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India: From Delhi to Dalai
Joel Makower, 21 Dec 05

This post comes to you from the foothills of the Himalayas -- Dharamsala, India, to be exact. It is here that my wife and I have come this holiday season, largely as tourists, but also to visit with the Dalai Lama, who resides here as head of Tibet's government in exile.

More about which in a moment.

This is my second trip to the Indian subcontinent. The first trip, in early 2000, was a weeklong, whirlwind speaking tour of four of India's largest cities: Delhi, Calcutta, Mumbai (Bombay), and Hyderabad. This year's three-week, largely non-business trip, is far less rushed - and far less urban. It has taken us from Delhi to Dharamsala, after which we will roam the state of Rajasthan, then visit a tiger preserve and bird sanctuary over New Year's, followed by an obligatory visit to Agra, site of the Taj Mahal, then back to Delhi and home.

It is comforting, in a perverse sort of way, to see, via the local news, a country like India grappling with similar environmental issues as the United States. Among the headlines of the past few days:

  • India's Centre for Science and Environment has granted the Three Leaves Award for environmental achievement to the historically polluting cement industry, though a study by the same group concluded that the industry is "green" only when it suits its pocketbook. (Is this India's version of the U.S. environmental activists' "circular firing line," in which groups seem to be continually fighting among themselves, and even internally?)

  • In the aftermath of last week's climate summit in Montreal, a veteran Indian journalist opines that his country must show leadership on climate change, even though it is not part of the Kyoto treaty, in order to save its agricultural industry. Indian scientists say that climate changes have led to a drop in India's agricultural output in 2002-03 and 2003-04. He writes:

    It's simply dishonest for major Southern emitters like India and China to argue that the North accounts for three-fourths of [greenhouse gas] emissions; their own per capita emissions are below the global average (4.1 tonnes of CO2); and so they needn't undertake reductions. The global average is unacceptably high. China and India are fast approaching it -- although they are below the US's criminal level of 20 tonnes.

    (The U.S. seems to take it on the chin even when other countries are berating themselves.)

  • The Times of India editorializes that for India to achieve its annual growth rates of 8-10% over the next 25 years, it will need to produce five to seven times more electricity than today's supply. "Nuclear power will be critical to India's long-term energy security, as fossil fuels have already been mined extensively and no dramatic new finds can be expected." And renewable energy -- "the sort favoured by environmental activists" -- work only on a small scale "and cannot deliver the many millions of megawatts of added output needed." (Sound familiar, Americans?)

    But all that is behind us here in Dharamsala, a mystical mountain village in northernmost India. On Wednesday, the winter solstice, my wife and I have a private audience with the Dalai Lama.

    How, exactly, do two non-Buddhists, non-Tibetan scholars jump to the front of the line of thousands (millions?) seeking to meet His Holiness (as he is referred to in these parts)?

    More on that -- and on the audience itself -- shortly. (Here's a hint.)

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