“One of the chief hurdles is bringing reliable, affordable electricity to all the people of India. Uninterrupted electricity is still a luxury that few Indians enjoy.”
Environmental activism can delay or even stop development projects in developing countries. Not all of it is wrong, but more and more of it is, especially concerning hydrocarbon-based power plants in developing (and developed) countries.
I live in India. With a population of 1.3 billion, nearly 300 million live in poverty, excruciating poverty compared to Western living standards.
India is in a race against time to achieve economic progress. In the past three decades its economy has grown by leaps and bounds, lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty. Yet it has a long way to go before it can become like nations in the developed West.
One of the chief hurdles is bringing reliable, affordable electricity to all the people of India. Uninterrupted electricity is still a luxury that few Indians enjoy.
Though predominantly agrarian, India is experiencing massive growth in its industrial and manufacturing sectors. The service sector and information technology sectors are also booming. The country’s energy sector is the backbone of its economic growth.
But the country has been facing constant challenges to its energy goals. Hydrocarbon projects in particular face hurdles from well-organized environmental activists backed by Western funders.
Blocking Fossil Projects Delays Poverty Alleviation
A number of developmental projects in India are currently on hold despite clearance given by the country’s Green Tribunal, an Indian equivalent of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
One case is the hydrocarbon project at Neduvasal, located a few hundred miles from my native town in Tamil Nadu. Despite clearance by the Green Tribunal, protests continued, and the project is in limbo.
Several other key energy projects have been delayed or abandoned because of strong environmental activism in this particular part of India, thus depriving the region of economic progress.
Among them were a titanium dioxide project, a nuclear power project, a particle physics research project, a copper manufacturing project, and a gas exploration project. Some of these were given a go-ahead by India’s Supreme Court and considered safe by technical experts, yet they were delayed or remain on hold because of the protests.
It takes lots of effort and time to raise people above the poverty line. Sometimes anti-developmental protests—by environmental groups funded by radical elements abroad—cancel the much-needed developmental projects quite easily through grassroots misinformation campaigns.
The saddest thing about this is that the impact of these economic hurdles is much more significant in developing countries where they can impact the poor and those very close to the poverty line. A few months of COVID-19 lockdown in India sent millions back into extreme poverty, in which they cannot even afford three meals a day.
While small environmental groups and their regional protests hamper progress in this manner, large international ones promote environmental and energy policies that have a much bigger impact on the economy.
International climate policies, especially the Paris Agreement, have the potential to disrupt the Indian economy. But Indian authorities have always opposed imposition of restrictive energy policies by the anti-fossil establishment in the West
India’s reservation about this was quite well expressed by India’s former Chief Economic Adviser to the Prime Minister, Arvind Subramaniam. Recognizing the subtle efforts of the United Nations and Western powers to subdue fossil fuel use in India, Subramaniam called their collective efforts “Carbon Imperialism.”
That is a quite a thing to say for a person from a country that has endured the harshest form of colonialism. Subramaniam identified the imposition of carbon taxes as something unrealistic, especially when Western powers achieved economic success for themselves by fully using the very same fossil fuel-generated energy they now condemn.
Besides, no substitutes can make up for the lost energy from fossil fuels. Renewables are more expensive and less reliable.
Subramaniam warned the country, “Renewable sources come with hidden costs, which should not be overlooked in our headlong embrace with renewables.” He continued: “Coal will remain and should remain. The time is ripe for creating a green and clean coal coalition.”
His policy views were re-confirmed in 2020 when the country’s economic report reconfirmed reliance on fossil fuels to achieve meaningful progress. In fact, recently India announced that it will invest $55 Billion in clean coal (high technology, reduced emission) projects over the next ten years.
The national government has been phenomenal in warding off the pressure from the West and continues to invest in affordable, abundant, reliable energy sources. But the grassroot protests need to be addressed, and for that the radical environmentalism and its overarching roots must be disabled. How? By informing the general public of the harms it brings, and thus depriving it of the popular support without which it cannot succeed.
For the 300 million poor in India, the environmental groups—funded by radical elements in the United States and Europe—are the biggest obstacle to becoming middle-class households—healthy, prosperous, and long-lived.
Vijay Jayaraj (M.Sc., Environmental Science, University of East Anglia, England), is a Research Contributor for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation and resides in India.