Is small evil? : Tata Nano & Climate Change

Tata Motors have performed an engineering miracle. Indeed, it’s a fledgling miracle at the moment and one has a long wait ahead till the final judgment is out when it actually starts plying the roads. Automotive industry throughout the world had eagerly anticipated the recent unveiling of Nano at Delhi. Everyone believed it was well nigh impossible to make a 4 wheeler that cheaply unless unacceptable compromises were made to realize it. Verily it would render the final product a mere caricature of its concept. Amazingly the Nano fulfilled the promises on price & the aspirations of prospective consumers with a rare aplomb. Another rarity was the very public accolades showered on the design team at Pune and its head Girish Wagh by Ratan Tata. Engineering talent was given its due for the first time in India & with such a high visibility. It is a moment to make every Indian proud.

Environmentalists were unhappy. They feared that the unrealized dreams of hordes of lower middle class will find an exuberant expression in proudly owning the Nano from Mirzapur to Mumbai. Imagine what will happen when millions of Nanos start spewing green house gases & other noxious products while choking the already clogged road network in urban India. The scenario is indeed frightening. Their fears are not unfounded. But their finding fault with the Tatas is highly perverse.

Tata Motors deserve nothing but our unstinted admiration. The car has met the safety standards laid down. Anyone can see that a family of 2/3 adults & 1/2 children traveling inside a Nano will be far more secure than if it continues to precariously straddle atop a 2 wheeler as many do presently. It meets the Euro-IV emission standards – the best available currently. It has leveraged technology to design a product that has to function in a highly demanding environment. Automobile is so ubiquitous that one easily forgets the extremes of heat, dust, humidity, stresses of various kinds, etc. it has to endure during its life span. Tatas reposed faith in their in-house Indian engineering talent to deliver this marvel & these young men did it with confidence & competence. Tata motors have played by the rules of the game and have come out a clear winner.

People in India & around the world too are clear winners. Technology creates choices that if pursued sensibly place the comforts & conveniences within easy access & affordability of vast multitudes. If one sees the transformation brought about in the lives of humankind during past 2 centuries, it is remarkable to note that the luxuries even the emperors & aristocracy aspired & vied for in the past have today become commonplace. Automobiles too have turned from the oddity of 19th Century to a “taken for granted” utility of 20th century in the developed countries. Tata motors have further universalized this proposition for India and other similar economies of the world. They have sensibly pursued the choices technology has to offer.

Is this development going to affect climate change more adversely? Yes! It will. But so are going to new capacity buildups in huge power plants, cement-steel-aluminium factories, mining & quarrying, logging, and so on. Each & every modern civilizational activity pursued for 10% or more GDP growth, or for 25,000+ stock market indices, or for claiming oil below Artic & Antarctic when permanent ice has melted away, etc., is leading us down the climate-hill. Most of the damage to the world’s climate has been caused by the past & present economic activities of the developed countries. Yet North is asking South to do more in saving the climate & South is resisting. When even home grown environmentalists castigate Tata Motors for the Nano, they are behaving exactly like the North. They are not seen so vociferously protesting against the myriads of luxury & premium cars plying the Indian roads. But it raises their hackle when a cheap car for a mass market is offered. If rich have aspirations, then so have common people.


It would not do to blame Tatas for playing the ‘market knows best’ game & playing it exceedingly well. It would not do to ignore the aspirations of the commoner fueled by the market while continuing to pamper the fancies of the rich. It also would not do to disappoint & discourage the brilliant engineering talent that would be our best bet even in cracking the climate change disaster.


What needs to be done is to change the game itself. What needs to be done is to change the rules of the ‘changed-game’. What needs to be recognized is that ‘market knows best’ & the ‘culture of consumerism’ have outlived their utility and may out live humankind if not checked in time. What it demands is a paradigm change across the board. What that means is redefining our core values & wants.

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9 Responses to “Is small evil? : Tata Nano & Climate Change”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Hi Pattu,My views:1. Hats off to Tata and the Nano. The world has now sat up and taken cognizance of Indian ‘frugal engineering’ skills.2. The Nano is going to be built in West Bengal.Right now it is 1 lakh plus taxes. By the time the indoctrinated workers start their ‘hamari maange puri karo’antics I really don’t know if it will still remain a 1 lakh Car.3. Pollution is caused less by the Car and more by the Petrol or Diesel (fuel)used in the car. So isn’t it better if the quality of the fuel is improved and made less polluting e.g adding additives to the fuel, using cleaner fuels, using hybrid fuels, battery powered etc. That’s the challenge the North and the South have to take up urgently. In this way we can ‘eat the cake and have it too’ and need not go for ‘a paradigm’ shift in our values. CheersAC Rao

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Hi Pattu,
    My views:
    1. Hats off to Tata and the Nano. The world has now sat up and taken cognizance of Indian 'frugal engineering' skills.
    2. The Nano is going to be built in West Bengal.Right now it is 1 lakh plus taxes. By the time the indoctrinated workers start their 'hamari maange puri karo'antics I really don't know if it will still remain a 1 lakh Car.
    3. Pollution is caused less by the Car and more by the Petrol or Diesel (fuel)used in the car. So isn't it better if the quality of the fuel is improved and made less polluting e.g adding additives to the fuel, using cleaner fuels, using hybrid fuels, battery powered etc. That's the challenge the North and the South have to take up urgently. In this way we can 'eat the cake and have it too' and need not go for 'a paradigm' shift in our values.
    Cheers
    AC Rao

  3. aditya Says:

    hey Kaka, I think that its really great that Tata has used smart engineering to cut prices on the Nano. As far as pollution is concerned, I think that the nano isn’t going to make that big an impact on the pollution. As it is almost all the bikes in pune are polluting. I mean the PUC testing is a farce. you need to give an extra tenner and get your PUC card irrespective of how your much your CO levels are. what is really needed is a crack down on these rogue vehicles( which I think would be 50% of all vehicles in pune) and these ‘authorised’ PUC wallas.What impact the Nano makes on the traffic is a completely different story. But here again I think that the problem lies not with the car, but with the person behind the steering wheel. Pune is congested no doubt, but I still the traffic would be more managable if the majority of the people followed traffic rules. its the other way around as of now. Nal stop being prime example. After the signal changes about 20 vehicles break the signal, all horns blaring. And if you greet them with language appropriate for that occassion, they come at you as if its your fault. Makes my blood boil, but you can’t hit the whole world.I really enjoy the articles that you write( atleast the one’s that I can understand). I just hope that they makes the impact you are hoping for. Just a thought. Have you concidered writing blogs in hindi and marathi, so that you can reach a larger audience. Anyways I think that you are doing an amazing job. RegardsAditya (Muscle Bound) Patwardhan

  4. aditya Says:

    hey Kaka,
    I think that its really great that Tata has used smart engineering to cut prices on the Nano. As far as pollution is concerned, I think that the nano isn't going to make that big an impact on the pollution. As it is almost all the bikes in pune are polluting. I mean the PUC testing is a farce. you need to give an extra tenner and get your PUC card irrespective of how your much your CO levels are.

    what is really needed is a crack down on these rogue vehicles( which I think would be 50% of all vehicles in pune) and these 'authorised' PUC wallas.

    What impact the Nano makes on the traffic is a completely different story. But here again I think that the problem lies not with the car, but with the person behind the steering wheel. Pune is congested no doubt, but I still the traffic would be more managable if the majority of the people followed traffic rules. its the other way around as of now. Nal stop being prime example. After the signal changes about 20 vehicles break the signal, all horns blaring. And if you greet them with language appropriate for that occassion, they come at you as if its your fault. Makes my blood boil, but you can't hit the whole world.

    I really enjoy the articles that you write( atleast the one's that I can understand). I just hope that they makes the impact you are hoping for. Just a thought. Have you concidered writing blogs in hindi and marathi, so that you can reach a larger audience. Anyways I think that you are doing an amazing job.

    Regards

    Aditya (Muscle Bound) Patwardhan

  5. Ranjit Jatar Says:

    I agree with Adityas comments that it is not pollution(by the Nano) which will be the issue but the impactit will have on our roads given the way we drive.We all know that Indians drive well when in the US theMid East. But not here. Even Sri Lankans drive better.In Sri Lanka as you approach a roundabout, one waitsfor traffic which is already in the roundabout beforeentering that space. Most Indians do not even knowthat this is the international norm…That besides, our roads do not have lanes marked outand no one can therefore expect to follow a lane,indicate when changing a lane( a practise unheard ofin India though in Muscat for eg if one does notindicate while changing lanes, a fine will be imposedby traffic police cars which are on the road)We need a national –or at least state level– driveled by a citizens group which influences thegovernmant to act. Perhaps at a Pune level. If Punecould have CII and the govt islanding it for Power ,then we could surely island it for this experiement.Any thoughts anyone?RegardsRanjit

  6. Ranjit Jatar Says:

    I agree with Adityas comments that it is not pollution
    (by the Nano) which will be the issue but the impact
    it will have on our roads given the way we drive.

    We all know that Indians drive well when in the US the
    Mid East. But not here. Even Sri Lankans drive better.
    In Sri Lanka as you approach a roundabout, one waits
    for traffic which is already in the roundabout before
    entering that space. Most Indians do not even know
    that this is the international norm…

    That besides, our roads do not have lanes marked out
    and no one can therefore expect to follow a lane,
    indicate when changing a lane( a practise unheard of
    in India though in Muscat for eg if one does not
    indicate while changing lanes, a fine will be imposed
    by traffic police cars which are on the road)

    We need a national –or at least state level– drive
    led by a citizens group which influences the
    governmant to act. Perhaps at a Pune level. If Pune
    could have CII and the govt islanding it for Power ,
    then we could surely island it for this experiement.

    Any thoughts anyone?
    Regards
    Ranjit

  7. Sadanand Says:

    Praful Bidwai, a senior columnist, has weighed in today on Tata-Nano in Dainik Sakal. He begins well by pointing to two overarching reactions, which he rightly holds both wrong. One tendency he discerns lauds democratization of private ownership of means of transport through ‘pro-choice’ option placed in the hands of ‘poor’ by Nano, while the other belittles & trashes the bare-bone offering of Nano dished out with unacceptable compromises on safety, quality, comfort & convenience. He is right in faulting both extreme views that though contain partial truths distort the overall picture by ignoring other substantive concerns.He later claims that Ratan Tata admitted that Nano won’t meet Euro IV specifications which call for 3500% reduction in sulphur dioxide emissions when compared to Bharat II & III. Tenor of his writing implicates Nano as the culprit. Actually, SO2 emissions are more of a problem in Diesel than in Petrol engines and even there too the main onus of reducing SO2 emissions rests with petroleum companies by supplying ultra low sulphur diesel. He further holds that Nano has to pass “Full Body Crash” test for safety and when changes are made to pass this & SO2 tests the price will be up by 40% to 50%. He misses connected issues again as Nano’s safety should be compared first with high-end 2 wheelers and later with low end 4 wheel offerings form others. Safety again has to be looked at holistically by taking into consideration infrastructure & conditions of roads, driving habits & compliance with traffic discipline, congestion & road rage, repairs & maintenance standards, etc. Accidents avoidance or minimization is a better strategy any which way than accident-survival.Growth & prosperity are reasonable quest, but unbounded & blind rush for it is not. As people become more prosperous, they move from consuming necessities to consuming conveniences to consuming luxuries. Ivan Illich was among the first to talk about the “counterproductivity” of growth – a state in which additional growth brings diminishing benefits while causing increasing social and environmental costs. Growth creates social and environmental costs, whether the products produced are useful or not. A power plant causes the same environmental problems whether the energy powers something useful (street lighting) or something useless (electric toothbrushes).Today’s most common ailments in developed countries & leading causes of death – heart disease, cancer, emphysema, obesity and hypertension – are the products of economic “progress.” Obesity is a function of eating too much of something avoidable, such as animal fats & proteins, coupled with highly frugal exercising. Energy intensity of producing such foods is apparently so high that some one calculated Walking to the shops ‘damages planet more than going by car’Obsession with ‘standard of living’ – a western utopia – has not only blinded those societies to what they actually need, but has also created a mad stampede of sorts in developing nations to get there, and get there in a hurry. Ecology, Climate change, sustainability, etc., have unfortunately then got pitted against growth & prosperity. While what is needed is defining & articulating what we really need as a human specie & see how to achieve it best in our ‘Earth as a spaceship’ context.

  8. sushil yadav Says:

    Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment.Industrial Society is destroying necessary things [Animals, Trees, Air, Water and Land] for making unnecessary things [consumer goods].The link between Mind and Social / Environmental-Issues.The fast-paced, consumerist lifestyle of Industrial Society is causing exponential rise in psychological problems besides destroying the environment. All issues are interlinked. Our Minds cannot be peaceful when attention-spans are down to nanoseconds, microseconds and milliseconds. Our Minds cannot be peaceful if we destroy Nature [Animals, Trees, Air, Water and Land]. “Growth Rate” – “Economy Rate” – “GDP” These are figures of “Ecocide”. These are figures of “crimes against Nature”. These are figures of “destruction of Ecosystems”. These are figures of “Insanity, Abnormality and Criminality”. Destroy the system that has killed all ecosystems.Destroy the society that plunders, exploits and kills earth 365 days of the year and then celebrates Earth Day.Chief Seattle of the Indian Tribe had warned the destroyers of ecosystems way back in 1854 :Only after the last tree has been cut down,Only after the last river has been poisoned,Only after the last fish has been caught,Only then will you realize that you cannot eat money.To read the complete article please follow any of these links.Industrial Society Destroys Mind and EnvironmentIndustrial Society Destroys Mind and EnvironmentIndustrial Society Destroys Mind and EnvironmentIndustrial Society Destroys Mind and Environmentsushil_yadavDelhi

  9. sushil yadav Says:

    Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment.

    Industrial Society is destroying necessary things [Animals, Trees, Air, Water and Land] for making unnecessary things [consumer goods].

    The link between Mind and Social / Environmental-Issues.

    The fast-paced, consumerist lifestyle of Industrial Society is causing exponential rise in psychological problems besides destroying the environment. All issues are interlinked. Our Minds cannot be peaceful when attention-spans are down to nanoseconds, microseconds and milliseconds. Our Minds cannot be peaceful if we destroy Nature [Animals, Trees, Air, Water and Land].

    “Growth Rate” – “Economy Rate” – “GDP”

    These are figures of “Ecocide”.
    These are figures of “crimes against Nature”.
    These are figures of “destruction of Ecosystems”.
    These are figures of “Insanity, Abnormality and Criminality”.

    Destroy the system that has killed all ecosystems.

    Destroy the society that plunders, exploits and kills earth 365 days of the year and then celebrates Earth Day.

    Chief Seattle of the Indian Tribe had warned the destroyers of ecosystems way back in 1854 :

    Only after the last tree has been cut down,
    Only after the last river has been poisoned,
    Only after the last fish has been caught,
    Only then will you realize that you cannot eat money.

    To read the complete article please follow any of these links.

    Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment

    Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment

    Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment

    Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment

    sushil_yadav
    Delhi

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