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On this day in 1998: tensions between Pakistan and India rise after nuclear tests

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Sixteen years ago today, Pakistan detonated five nuclear devices in retaliation to India’s own tests 18 days earlier. Never has the sub-continent come so close to nuclear war.

The Ras Koh Mountains shook and crumbled as they became enveloped in white clouds of dust and rubble, following the Pakistani military’s detonation of its nuclear devices beneath them.

The large masses of rock were symbols of Pakistan’s resolve during its battles with India in the past – but on this occasion, the country’s decision to retaliate backfired. The two nations entered into a locked arms race that would put poverty over military prowess, pride over progressive thought and short-sighted temperament over international prestige.

Worldwide condemnation followed. Then-US president Bill Clinton highlighted the “priceless opportunity” Pakistan had to achieve a strong political position against India. Instead, the country was threatened with Nato-enforced embargos and sanctions, with prime minister Nawaz Sharif boasting of its technological achievements.

Addressing the nation, Sharif described Pakistan’s five tests as “inevitable”, labelling India as aggressors and describing the moment as a God-given “opportunity to take this step for our countries defence. We never wanted to participate in this nuclear race. We have proved to the world we would not accept what was dictated to us.”

India-Pakistan relations have been uneasy since the patrician of the sub-continent in 1947 – when the British Empire dismantled its control of India. Tensions between Muslims and Hindus were rapidly escalating due to changing socio-political circumstances. A quick fix devised by imperial officials saw the physical separation of the two ethnic groups, placing the majority of Muslims in Pakistan and the newly-formed Palestine.

Since its patrician, numerous conflicts and military escalations have plagued domestic unification between the two nations – waging four wars, countless border skirmishes and military stand-offs. The principle catalyst is the disputed region of Kashmir, which has been directly or indirectly involved in all major conflicts between the two countries. This excludes the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971, when Bangladesh made its attempt for independence from the minority-governed Western Pakistan.

Erosive social and religious relations between the inhabitants of the sub-continent are an underpinning factor in the countries’ domestic policies. When Britain intended to clearly define a separation between the two larger of the religious groups in 1947, nearly one-third of the Muslim population of British India remained. Intercommunity violence between Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims increased, causing widespread unrest and the dispersal of local populations throughout the region.

Continued investment into their militaries has left both Pakistan and India economically poor, with many of their citizens still living in poverty. Nationally, many places lack education, running water and the infrastructure to support their vast populations. Religious extremists in Pakistan have capitalised on these circumstances, taking advantage of their primarily rural and disillusioned people by establishing strictly controlled tribal regions and extreme versions of Islamic law.

The nuclear tests of 1998 serve as an example of the extreme tension and competitiveness that had the capacity to destroy the sub-continent. The fallout has been primarily placed on the shoulders of the civilians who have not only died in large numbers, but have been failed by their countries’ domestic policies.

But a brighter path for the two nations to compete on in recent years has been renewable energy. Pakistan recently unveiled its record-breaking 100-megawatt (MW) Quaid-e-Azam solar park, one of the largest the world has seen. With over half of the country’s households not connected to the national grid and unreliable electricity supplies for those that are connected, Pakistan has plans to become an international player in renewables and create jobs in the process.

India has ambitious clean energy plans, too. New prime minister Narendra Modi, who won a landslide election earlier this month, said he wants solar panels on every home in India by 2019. His pledge would bring electricity to the 4m households currently without power.

What moves such as these may represent is a joint plan by India and Pakistan to move away from military spending and towards domestic and economic growth. Both have said climate change is a primary motive behind their renewable energy drive.

Naseer Ahmad, president of the Renewable and Alternative Energy Association of Pakistan (REAP), said on Wednesday, “Though the energy crisis is the main concern, not only for Pakistan, but many governments throughout the world, we are in the process of addressing this issues because we are all acutely aware of the link between the use of fossil fuels and climate change.”

With research to suggest warmer temperatures could lead to more civil unrest, it is imperative that the pair – and others in both the developed and developing worlds – act fast to mitigate its impact.

Further reading: 

Sir David Attenborough: ‘developing world cares about the future of the planet’

India’s new prime minister says every home will have solar power by 2019

Right-wing Bharatiya Janata party in landslide Indian general election win

Climate change a ‘catalyst for conflict’

Pentagon warns terrorism could be exacerbated due to climate change

Economy

Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?

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self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/zapp2photo

Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?

But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?

The Big Picture

The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.

That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.

Driver Reduction?

One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.

There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.

As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.

Deadheading

Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.

Make and Model of Car

Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.

On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.

The Bottom Line

Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?

Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.

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Economy

New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035

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renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart / https://www.shutterstock.com/g/adrian825

New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.

Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.

Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”

The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.

Zero net emissions by 2050

Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.

Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.

She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”

A worldwide shift to renewable energy

Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.

Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.

Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.

Sources: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-06/green-dream-risks-energy-security-as-kiwis-aim-for-zero-carbon

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-hydrocarbons/france-plans-to-end-oil-and-gas-production-by-2040-idUSKCN1BH1AQ

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