The Great Smog of India

By Siddharth Singh, Penguin Random House, 2018

The Great Smog of India

Air pollution kills over a million Indians every year, albeit silently. Families are thrown into a spiraling cycle of hospital visits, critically poor health and financial trouble impacting their productivity and ability to participate in the economy. Children born in regions of high air pollution are shown to have irreversibly reduced lung function and cognitive abilities that affect their incomes for years to come. They all suffer, silently.

The issue is exacerbated every winter, when the Great Smog of India descends and envelops much of northern India. In this period, the health impact from mere breathing is akin to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. The crisis is so grave that it warrants emergency health advisories forbidding people from stepping out. And yet, for most of us, life is business as usual.
It isn’t that the scientific community and policymakers don’t know what causes air pollution, or what it will take to tackle the problem. It is that the problem is social and political as much as it is technological, and human problems are often harder to overcome than scientific ones. Each sector of the economy that needs reform has its underlying political, economic and social dynamics that need to be addressed to make a credible impact on emissions.

With clarity and compelling arguments, and with a dash of irony, Siddharth Singh demystifies the issue: where we are, how we got here, and what we can do now. He discusses not only developments in sectors like transport, industry and energy production that silently contribute to air pollution, but also the ‘agricultural shock’ to air quality triggered by crop burning in northern India every winter. He places the air pollution crisis in the context of India’s meteorological conditions and also climate change. Above all, and most alarmingly, he makes clear what the repercussions will be if we remain apathetic.

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