Beijing’s much-hyped 2008 Olympic Games was a unique opportunity for China to show the world its dominance as a world power, yet it also revealed a more sinister side of the nation’s booming metropolis, with officials imposing serious measures to reduce the amount of traffic and smog which would project an unseemly – not to mention hazardous – impression on international tourists and delegates. Merely two years later, the city would continue to see alarming statistics confirming the increase of carbon emissions, with more than 2.1 million deaths in the Asian continent attributed to air pollution caused by gases emitted from cars and trucks. This is more than half the total global death rate caused by pollution in the same year.[ii]
Of course, this is not a problem – or as the mainstream media fails to declare, a crisis – which is exclusive to Asia. Even in the collapse of multi-billion dollar auto industries, the United States has progressed at a snail’s pace when it comes to making a commitment to reduce emissions by a substantial amount, while the rest of the world still continues the unsustainable and disastrous investment in fossil fuels. But with massive economies like the ones in India and China growing so quickly and transportation one of the central elements upon which population depends, what are the alternatives?
Certainly, Asian cities are not strangers to that beautiful invention, the bicycle. Iconic postcards of merchants carrying their goods and huge traffic jams have become a beloved, albeit annoying, feature of the cultural portrait. Yet while cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Beijing and Shanghai move towards cars, its neighbour to the west moves back to the bicycle. Cities like Amsterdam and Berlin have reinvented their road networks to accommodate the immense population of cyclists that frequent the cities’ major routes as commuters, casual cyclists and avid athletes, and are accepted as an integral part of the local identity. Following the trend, North America is using its wide avenues and transforming them into comprehensive bike routes that take both scenic and practical functions, with the Canadian cosmopolitan hub of Montreal earning its place as the continent’s premier bicycle city.[iii] Given the national love for the bicycle which countries such as India exhibit, in theory, establishing similar networks and sophisticating an already permanent bicycle-centric infrastructure should be well within reach of developers.
Motoring Towards a Sustainable Future
Equally impressive is the sheer capacity of passengers that newer models of buses and coaches are able to accommodate, reducing the number of cars on the road by introducing discount passes for regular travellers as well as providing a quicker, easier means of reaching a destination in the case of trains and subway lines. Electric street cars, or trams, are not only characteristic features of cities like San Francisco, but major parts of the tourist to-do list as well as a commuter’s lifeline. While the technology hasn’t reached full green status as yet, new vehicles are being introduced which still save a considerable amount of carbon; Toronto’s comprehensive GO Bus system, for example, is making significant statistics, with one bus said to replace 50 cars, while one of its 12-car trains takes approximately 1,670 cars off the road.[iv]
Though trailing behind the recent innovations in mass transportation, cars are gradually making progress as electric cars and hybrids are making their rounds in the urban landscape. Even taking into account the resources used and carbon footprint left by the production of, maintenance, and refuelling of electric vehicles, the electric car is proved to make a considerably smaller negative impact on the environment than its heavy gas and diesel-laden counterparts, and will only continue to become cleaner as well as more economical and therefore accessible to working class demographics.[v] Improved design and technology also mean that coverage for personal-use vehicles is likely to be reduced as well,[vi] although the industry currently faces a noticeable increase in the cost of protecting hybrid and electric cars.[vii] As these become commonplace, these costs will eventually be reduced – a strong indicator that green tech is becoming the way of the future working individual, rather than a specialised, niche endeavour.
So how can these solutions prove valuable for India’s future? Already the bustling hub has received ACA Level II Accreditation for reducing its airport emissions, a prominent sign that it is committed to working towards a cleaner future.[viii] Additionally, in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme, India has been looking at ways to cut down on emissions in cities, launching a “Guidebook for Low Carbon City Planning”.[ix] A healthier city means a healthier, happier population, which will in turn result in improved social and economic conditions from industries such as tourism as well as important local businesses. With the integration of comprehensive bicycle networks, increased accessibility to eco-friendly cars, and an updated mass transit system, India, like the rest of the world, will soar into the future with new promise.
[i] teosecbad.org. “Environmental issues in India” accessed 13 March, 2014.
[ii] climatecentral.org. “Car Emissions Killing Millions in China and India” accessed 13 March, 2014.
[iii] businessinsider.com. “The 20 Most Bike-Friendly Cities in the World” accessed 13 March, 2014.
[iv] gotransit.com. “Quick Facts: Go Green Initiatives” accessed March 13, 2014.
[v] theenergycollective.com “Electric Cars Are Cleaner Today and Will Only Get Cleaner Tomorrow” accessed 13 March, 2014.
[vi] apricotinsurance.co.uk “Coverage for personal-use vehicles” accessed 13 March, 2014.
[vii] makebiofuel.co.uk “Why are you paying more for Hybrid Car Insurance?” accessed 13 March, 2014.
[viii] greencleanguide.com “Mumbai Airport receives ACA level II accreditation for reducing its carbon emissions” accessed 13 March, 2014.
[ix] unep.org “The Future of Low Carbon Transport in India” accessed 13 March, 2014.