Friday, August 22, 2008

Sacrifice Delhi , Save India

There is a nice verse in my language which says, "A nation does not mean land. A nation means people". This is what I meant when I said Save India.

Let's abolish theologies, let's abolish nationalism. Let's give respect to the human spirit. Nothing is more sacred before that, not even the constitution.

Before you get your passions inflamed, try asking yourself a simple question : Do you like India or do you like Indians ? If you choose the later, then you are a true patriot.

India does not mean the empire of Ashoka. It does not mean the pillars of learning of Shankaracharya. It does not mean the kingdoms of Ramayana. It does not mean a mega utopia which was supposedly destroyed by some invading Muslims. It does not mean the glories of the Mughal empire. It does not mean the eastern bulwark of Islam. It does not mean anything in the past. India is a living notion. It exists in the "now". And it exists in its people.

These people might have had a past, but they live in the present. We should accept what they are right now.

In our journey as an independent country, we Indians are at a crucial juncture : we have to choose between territorial integrity and human integrity. Should we continue our abnormal military presence in Kashmir ? Should we subject every person to getting frisked seven times a day before he reaches to work ? Should we subject our own citizens there to continuous curfews ? Should we continue to impose the rule of the army in one of the states ? Should we give no regard to the democratic aspirations of our own citizens ? Is this what we want to achieve as a nation ? Is this our idea of India ? How many of our own brothers do we have to kill, torture and make disappear for preserving this idea ?

If we continue to tighten our fists, we risk to alienate our own citizens. This is not nation building.

India is an amazing land of diversity. In its richness or heritage, it is no way inferior to the continent of Europe. In what way is Telugu inferior to Spanish ? Then why is it that nobody outside India is even aware of Telugu ? In what way is Kashmiri culture inferior to Polish culture ? Then why does Poland deserve a flag but not Kashmir ?

These questions can be suppressed for years when the population is poor or uneducated, but they are bound to prop up in the minds of the people. What prevents the rest of the Indian citizens from the fear of a cultural subjugation from the Hindi heartland ?

You can shove these fears under the carpet, but they will keep multiplying and keep surfacing with increased ferocity. We will see ethnic strife against minorities in Mumbai. We will see the kidnap and murder of Bengalis in Tripura. We will see Naga rebels fighting in the hills. And we will see a minor issue of 40 acres rise into a full blown freedom struggle and eventually demand the lives of 30 Kashmiris.

No, we cannot shove our fears under the carpet. We have to look at them straight in the eye, and solve the problem. If we do not do that, our country will suffer the fate of Yugoslavia. When it happens, the break up will be rapid, and it will be bloody. Horrors such as genocide will be commited. Hindus and Muslims will massacre each other. India and Pakistan will face outright war, and heaven knows if nuclear weapons will be used.

Before you jump onto the pseudo nationalistic bandwagon of Hindutva, trying to build a glorious Ram Rajya or avenge for the historical wrongs of Islamic invasions etc, please think about where this will lead you. The same is true for people who jump onto the pseudo bandwagon of Islamic glory.

Under the horrors of genocide and nuclear war, can we preserve even a portion of our civilization ? Will we be able to preserve the temple of Madhura ? Will we be able to preserve the Taj Mahal ?

What can we do to avert these dangers ? This is where comes the other part of the title of this blog - Sacrifice Delhi. We have to sacrifice our union government. We have to sacrifice some of our symbols. We need to provide more autonomy to the states. I don't know what this autonomy means : does it mean different flags ? does it mean different constitutions ? does it mean different passports ? I don't know : we need to innovate and we need to do it quickly. It is inevitable, the faster we do it, the more bloodshed we will save.

I have just visited Strassburg, a lovely city of a thousand years of history. This city had a bloody past with periodic occupations from France and Germany. Now it houses the European parliament. Why can't Srinagar be given a similar status, serving as a bridge between India and Pakistan, instead of as a dispute ?

When we think about it, the issue of autonomy is exactly where differences creeped in between Nehru and Jinnah. Let's go where our freedom fighters dared not tread. Let's try to create a union of equals. Let's redefine democracy in the internet age. Let's redefine the notion of a constitution.

Let's take our subcontinent to the true place it deserves. Can Punjab be united ? Can Bengal be united ? Can Kashmir be united ? Yes, let's break the Berlin walls of the east.

Let's forget the horrors of partition. Let's rediscover our true heritage of 5000 years together. Let's model the union of SAARC countries in the fashion of the European Union. Let's have our parliament in Srinagar. Let's have our court of human rights in Jaffna. As we sacrifice Delhi, we will save our India. We will save the spirit of brotherhood between Indians.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

James Hansen on Charlie Rose : Nuclear Now

Humanity should look forward to using 4th generation nuclear reactors. Breeder reactors are essential for a sustainable energy future.

Solving global warming requires us a moratorium on using coal. If we wish to leave an inhabitable planet for our future generations, we should stop using coal right now.

Dr James Hansen, one of the first scientists to alert us on global warming is here on an interview with Charlie Rose. I highly recommend everyone to read the book of Tom Blees, which details all the technologies that will make a huge difference in our future (about to come out). The introduction chapter is free. (I am glad to have met Tom on grist).

Another technology of breeder reactors that have a lot of promise are the Liquid Flouride Thorium Reactors. This model is different from the Fast Breeder Reactor that India is developing. India should invest a lot more money for the development of breeder reactors in general, because we have huge reserves of Thorium.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Eco-Dollar : Future Global Currency

What is money ?

It is the index of the capacity at which you can consume different resources - food, clothing, housing, ornaments, entertainment etc. What determines your capacity to access these resources is the amount of energy that you possess. For most of the history of mankind, these resources have been in very short supply. Most of the population remained poor, illiterate and lacking health opportunities. In an era of scarce resources (until 17th century - not so long ago), the only energy that could be tapped was that of human beings and that of beasts of burden. Money represented your societal influence and how you could manipulate other human beings.

Then, something extraordinary has happened (in England) during the 18th century : man started automating the modes of production. Slowly but steadily, several amazing changes have come by. Food became plenty and hunger was banished. Health care become available to all and death rates plummeted. For the first time ever, the entire population became educated. As resources became more accessible to every person, the meaning of money started to change. What determined your capacity to access resources is no longer your societal influence, but (a) the amount of fuels that you possessed and (b) the degree of automation available to you. This became the new meaning of money. Historically, the fuels-(a) have been fossil fuels such as coal and gasolene. The amount of automation-(b) that can be achieved is determined by the initial capital that you possessed. This marked the begining of capitalism.

The process of automation was not painless. Man had to start at step zero, with very little energy / capital available to his disposal. To make the first machines, this available capital was not even sufficient. So more capital was obtained by robbing other people. This robbery took several forms : colonization (asia), slavery (africa), ethnic cleansing (americas), pathetic working conditions and open wars (europe). This is the reason industrialization proceeded very slowly. But every single step of automation brought further amounts of energy to the disposal of man, making this a chain reaction. With the progress of industrialization , the economic product of the society grew exponentially. You can visualize this process as a rapid increase of the size of the tappable energy and resources pool.

In the two factors that determined money (a) energy available and (b) initial capital, (a) became so high that (b) started to become negligible. In other words, the world economic product became so high that capital no longer presented a constraint for further industrialization. This was first demonstrated during the Marshall plan when USA pumped in significant amounts of capital to the industrialization of war-torn economies of Europe and Japan. This marked the first signs of maturity for the process of industrialization, and the beginning of an age of plenty, when capital is no longer a constraint and it no longer need be robbed from other people. (At the end of the second world war, USA was very rich, accounting for one half of the world 's economic product).

The lack of capital, however, delayed the industrialization in countries which adopted closed economies. There was not a lot of initial capital available in the Soviet Union, so its industrialization suffered a lot of hiccups. These constraints on capital became further apparent when the Soviet budget was stretched during the space and weapon programs. Iran to this day has a lot of oil and gas, but it still cannot exploit them completely due to lack of sufficient capital. This makes it apparent for developing countries to adopt the strategy of inviting foreign capital for industrializing their societies. In our globalized world, the surplus capital is being exchanged for profits. As demonstrated by China and India, developing countries are industrializing rapidly at rates unseen before. This is a direct result of the increased magnitude of the current global economic product. When African countries industrialize in the future, their growth rates will be higher.

As the initial capital that one possesses is becoming less important, the world is entering a state where energy becomes the true currency. All global currencies of today are tied to energy prices. In our fossil fuel economy driven by gasolene, countries with huge oil reserves automatically became rich.

But fossil fuels are not sustainable. Further, they are dangerous for the environment (increased CO2 levels cause global warming). This makes it imperative that we shift to a new economy where we depend on alternative sources of energy. There are two possible sources : solar power and nuclear power. Solar power has the advantage of being completely renewable, but has the disadvantage of being very diffuse. Nuclear power, if driven by breeder reactors, can sustain us for a very long time. Our future economy will be driven by a combination of solar and nuclear energies.

Developing these two technologies will require capital input. But as we have seen already, capital is no longer a constraint in the current world. What poses a challenge is an established pecking order in business which has deep ties to the fossil fuel establishment. This needs to be overhauled.

Economic growth of a country can be reformulated as increase in the degree of automation in that country. If you want to ensure economic growth, use the money (energy) you possess to do two things (1) to create an infrastructure of automation to consume resources (2) to create an infrastructure of producing new energy. When (2) is completed, redirect the energy to (1).

This is a failsafe method of economic growth, with no stagflations or busts. Our current markets periodically suffer from busts because they lose track of these basic principles. The money is squandered as direct waste (such as waste of food, waste of fuel, stuff purchased but never used) or as investments in non-productive sectors such as real estate.

With solar and nuclear technologies, we will soon enter a world of abundant energy. In this world, neither capital nor energy will pose a constraint for further industrialization.

Instead, what will become increasingly important are the effects on the environment due to extensive consumption of resources. These effects will be visible as deforestation, depletion of soil due to intensive agriculture, loss of biodiversity, air pollution, large scale mining etc. These ecological constraints will be added as costs in the make up of money.

Let's call this new money the eco-dollar. We can define 1 eco-dollar as 1 kilo-watt-hour of energy, as produced from environmentally friendly sources. This will be the future global currency. The price of different commodities in eco-dollars will be calculated as a mixture of (1) the energy that is needed in their production and (2) their environmental side effects. For a comfortable life of an industrialized economy, Dr David Mackay estimates that each person needs 125 kwh of energy per day. In our future economy, this is equal to 125 eco-dollars per day. This will be ensured as the guarenteed minimum wage of everyone.

Imagine a world where each human being is given a robot and that the robot is powered by solar or nuclear energy. Imagine that the robot does all the work for the human. What does the human do ? Have fun.

In reality, there will be no single robot for each human but a huge automation network will be working for the entire human society. But human beings will work less and less, catering more time to finer things in life such as art, science and philosophy. This should be goal of our economic activity.

(In this post, I tried to compress several of my ideas spawned out of discussions on the grist environmentalist community. As I started to think deeper about sustainable energy, I became more and more convinced about the inevitability of human progress, industrialization and eradication of poverty. This is in some contrast to my earlier opinions as expressed in these posts).