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Lessons from Beijing: Why India must rethink industries, technology

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As I write this, I spot over a dozen Chinese men outside my Beijing hotel room wearing air purifier masks on their faces – the price they paid for technology. It stirred some alarming thoughts about where India is heading, and why India has a need to rethink each of its steps towards technological advancement.

In this world of homogenization, all metros seem the same, Berlin to Beijing – glittering malls, tall building, fast food and speedy cars.

Beijing was also no different from Delhi except for Mandarin on its billboards and it gave the look of what Delhi could be few years ahead — high speed metros, better looking cars, better looking buildings, cleaner and orderly streets, but men much petite.

As high as my expectations were, from a country pioneering in technology, to be battling its pollution levels and other effects of technology, the country seemed to have lost equally bad in its struggle.

Living in Delhi, pollution was something which I could see around, but Beijing also got me to experience it. As soon as I stepped out of the airport, my nostrils were flaring up, being an asthma fighter, immediately finding it difficult to breathe. Although there have been attempts from the Chinese government — denying registrations to older cars and factories — to fight their pollution monster, the issue seems to be not all that simple to settle the fight.

Some of China’s pollution fighting technologies earlier, which ran on coal-generated electricity, thereby contributed to higher carbon emissions although air quality would get better – a technology to fight another technology.

Result was the sight of a huge population – young to old – donning air purifiers, attempting to breathe cleaner air. Although these air purifiers could filter particulate contaminants in the air there is no evidence that these filters could help in long-term.

According to the US Department of State Air Quality Monitoring Program’s ‘Mission China’, the air quality index for Beijing on any average 24 hours of a day shows “unhealthy for sensitive groups” – nearly as unhealthy as smoking 40 cigarettes a day, as per a study.

The classic Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City shots at night that I sought as a tourist were rather hazy owing to the smog and were tough to crack them right.

The average PM2.5 levels figured between 101-150, as against the safe 0-50 level, and even touched the ‘”unhealthy” level (151-200) at night. These levels, according to the department, means “active children and adults, and people with respiratory disease, such as asthma, should limit prolonged outdoor exertion”

India, which is still on its road to technological advancement, aims at replicating the Chinese ways, be it “Make in India”, be it attracting Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) for its industries and businesses. But its capital city Delhi’s air pollution already has touched “hazardous” levels.

As per the Delhi Pollution Control Committee, the PM2.5 levels in Delhi’s air are always above the prescribed safe levels of 60 with an average of 100 units of particulate matter pollution in the air, reaching levels as high as 300 during winters. Delhi has bagged the spot of its competitor Beijing, which was considered to be the most polluted city for long.

According to a World Health Organization study last year the concentration of PM2.5 was higher in Delhi than in Beijing, proving Delhi to have the filthiest air in the world.

Shouldn’t these be indicators for India to rethink technology, industries?

Beijing has now assumed its path of green energy, and shut some of its conventional coal-run industries, electricity out of coal to adopt gas-run methods and other non-conventional methods and has improved its air quality much better than before.

It was a much needed move for Beijing, to have cleaner means of transportation. A simple move to have “only bicycle” track has helped Beijing a lot – persuading many to use their bicycles or electric bikes. On a majority of the days, there were more bicycles than there would be cars on the road, a solution Delhi needs.

Whereas studies on Delhi have been bringing out even horrific angles to the city’s pollution. The most recent study by University of Surrey shows that Delhi’s air has a “toxic blend” of geography, poor energy resources and unfavourable weather that dangerously “boosts” its pollution.

 

(Bhavana Akella,IANS)

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Will Robots Take Your Job? 70 Per cent of Americans Say No

A report issued by the education company Pearson, Oxford University, and the Nesta Foundation found that just one in five workers are in occupations that will shrink by 2030

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A robot carries boxes at the Amazon Fulfillment center in Robbinsville Township, N.J (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) (VOA)

Washington, October 8, 2017 : Most Americans believe their jobs are safe from the spread of robots and automation, at least during their lifetimes, and only a handful says automation has cost them a job or loss of income.

Still, a survey by the Pew Research Center also found widespread anxiety about the general impact of technological change. Three-quarters of Americans say it is at least “somewhat realistic” that robots and computers will eventually perform most of the jobs currently done by people. Roughly the same proportion worry that such an outcome will have negative consequences, such as worsening inequality.

“The public expects a number of different jobs and occupations to be replaced by technology in the coming decades, but few think their own job is heading in that direction,” Aaron Smith, associate director at the Pew Research Center, said.

The Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C. on July 6, 2005, is the author of a 2017 study looking at the spread of automation and robotics in the workplace.

ROBOTS
The Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C. on July 6, 2005, is the author of a 2017 study looking at the spread of automation and robotics in the workplace (VOA)

More than half of respondents expect that fast food workers, insurance claims processors and legal clerks will be mostly replaced by robots and computers during their lifetimes. Nearly two-thirds think that most retailers will be fully automated in 20 years, with little or no human interaction between customers and employers.

Americans’ relative optimism about their own jobs might be the more accurate assessment. Many recent expert analyses are finding less dramatic impacts from automation than studies from several years ago that suggested up to half of jobs could be automated.

Skills will need to be updated

A report issued by the education company Pearson, Oxford University, and the Nesta Foundation found that just one in five workers are in occupations that will shrink by 2030.

Many analysts increasingly focus on the impact of automation on specific tasks, rather than entire jobs. A report in January from the consulting firm McKinsey concluded that less than 5 percent of occupations were likely to be entirely automated. But it also found that in 60 percent of occupations, workers could see roughly one-third of their tasks automated.

That suggests workers will need to continually upgrade their skills as existing jobs evolve with new technologies.

Few have lost jobs to automation

Just 6 percent of the respondents to the Pew survey said that they themselves have either lost a job or seen their hours or incomes cut because of automation. Perhaps not surprisingly, they have a much more negative view of technology’s impact on work. Nearly half of those respondents say that technology has actually made it harder for them to advance in their careers.

ALSO READ Are Robots Going To Take My Job? The War Between Man and Machine

Contrary to the stereotype of older workers unable to keep up with new technology, younger workers — aged 18 through 24 — were the most likely to say that the coming of robots and automation had cost them a job or income. Eleven percent of workers in that group said automation had cut their pay or work hours. That’s double the proportion of workers aged 50 through 64 who said the same.

The Pew survey also found widespread skepticism about the benefits of many emerging technologies, with most Americans saying they would not ride in a driverless car. A majority are also not interested in using robots as caregiver for elderly relatives.

Self-driving cars

Thirty percent of respondents said they think self-driving cars would actually cause traffic accidents to increase, and 31 percent said they would stay roughly the same. Just 39 percent said they thought accidents would decline.

More than 80 percent support the idea of requiring self-driving cars to stay in specific lanes.

The survey was conducted in May and had 4,135 respondents, Pew said. (VOA)

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Vintage Phone Museum: The museum having rare collection of classic cell phones opens in Slovakia

The museum has around 1,500 cell phone models

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Old Nokia mobile phones are placed on a shelf inside of a private museum of phones in Dobsina, Slovakia
Old Nokia mobile phones are placed on a shelf inside of a private museum of phones in Dobsina, Slovakia. VOA

Dobsina, Slovakia, September 10, 2017: As new smartphones hit the market month in month out, one Slovak technology buff is offering visitors to his vintage phone museum a trip down memory lane – to when cell phones weighed more than today’s computers and most people couldn’t afford them.

Twenty-six-year-old online marketing specialist Stefan Polgari from Slovakia began his collection more than two years ago when he bought a stock of old cell phones online. Today, his collection at the vintage phone museum boasts some 1,500 models, or 3,500 pieces when counting duplicates.

The vintage phone museum, which takes up two rooms in his house in the small eastern town of Dobsina, opened last year and is accessible by appointment.

The collection includes the Nokia 3310, which recently got a facelift and re-release, as well as a fully functional, 20-year old, brick-like Siemens S4 model, which cost a whopping 23,000 Slovak koruna – more than twice the average monthly wage in Slovakia when it came out.

“These are design and technology masterpieces that did not steal your time. There are no phones younger than the first touchscreen models, definitely no smartphones,” said Mr. Polgari.

“It’s hard to say which phone is most valuable to me, perhaps the Nokia 350i Star Wars edition,” said Mr. Polgari – who uses an iPhone in his daily life. (VOA)

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‘Humans Have Caused Pollution and Humans Can Fix It too’, Says UN Environment Head; Asserts Asia Must Lead Efforts for a Pollution-Free Earth

World Health Organization figures show Asia has 25 of the world's 30 most-polluted cities in terms of fine particles in the air that pose the greatest risks to human health

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People wear protective masks during a polluted day in Shanghai (VOA)

Bangkok, September 9, 2017 : Asia-Pacific — home to more than half the world’s population and some of its fastest-growing economies — is a key battleground in the fight against pollution, one of the biggest threats to the planet and its people, the U.N. environment chief said.

An estimated 12 million people die prematurely each year because of unhealthy environments, 7 million of them due to air pollution alone, making pollution “the biggest killer of humanity,” Erik Solheim told the first Asia-Pacific Ministerial Summit on the Environment in Bangkok this week.

ALSO READ Air Pollution expected to Cause 60,000 Deaths in 2030 and 2,60,000 in 2100 Globally: Study

Humans have caused pollution and humans can fix it, said Solheim, executive director of UN Environment, in an interview with Reuters at the four-day summit.

“The struggle for a pollution-free planet will be won or lost in Asia — nowhere else,” said the former Norwegian minister for environment and international development.

The sheer size of Asia-Pacific, as well as its continued economic growth, put it at the heart of the challenge, he added.

The region’s development has been accompanied by worsening pollution of its air, water and soil. Its emissions of planet-warming carbon dioxide doubled between 1990 and 2012, and the use of resources such as minerals, metals and biomass has tripled, according to the United Nations.

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A man carries a sack of vegetables as he walks past a polluted canal littered with plastic bags and other garbage, in Mumbai. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool) (VOA)

World Health Organization figures also show Asia has 25 of the world’s 30 most-polluted cities in terms of fine particles in the air that pose the greatest risks to human health. The pollution comes largely from the combustion of fossil fuels, mostly for transport and electricity generation.

Solheim said Asia is also a major contributor of plastic polluting the world’s oceans — and solutions can be found in the region. He pointed to a huge beach cleanup campaign in Mumbai that inspired Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to overhaul the country’s waste management system.

“There’s enormous environmental opportunity,” Solheim said. “Asia has by and large strong governments, and they have the ability to fix problems.”

Coal no longer king?

Solheim said fighting pollution by moving toward renewable energy sources such as wind and solar would also benefit efforts to curb climate change, which scientists say is stoking more deadly heatwaves, floods and sea-level rise around the world.

But environmentalists worry that Asia’s demand for coal, the most polluting of the major fossil fuels, is likely to grow for years to come.

Figures from a forum organized by the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center in Singapore earlier this year show that some 273 gigawatts of coal power are still being built, although much more has been put on hold.

In July, analysts told Reuters that Japan, China and South Korea are bank-rolling coal-fired power plants in Indonesia despite their pledges to reduce planet-warming emissions under the Paris climate deal.

Asia-Pacific
Workers operate machines at a coal mine at Palaran district in Samarinda, Indonesia (VOA)

The landmark 2015 Paris Agreement seeks to limit the rise in average world temperatures to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times. Experts say curbing or ending the use of coal is required if this goal is to be reached.

Globally, many countries — including China — are shutting down or suspending plans for coal-fired power plants as costs for wind and solar power plummet.

Solheim is optimistic, noting that the International Energy Agency significantly raised its five-year growth forecast for renewables led by China, India, the United States and Mexico.

“There are very, very few people in the world who believe that the future is coal,” he said. “I think we will see the shift [to renewables] happening much faster than people tend to believe.”

ALSO READ Paris climate pact: The play of words

On U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to pull his nation out of the Paris Agreement, Solheim sees a silver lining.

“The surprising judgment of history may be that Donald Trump did a lot of service to this fight against climate change by withdrawing, because he galvanized the reaction of everyone else,” said Solheim.

“All the big, iconic companies of modern capitalism — Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon — they immediately said, ‘We will move into the green economy.'” (VOA)