Paying in Pollution for a Night of TV


Scott Eells for The New York Times

It sometimes seems that every step we take forward to deal with climate change, there is another equal and opposite step back somewhere else. In India and China, rural villages didn't have much but they did have clean air and negligible emissions of CO2. Then China started producing really cheap diesel generators that have opened up a huge market for television sets. "There has been a mushrooming of these decentralized diesel generators," said Ibrahim Rehman, a rural energy expert at the Energy and Resources Institute in New Delhi. While many generators are purchased initially to power irrigation pumps, they have also opened up a huge new market for television sets, which in turn creates demand for even more diesel generators. "You either want clean air or television" in many villages, said Nandita Mongia, the chief of the United Nations Development Program's regional energy program for Asia and the Pacific. In nearly all cases, television wins.

There have been some attempts at alternatives- "Renewable sources have made some inroads, including tiny hydroelectric dams for Himalayan streams, biomass generators for India and Southeast Asia, solar-powered lanterns for India and Africa and rooftop water tanks in southern China."

But demand for electricity has been growing even more swiftly across the developing world, particularly in China and India.

When night falls here in Baharbari and countless stars blaze from an inky sky virtually uncontaminated by outdoor lighting, many of the thatch huts glow softly with the violet light of television screens, and occasionally a small bulb providing reading light for a child.

Three years ago, practically no one had a television set in this isolated community tucked between Nepal and Bangladesh. It is an area so remote and roadless that the only access is on foot or by bullock cart, after monsoon rains turn dirt paths into bogs that become impassable even for farm tractors.

Even so, half of the 1,000 households have TV, paying about 40 cents every few days to the owner of a diesel generator to recharge the batteries that power the sets. Ranvir Kumar Mandel, a slender 22-year-old, has built a bamboo hut here just to serve as a television repair shop.

"Before, there was no market," he said, sitting near a pile of mostly black-and-white sets to be fixed. ::New York Times

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