• News
  • Columns
  • Interviews
  • BW Communities
  • Events
  • BW TV
  • Subscribe to Print
BW Businessworld

Business Of Carbon Discredits

Photo Credit :

Morse Pitts is an Indian farmer by practice and by policy. That is the instant impression one gets while reading Heather Rogers's intensely engaging book Green Gone Wrong. Pitts is a ‘non-conventional' farmer doing business at the Union Square Greenmarket in New York City, with whom Rogers navigates to demystify and dissect the new world of ‘green' products.

Moreover, Pitts is struggling hard to remain a ‘non-conventional' farmer (organic farmer). He may be the true producer of organic products, but will not prefer to be certified by US government. Those certified, as the book finds out, may not be truly green or organic. Farmers such as Pitts will be gradually pushed out of the business as the US government policy is slanted towards the factory mode of agriculture. Rogers feel this will further push small organic farmers away from the market, adding to their carbon footprint through transportation. And this may well add to the already costly organic products, discouraging buyers.

Small is not beautiful any more, though the world outside seeks more of them to feel ecologically correct. Pitts resembles an Indian farmer and his conditions are similar to those in India. The only difference: most Indian farmers practise ‘non-conventional' farming by default.

Of late, green products have caught global imagination. In Europe and the US, the demand for eco-friendly products is very high. The craze for green products is catching on in an emerging economy such as India too. The goods range from farm produce to biofuels to vehicles. Even Delhi's packers and movers claim to be green, citing they use recycled packing materials and take ‘extra' care to guard your indoor plants, but using highly polluting diesel vehicles. Their intent may be real, but the intelligence we approach it with is superficial.

Rogers finds this out by doing a socio-political and economic reverse engineering of green products and concepts in three critical sectors: food, shelter and transport. The author uses climate change and its causes as the springboard, and travels across the globe to see if the world of green products, emerging as a popular response to neutralise greenhouse gases emissions, can actually meet its objective. She starts with the organic farmers in the US, and moves to organic sugarcane fields in Paraguay, palm oil producers in Indonesia, and carbon offset projects in rural India. She probes whether the green products or concepts that we propagate or invest in are really reducing carbon emission or adding to the already perilous stock in the atmosphere.

Her reporting and research are not only empirical, but are also backed by contemporary policy trends and solid statistics. As you read the book, you don't feel as if you are hopping from one place to the other, or from one issue to the other, without making sense of this complex world. Rather, you are being guided into an organised, dubious world where most of the players work hand in glove to ensure just the opposite of what they are supposed to do.

The players do not include the producers or the buyers of organic food. The palm oil plantation overdrive in Indonesia to capture the market of biodiesel is an example. Palm oil plantations will cover 26 million acres by 2022, up from 16 million now. Fuelled by demands in Europe and the US, this overdrive for ‘green fuel' will turn it into a major threat to the ecology. It will wipe out thick virgin forests and will clear out the in-built carbon sinks of the earth. This nullifies the green benefits of biofuels. Besides, this will impact local economies of traditional communities. Similar is the practice of carbon off-setting by individuals and organisations. Usually, they donate money to specialised firms to neutralise their carbon consumption. The book tracks a few such projects in India. These projects are carbon neutral like solar power and biogas plants. Rogers finds them ineffective: they are hardly contributing to emission reduction, and the process is not transparent given that public money is being spent.

 There are many such well-researched stories in the book, whose style of presentation is its strength. Each episode is seen through the eyes of the consumers or the producers. Each story reminds us of the larger setting of how government policies and intricacies add on to the problem. The stories are local, but ramifications are global. Hence, the American farmer, Pitts, immediately assumes an Indian identity bringing the lessons from the US's green-product world closer to an Indian village.

Author's Details:
Heather Rogers
is a journalist and filmmaker. Her previous book, Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage, traces the history and politics of household garbage in the US. Her documentary film, also titled Gone Tomorrow, received wide acclaim in festivals across the globe.

Click to read an interview with Heather Rogers

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 06-09-2010)