The industrial Revolution Today


Dusk descends on a village in the eastern Indian state of Bihar as residents start their evening chores. Women walk in a line, balancing packets of animal fodder on their heads. Others lead their water buffalo home before dinner.

Overhead loom bare utility poles — built but never wired for electricity — casting long shadows across the landscape.

Of the world’s 1.3 billion people who live without access to power, a quarter — about 300 million — live in rural India in states such as Bihar. Nighttime satellite images of the sprawling subcontinent show the story: Vast swaths of the country still lie in darkness.

India, the third-largest emitter of greenhouses gases after China and the United States, has taken steps to address climate change in advance of the global talks in Paris this year — pledging a steep increase in renewable energy by 2030.

But India’s leaders say that the huge challenge of extending electric service to its citizens means a hard reality — that the country must continue to increase its fossil fuel consumption, at least in the near term, on a path that could mean a threefold increase in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030, according to some estimates.

When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi talked climate change with President Obama in September at the United Nations, he was careful to note that he and Obama share “an uncompromising commitment on climate change without affecting our ability to meet the development aspirations of humanity.”

U.S. exports its greenhouse-gas emissions

Fossil fuel generation of electricity is the largest single source of greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide. Yet demand for inexpensive power will rise in a great tide in the decades to come, especially in South Asia and sub-
Saharan Africa, the two regions of the globe with the least access to electricity. All the countries of Africa, taken together, have twice as many people without electricity as India does — 622 million. No country is content with that.

“It’s a matter of shame that 68 years after independence we have not been able to provide a basic amenity like electricity,” ­Piyush Goyal, India’s minister of state for power, coal and new and renewable energy, said recently.

The Indian government has launched an ambitious project to supply 24-hour power to its towns and villages by 2022 — with plans for miles of new feeder lines, infrastructure upgrades and solar micro­grids for the remotest areas.

If India’s carbon emissions continue to rise, by 2040 it will overtake the United States as the world’s second-highest emitter, behind only China, according to estimates by the International Energy Agency.

Yet the Indian government has long argued that the United States and other industrialized nations bear a greater responsibility for the cumulative damage to the environment from carbon emissions than developing nations — with Modi urging “climate justice” and chiding Western nations to change their wasteful ways.