Beijing gets all the attention for its unbreathable, polluted air, but New Delhi is making a strong run at the “world’s smoggiest city” title. Livemint reports that the Indian city’s air was, on average, twice as toxic as Beijing’s last year:
[Air quality]’s costing the country Rs.1.1 trillion in shortened life spans of productive members of the urban population each year, according to a June World Bank report.While Beijing and Shanghai make the headlines for air pollution caused by factory smokestacks burning coal, Delhi residents get their smog right in the face from cars and trucks running on cheap diesel. […]The result: Delhi’s air on average last year was laced with double the toxic particles per cubic meter being reported in Beijing, leading to respiratory diseases, lung cancer and heart attacks.
It doesn’t look like things are going to improve. It’s an election year, and Indians seem primed to vote for who they believe will turn around a sagging economy. For now, that means attracting more business and industry—and not the green, clean kind. India’s Environment Minister recently fast-tracked $40 billion worth of industrial projects, pleasing industry groups but prompting environmentalists to cry foul.The competition over who can expedite permits for polluting heavy industry is a race to the bottom. Modi’s BJP has staked itself out as India’s pro-business party, but there’s no need for India (or China, for that matter) to follow the environmentally damaging growth model pioneered by the West. There’s a real opportunity in the developing world to skip a developmental step and start transitioning towards an economy based on the manipulation of information rather than stuff. That’s where the big money is these days. It’s also where the biggest green gains are ripe for the plucking. And for the Indian party savvy enough to champion it, it could bring a political windfall.