  14. Is that big power plant still there, right at the beach in Manhattan Beach? That was another amazing sight to the college-aged boy from the land of hydro power!

  15. Just a note that the air pollution in the Los Angeles area was seriously aggravated by natural phenomena that trapped pollution in a restricted area. The region is prone to thermal inversion caused sea air sliding over dry desert air which gets pinned by the hills. The trapped air mass may not move for days or weeks at a time. Anything that gets in the air just stays there. When the spanish first looked upon the Los Angeles valley, they saw a thin ribbon of smoke from First American camp fires trapped in the inversion.

    One wonders how much less extreme the environmentalist movement would have become had not the entertainment industry been concentrated in the region. Of course, the movie business moved their in the first place because the stagnant air made the weather and thus filming schedules, predictable.

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