The sociology of air pollution
Mains Paper 2: Environment
Prelims level: Air pollution
Mains level: Environmental impact assessment
- The continuing debate on Delhi’s air quality underlines that we
are dealing with the symptoms and not the causes of the problem.
- Beijing’s success in controlling air pollution was not because of
regulating car use through the ‘odd-even’ measure as its efficient public
transport systems covers 70% of trips.
- Current solutions to climate change also stress social
Three policy questions
- First, since much of air pollution is caused by activities that
lead to climate change, there should be a comprehensive plan for cities.
- Second, the West, with one-fifth of the population, uses
four-fifths of the natural resources. We should identify and modify, not
adopt their wasteful trends.
- Third, the courts with their reliance on regulation and bans will
not change behaviour.
- Instead of following Western priorities of technological solutions
for the consequences of human behaviour, we should really consider how to
change that behaviour itself.
- Driving a little less, recycling waste, and pushing renewable
energy will not appreciably lessen the impact.
- National Geographic Society’s Annual Greendex analysis of global
consumption habits ranked American consumers last of 17 countries surveyed
with regard to sustainable behaviour.
- Significantly, the study found that they are among the least
likely to feel guilty about the impact they have on the environment. India
is at the top and China second, yet feel guiltiest about their impact,
evidence of potential for transformation.
Well-being and resource use:
- Industrialization, infrastructure development and urban
consumption patterns cumulatively contribute to well-being as three distinct
but related trends.
- The dynamics of each of the three drivers of pollution have
- Industrialization is the transformation of a natural resource,
infrastructure supports economic growth and standards of living and
consumption of the urban middle class is focused on well-being.
- Infrastructure, rather than industry, is indispensable for the
provision of services essential for human well-being.
- It has used up half of the material stock, has no substitute and
will use up more than half the available carbon budget before saturation
levels are reached around 2050.
- By modifying long-term trends, we can enhance the remaining budget
and abate urban air pollution.
- Urban design of infrastructure is the critical factor in the
intensity of urban energy use and pollution.
- Even after industrialization and infrastructure reach
stabilization levels, consumption will continue to be propelled by the shift
of the economy to the services sector and increasing levels of pollution
from wasteful lifestyles.
- Two-thirds of the energy use and emissions of carbon dioxide come
from cities; two-thirds of this is from vehicles, the major cause of poor
ambient air quality, and buildings and diet.
- The optimum solution is to lower energy demand in all dimensions
while maintaining the level of energy services.
- Currently, four-fifths of the global net primary energy supply
comes from fossil fuels. It will not be technologically possible to meet the
growing energy needs while maintaining comparable levels of well-being in
the next few decades with renewables.
- Energy efficiency has the potential to reduce total demand in 2050
relative to current levels by one-third per unit of economic output, or
well-being, without affecting the service provided and a cheap option.
But how do we change behaviour?
- Buildings account for one-third of final energy demand and
one-fifth of emissions, and both are predicted to more than double by 2050.
- Their pattern of use is dependent on their density and size, which
are shaped by behavioural norms, culture and practices of convenience, just
as in the case of transport.
- Buildings use 40% of primary energy in the US but only 28% in
China, which is now the second largest economy, because of lower energy use
- Transport is the fastest growing and soon to be the largest source
- For every 1,000 people, the US has 800 vehicles on the road and
India 40. We need not follow the US trend.
- With shared transport, if vehicle occupancy increases by 25% and
vehicle usage per day by 75%, it delivers the same intra-urban mobility with
50% of the vehicle fleet.
- Fundamental conceptual shifts are taking place in cities in this
- Housing and roads are being seen as part of the social system,
rather than the alternative of providing for automobiles.
- There is a focus on mobility instead of transport. This should be
the core of ‘smart cities’.
- A recent survey has pointed out that more than 80% of people in
cities would prefer to take public transport if there is affordable and
robust last-mile connectivity.
- Significantly, six out of 10 non-users of public transport were
willing to shift provided safety, coverage and frequency were improved.
- Elevated roads are a temporary fix and the priority should be
redesign for public and shared transport, and ultimately electrification.
- Well-being within ecological limits requires a societal
transformation redefining ‘happiness’ in accordance with our own rather than
Q.1) International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL)
is administered by
A. United Nations High Seas Council (UNHSC)
B. International Maritime Organization (IMO)
C. Law on the Seas Tribunal
D. International Seabed Authority (ISA)
Q.1) Critically evaluate the responsibility of middle class is determined as the
cause, victim and solution to climate change and urban air quality.