President Barack Obama is in the Whitehouse and a new approach to the climate crisis is on the global agenda. Reflecting the views of environmentalists across the world on the night of November 4th, Fred Krupp, President of Environmental Defense Fund, said: “This election offers us the greatest opportunity we have ever had to change course on global warming. We must do everything we can to pass climate legislation here at home and to craft a global compact that unites the world against the common enemy of rising temperatures, melting ice caps, erratic weather and the spread of disease.”
Environmental problems don’t stop at geographical boundaries; what India does affects Chile and what China does affects Paraguay. But how is the ‘undoer of bushism’, going to cope with receiving the ‘inbox from hell’, and will he be able to meet Krupp’s global expectations?

Well, Obama has an impressive environmental track record; he was a young green activist promoting recycling in Harlem and has many eco bills in his name.

Critics are skeptical of his pro-nuclear, and pro-corn-derived ethanol energy stances. Whilst it’s unlikely we’ll see another Chernobyl with today’s technology, the use of virgin crop for biofuel rather than for food is something of an ethical dilemma.

Will Obama inspire the world to follow his lead in his green endeavors? We’re all familiar with political spin and hot air, but maybe this time it’ll be fresh air the new president brings to the global picture.

‘Yes we can’: Obama’s plans for a greener future.
Channel revenue into developing clean energy technologies, creating more green jobs, and restoring the environmental protections that Bushism blocked.
Put forward aggressive policies towards tackling climate change.
Decrease foreign oil dependency.
Invest $1 million in hybrid car research and manufacture.
Implement a “cap and trade” system to reduce 80% of greenhouses emissions by 2050.

…and the rest of the world?

One of the countries we might hope Obama will reach is India. No country acts in a vacuum; with over 1 billion people, what India does now will have both major economic and environmental importance to the global community. But behind every global story, there are people. Whilst I was in India, I saw some of the local issues firsthand.

Picture this: It’s 6 am and I’m walking down Bombay beach. The place is brimming with health freaks, pretending to exercise in the sultry heat. None of them seem to mind the fact that they are doing this amidst thousands of colourful plastic bags strewn across the beach as far as the eye can see.

I stand there feeling utterly helpless. “Forget it, it’s not your problem” I think, but that is precisely what the rest of the 1.1 billion here are saying to themselves, not anticipating that it is their problem and their children’s children’s problem.

It’s a chilling microcosm of the national attitude towards the environment. But why are people so apathetic? The imbalance of the Indian government’s investment in environmental initiatives in contrast to their industrial investment is alarming. But when industrialisation is likely to generate jobs and lift millions out of poverty, is this an easy misjudgment for westerners to make?
To some extent, it’s a vicious cycle. India is embracing exponential economic growth, pushing into the 21st century, driven by profit. Just one example is the building of one of the world’s largest coal-fired power plans in Gujarat, which, when complete, will pump out 23.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. Last year, the net profits of Tata Power, the company responsible, soared by 25%, reaching £120million.

Sociologically, though, India is way behind schedule. But how exactly do you change the attitude of 1.1 billion people? This is not going to work without their interest, investment and involvement.

But are rising temperatures really a “common enemy” to both India and America, as Krupp claims? Whilst getting in on the so called ‘low-carbon market’ has become a profitable business in the West, with financial incentives from the government for companies who reduce their emissions, it’s a different story for countries grinding through the engines of industrialisation, where no such policy exists.

If change really is coming to the world, then it won’t begin with India simply switching off its Gujarat power station. Renewable sources must be shown to be financially viable alternatives. Local people standing on beaches littered with refuse need to understand the global picture. Where does Obama’s promise of change fit into all of this? His challenge now is to engage the world’s policymakers to offer a similar financial incentive to those responsible for pumping millions of tones of carbon into the atmosphere – perhaps a global climate change levy might mean the profits of the fossil fuel giants aren’t so sweet – and kick-start investment into cleaner technologies. Good luck, Mr. President.

Nivedita Rengarajan

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