Monday, January 28, 2008

Tata Nano and Global Warming

I have been hearing about the $2,500 Tata Nano for a few years now with a sense of unease. The idea of a car that affordably just seems like an unmitigated disaster. With the Nano's unveiling on the 10th of January that unease has expanded into a sense of doom and forboding. However, despite my fear I think that this is an excellent opportunity for us to confront ourselves and look at the underlying logic of our patterns of consumption. By thinking about what the world looks like with Indians moving toward our standard of living we can more clearly see that our society is unsustainable.

Deep down most of us would rather middle class Indians not own a car but we all pretty much understand that this is not a sensible position to take. Why should your average Indian who produces 1.2 tonnes of carbon not enjoy the same priviledges as North Americans who produce 20.0? It amuses me to hear people scorn Tata motors over this. They are producing cars that as a proportion of total income cost the average India much more than what GM or Ford charge your average North America but I do not see people jumping on the local manufacturers when they introduce a new model.

To tell Indians that they should take the bus while we happily cruise around in our oversized SUVs would be ridiculous. Maybe we should start by looking at our own overconsumption before getting into the business of countires like India and China. No doubt India and China represent a massive number of people and have the potential to cause huge issues as they reach toward North American consumption but we have no moral authority to tell them not to aspire to our level of affluence. The answer to the problem posed by the Nano has to be to reduce our own impact while maintain a dialog with other nations about their activities.

A carbon tax would be a good start. This does not need to mean higher taxes. In Canada the Green Party proposes tax shifting where we move tax from income (which is arguably a good thing that we want to encourage) to CO2 emmission which we most definitely want to curtail. People's financial interest would then be aligned with our environmental objective as they worked to minimize taxes and CO2 at the same time. Why this is not happening I really do not understand. I can see some concerns with how this would impact certain industries and the poor but surely getting around these would be no more difficult than under our society current income tax system. It comes down to a lack of political will and creativity.

Carbon tax or no the world cannot survive if India and China come even remotely close to our consumption levels but left to their own devices they are more than capable of doing so in less time than we think. The ingenuity of Tata Group has brought the ultimate embelem of North America society to within reach of a massive number of people inside and outside of India. This needs to be a wakeup call. We look at ourselves in the mirror and make the changes neccessary to cut back on consumption so as to offset the increases that the Chinese, Indians and others are entittled to.

Per Capital CO2 emissions are 2004 numbers from United Nations study.

1 comment:

Annie Paul said...


Thanks for this, being from India i particularly appreciate it...i wasn't aware of this critique from the first world before but its so similar to local debates among the elite when the Jamaican govt relaxed the car import procedures in the nineties allowing lower middle class and working class jamaicans to import cheap 'deportee' cars from japan.

also thanks for your comment on my blog, sorry to take so long to respond. i wished i had an email for you so i could have replied immediately but hey, this way is good too...