Dec 14, 2018

Book Review: The Great Smog of India by Siddharth Singh

Come Oct every year, we keep hearing about the smog in Delhi. The reasons quoted in the media were mostly focused on stubble burning and/or Diwali crackers. I wanted to understand the underlying reasons behind stubble burning and the other reasons behind rising air pollution, not just in Delhi but also in other parts of the country. This year, both my husband and I were hit with allergy related cold and cough often. The frequency of such issues were higher, compared to the previous years. And the recovery took more time than the usual viral infections. Dust, mites, traffic, smoke etc were the reasons given for these allergies. Similar to the way I tried to understand about food and nutrition over the past 5-6 years, I have been wanting to understand in depth about what goes in the air we breathe and water we drink. 

This book "The Great Smog of India" couldn't have come at a better time. The author has taken ample effort in demystifying air pollution and the various facets that need to be considered. Starting from the basics of what constitutes air pollution, particulate matter and its various sources, the first 3 chapters set the context very well, before diving into the reasons and sources that increase particulate matter in the air. The author also raises valid concerns on the silence towards air pollution related issues and its impact on health care, employment and productivity of citizens, which would in turn impact the growing economy.

I was simply nodding my head when he talks about how India's economically privileged class have managed to escape situations where the Govt has offered sub-optimal solutions in fields of education (private schools), health care (private hospitals), security (gated communities), clean water (water purifiers and filters) and now clean air (air purifiers).

This statement below is so relevant and true:

Not only do air purifiers allow us to consume clean air, they also lead to increased energy consumption - which in turn can lead to increased power demand and therefore emissions, further impacting those who cannot afford the purifiers.

After setting the context, the author has taken the reader on a journey by explaining the 5 main reasons behind the "great smog" in a clear and easy to understand language without any complicated jargon.
  1. Geographical and meteorological reasons
  2. Energy generation, sources and the externalities behind each source
  3. Industrialization and growth
  4. Transportation
  5. Agricultural impact post the Green Revolution
The chapters explaining the history and timeline of various critical decisions behind these 5 reasons were quite insightful. I was particularly interested in reading about rice-wheat cropping system being followed by farmers in the Northern region which necessitates burning crop residue, because of the limitations and costs involved in other alternative solutions.

The book also talks about various solutions to address this problem of air pollution - "reduce or remove the sources of pollutants using innovative policies, technologies and investments". Air pollution needs to be considered an important "national" issue to be addressed. Instead of blaming the meteorological reasons, inaction by certain states, lack of cohesive policies and lack of right data points to quantify the issue, we need to look for innovative solutions, addressing the various sources of pollutants.

It was truly an insightful read with many key take-aways. If we care about the air we breathe in, we need to know how it is getting affected by various factors. It is high time that we as citizens take serious note of this issue and demand the right solutions from our elected representatives.

P.S. The book was sent to me by Flipkart as part of their "bloggers initiative". The review is my honest and unbiased feedback on the book.

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