India’s Struggle for Nuclear Power

Modernizing is placing a demand for nuclear energy on India while opponents demand unfeasible alternatives.

Nuclear power plant Koodankulam under construction in 2009.

Power for all by 2012 was Dr. Singh’s campaign promise in 2009 when roughly half of India did not have access to reliable electricity.

The Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Mohan Singh staked the future of his first government on the Indo-U.S. Civil Nuclear agreement and won. He also won the general election that followed. Two-and-a-half years into his second term, Dr. Singh is facing popular opposition against the very nuclear power that he had projected as the vital requirement in the emerging power scenario of a country where, as the nuclear energy proponents put it graphically, “roughly half of India’s population does not have access to clean energy forms and the other half, which has access, is not sure of its quantity and quality”. As 2012 now dawns, the Prime Minister’s campaign promise seems to mock him and his government as coal-based thermal power is in a spin and as little progress is made in new nuclear power plants due to popular agitations against the plants and among other causes.

At Koodankulam in the Tirunelveli district of India’s Southern-most tip, a two-reactor nuclear power plant built with Russian aid with a generation capacity of 2,000 MW at a cost of $3 billion had been surrounded by the local population who did not allow any work to proceed just when the two reactors were ready to go commercial. At Jaitapur in the Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra on the West coast, local people protested against building the French-supported, latest technologically advanced nuclear power plants that would add over 6,000 MW (actually it could be 6x 1600 MW) to India’s power capacity in another seven years. At Koodankulam, there are further plans to raise the capacity to 6,000 MW. India is short of uranium with only one deep uranium mine at Jaduguda in Jharkhand state, which is near exhaustion now. But extracting uranium ore from a new rich mine discovered in the Meghalaya state of North-East India cannot proceed because locals led by student activists have blocked progress.

The irony of these different demonstrations is that the Koodankulam opponents are largely fishermen who have received strong support from the local Catholic Church, and so too the Meghalaya agitation against uranium mining. The rightwing Hindu party BJP accuses the Church of acting against national interest at the behest of foreign powers. Yet the party closes its eyes to the fact that the Jaitapur protestors—again mostly made up of fishermen—are led by the right wing Shiv Sena, a more rabid Hindutwa party than the BJP. The ruling Congress has also said that outside forces through several anti-nuclear NGOs are behind both the agitations.

 

The Indo-U.S. Civil Nuclear Cooperation agreement was a tremendous diplomatic success for Dr. Singh. It was signed during the George Bush administration, and a recent book by then National Security Adviser to President Bush Condoleezza Rice has revealed how even Dr. Singh was initially skeptical of persuading the Indian public to accept its terms, but the President won him over. America signaled the end of India’s isolation both from hi-tech imports and from the nuclear power community that Washington had spearheaded all these decades after the 1974 Pokhran-I nuclear explosion demonstrated India’s entry into the select group of international nuclear powers. Rival China had detonated its first bomb in 1964, and ever since Pakistan played the diplomat for the reconciliation of U.S. with China during the Nixon Administration, New Delhi had suspected that Islamabad was developing its own nuclear weapons capability with Chinese and North Korean collaboration while the Americans were looking askance. After the Pakistani nuclear weapons search developed into an Islamic Bomb quest under the drive of the Pakistani nuclear scientist Dr. A. Q. Khan, more recent revelations about the CIA’s complicity in this has proved the Indian suspicions were not without substance. (Post 9/11, under U.S. pressure Pakistan has been forced to isolate Dr. Khan from its nuclear ring.) China provided the nuclear technology support while North Korea the missile technology support.

Contrarily, the Indian political establishment was for years against developing nuclear weapons even while supporting nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. In fact in 1960 Dr. Homi Bhabha, the father of India’s nuclear energy programme, had written to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru suggesting India develop and test a nuclear weapon before the Chinese do and then join the nuclear test ban treaty as a weapons power. But the political environment in the region changed with Pakistan urging for reconciliation between Red China and the U.S. during the Nixon administration, and reports said the two were also colluding to gift a nuclear weapons program to Pakistan. In that context, Indira Gandhi gave the go-ahead to the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) to implement the earlier Bhabha proposal to develop an Indian response.

For several decades since 1974, India covered its nuclear weapons search as a PNEs—peaceful nuclear explosions for building dams and roads in hard rock territories. But the West was not fooled. India had consistently refused to sign the Nuclear Test Ban treaty and later the Non-proliferation Treaty and accused the nuclear weapons powers of forming an exclusive club and discriminating against others. It instead wanted a comprehensive nuclear weapons ban with the then small number of nuclear weapon countries dumping their weapons first.

Following the decades long impasse on this, most nuclear weapons and nuclear energy powers kept India in isolation, led by the U.S., denying access not only to uranium but also to any technology even remotely connected to nuclear power and missiles. The first nuclear power generation plant in India was constructed with U.S. aid during the Eisenhower era under the Atoms for Peace Plan, but with India refusing to sign the nuclear test ban treaty, the U.S. denied enriched uranium supplies to India. The Tarapur power plant used lowly enriched uranium in the Westinghouse, boiling-water-type reactors of 160×2 MW capacity. Dispute also arose on the disposal of the used fuel at the plant with the U.S. insisting on its return and India contending that the fuel was purchased by it and therefore it had all the right to use it as it liked. The decades long differences between India and the U.S. over nuclear material use coincided with a growing distance between the two countries over the international policies and specifically over the anti-Soviet direction of U.S. policy and U.S. support to Pakistan on its claim to Kashmir.

Unable to find a shortcut to highly enriched uranium without using the huge power and equipment needed to raise the quality of India’s low grade uranium, New Delhi worked on extracting plutonium from the spent uranium rods of its research reactor at Trombay set up initially with Canadian help. Plutonium was needed for two purposes: to fuel the second phase of nuclear power generation and to develop implosive weapons devices. The second purpose could be concealed under the first. The Tarapur plant imported from the U.S. for nuclear power generation was using low enriched (up to three percent) uranium, but under the nuclear energy plan devised by Dr. Bhabha, India intended to use its own locally available low grade uranium ore, raise its U-235 content from 0.06 to a little over one percent, and use this in a pressurized heavy water reactor. The technology for PHWR reactors was given by the Canadians. In fact, before the 1974 Pokhran-I detonation, Canada had set up the first of the two reactors in Rajasthan for using the domestic uranium and had imported heavy water to generate nuclear power. The plan was to build two 220 MW CANDU type PHWR reactors with Canadian technology and material aid. But subsequent to the 1974 event, the Canadians abruptly broke off all nuclear power cooperation with India leaving the two CANDU-type reactor plants at Rawatbhata in Rajasthan half done. Not only did India face international isolation on enriched uranium supplies but also a U.S.-led and CIA-monitored international ban on supply of any material for heavy water production. At one point, equipment from abroad for a heavy water plant at Talcher in Orissa was mysteriously jettisoned mid-sea.

However, the U.S. underestimated Indian scientists’ capability as India developed its own heavy water technology and improved upon what it had obtained from Canada on the CANDU-type reactor design and operation. Of course it paid a heavy price in both cost and time, but it learnt how to get around the international ban on supplies of both equipment and technology. At the time India and the U.S. agreed to bury the decades old acrimony over nuclear power, New Delhi had already demonstrated its ability to design, build, and run the 4,620 MW total capacity (plus two Tarapur reactors built by U.S. aid in the 1960s) of 18 pressurized, heavy water reactors—two of which were with higher capacity of 500 MW each and with a related heavy water production capacity. Four other PHWRs with 700 MW capacity and one proto-type fast breeder reactor of 500 MW capacity were under construction with India’s own technology while two Russian aided reactors of 1,000 MW capacity each had almost completed construction. In all, it was 4780 MW of working generation capacity and 5,300 MW of upcoming capacity totaling 10,080 MW.

As a subtext to this creditable achievement of Indian technology and engineering was the development of fast breeder reactors to begin the second phase of Dr. Bhabha’s plan for an Indian nuclear power program. This second phase was to extract plutonium from the spent reactor rods in the first phase of PHWRs and use a mix of uranium-plutonium for reactor fuel that would breed more such fuel. This fast breeder was to use the highly volatile liquid sodium as the cooling agent within the reactor. The reactor would also have a cladding of thorium contained in the coastal sands of the South-East and South-West sea coasts of the country in plenty. Dr. Bhabha envisaged that under the radiation from the fast breeder, the Thorium cladding would be converted to U-233, a high burn-up material that could start yet another fuel cycle to keep the Indian nuclear power program going for another 300 years or so. India, according to the Department of Atomic Energy, has 66,000 tons of uranium metal while it has 2,475,000 of Thorium metal. In the initial stages, the French with their own breeder reactor (Super Phoenix) were collaborating to set up a 40MW fast breeder test reactor at Kalpakkam near the Madras metro city (now renamed Chennai), train Indian scientists, and supply the plutonium-uranium mixed fuel for the reactor. But under U.S. pressure, the French abruptly cut themselves away from cooperation.

Indian scientists, however, did not demur, and over 20 years of research and development, they built and worked up the Kalpakam fast breeder test reactor even though they had to reduce its deigned capacity from 40 to 15 MW. This success emboldened the country to go for the earlier plan of a series of 500 MW fast breeders starting with a prototype. Meanwhile the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), named for the original doctor, had developed and fine tuned several related technologies including researching fuel rods for using thorium after its conversion to U-233. One of the latest developments was the Advanced Heavy Water reactor. Designed by Dr. Anil Kakodkar who at the time was the director of BARC and later was chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), said it would “mainly use thorium based fuel and [had] several advanced safety features”. The compact, high-temperature reactor being designed in the country would be able to extend the core life up to a period of 15 years.

 

Earlier, BARC under Dr. P. K. Iyengar had designed and built a 40 MW research reactor that could produce many radioactive metals through conversion in the reactor. It could, among other things, generate ultra pure plutonium. This reactor, named DHRUVA, received considerable notice abroad as a sign of Indian capabilities in the nuclear field. Subsequently several sophisticated research reactors have been built. These include a 5 MW nuclear power-pack and a 600 MW high-temperature reactor for hydrogen production.

It was not only the end of the Cold War and the new power equation in Asia that got President Bush to offer American co-operation for India’s nuclear power without asking for a reciprocal end to India’s nuclear weapons quest and a stop of nuclear material production. It was also a recognition that the nuclear isolation imposed on India had not deterred the country from developing its own advanced technologies in both weapons and in energy use. The ground for this was set in 1998. In that year Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had made a bold decision to demonstrate India’s capability in designing and exploding a set of second generation nuclear weapons, including a hydrogen bomb, in the Pokhran-II underground explosions. That this could be done without even a hint escaping into the spy rings set up by the CIA and NASA around nuclear tests sites in the world was a shock that the U.S. took some years to digest.

Tellingly, Vajpayee had entrusted the job of Pokhran-II to a two-man team of India’s missile man Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam and nuclear scientist and head of atomic energy establishment Dr. R. Chidambaram. In the 90s, Dr. Kalam as director-general of the Defence Research and Development Organisation had already demonstrated Indian-designed and -developed intermediate range ballistic missile series Agni. In 2002, Dr. Kalam was the unanimous choice for the post of President of India.

All these factors went into the about turn of President Bush’s decision to offer civil nuclear cooperation to India. The turning point in this offer was that the U.S. was not insisting New Delhi give up its weapons program nor sign the non-proliferation and no-test treaties. The weapons program, India and the U.S. agreed, would be isolated from the nuclear power program and developed as a separate entity while the civilian part of the nuclear establishment would come under IAEA surveillance, but no new tests would be conducted. The civil nuclear agreement became a turning point for cooperation between both Dr. Singh who staked his government’s future on it and the U.S. president.

After all these big ticket international success and after Dr. Singh had to overcome the initial reluctance of India’s nuclear establishment at the U.S. offer and strong opposition from both the right wing and left wing parties, the Indian Prime Minister finds himself stymied by localized popular opposition to the burgeoning nuclear power within the country. The first concrete outcome of the Indo-U.S. civil nuclear agreement is the proposed nuclear power plant at Jaitapur. Here French company Areva is proposing to build a four reactor complex of 6,000 MW of the latest design with many advanced features.

The location of this complex has angered local villagers, mostly fishermen, farmers, and mango orchard owners. Dr. Singh has also succeeded in getting Australia to drop its initial objections and supply uranium to India. In 2008, the Nuclear Suppliers Group had, under prodding from the U.S. and the International Atomic Energy Agreement (IAEA), agreed that India could obtain uranium without signing the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. These successes will be empty shells if popular agitations stall any progress in setting up nuclear power plants in new locations as at Jaitapur or prevent operation of completed plants as at Koodumkulam. The worldwide concerns over nuclear power raised by the disaster in Fukushima, Japan have intensified the people’s fears, especially in the coastal regions as at both Jaitapur and Koodaumkulam. Throughout the years that the Russian designed plants were under construction, the local opposition was a mild disatisfaction; but Fukushima has given it a new dimension, raising many hobgoblins of looming disasters.

 

Why does India need nuclear power? With a per capita annual consumption of a mere 650-700 kWh of power, India ranks 150th in the world per capita energy consumption table. But this also reflects low levels of development within the country, points out Mr. V. P. Singh, convener of the nuclear group of the India Energy Forum. He points out that for an 8 to 9 percent GDP growth, India needs to add about 700,000 MW of power by 2030. At present, the total generating capacity of 170,000 MW is largely dependent on fossil fuel resources, mostly coal with a rising use of gas. But the demand-supply gap in coal is widening in addition to India’s coal being largely of high ash content that needs to be either blended or washed for efficient use in thermal generation projects. In the 11th five-year plan that ends in March 2012, the total non-coking coal demand is estimated at 670 million tons, out of which the bulk of 550 million tons is for power generation. But the supplies fall short by 137 MT, which forces a dependence on imports. Import prices have gone up by 60 percent between October 2010 and March 2011 even though prices moderated subsequently as the world economy slowed down. However, the future scenario is not very reassuring despite plans to triple spending on coal mining to roughly $20 billion in the 12th Plan from 2012-17. Demand would rise to over one billion tons by 2016-17, and supplies of non-coking coal would be limited to 710 million tons, leaving a wide gap. The import of coal to fill this gap would actually cost roughly $32 billion; however, it is not the foreign exchange burden alone that is bothering the planners. It is the increasing level of competition between India and China in the international market for coal and oil resources that is pushing up prices and making the suppliers choosy.

The 12th Plan intends to add 100,000 MW to the existing generating capacity of 175,000 MW. In the 11th Plan, the hoped for 75,000 MW addition was reduced to 65,000 MW, and so actual achievement may drop further mainly due to the problems connected with the coal-based generation. The bigger problem is feeding the existing plants. In October this year, the public sector NTPC (National Thermal Power Corporation) has had to cut generation in many of its plants as the coal supply dwindled. Coal India Limited, again a public sector agency, confessed its inability to supply the projected 550 million tons of coal, and the deficit is around 100 million tons. This is happening at a time when the expected gas supplies from the major gas resource of the country, the Krishna-Godavari basin, has thinned though there is hope for the future with one more gas and oil resource coming up in the Barmer region of Rajasthan. Natural gas, however, has other uses also lined up—like fertilizer factories with the country facing a widening gap in fertilizer supplies too. Much would depend upon import of natural gas from Iran though the 20 year old proposal for an Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline passing through Afghanistan is far from realization now for various reasons.

Hydro and Solar power are the two other alternatives, but they face problems. Hydro power has faced environmental and rehabilitation challenges at many places, and in any case, hydro-power availability is subject to a good monsoon year. On solar power, there is now a National Solar Mission that would provide a 500 MW grid-connected capacity by 2013, 3,000 MW by 2017 and 8,000 MW by 2022. The “domestic base is strong enough to sustain faster growth”, says Mr. Gireesh B. Pradhan, secretary for the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy Sources, but the problem is one of technological development that would make solar grid-connected power economic in generation, storage and transmission. “Cutting edge technology is needed”, he admitted while envisioning a 40,000 MW generating capacity through various renewable resources like solar and wind power for some future date. Even as an optimistic estimate, this is far short of the 700,000 MW predicted need for 2030. More hopeful reports on this front have since come out. On December 7, 2011, The Economic Times in India reported that “companies have bid tariffs as low as [$0.14] per unit for solar plants this year, encouraging the renewable energy ministry to say that the target of achieving grid parity or selling solar electricity at the same rate as power from other sources would be achieved much faster than earlier envisaged”. The grid parity date was earlier set at 2022 but it could be five years earlier. Tariffs from existing coal projects are around $0.11 per unit, but coal supply is increasingly becoming a problem and imports are getting costlier. Several of the nine proposed Ultra Mega Power Plants with private sector collaboration are awaiting firm coal supplies. In any case, there is a limit to the coal resource. Dr. Srikumar Banerjee, chairman of the AEC, pointed out at a seminar of the India Energy Forum on November 14 of last year that even if the extra one billion tons of coal needed per year for future generations were available, the bulk of the railway system would be clogged by doubling the demand on the system. Indian railways already haul around one billion tons of freight per year.

 

The case for nuclear power is not based entirely on present problems of fossil fuel supply but the benefits it offers for the long term power requirement of the country, says Dr. Banerjee. These are crystal clear. In the first phase of nuclear power development, India might have to depend on imported uranium supplies. But unlike in the West, India is not ending the fuel cycle with the use of uranium. It is already extracting and will continue to extract more plutonium from the burnt uranium in the spent fuel rods and use a plutonium-uranium mix as new fuel in the fast breeders that are expected to come up in the next decade starting from the one that is at present under construction. The technology and safety of this fast breeder has been demonstrated by the 15 MW test reactor at Kalpakkam. The fast breeder could generate more fuel than it is fed, so the fuel cycle could continue until the original supply is exhausted over decades. As stated earlier, the third phase of nuclear generation with thorium begins with its conversion into U-233 in the fast breeders, and India has over 220,000 tons of thorium in its coastal sands south of the country.

Rebutting the argument that many countries like Germany have stopped further investment in nuclear power, Dr. Anil Kakodkar, former chairman of AEC says, “don’t compare India with Germany”. In Western Europe as a whole, the energy requirements have been largely met and only need incremental addition not wholesale additions as in India. “The power requirement in India is critical compared to any other country of this size and population. So we must shape our policy accordingly”, he says advocating “a mix of different sources with the contribution of nuclear source rising”.

On the fears generated by Fukushima that has further fuelled the Indian agitations against nuclear power, both Dr. Banerjee and Dr. Kakodkar point out that “not a single fatality was due to the nuclear reactor.” Most of those who died or injured were victims of the unprecedented tsunami and earthquake. The reactor accident was also caused when the sea wave fell on the backup generating system that was for cooling the reactor. Dr. Kakodkar says that in the Indian system of reactors, the failure of back up systems would not damage the reactor cooling systems. There are three layers of them, and any event—however powerful—would be contained by one of the three. In the Chernobyl accident in the Soviet Union in 1986, the event was caused by unauthorized employees checking the reactor after switching off its safety systems. Besides the graphite-cooled reactor is now a discarded technology the world over. Even Fukushima was an old system which is no longer used internationally in new reactors.

Despite having experience of over 200 “reactor years” without any major accident, the Indian public is daily exposed to imagined dangers of nuclear power by NGOs and anti-nuclear activists. To meet the post-Fukushima fears, an expert panel went through existing plants and made further recommendations for safety, which are under implementation. Even the tsunami that devastated large coastal regions in East Asia including India did no damage to the coastal nuclear power plant near Chennai. On the issue of nuclear waste also, Dr. Kakodkar contends that the Indian plants first of all generate less waste compared to Western ones because of the re-use of the spent fuel, and the final waste is further processed and then buried beyond all radiation leaks for a thousand years by which time it no longer poses any danger. At a recent energy summit, nuclear scientists provided enormous amounts of data to prove that outside a nuclear reactor, the level of radiation is far less than the natural background radiation that exists in many places. On an aircraft or in an x-ray or CET diagnostics machine, people are exposed to far more intense radiation levels than outside the exclusion zone of a nuclear plant. Apparently all this data is hardly able to penetrate the fear complex in which some are caught due to the anti-nuclear campaigns and unfading TV clips of what happened in Japan.

When asked about the fears of the fishermen in Koodumkulam and Jaitapur that water discharge from the reactors could damage fish population in the sea around, Dr. Banerjee told this journal that research has established that such fears have no basis. The AEC had entrusted eight different universities with checking the sea around the existing coastal plants, but no decrease in fish population or enhanced radioactivity was detected. Dr. Banerjee is frank enough to admit that presenting all these facts about safety has had no effect on the opponents whose minds have already been closed by forces behind them.

This situation of “closed minds” is not only at a village level but is spreading at the political level. Nuclear power is now facing its biggest challenge from a combination of local opposition and political power. In Tamil Nadu, the state government has passed a resolution that asks BRAC to cease preparing the Koodankulam plant for operation even though the state itself is facing a huge power deficit. To overcome religious support for the protests, Prime Minister Dr. Singh himself pleaded with the president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, Cardinal Oswald, but the latter asked the Prime Minister first to remove the people’s apprehensions about safety and livelihood loss. In Jaitapur the Maharashtra Chief Minister Chauhan tried to convince the opponents after they refused to listen to a group of experts from the atomic energy establishments, but it was of no avail. Another group of high level experts sent to Koodankulam also drew a similar blank with agitators refusing to listen. Dr. Kalam, despite the high regard with which the country holds him, was turned away in the Tamil Nadu villages where he went to reassure the agitators after visiting the project.

Though the government expects to raise nuclear power generation capacity to 40,000 MW in ten years and accelerate the program further, there has so far been no progress on attracting new capacities with foreign investment or supplies apart from the French offer to set up the over 6,000 MW nuclear power complex at Jaitapur. The Indo-U.S. agreement and subsequent end to India’s nuclear and hi-tech isolation has yet to translate itself into a rush of announcements of nuclear power plants. The big thing the agreement has done is open the import route for uranium, which is in short supply in India. If other policy problems are settled, India can look forward to creating generating capacities through the uranium route beyond the 10,000 MW that is the limit set by the domestic availability of the fuel.

The latest progress in this is legislation to determine the extent of civil nuclear liabilities in case of accidents. There is, however, one provision in this determination that the suppliers are objecting to—namely, the extending of this liability to every single equipment supplier. Foreign suppliers insist that the liability should oly be held by the main contractor and operator. With the parliamentary opposition insisting on almost open ended liability and criminal action, Dr. Singh finds his hands tied on restricting the liability to the contractor and operator only. In response to the repeated pleas from the U.S. Administration on these issues, Dr. Singh informed President Obama at the East Asian Summit in Bali recently that he could go only this far and no further. India has had offers from several French, American, Japanese, Russian, and other companies for technological and financial collaboration in setting up nuclear power plants after the Indo-U.S. agreement was signed, and some MOUs have resulted, but these await operationalization until after the cloud around foreign participation in Indian nuclear power generation is cleared. The government has also freed the nuclear regulator Atomic Energy Regulatory Board from the control of the Department of Atomic Energy, but opponents agitators want it to be totally free from government authority. A nuclear power plant today can be commissioned within five years due to new technological developments, but it is a period of waiting in New Delhi for many industry suitors.

As power generating companies in India are finding that banks have stopped funding them and as distribution companies are bleeding and cannot pay their dues to the generating companies, the hope of raising nuclear power generating capacity to at least 25 percent from the present 3 percent of total required generating capacity by midcentury is held hostage to popular perceptions of an armageddon likely to happen from nuclear reactors. “The key issue is to make people accept nuclear power,” says Prof. R. Rajaraman, emeritus professor of physics at the School of Physical Sciences at the prestigious Jahawaharlal Nehru University. He could not have been more to the point.

Global Warming isn’t up for Debate

…so why is it still being debated?

On a clear day in late October, sunny, blue skies over the Berkeley university campus warmed  the afternoon to a comfortable 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 °C). It was one degree colder than the thirty-year average that afternoon when the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature study released its findings on global climate change.

They emphasized in their findings, however, that only a large data set from many locations can provide an accurate picture of the global situation. While one-third of data collection sites around the world reported temperature cooling over the last century, two-thirds of the sites showed that temperatures had increased. It might be this unbiased approach used by the Berkeley scientists that will finally sway people who too easily dismiss the doomsday rhetoric that is often used to describe the threat of global warming.

The Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature study has ultimately only confirmed what prior studies had proposed, but it is the first study on climate change to use such a wide range of available data—about five times as much as previous studies. It will take more than reporting what everyone has already heard, however, to convince people that global warming is real.

According to a University of Michigan study published early last year on the opinions of climate change, what people believe is in part dependent on how it is phrased. This divide in understanding shouldn’t be ignored by scientists reporting on global temperature trends. Among self-identified Republicans surveyed in the United States, 60 percent said that “climate change” was real while only 44 percent said that “global warming” was real. (There was no discrepancy among self-identified Democrats who were surveyed, 86 percent of which agreed on the reality of global warming whatever it was called.)

This wording bias has to be expected among a skeptical population. It stems in part from the terms’ meanings. While the word “change” recognizes that there is an issue, its ambiguity finds allies among those who are uncertain about what is actually happening to the world’s climates. The other choice, the word “warming,” decidedly takes a stand that global temperatures are in fact increasing overall. People who are hesitant to use the word warming are at odds with the entire scientific community who insist global warming is the current trend in climate change.

Berkeley Earth was not the first study to report that the change the climate is facing is in fact is a trend of warming temperatures, but a Gallup poll in 2011 reported that 48 percent of readers believed that global warming concerns were exaggerated. This is up from 31 percent of those polled in 1997. Likely heavily overlapping with those people who are hesitant to agree that global warming is real, many feel that this trend isn’t of great consequence even though scientists continue to express their concerns.

What could cause such a widespread rejection of temperature analysis and an increased skepticism of corresponding scientific warnings?  Another study has reported that exactly how scientists and governments phrase their concerns over global warming can have a large effect on whether or not those concerns are believed.

Psychologists at the University of California, Berkeley found that doomsday-style threats about global warming can increase skepticism. Their study found that people who view the world as “fundamentally stable and fair” were likely to reject dire warnings about climate change. In comparison, they were more likely to accept positively-worded messages that focused on possible solutions to the global temperature issue.

The study emphasized that “fear-based appeals, especially when not coupled with a clear solution, can backfire and undermine the intended effects.” The more dramatically warnings about climate change are worded, the more skeptical people become. The study insisted that the majority of people are more open to accepting the logic behind proposed solutions than sensationalist warnings of disaster.

Scientists, however, cannot be held responsible for failing to look at the whole picture when they issue warnings about climate change. Looking at both the causes of and solutions to global warming in an attempt to provide a positive message is outside the scope of any one scientific study.

The study released by Berkley Earth, for instance, only seeks to prove that there is a general trend of rising temperatures in the world. It refuses either to speculate on the causes of that trend or to propose a solution.

It is up to interested groups to combine the results of several studies so that they may propose solutions to global warming at the same time as they admit to the crises. In this way, they are not dismissed as mere doomsayers by global-warming skeptics.

Scientists Long Cao and Ken Caldeira from Carnegie Global Ecology have proposed exactly such a solution to one of the aspects of global warming. An increase in global temperatures can cause dry areas of the world to get even drier, which leads to droughts and famine. These scientists released a study in March of last year that shows how reducing the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will increase precipitation in those areas.

This is a cure for only one of the symptoms of an increase in global temperatures, but Cao emphasizes that while it might take many decades for the climate to cool again, “we would see precipitation increase within the year … if we could cut carbon dioxide concentrations now.” Presenting solutions like this one alongside analysis of the trends of climate change helps to outline that global warming doesn’t spell disaster for a prepared society.

Rather than commenting on possible solutions to global warming, the study released by Berkeley Earth tries to sway public opinion of climate change with the legitimacy of its data. Its entire data set and corresponding analysis has been made available for peer review.

In addition, it is the first study to openly address the issues of data selection and bias in their results. The scientists considered, for instance, that many data collection sites located within urban environments would obviously report a general rise in temperature, but this corresponds to the growth of cities over the last century. This is known as a heat “island” effect because increases in the ambient temperatures of cities is not indicative on its own of an overall warming in global temperatures.

Robert Rohde, the lead scientist for Berkeley Earth, emphasized in his comments on his work that data from no one area can be conclusive evidence of global trends. The climates of local areas do contribute to skepticism surrounding global warming however. He suggested that “the large number of sites reporting cooling might help explain some of the skepticism of global warming.”

Despite what every study is reporting about the world-wide trends, the Berkeley Earth study reveals that a noticeable minority of areas have reported global cooling. People who have felt cooling temperatures in their area or who have heard of that shift reported by their local weather office are less likely to be convinced of a global trend of warming temperatures.

Even factoring in the areas that have experienced cooling, the Berkeley Earth study found that average world land temperature has risen by approximately one degree Celsius since the mid-1950s.

Their study is the latest contribution to the ongoing debate with skeptics about the concerns of climate change, but according to Berkeley Earth’s findings, there should be no debate over the legitimacy of global warming. By more thoroughly analyzing the data of temperature collection sites around the world, Berkeley Earth has hoped to prove once and for all what the scientific community is already agreed upon: global temperatures are rising. What should be done about it, however, is still up for debate.

China’s Bill Gates

A 19 year old, middle school drop-out of China, Zhao Bowen, got a top research job at the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI), China’s largest genome and bioinformatics analysis center. Zhao is now leading a research team consisting of more than 20 experts at the BGI. Earlier, Zhao started an internship and did biotic experiments at the Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science.

His extraordinary caliber gained him access to this position. Wang Jian, President of the BGI, dubbed Zhao Bowen “China’s Bill Gates”.

The Long Road to School

The social cost of the global failure to educate all children.

An outdoor school at the Dadaab Somali refugee camp in Kenya, 2006.

On the first day of class in 2004, 84-year-old Kimani Maruge picked up his cane and walked four kilometres to school to start first grade. His classmates at Kapkenduiywa primary school in eastern Kenya were all between five and eight years old, but Maruge bent his long legs under his tiny wooden desk and sat with them, waiting for their teacher to start. Three of his own grandchildren were already attending the school: eight-year-old Sammi in second grade, nine-year-old Naomi in third grade, and twelve-year-old John in fifth grade. With his wrinkles deepened by his ever-present smile, Maruge turned up his hearing aid and leaned forward in his desk to listen to his teacher. It was not only the beginning of the school year, it was also the beginning of an education that had been denied to Maruge his entire life.

“I have suffered so many problems from being uneducated. People used to cheat me when I bought goods. I couldn’t write my name or read the Bible,” Maruge told Britain’s Daily Mirror in 2005. “My next goal is to be able to read and write better than my grandchildren, who are in higher classes than me.”

Maruge decided to go to school after the government of Kenya announced in 2003 it would be introducing free universal primary education, referred to as elementary school in North America. For years, schools charged fees for everything from text books and writing exams to extracurricular activities and uniforms. The change in public policy was part of the international movement Education For All (EFA) initiated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which seeks to make quality primary education available to everyone in the world free of charge by 2015.

The goal was first formulated at the World Conference on Education for All at Jomtien, Thailand in 1990. It was reaffirmed a decade later in the 2000 Dakar Framework for Action, which assured developing countries they would be given the international aid necessary to help them succeed in delivering free education to their citizens.

“No countries seriously committed to Education for All will be thwarted in their achievement of this goal by lack of resources,” the Framework stated. “Funding agencies are willing to allocate significant resources towards Education for All.”

But the 2011 Education For All Global Monitoring Report shows international funding partners have not lived up to their commitments. Countries that were promised international aid for education if they increased education funding in their own domestic budgets now find themselves over a decade into ambitious education programs without the international support necessary to continue building schools, training and hiring teachers, or acquiring books and resources for students.

Some countries in sub-Saharan Africa will receive less than half the funding they were promised in 2000. In countries such as Burkina Faso with its 26 percent literacy ranked among the lowest in the world, substantial increases in domestic funding in education over the past decade have come at the expense of other essential public services, such as health care. The international community assured these countries that their investments in education would be backed with multilateral aid and the return on their investments was guaranteed, but that just hasn’t been the case.

With the impending failure of the program, the Global Campaign on Education held the Copenhagen Replenishment Conference in November, 2011 with renewed calls for wealthy nations to live up to their commitments and not break their promises to the world’s children.

While donor countries and aid agencies have blamed the 2008 global economic crisis for the funding shortfalls, the failure to live up to these funding commitments has set back global progress on education and made funding partners complicit in the ongoing denial of human rights.

Today 67 million children are still not receiving primary education. The cost of this global failure goes far beyond people not being able to read and write. Education has long been recognized as one of the primary social determinants of health, and in countries with low literacy levels and poor education systems, there are higher mortality rates and a higher incidence of diseases, the most serious being HIV/AIDS.

 

Education is a human right. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s Convention Against Discrimination in Education established education as a fundamental human right in 1960. The Convention stated that education could not be denied to a person on the prohibited discriminatory basis of “race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, economic condition, or birth.”

The right to education was further expanded upon in 1966 in the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Article 13 of the Convention states the participating countries agree “that education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and the sense of its dignity, and shall strengthen the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Most importantly, the countries stated the first goal in achieving the full realization of the right to education was, “Primary education shall be compulsory and free to all.”

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child further expanded upon the right to education in 1989. Parties to the convention recognized “the right of the child to education . . . with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity.” The Convention further stated that primary education should be compulsory and available free to all and that countries should encourage the development of secondary education to make it accessible to every child either by offering free education or financial assistance. The 1989 convention went farther than earlier declarations of the right to education by also stating educational and vocational information should be made accessible and available to all children and that nations should take measures to encourage regular attendance at schools and reduce drop-out rates.

The convention also expressly drew the link between education and health, happiness and human potential. The countries agreed the education of the child should be directed to the development of the child’s personality, talents, and abilities to their fullest potential. The convention went on to state education should instill a respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms, cultural identity, language, and values.

Finally, in emphasizing the right to equal access to education, the convention stated education should “prepare the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin.”

Despite all these assurances and education having been first recognized as a basic human right over 50 years ago, 20 percent of the world’s population today is illiterate according to UNESCO.

 

Representatives from 164 countries came together at the World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal, in April 2000 to reaffirmed their commitment to the EFA initiative established a ten years earlier at Jomtien, Thailand. The Drakar Framework for Action established six specific goals, including universal free primary education for all by 2015. The six goals were as follows:

 (i) expanding and improving comprehensive early childhood care and education, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children;

(ii) ensuring that by 2015 all children, particularly girls, children in difficult circumstances and those belonging to ethnic minorities, have access to and complete, free and compulsory primary education of good quality;

(iii) ensuring that the learning needs of all young people and adults are met through equitable access to appropriate learning and life-skills programmes;

(iv) achieving a 50 percent improvement in levels of adult literacy by 2015, especially for women, and equitable access to basic and continuing education for all adults;

(v) eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005, and achieving gender equality in education by 2015, with a focus on ensuring girls’ full and equal access to and achievement in basic education of good quality;

(vi) improving all aspects of the quality of education and ensuring excellence of all so that recognized and measurable learning outcomes are achieved by all, especially in literacy, numeracy and essential life skills.

The Dakar Framework for Action acknowledged the right to education is a human right, and affirmed the commitment that wealthy nations would provide the aid necessary to reach these goals. The document stated the following:

 All states must fulfil their obligation to offer free and compulsory primary education in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international commitments. The international agreement on the 2015 target date for achieving Universal Primary Education (UPE) in all countries will require commitment and political will from all levels of government.

No countries seriously committed to Education for All will be thwarted in their achievement of this goal by lack of resources. Funding agencies are willing to allocate significant resources towards Education for All.

However, countries that have shown serious commitment to EFA in their own domestic budgets, continue to be thwarted by a lack of resources—specifically, a lack of international aid they were promised.

 

The 2011 EFA Global Monitoring Report states unequivocally the failure of the international community to live up to the funding promises made at Dakar. The report documents some of the extensive efforts and new budget strategies developing countries have undertaken to make education a priority since the Dakar Framework for Action. Most developing countries that required assistance have re-organized their domestic budgets over the last decade to devote more resources to education in the hope of achieving universal, free primary education. Unfortunately, most of the countries that pledged aid for education—including six of the eight G8 nations—have not lived up to their funding promises.

Among the nations hardest hit by this funding failure is the landlocked nation of Burkina Faso in sub-Saharan Africa. After the Dakar Framework was established, the country was among the most successful in the region at mobilizing resources domestically to work toward education for all. However, with substantial shortfalls in international aid, it will be impossible for the country to achieve the EFA goals by 2015.

With a literacy rate at the time of just 26 percent and with primary school enrolment percentages historically in the single digits, in 2001 Burkina Faso developed a full Poverty Reduction Strategy, a key component of which was the Ten Year Basic Education Development Plan.

It was an ambitious plan under which the government made education a top priority.

Pierre Kouraogo, Associate Professor of Applied Linguistics at University of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso’s captial city, wrote in January 2010 that the country’s Ten Year Basic Education Development Plan (2001-2010) sought to implement poverty reduction goals in the education sector. He noted the plan’s many goals included quantitative, qualitative, and institutional objectives, including raising primary school enrolment to 70 percent while reducing gender and regional disparities, raising the country’s overall literacy rate to 40 percent by developing and diversifying adult learning programs, and improving the control, management and evaluation of the educational system through improved training and research.

Since establishing their education development plan, Burkina Faso has more than doubled its education budget, increasing spending to 20 percent of the national budget. However, five international bilateral donors have pulled funding, meaning it will receive less than half the funds pledged in 2000. That leaves the country’s education budget with a $150 million shortfall that will result in millions of children going without education.

This situation is not unique to Burkina Faso. Zambia, Cambodia, Bangladesh, and Mozambique have all increased their domestic education budgets in the past decade, undertaking ambitious programs with the promise of international funding that has not been provided.

In a 2010 interview with Nkepile Mabuse of CNN, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that while 40 million additional children had been educated overall since the start of the EFA initiative in 2000, the G8 nations have failed to live up to their funding promises.

“There has been some success, but there is also this terrible figure: nearly 70 million children who are not at school today—most of them in Africa, of course, the majority girls. It’s a real problem that if we don’t solve will make people think that promises that are made are not kept; promises are made in a casual way rather than made in a serious way. And I think a promise made to children, as Nelson Mandela himself has said, is a particularly sacred promise that has got to be observed; it’s got to be honoured; it’s got to be implemented,” said Brown, head of the High Level Panel on Education, part of the Global Campaign for Education. “We need a million more teachers. We need the classrooms built. We need the educational materials.”

Of the G8 nations, only the United Kingdom and Australia have stepped up with substantial commitments. The United Kingdom has pledged $352 million in education aid over the four years from 2011-2015, while Australia has pledged $278 million over the same period.

In contrast, the United States has pledged only $20 million— less than both the Netherlands and Denmark.

In total, donor countries have committed just four percent of their aid budgets to education while acknowledging the goal of EFA cannot be achieved unless 10 percent is committed.

The Global Campaign for Education says the World Bank is among the worst performers. The amount of aid it gives to education now sits at a 20-year low. World Bank president Robert Zoellick announced increased aid for education in 2010, but GCE says in 2011, the World Bank provided only one-third of the aid for funding it provided the previous year.

“As the world is enraptured with the fight for economic justice— education must be prioritized. Our ‘fund the future’ report shows that spending on basic education is dangerously low and poorly invested. We don’t need rocket scientists to fix the global education crisis, but we do need good quality education for a new generation of scientists, teachers, and doctors. For economic justice to prevail we must fund education, and fund it well,” said David Archer, Global Campaign for Education board member and Head of Education at ActionAid International.

The global financial crisis of 2008 continues to have an impact, placing constraints on the percentage of domestic spending poorer countries can commit to education as well as on the amount of international aid wealthier countries can afford to give.

“The financial crisis has had an impact on government spending on education. Analysis undertaken in the policy focus section shows that seven of the eighteen low-income countries with available data cut education spending in 2009,” stated the 2011 EFA Global Monitoring Report. “In other countries the rate of increase in education spending has slowed considerably. Post-crisis plans to reduce fiscal deficits threaten to undermine financing plans for achieving the EFA goals.”

As the report states, the dual funding commitments to increase domestic education budgets and increase international aid for education are both being challenged by the need to reassess priorities in light of the financial crisis.

“The 2008 financial crisis and subsequent slowdown in economic growth has left many developing countries facing acute fiscal pressures. There is a danger that budget adjustments could starve Education for All financing plans of resources, which would mean fewer teachers, fewer classrooms and, ultimately, fewer children receiving a decent education,” the report said.

“With many major aid donors also seeking to reduce large fiscal deficits, there is a parallel danger that development assistance flows for education could shrink, which would be especially damaging for many of the world’s poorest countries. “

With time running out on the goal of achieving universal, free primary education by 2015 and with funding decreasing rather than increasing, the Global Partnership for Education held a Replenishment Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark in November 2011. The partnership consists of 46 partner countries receiving $2.1 billion in aid. More than 30 bilateral, regional, and international organizations, development banks, private sector and civil society groups also participated in the conference, which focused on renewing international commitments and reminding donor countries and agencies of the importance of achieving EFA’s goals.

In a press release before the conference, GCE said it would take a further $8 billion in aid to meet the goal of educating the 67 million children still going without a primary education. But the conference ended with international donors pledging only $1.5 billion in aid.

“We’re here to remind donors that promises to children should never be broken—yet many have continued to do so for every year since 2000 when they pledged to ensure that no country would be unable to educate their children for lack of finances. Whilst we welcome today’s commitments of about $1.5 billion over three years, we urge donors to try harder. There are still more than 60 million children out of school—and none should be left behind,” Monique Fouilhoux, chair of the Global Campaign for Education, said at the conclusion of the conference.

Unless there is a renewed commitment from wealthy countries to live up to the promises made in the Dakar Framework in 2000 and find the additional $6.5 billion needed, EFA’s goals will not be achieved by 2015 and millions of children will continue to be denied one of the most basic human rights. The cost of this failure cannot be overstated.

 

The cost of this failure is human health and safety. Since the EFA initiative was first conceived in Jomtien in 1990 and reaffirmed with the Dakar Framework in 2000, education has been discussed as the end goal. But education is actually the means of achieving the broader goal of human health and safety. For many of the 67 million children not attending school today, the opportunity to receive an education will literally mean the difference between life and death.

With education comes critical thinking, life skills, and more informed decision-making. This puts people in a better position to care for themselves and their families, make healthier choices, and avoid disease and sickness. According to GCE, seven million cases of HIV/AIDS could be prevented in the next decade if every child receives an education.

The vast gender inequities in education in developing countries affect not only women, but the survival and health of current and future generations. A child born to a literate mother is 50 percent more likely to survive past the age of five years.

“Evidence from household surveys consistently points to maternal education as one for the strongest factors influencing children’s prospects of survival. If the average child mortality rate for sub-Saharan Africa were to fall to the level for children born to women with some secondary education, there would be 1.8 million fewer deaths – a 41% reduction,” the GCE said in its 2011 Global Monitoring Report.

In addition to infant mortality rates, female literacy also has a significant impact on a country’s birth rates. As the planet reached a population of seven billion people in 2011, female education is one of the most important factors in dealing with the issue of overpopulation—such as 850 million people in the world who are malnourished and 1.1 billion who do not have safe drinking water, according to the United Nations.

United Nations researchers have shown that in areas where females complete primary education, there is a significant reduction in the birth rate. Education leads to increased awareness of their own reproductive health and a greater autonomy in decision-making, both of which mean women are less likely to become pregnant and more likely to be able to take care of their children when they do. Thus female education accounts for both a lower birth rate and lower infant mortality in the event of pregnancy.

The World Health Organization recognized education as one of eight “Prerequisites for Health” in the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion, established at the first International Conference on Health Promotion in 1986.

“The fundamental conditions and resources for health are peace, shelter, education, food, income, a stable eco-system, sustainable resources, social justice, and equity.”

Education is essential for the health of individuals as well as communities because knowledge enables people to make better choices. The Charter said the following:

Health promotion supports personal and social development through providing information, education for health, and enhancing life skills. By so doing, it increases the options available to people to exercise more control over their own health and over their environments, and to make choices conducive to health.

Enabling people to learn, throughout life, to prepare themselves for all of its stages and to cope with chronic illness and injuries is essential. This has to be facilitated in school, home, work and community settings. Action is required through educational, professional, commercial and voluntary bodies, and within the institutions themselves.

Michael Marmot, a leading authority on the social determinants of health, has shown mortality rates vary inversely with education. In a 2005 journal article, Marmot compared Matlab, Bangladesh and St. Petersburg, Russia and found that in both places, mortality rates were lower among the more educated and higher among the less educated.

In research on health literacy, Ilona Kickbusch of Yale University has noted the important connection between education and health:

Health researchers and health care professionals, from both the developed and developing worlds, have long been concerned about the link between health and education

Reports abound from developing countries that highlight the positive impact of education and literacy on population, health and, in particular, womens’ health and the health of children … The recent report on the State of the World’s Mothers by Save the Children … has identified the adult female literacy rate (the percentage of women over the age of 15 years who can read and write), as one of the 10 key indicators to assess ‘women’s well-being’. It is estimated that two-thirds of the world’s 960 million illiterate adults are women. All countries ranked in the top 10 for ‘women’s well-being’ have a female literacy rate of 90% and higher. Latin America has an 80% female literacy rate—the highest among developing nations. In contrast, Africa has the lowest rate with wide disparities. For example, South Africa and Zimbabwe have a literacy rate close to 80%, while in some of the poorest countries, such as Niger and Burkina Faso, only 10% of women can read and write. A mother’s level of education correlates closely with a child’s risk of dying before age 2 years. Developing countries that have achieved a female literacy rate ranging from 70 to 83% have also achieved an infant mortality rate of 50 (per 100,000) or lower.

A 2009 report from UNICEF on infant mortality rates also highlights the important role education plays in the health of both infants and mothers.

“We know that women that have earlier child birth are at much higher risk of dying themselves and their infants have much higher risks as well. We also know that women who are educated make better decisions about health care for themselves and their family,” Peter Salama, UNICEF’s Chief of Health, told the IPS news agency in Johannesburg when the report was released.

 

Lower education rates mean higher mortality rates. The inability to read and write present barriers to gaining the knowledge necessary to make the best decisions for personal health and security. In short, people who do not receive an education will have shorter, less healthy and therefore less happy lives.

It was this realization that motivated Kimani Maruge to walk the three miles to his primary school each day. While he had already lived almost twice as long as the average male life expectancy, Maruge wanted to set an example for his four children, 19 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Knowing that education is a basic human right, he wanted to live his life confident that he understood simple transactions when he was buying goods. He wanted to be able to express himself and better understand the world around him. It was through this determination that he eventually achieved one of his lifelong goals: each morning before he went to school, he would sit by himself and read his Bible.

In September 2005, Maruge boarded a plane for the first time in his life and flew to New York City as a guest of UNESCO. At 85, the oldest primary student in the world addressed the United Nations Millennium Development Summit, speaking on the importance of universal free primary education and urging world leaders to fulfil their promise to make education free for all.

“I want that all the children in the world be educated,” Maruge said. “It is my life dream to make sure nobody has to wait as long as I to receive an education. It is a basic human right.”

But after his return to Kenya, his own education was interrupted by post-election violence in 2007. After living in a refugee camp, Maruge relocated to a retirement home in Nairobi and enrolled in the sixth grade. He continued his studies but was two years short of completing his primary education when he passed away at the age of 89 in 2009.

In becoming the world’s oldest student, Maruge attracted the interest of the world media, drawing attention to the significant challenge of achieving EFA’s goals by 2015. If countries who pledged aid can find inspiration in Maruge’s determination, perhaps that larger goal will not have died with him.

The Growth of Genetic Crops

The “Gene” and no longer the “Green” Revolution will fight hunger in the 21st century.

Traditional cotton fields in 2005 that have since been replaced — near Nagarjuna Sagar, India.

Accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in Stockholm in 1970, the late, eminent agricultural scientist Dr Norman Borlaug warned the world that his “Green Revolution” had won only a temporary success in man’s war against hunger. If fully implemented, Bourlang’s modernization of farming practises could provide sufficient food for humankind only through to the end of the 20th century.

The father of the Green Revolution added that “unless the frightening power of human reproduction [is] curbed, the success of the Green Revolution [will] only be ephemeral.”

Dr. Borlaug’s innovations had a tremendous impact on India, and he continued to visit the country at least once a year until 2005. He said in his Convocation Address to the Indian Agricultural Research Institute in 1996 that he believed that agricultural scientists had a moral obligation to warn the political, educational and religious leaders of the world about magnitude and seriousness of the arable land, food, and population problems that lay ahead.

He warned that “if we fail to do so in a forthright manner, we will be negligent in our duty and inadvertently will be contributing to the pending chaos of incalculable millions of deaths by starvation.”

The last time Dr. Borlang was received in India was in March 2005 to present the “Borlaug Award” (named after by him by Coromandel Fertilizers, the sponsors) to two eminent agricultural scientists. On that occasion, he advocated the launch of the “Gene revolution” by defending in his speech the use of genetically modified organisms and transgenic crops. He maintained that these offered numerous new possibilities for the future.

“My biotechnological dream,” he stated, “involves transfer of rice plants’ resistance against the dreaded rust disease to wheat and other cereals and transfer of wheat’s proteins to rice and maize.” He had prophesied that day that “you will be able to eat rice sandwiches in 50 years from now.”

Borlaug also ridiculed the proponents of organic farming by saying it was “nonsense” to think that you could feed the world without the use of chemical fertilizers. Despite the impressive increase in food production due to seed-fertilizer-irrigation-based technology, several million people still went to bed hungry.

“You have to double the food output by 2050 to feed them” he added and maintained that it was not possible even if all the organics available in the world were used for this purpose.

He added that Bt cotton was doing a good job in many parts of the world and protecting against insects and so advocated extensive use of modified crops. Bt cotton is genetically modified with Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacillus found in the soils in eastern Germany which is resistant to insects. He said those who opposed Bt cotton were not aware of the global research studies that showed genetically modified crops had raised productivity levels.

 

Organic farming rejected many of the methods used even in the Green Revolution long before the advent of genetically modified crops. It draws many adherents in the world while at the same time drawing criticism from leading agricultural scientists such as the Dr. Borlaug.

In India, there are not very many defenders of organic farming systems—even on the basis of religion. The Indian Ministry of Agriculture has published documents explaining what organic farming means and what is the extent of its popularity.

According to the National Centre of Organic Farming in India, the concept is based on the following premises: Nature is the best role model for farming since it does not use any inputs nor demand unnatural quantities of water. The entire system is based on an intimate understanding of Nature’s ways. The system does not believe in stripping the soil of its nutrients and nor does it degrade it in any way for today’s needs; instead, the soil in an organic system is a considered a living entity. The soil’s populations of microbes and other organisms are significant contributors to its fertility on a sustained basis and must be protected and nurtured at all cost.

In today’s terminology, it is a method of farming that primarily aims to cultivate the land and raise crops in a way that keeps the soil alive and in good health through the use of organic fertilizers (crop, animal, aquatic, and farm wastes) and other biological materials like beneficial microbes (bio-fertilizers) that release nutrients to crops. This ideally results in an increased sustainable production in an eco-friendly, pollution-free environment.

According to the document, the yearly harvest of crops under organic management the world over has grown from 42,000 hectares in 2003 to 10.86 million in 2010. Of this, 758,000 hectares are full-organic crops and 328,000 hectares are in conversion. The total number of farmers involved is under 600,000.

The leading countries in organic farming—Bolivia, Australia, the Philippines, Myanmar, Burkina Faso, Spain, and Mexico—all have less than one million hectares each being used for organic farming.

In comparison, the briefs published by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) gives details of the global status of commercial biotech and genetically modified crops in 2010. The document offers global hectarage figures for genetically-modified crops. In millions of hectare, the following are the figures for the ten countries with the largest biotech farming area 2010:

USA, 66.8; Brazil, 25.4; Argentina, 22.9; India, 9.4; Canada, 8.8; China, 3.5; Paraguay, 2.6; Pakistan, 2.4; South Africa, 2.2; and Urugay, 1.1.

The more or less meagre area under organic farming in the world shows how unsuccessful the environmentalist appeal has been for this form of agriculture.

 

Biotech crops experienced the 15th anniversary of their commercialization in 2010 according to the ISAAA briefs. Accumulated hectarage from 1996 to 2010 exceeded one billion—close to the total area of USA or China—clearly signifying that biotech crops are here to stay.

Societies of scientists welcomed the idea of genetically modified products early on. The lead was taken by the Royal Society of London. Scientists in the U.S., Brazil, Mexico, China, and India soon followed suit. The Indian National Science Academy (INSA) had welcomed the advent of genetically modified foodgrains by July 2000.

When these societies gave their approval of genetically modified crops, however, they did not give a carte blanche consent for the production of new crops. They instead issued directions for the careful consumption of such foods, monitoring closely which crops were allowed and which were not.

In India, authorities approved the Bt cotton proposed by Monsanto and Mahyc in 2002. Despite the phenomenal success of Bt cotton since that time, however, it is important to note that the Minister for Environment blocked the introduction of Bt brinjal (egg plant) in a manner that raises questions about the system of approval or rejection of genetically modified crops in India.

The Minister had called a meeting of the “civil society” on the evening of February 9, 2011, a day before the issue was to come up before a bench of the Supreme Court of India for appraisal. The Minister arranged the meeting of the “civil society” in which few scientists were involved and most present opposed allowing the Bt brinjal crop. In an open vote, the introduction of the Bt brinjal was rejected. The Supreme Court the next morning had to cancel the case since a decision had already been made on the issue. In the scientific community, only one notable researcher was against the introduction of the Bt brinjal, but almost no scientists were allowed to attend or speak at the meeting, which prevented the introduction of this popular vegetable.

Otherwise, genetically modified crops have been widely adapted. There is a record 87-fold increase in hectarage between 1996 and 2010, which makes biotech crops the fastest adopted crop technology in the history of modern agriculture. The year 2010 saw strong double digit growth of 10 percent reaching 148 million additional hectares, which is notably the second largest increase in 15 years. “Trait hectares,” which contain genetically modified crops stacked with more than one additional trait, grew from 180 million hectares in 2009 to 205 million hectares in 2010; an increase of 14 percent or 25 million trait hectares.

The number of countries planning biotech crops soared to a record 29, up from 25 in 2009. In 2010, the top ten biotech farming countries each grew greater than 1 million hectares. More than half the world’s population, or 4 billion people, live in the 29 countries that are planting biotech crops. Of the 29 countries, 19 are developing countries and only ten are industrialized countries.

Three new countries, Pakistan, Myanmar, and Sweden, reported planting biotech crops officially for the first time in 2010, and Germany also initiated its biotech crop efforts

In addition, another 30 countries imported biotech crop products for a total of 59 countries approving the use of biotech crops, either for planting or importing; 75 percent of the world’s population live in those 59 countries.

Developing countries grew 48 percent biotech crops in 2010 and will exceed industrial countries hectarage before 2015. Biotech growth rate was much faster in developing countries: 17 percent or 102 million hectares versus 5 percent or 3.8 million hectares in industrialized countries. The five leading developing countries in biotech crops are China and India in Asia, Brazil and Argentina in Latin America and South Africa in the continent of Africa.

India contained the world’s largest area under Bt cotton in 2010. Bt cotton area increased by one million hectares to 9.4 million in that year, which is 86 percent of the total cotton area. For the ninth consecutive year, the adoption rate and the number of farmers using Bt cotton hybrids in 2010 all continued to soar to record highs. Indian Bt cotton represents an unprecedented 188-fold increase from 50,000 in 2002 to 9.4 million hectares in 2010.

Around the world, genetically modified crops are growing in popularity faster than any other choice of crop. Organic may always remain an option for wealthier countries, but for everyone else, the technological improvements of the Green Revolution are being aided by the Gene Revolution in order to meet the rising demands of the world’s population.

Pakistan Returns to Cooperation after U.S. Air Strike

Pakistan has begun sending officials back to coordination centers along the Afghanistan border after withdrawing them in November in protest of a United States air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

According to the U.S., American and Afghan troops came under fire while working together in a border region and the air strike was ordered as an act of self-defense. The U.S. said American forces checked with Pakistani officials to ensure there were no Pakistani troops in the area before launching the ill-fated air strike on Nov. 26.

Both NATO and the U.S. called the deaths “tragic and unintended,” but the incident cooled their relationship with Pakistan.

Shortly after the attacks, Pakistan shut down all NATO movement in the area, pulled its representatives out of coordination centers, recalled staff from Kabul, and blocked shipping routes for NATO supplies to Afghanistan.

It was more than two weeks after the attacks that Pakistan indicated it would again begin cooperating with NATO and the U.S., returning staff and re-opening travel routes. After launching an investigation, headed by U.S. Brig. Gen. Stephen Turner, American and Pakistani representatives met to discuss the incident and renew their commitment to cooperation and better communication.

How to Adapt to Climate Change

The UN encourages policymakers to prepare for the worst.

Smog over Kampala, Uganda where the IPCC held its conference.

An image appears on the slide showing a line of Kenyans carrying their belongings across a plane of ankle-deep, churning waters. Its heading reads, “Managing the risks: flash floods in Nairobi.” The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has outlined how climate change spells disaster for unprepared communities.

The IPCC released a report in November that it called its “Summary for Policymakers.” The summary is 29-page short-version of the  scientific report due out in February which is on “Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disaster to Advance Climate Change Adaptation.”  The IPCC is a United Nations body that regularly reports on climate research and has even won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 alongside American Al Gore.

The IPCC report last year is not based on new research. It is an analysis of the trends suggested by the findings of other research groups released in recent years. The New York Times reported how the IPCC’s recent analysis doesn’t break any new ground and was even cautious to accept some predictions of climate change that it had deemed premature. The report reveals what degree of confidence the IPCC has in each of the reports it adopts and thus the likelihood of predicted outcomes that are based on those reports.

“Climate Change Adaptation,” however, is the key phrase in the title of the report. What the IPPC has done for the first time is combine analysis from the fields of climate science and disaster risk management in order to adapt to climate change. The report aims to create a discussion of “how to reduce and manage the risks of extreme events and disasters in a changing climate.” By not only offering predictions, but also analysing them in the context various at-risk areas of the globe, the IPCC report hopes to reduce the effect of climate change on our societies.

The report addressed the causes of climate change with barely more than a footnote. Other than encouraging policymakers to minimize greenhouse gas emissions, the IPCC did not specify what should be done to halt the current trends in the climate. The report did admit with a certainty of greater than 66% that human influences have led to a “warming of extreme daily minimum and maximum temperatures on the global scale” as well as an “increasing extreme costal high water due to increase in mean sea level.”  But while the IPCC recognized that preventing climate change would minimize the risk of disaster, to what degree anthropogenic climate change could be mitigated was recognized as “outside the scope of this report.”

The IPCC’s General Predictions

Likelihoods are given in parenthesis.

  • Frequency of warm temperature extremes will increase (>99%)
  • Frequency of cold temperature extremes will decrease (>99%)
  • Average sea levels will rise (>90%)
  • Heat waves will increase in length, frequency, and/or intensity (>90%)
  • Average maximum wind speed of tropical hurricanes will increase (>66%)
  • Frequency of heavy precipitation will increase over many regions (>66%)
  • Number of tropical hurricanes will either decrease or remain constant (>66%)
  • Droughts will intensify (33-66%)

Leaving analysis into the causes of climate change for future reports, the IPCC “Summary for Policymakers” focused most heavily on what will occur over the next 100 years in the climate and what can be done to minimize its effect on our nations.

The bulk of the report focused on what our changing climate means for unprepared nations and what they can do to prepare.  It outlined that though the changing climate may be responsible for extreme weather events, it is the preparedness of a society that makes those events a disaster or not.  The report outlined how a disaster can be measured either in the toll on human well-being or in the financial cost to a nation. The IPCC put equal weight on both in its report, recognizing that different sorts of weather events threaten regions in different ways, and it is valuable for a society to be prepared to minimize both the loss of life and the economic damage caused by a disaster.

As a result of weather- and climate-related disasters , the IPCC reported with a high degree of confidence that both economic losses expressed as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product and loss of life are higher in developing countries. Total economic losses, on the other hand, are higher in developed countries.

Other than improved forecasting and warning systems for severe climate events, the IPCC  said that “Vulnerability” and “Exposure” are the two factors policymakers need to consider when planning for climate change. It addition, it argued that “risk management works best when tailored to local circumstances.”

Vulnerability is the nature of a people to be susceptible to severe climate events on account of sociological and economic reasons. For instance, areas with poor drainage systems, like Nairobi in Kenya are vulnerable to floods, and areas with few drought-resistant crops, like West Africa, are more vulnerable to famine caused by droughts. Decreasing poverty and encouraging education are two of the methods the report outlines that a government can reduce the vulnerability of its people.

Exposure is the nature of an area to be susceptible to severe climate events on account of location. For instance, small island developing states are most at risk of rising sea levels, and ocean-side lowlands in the United States and the Caribbean are at risk of hurricanes. Relocating people and valuable assets or improving weather-proofing on buildings through national funding or stricter building codes are ways a government might prevent disaster in exposed areas.

Perhaps more so than as a result of climate change thus far, the report indicated with a high degree of confidence that an increasing economic loss from natural disasters over the last thirty years has been a result of the increased exposure of people and economic assets. Population growth in at-risk areas has turned out to been the principal cause of loss.

This is why the IPCC’s chose to focus on ways to minimize the damage caused by weather- and climate-related disasters—though such a method at first seems counterintuitive in comparison to preventing or reversing climate change. According to the IPCC, a prepared society can mitigate the negative effects of climate change by preventing severe weather events from turning into disasters. It seems that many of these disasters occurred as a result of manageable weather patterns striking predictable areas where people with a high vulnerability had been forced to live. Given the herculean nature of preventing climate change, the IPCC looked instead at ways to adapt to it. Their ultimate message is that until climate change can be reversed, we must learn to live with it.

Spring 2017