Why Siddharth Singh's book The Great Smog of India is NOT a breath of fresh air!

Currently, Delhi is in the news for having one of the worst AQI among other cities in the world. This book takes things a step further and talks about how much worse things can get
Siddharth Singh (Pic: Facebook TEDx)
Siddharth Singh (Pic: Facebook TEDx)

When deaths in Delhi due to air pollution made news headlines, it shocked the country. Everyone started worrying about the bad quality of air and daily reports on the high levels of smog gave it the moniker of India's pollution capital. Thanks to industries, automobiles and 'unclean' agricultural practices, the air quality has only become worse. Siddharth Singh, the author of The Great Smog of India, compared the Air Quality Index (AQI) of two cities — Bengaluru and Delhi. While Bengaluru's AQI was 144, which was within threshold levels, Delhi's AQI showed 180, 200 and even as high as 300 in different places! He says, "As days pass by and winter approaches, the AQI can even increase up to 700,  which is a serious health risk. I think in Delhi, you don't need data to know that the quality of air is bad — it is rather bad."

Siddharth works in the energy sector but has a keen interest in environmental issues. "After reading the news of deaths due to air pollution, I wanted to understand and find out answers to many questions that cropped up in my mind. I realised that though there were a lot of articles in journals and scientific reports, and expert comments from meteorological departments, which gave information about air pollution, there were no dedicated books on this topic. I felt that I must write a book, one which even common people can understand. This is how my book The Great Smog of India was published last year," says Siddharth.

In his book, Siddharth talks about some of the scientific, historic and economic reasons or practices that caused/causes air pollution. The energy efficiency expert says, "Though there is less industrialisation in India when compared to developed countries, we have the worst air quality. For example, 75% of India's electricity comes from burning coal. There are certain historical and geographical reasons for using coal. It has been one of the cheapest sources of energy then and even now. Similarly, there are some agricultural practices that cause pollution. At least 30 to 50% of air pollution that happens in Delhi during the winters is due to the burning of agricultural waste in Punjab and Haryana."

Siddharth Singh, author of The Great Smog of India was present at the TEDx event a few days ago 

Policies to improve air quality
Siddharth stresses the urgent need to form a body that brings chief ministers of different states and ministries that deal with industries, energy sector, transport, environment, agriculture under one umbrella. He explains, "This body has to set certain goals that need to be achieved to reduce air pollution. For instance, the environment ministry should be given goals to increase the number of trees and save the existing ones instead of felling them."

When it comes to policies, he says, "Recycling metals leads to 70% low emissions when compared to extracting it from the rocks or ground. So there should be a policy to ensure that metals are recycled. We will still be able to have a great economy without creating a negative impact on the planet. We need to ensure that crop diversification takes place in north India instead of growing only rice and wheat in the alternative years so that there is no burning of agricultural waste. The government has to rethink on the policies that encourage growing only these two particular crops and provide farmers with incentives for crop diversification. There is machinery available that lets the farmers take the agricultural waste from the ground instead of burning it. These machines are expensive but agricultural organisations and universities must invest in those machines for farmers. Cars and trucks contribute to 20% of air pollution in India. I think people have to consider travelling by public transport and the government must improve on these facilities. Urban transport should be public transport-based rather than private transport-based. We should replace the use of coal in industries with natural gas."

Energy efficiency to address climate change
Siddharth says, "In our efforts to deal with climate change, we are looking at alternatives like solar energy, electric vehicles, etc which are good. But we are forgetting the existing economy of all these sustainable factors. Energy efficiency can play a major role in curbing climate change. For example, refrigerators today, when compared to the 1970s ones, have become more efficient. For the amount of energy which was used to run one fridge, you can run four refrigerators today. The number of fridges might have grown but the emissions are less because the energy level is great. The emissions have reduced to the extent of smoke produced by 40 million cars. This is the impact energy efficiency has made."

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