Asia should learn from the West and leapfrog the mistakes it made, to avoid polluting the environment.
TEN years ago the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) published a book titled Slow Murder: The Deadly Story of Vehicular Pollution. It was the first ever comprehensive expose of vehicular pollution in India. And in true CSE style it spared no one.
Policy inaction, vehicle-makers' single-minded pursuit of money, refineries and their uncaring attitude to fuel quality - all were put under the microscope and came out as dirty as the pollution they were responsible for. The book was a shocking eye-opener. Everyone knew about pollution but when the information was compiled and backed by empirical data, the effect was electrifying. The publication galvanised the government and the outcome, especially in Delhi, is there for all to see.
The CSE doggedly followed up the issue and now, 10 years later, has published a sequel, The Leapfrog Factor: Clearing the Air in Asian Cities. This book is wider in scope and has included all of Asia simply because pollution knows no borders.
Asia is a challenge. This is the difficult but inescapable starting point of the research. Without condemning rapid economic growth, the book forces the reader to accept the fact that this sort of growth overpowers solutions. It brings to the fore the unfairly weighed battle between commercial interests and groups concerned about clean air.
Thus, small air quality gains made after painstaking research are overshadowed by the boom in the automobile industry, which is more concerned about technology and less concerned about social responsibility.
The solution presented in the book is in the title itself. The Leapfrog is a logical idea that essentially says that Asia should learn from the mistakes of the West. Therefore, instead of emulating the West and repeating its mistakes, Asia should take advantage of the fact that it has the West as a teacher, leapfrog the mistakes they made and arrive at the same levels of pollution control that the West has achieved - all this without suffering the dangerous experiments the West painfully endured.
This is, of course, easier said than done. International economics has given rise to practices such as the dumping of junk technology on Asia. The book says Asia's hope lies in "reinventing the idea of mobility". It advocates building cities on public transport, and leapfrogging fuel and vehicle technology to create clean transportation.
The book is authored by a four-person team led by Anumita Roychowdhury, associate director of the CSE and head of CSE's Right to Clean Air campaign.
Presenting case studies, facts about legal battles and judgments, chronologies of the crisis over the decade, an excellent glossary, graphs, cartoons and telling photographs, the CSE lays bare a very complex issue in a comprehensive manner. The 444-page book is versatile enough to be read through or to act as a reference.
The lack of glossy paper and four-colour printing are not missed. In fact, this is appreciated since it demonstrates the CSE's commitment to the environment. It also keeps the price down.
Like all the other publications from the CSE stable, this one is thoroughly researched and bursting with information presented in an eminently readable style. A valuable addition to any library.