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EDIT: I’m stepping away for the evening but I’ll answer any remaining questions later today or early tomorrow. Thank you for all the questions so far!

I recently visited Korba, an Indian city completely dependent on coal and related industries. Pollution from open-pit mines and coal power plants make Korba the third most “critically polluted” city in the country. We hear a lot of stories about the rise of renewables in India, but more than 75% of the country’s electricity still comes from burning coal. If India went China’s way, we’ll blow past the carbon budget set under the Paris climate agreement, even if other countries cut emissions. Fortunately, it seems like India’s coal use may peak sooner and at a lower level. Pushing the brakes harder on coal is tricky but possible. Ask me anything!

Proof: https://i.redd.it/mgkbmsqoeiv31.jpg

Comments: 329 • Responses: 40  • Date: 

black_flag_4ever191 karma

What do people in Korba think about climate change?

QuartzNews463 karma

Most people we spoke to in and around Korba don't think about climate change. And that's not surprising.

The average worker in and around the city is poor and not educated. That means their biggest worry is whether they can afford food the next day, pay rent the next week, and pay utility bills for the month. This hierarchy of needs, one environmental advocate explained to me, stops those who are affected by pollution and likely soon climate change from thinking about the big problem.

Environmental activists have worked with some of the most affected people and explained to them the connection between coal and climate change. Many of them are farmers and understand instinctually when they are able to connect the changing weather patters on a year-to-year basis to climate change more generally.

Broader awareness is starting to happen organically, too. Some who have worked in mines and power plants for decades have been able to send their children to get higher education. I met an engineer who had come back after completing his education to help his fellow villagers realize the injustices they are suffering and organize a movement to bring about change.

But there's a long way to go in raising awareness. We'll need to raise living standards, get more people educated, and provide journalism that serves them.

Preece91 karma

Is it really fair to call it a "coal addiction", as if they are reckless junkies? I assume most people are just trying to heat and power their houses and offices. What alternative power sources do you think they should move to? Solar and wind don't really seem like an answer. If rich countries like Germany and the US can't do it, I don't think India could.

QuartzNews62 karma

Fair question. I used the word "addiction" because that's how many people see India's coal use. It isn't an addiction but a necessity, as I explain in my stories.

India doesn't have access to much oil or gas of its own, but it does have a lot of coal. Until solar and wind power became cheap, India kept growing its dependence on coal to grow as an economy. And it will depend on coal for at least another decade or two.

The good news is the growth of India's coal use is starting to slow and it's likely to peak sooner than previous estimates. Yes, renewables aren't one-to-one replacement, but India's electricity demand is growing at 6% or more. And there's lots of room for intermittent energy sources to play a role.

Even though Germany and the US haven't eliminated coal, they are doing well to reduce its use. India can do that. That's a great thing for the climate right now.

thetamilking69 karma

https://i.redd.it/mgkbmsqoeiv31.jpg

What are your thoughts on nuclear energy? And the constant protests (funded by foreign NGOs as former PM Manmohan said)?

QuartzNews21 karma

Nuclear power is one of the biggest source of zero-carbon energy. Its use, at least in the countries that already have the technology, should be promoted. Safety is always an issue with any technology, but nuclear has been getting safer (not riskier).

The difficulty is that nuclear plants are facing huge cost overruns everywhere in the world. The only country that's building lots of nuclear plants is China, but, as with most things in China, it's not clear how cost effective that build out is.

Most countries with nuclear technology see nuclear as a necessity for another reason: to have nuclear engineers who can be involved in military life managing nuclear weapons in their early career and then transition to civil life in the power industry later.

I'm not familiar enough with India's nuclear efforts yet to answer your specific question. I look forward to doing a deep dive on the subject someday soon!

ranjan_zehereela201465 karma

Let us say your visit was aimed at creating awareness about climate related issues, what alternatives you can suggest for the working population and businesses over there in Korba? I am from CG and I acknowledge the part Korba has played in Chhattisgarh's economy and providing solutions to India's energy needs when there were not much options in renewable energy were available for developing country like India. It is still called the power hub of India. I hope you enjoyed your stay in CG

QuartzNews51 karma

Thank you, Ranjan. Chhattisgarh is beautiful. We spent a few days in Raipur and took the train from Raipur to Korba. I was in the state for only a week, but I definitely got a sense of the lovely people and great food. We also visited the Hasdeo Arand forest.

You're right that Korba was built on coal. The alternatives aren't easy. But it can be done. The govt has been collecting funds (called DMF) from coal mining companies towards the development of cities like Korba. These funds can be invested in sensible ways to help retrain people and find new jobs.

That said coal isn't going away any time soon. There's also a lot of room to enforce higher environmental standards (which can itself spur jobs) and help improve the lives of the people who suffer from the solution. Any benefits there is money saved on healthcare, which only helps people not just be healthier but also richer.

I definitely don't have all the answers. But the sense I got is that there's huge room for improvement without shutting down the industry.

coldcoldnovemberrain12 karma

These funds can be invested in sensible ways to help retrain people and find new jobs.

What exactly is this retraining? This keeps getting said even in the United State where coals job are under threat. The 2016 elections and realities on the ground are that you can't train a 48 year coal miners programming or whatever the job of the future.

So what specifically do you as journalist or as a govt. policy think that a 48 year old coal miner with a family to support should retrain for?

QuartzNews1 karma

This is a good question. Specifically in the US context, most coal mine jobs are now high-skilled jobs because the work doesn't involve as much manual labor. Instead it needs engineers who are adept at handling and maintaining large machinery and at project management. That means they can be retrained to do other high-skilled jobs, such as maintaining wind turbines. This is one example: https://qz.com/990192/ but there are more.

mensu200526 karma

Was it hard to breathe? Did you have to wear a mask? If so, were they free?

What was your favorite tradition of theirs?

QuartzNews25 karma

Answered part of your question here. No one was wearing masks, and no they weren't free. We went in the season when a mask wasn't needed.

We wrote about one tribe's festival where they worshipped the trees they depended on for food and income: https://qz.com/india/1729021

Torque-A22 karma

What can someone like me do to help things?

QuartzNews31 karma

I'm not sure where you are. If you live in the state of Chhattisgarh, there are a few environmental groups you can volunteer with (for eg Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan). Those outside can donate to environmental groups in India. There are so many low-hanging fruits on the environmental front that any money you give will go a long way in making an impact.

meave122 karma

Hi Mr. Rathi. I live in the Netherlands. Our government is on our back 24/7 about climate change by finding all sorts of terrible elements in the air or the soil. And trying to find solutions they believe will if not solve the problem at the least makes us one of the first countries in the world to lead by example. (our priministers words) For instance, our farmers are told they have to almost half their animal herds (read destroy) to reduce the CO2 output etc. We all have to get rid of our gas cv heaters and buy, at our own costs, heat pump systems. Our country is in uproar at the moment. My question to you would be, how much of an impact can our tiny little country make in all this, even if we were to go 100%green. Are our G overnment requests reasonable in the scheme of things?

noyoto24 karma

As another Dutch person, let me just say that I'm quite embarrassed by how the population of the Netherlands is massively showing that while they care about the climate, the only change they're willing to embrace is the kind that is convenient and won't impact their day to day lives. They appear to see their luxuries as human rights and human rights as luxuries. With that said, there absolutely needs to be constant research to make sure the transition is as efficient as possible and the burden can't be shifted solely on the population. But the clock is running out so inaction is just not an option at this point.

How much of an impact can the Netherlands make on emissions by going green? A rather insignificant one. Yet if a small rich country such as the Netherlands won't do it, then all hope truly is lost.

I do think there's a real case to be made for the Netherlands (along with other European and Western countries) to spend its resources on making countries like India more green, which could result in a much larger cut in emissions per euro spent. But would Dutch people really accept large amounts of taxes going to other countries that aren't even in the EU? I'd personally expect an even bigger uproar than currently seen by the farmers.

meave13 karma

Hi. I understand your point of view. I do not own a car. Next week I will visit a friend in Hamburg and will travel by train. I eat almost no meat, haven't turned 100%yet but am nearly there. I have lived abroad for 30 consecutive years in 3 different countries and had to either cool against the heat or burn oil and yes coal till as recent as 2012 because there were no other affordable or mostly effective ways of heating the house. I am certainly not against paying taxes to support countries like for instance India. Problem is, corruption is rife and I seriously question any funds send there will actually end up being used for the purpose it is meant for. In the meantime we are expected to take on considerable costs to go green and I truly wonder how effective that is on a world scale. Do I have the answers to a solution, no. But I believe my question is a valid one.

QuartzNews3 karma

Yours is a frustration many will share. I'd point to the arc of progress. Despite the difficulties in deployment (technology, bureaucracy, inertia, or corruption), the world is doing more with less and it has a lot of room to continue down that path.

QuartzNews6 karma

Thank you for your question, and it's a good one. The short answer is that to have a stable climate, we need to cut emissions to net-zero. By "we" I mean, every country, every state, every city, and every organization.

Netherlands and other rich countries have an added responsibility to get to net-zero before poor countries. That's because rich countries' historical contribution to emissions must be accounted for as poor countries look to get richer.

As with gilet jaunes protests in France and current protests in Chile, it's not going to be easy to convince people to accept higher costs for doing good for the world. But that's the problem we must try to solve, especially because we have the technologies and the roadmap to avoid catastrophic climate change. Now it's up to each one of us.

Aruye15 karma

[deleted]

QuartzNews24 karma

I answered part of your question here. I'd wager the average carbon footprint of a Korba resident is likely to be half that of an average Indian, which is itself about tenth of an average US resident.

ranjan_zehereela201413 karma

What is the lifestyle of the people in Korba like?

Korba is a cosmopolitan city as thousands of people from other parts of country moved there to work in power plants. They are typical middle class people of India.

However natives live a simple life, they eat non veg and drink liquor made of local fruit Mahua. They do not indulge in wasting food or unnecessary spending.

Note - I am not the OP, but someone from same province where Korba is located

QuartzNews1 karma

Thanks for giving more context.

49orth15 karma

The health issues surrounding air pollution have been associated with neurological and cognitive deficits including early dementia. Have you come across this and do you know of health researchers in this field doing work in that area?

QuartzNews12 karma

It's devastating how severe and wide-ranging air pollution's effects can be. Air pollution research is still in its nascent stage, but there is growing work. In India, I'd point you to Dr Arvind Kumar's work.

gospelslide13 karma

India's per capita carbon emissions is 1/8th of Iran's and only a fraction of any of the western countries. Share of renewable energy in India is at 35% and rapidly improving. Given this and the fact that India needs to pull millions out of abject poverty, how do you think the world can convince the Indian govt to spend billions of dollars more on wind, solar, tidal instead of easily and cheaply available coal? Is cutting down the per capita carbon emissions of western countries an option at all?

QuartzNews1 karma

I answered part of your question about per capita vs absolute emissions here.

Wind, solar are now legitimately cheaper to build than new coal in most places across India. It's not a one-to-one replacement, but much India's electricity demand is growing in the day time that can be met with solar power.

WRT to western countries, their absolute and thus per-capita emissions are decreasing. Just not fast enough.

ThePiemaster8 karma

Are large-scale carbon-capturing technologies feasible? Better land-use than trees?

http://news.mit.edu/2019/mit-engineers-develop-new-way-remove-carbon-dioxide-air-1025

QuartzNews16 karma

I've written a series about carbon-capture technology: https://qz.com/re/the-race-to-zero-emissions/

Briefly, these technologies are feasible technically but still expensive, especially in the power sector where cheap renewables are making a bigger and bigger dent. India has explored using carbon capture in other industries. There is a small plant operating that turns coal emissions into soda ash (https://qz.com/india/878674/). One is under construction that uses emissions from an oil refinery and turns it bioethanol.

slumberjack77 karma

Hi Akshat, thank you for doing this AMA! In my opinion, infrastructure changes occurring in countries that are currently ramping up industrialization are a crucial piece of the fight to keep this planet hospitable to our species. What insight could you give those in high socioeconomic countries in regard to the development of green technology, and its affordability to developing economies?

QuartzNews13 karma

Thanks for your question. You're right. What happens in India and China, especially wrt to coal, matters to the rest of the world. As developing economies, they are within their rights to use coal.

The good news is that developing economies, esp. low income ones like India, are highly price sensitive. So coal was the fuel of choice because it was the cheapest to access, regardless of its environmental externalities. Now renewable sources have become the cheapest, so their adoption is likely to happen faster than in rich economies.

We're seeing that already. India set a goal in 2015 to install 175 GW of renewables by 2022. Everyone laughed at the ambition. But it's likely India will hit that goal. Now it's set a goal to hit 450 GW by 2040.

darth_randall5 karma

Is India moving toward nuclear energy?

QuartzNews1 karma

Some more context here.

Br1t1shNerd4 karma

How close is India to moving past coal?

What incentives do they have to move onto more renewable resources?

Considering the levels of corruption in India, how feasible is it that the coal industry can be effectively fought?

QuartzNews16 karma

All good questions. The end of coal in India is not on the 2030-2040 horizon, but that wasn't expected. Given India is a developing country, the Paris climate agreement affords space for the country to grow its emissions and get richer.

That said, India's coal use is likely to peak sooner and at a lower level. That's because renewables have become the cheapest cost of electricity in most parts of the country. More than 70% of new electricity demand is being met by renewables. There are government mandates and direct subsidies, but renewables are able to compete without those.

India's bureaucracy and corruption definitely slow things down. Coal in India is almost completely a state-driven enterprise. A state-owned company has the monopoly to sell coal and thus to set prices. Most coal power plants are owned by state-owned companies. Most electricity grids are run by state-owned distributors. And where there's the state, there's corruption.

But market forces still push through. That's why India's renewables boom is real and growing fast.

Drfeeladequate3 karma

What differences in culture surrounding global warming did you notice when you went into the poorer areas? Ie:do people care as much about global warming over there

QuartzNews2 karma

I answered the question here.

VantablackSabbath3 karma

Pushing the breaks on coal is all well and good, but, realistically, what according to you and other environmental journalists is a better alternative? Like, right now? If India immediately stopped using coal, that would be amazing for the environment, but how would the people get power? If far richer countries have been unable to do anything about it, what makes you think India can, or should? I think the present government is actually going comparatively really well on this complex issue given the circumstances, but what can realistically be done further?

QuartzNews4 karma

I answered your question in part here and here.

VantablackSabbath2 karma

So basically what you're saying is that not only is there a good solution, it is already being naturally put into effect by market forces, and the problem will naturally be solved before it becomes too big an issue?

QuartzNews3 karma

Not really. I think market forces are getting stronger but they won't be enough on their own. We need strong regulations and a ton of finance to support this transition.

snaptastica3 karma

What are the most major health hazards the use of coal presents to the country - both to the miners and the general population? How could mining be made safer and more environmentally sustainable?

QuartzNews3 karma

I answered your question in this story.

trALErun3 karma

In many countries which currently depend primarily on oil for energy, one of the main excuses I've heard for governments not driving the transition away from non-renewable forms of energy is lobbying from oil companies. Is there a similar problem for coal, or is there some other reason why the transition does not have more interest?

QuartzNews6 karma

I answered part of your question here. Because most coal-related industries are state-run, all the lobbying is internal and it's hard to look inside. That said, the Indian government also has very ambitious renewables goals. So ambitious that they are listing every large state-owned body, including coal industries, to deploy renewables.

India is also infamous for its air pollution and the government knows that the country is highly vulnerable to climate change. And while fossil fuels are still an important part of the economy, India doesn't depend on it as much. For all those reason, I don't think we'll see same level of ignorance of the climate problem as we see in other fossil-fuel dependent economies.

Jao_R2 karma

What is your response to people who say that it's unfair for other countries to demand that they cut back on coal when the countries who demand it are a bigger emitter than India? (China and the U.S.)

QuartzNews3 karma

It's a good question and one that got me started on this project. Since 2015, the question has become somewhat easier to answer. All countries need to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 to keep global avg. temp rise to under 1.5 deg C (with some uncertainties, mind you). That means every country has to cut coal use sooner or later.

The sooner or later question is also one that the Paris climate agreement addresses. It says, based on the country's development, it is allowed to emit more carbon than others. Put all that together and it's clear that using India's coal use as an excuse to not cut your own (whichever country that might be) is not an acceptable excuse. More here.

Jao_R1 karma

Last I recall, U.S. and China has pulled out of the Paris agreement exactly because they don't want to cut emissions unless the other does too. idk if India is a signatory to the agreement.

QuartzNews1 karma

Neither has. US plans to begin the process next month. Then it takes a year, which means the US will leave a few days after the 2020 US presidential election.

China and India are both firmly in with no signs of wavering on their commitments. Both have signed and ratified the agreement.

gharbitta2 karma

Did you know there is another Korba in Tunisia? ?

QuartzNews3 karma

Amazing. Thanks for that trivia.

That_guy_072 karma

Did you also visit the mines at Dipka and Gevra project?

QuartzNews3 karma

We did. Photos in this story: https://qz.com/india/1729990/

BurgerPleaseYT2 karma

Do they eat burgers in India? How about yourself? If you do, what's your favorite burger joint? If not, Impossible burger or Beyond burger (plant-based burgers)?

QuartzNews13 karma

You can find burgers in big Indian cities, including from most fast-food chains McD, KFC, Burger King, etc. I'm not sure if one was available in Korba. We stayed in a hotel where we ate North Indian and South Indian food on the two days we were there.

Most Indians eat meat and meat eating is on the rise. But popular burgers are likely to be made of chicken. For religious reasons, many Hindus don't eat beef and, of course, many Muslims don't eat pork.

The plant-based burger companies are struggling to satisfy US demand. I'm not sure if they've made it to India yet.

bonapitit1 karma

Is there any real change happening about climate change? Positive change

QuartzNews2 karma

Yes, I hope you'll check out my work on carbon capture, electric cars, batteries, and coal in India. My day job is to write about solutions to tackle climate change!

girnigoe1 karma

Do people try to avoid smoke at all—by wearing masks, sending sick people out of the city, or doing more on less-smoky days?

What I’m really asking is: if there were some replacement for burning coal that started to catch on, would it be popular just because of the better air quality? Or would people be like “change is dumb”?

QuartzNews5 karma

No on the masks. Too expensive.

People would opt for cleaner fuels as long as it's cheaper too. Many understand that coal fumes affect their health, but their earnings are so little that they cannot afford to think in the long term.

That said, there's lots of room for systemic changes. Beyond the coal use in households, there's coal dust from mining and pollution of coal power plants that can be reduced with good regulations.

maxxyasgur1 karma

[deleted]

QuartzNews6 karma

Not on this trip. But I grew up in India and ate a lot of pomegranates growing up. My home state of Maharashtra has a lot of pomegranate cultivation. Mango is my favorite fruit, alphonso mango specifically.

And, yes, just swallow the pomegranate seeds. They do you no harm!

Zackie861 karma

Does India have any plan of diminishing coal energy in favor of nuclear energy?

QuartzNews2 karma

The plan is all of the above. India's electricity demand is growing rapidly. But all of the above comes with cost constraints. Renewables are winning that over coal or nuclear for now. More here.

BourbonH1 karma

Hi Akshat, thanks a lot for doing this. Really do believe, we need more feelers at grassroots to understand our action over global warming and clinate change. 3 questions :

Where do we stand on Carbon sequesterization tech as of now ? Any feasible models ?

Do you think it is fair to use the phrase “country’s coal addiction” ?

How long do you believe, will it take for Korba and other such mining areas to even so slightly regain its ecological stability ?

QuartzNews2 karma

Thanks for your questions. Two answers in links.

  1. On sequestration
  2. On addiction
  3. Nature is quite resilient. If we stop mining, we can see some ecological stability return within a handful of years. The process can be aided by proper remediation. My reporting makes me pessimistic that remediation of mines in India will be done but optimistic that coal mining could end this century.

radclaw11 karma

Is there anything WE can do (people outside of india) to help improve the situation?

QuartzNews1 karma

I answered your question here.

NinjaBoobyMaster1 karma

Do you realise you look like one Seán William McLoughlin?

QuartzNews2 karma

I had to Google that and I'll take it as a compliment. Thanks!

Potz4prez0 karma

How are your lungs?

QuartzNews6 karma

Can't look inside to give you a status update. :)

We traveled in the monsoon, which meant pollution levels were much lower in Korba because rain precipitates particulate matter. If anything, my time in Delhi in September was worse. I had headaches and itchy throat for a few days.

Say_no_to_doritos-2 karma

How do you feel about the sewage/waste pollution of India? Is it actually as depicted in this thread? https://www.reddit.com/r/UpliftingNews/comments/dccm1f/today_india_achieved_100_household_toilet/

MrAvidReader8 karma

I live in India and let me try to answer this.

Sanitation and Sewage are two issues facing India.

On Sanitation, It’s true the number of toilets have covered the entire country, now the focus is on educating mainly rural and some urban population to maintain and use them. For example. A common rural belief is that one should squat away from the house to keep it clean and pure, hence fields, in reality it spreads diseases

Sewage is a different matter, while some cities have robust drainage system others flood in a blink. Some flood every year. Open sewage vrs closed ones, draining entire drainage water into our rivers is another problem they have to solve.

I am optimistic, it’s a nation in the making.

QuartzNews4 karma

Thank you. This is a great answer!