The Little Car that Environmentalists Love to Hate

January 31, 2008 |

This is a guest post from Siddhartha Shome, of Fremont, California. He holds a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering and works as an engineer in Silicon Valley. He writes about international development, global warming, and India.


Car A gets a fuel efficiency of 46 miles per gallon. Car B gets about 50 miles per gallon. Car A is called the Toyota Prius and is hailed by environmentalists as a step towards solving global warming. Car B, a new car called the Tata Nano unveiled by an Indian company, is reviled by environmentalists as disastrous for global warming. The New York Times devotes an entire editorial condemning the Tata Nano. Columnist and author Tom Friedman calls for the Tata Nano to be "taxed like crazy." The reason for this extreme criticism? The Tata Nano is cheap - very cheap. It is a revolutionary new car design that will cost only about $2,500 and will bring car ownership within reach of millions of new people in the developing world.


The environmentalists' hypocrisy is breathtaking. How can anything be criticized simply for being affordable? Tomorrow, if college education is made more accessible and affordable in India, will the New York Times denounce it on the grounds that college graduates tend to earn more and buy more consumer goods and hence enlarge their environmental "footprint"? The attitude of many environmentalists today is not unlike that of the Duke of Wellington at the dawn of the railroad era, who criticized the railways on the grounds that they would "only encourage the common people to move about needlessly."

Many environmentalists take the view that human civilization and development have been unmitigated disasters for the planet. In this view, human activities such as economic development, industrialization, consumerism, car-ownership, etc., have been guilty of destroying the environment and causing global warming. Supposedly the only way out is to curb these human activities and abandon our vain attempts to achieve progress and "growth." In this view, an ideal society is one that is based on limited ambition, limited needs and subsistence production.

Based on this core idea that human activities are inherently bad for the planet, the solutions that environmentalists propose generally involve imposition of limits, quotas, punitive taxes, restrictions, etc., with the aim of curbing human activities and human initiative.

True, limits and quotas can certainly lead to some modest reductions in energy consumption. However, to address global warming, it is necessary to achieve not just modest reductions, but fundamental paradigm-changing shifts in energy usage. This calls for key breakthroughs in energy technology, which can hardly be achieved through a limits-and-quotas approach. Consider the following:

- As authors Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger point out, it is highly unlikely that simply introducing restrictive quotas for typewriters would have instigated critical breakthroughs in computer technology. Rather, public investment in science and technology was the key.

- One of the greatest achievements of the twentieth century was the Green Revolution in countries like India. It dramatically increased food production, thereby avoiding the Malthusian catastrophe of a global "gigantic inevitable famine" caused by population growth outstripping food supply. The Green Revolution was built upon new agricultural technologies and infrastructure. Just like the Computer Revolution, it was not primarily the introduction of food quotas, but rather, large public investments and human ingenuity that made the Green Revolution possible.

What many environmentalists do not seem to understand is that if global warming is ever to be solved, it will be solved by human ingenuity, by technological innovation, by further human progress. The idea that the environment should be saved by severely curbing human ingenuity and human initiative is fundamentally flawed. While we should certainly seek to mitigate the negative side-effects of development, the emphasis must be on moving forward, on further human progress. Human civilization and development have been wonderful. People today live longer, fuller, lives, with more prosperity, freedom, opportunity, and choice, than ever before. How can this be a bad thing? The world needs more progress and development, not less.

The solution to global warming lies not in restricting, but rather, in encouraging human ingenuity and human initiative to develop new innovative clean energy technologies. The Tata Nano is part of a trend: the tendency of companies in countries like India and China to take a product, squeeze costs out of it, and make it much more affordable. The most prominent example is the proliferation of ultra-cheap "made in China" products on the shelves of Wal-Mart. Another example is Indian drug companies selling antiretroviral AIDS drugs in Africa for a fraction of the price charged by Western drug companies. Rather than railing against this trend for bringing "Western-style" consumerism within the reach of millions of the world's less-wealthy, will it not be better if environmentalists seek to utilize this Indian and Chinese ingenuity to drive down the price of clean energy technologies?

At its core, our approach to dealing with global warming must articulate a positive vision that people - including millions in the developing world - can embrace, not just a nightmare that people need to be scared of. As Nordhaus and Shellenberger point out, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., is remembered not for his "I have a Nightmare" speech, but for his "I have a Dream" speech.

Imagine if, instead of painting the Tata Nano as a nightmarish "carbon-emitter," the New York Times editorial had said something like this: "We have a dream that one day every Indian family will be able to afford a car that runs on clean energy. This dream can become a reality if technological innovations make clean energy affordable to all. We call upon the U.S. government to fund a massive new initiative to develop new affordable clean energy technologies."

Now, that would have been a vision I'd have loved to embrace. Dreams, after all, are far more powerful than nightmares!

On a personal note, my father worked in Tata Motors for many years, and I spent my childhood in India in a township dominated by a Tata Motors factory. Years ago, I myself worked in the company for a few months. For me, the Tata Nano, with its innovative technology, is certainly something to celebrate.


Hi Katherine, thanks for the comment. The WashPo figure is an annual figure ($44-66 billion annually) and the figure above is the sum-total of the 10 year investment plan China is reportedly planning ($440 to $660 billion over ten years). Hope that explains it.

By Jesse Jenkins on 2009 07 20

I think there may be a typo here. The Washington post article lists China as planning to invest 44-66 billion. Thanks for the great analysis.

By Katherine Philipson on 2009 07 19

This is something that I posted on on July 9, responding to Joe Romm's blog about James Hansen's HuffingtonPost article. This has relevance to "The Need for a New Framework ..." (aka "Plan B"), so I'm cross-posting it here. (Joe Romm has not yet released this from moderation quarantine -- not sure if he's going to. Some readers may find my perspectives to be offensive or objectionable.)


For all of Waxman-Markey's faults, I think it gets two things right: (1) allowance set-asides to fund tropical forest conservation, and (2) a meaningful price floor. These measures move U.S. policy closer to the rational and pragmatic goal of minimizing emissions within limits of cost acceptability. However, they leave W-M with no coherent policy foundation, because its other regulatory mechanisms -- the cap, trading, economy-wide linkage, banking, borrowing, and offsets -- all operate to achieve the converse objective of minimizing costs within limits of a predetermined (and unsustainable) emission cap.

The irrationality of the latter objective is demonstrated by the U.S. SO2 trading system, which continues to focus regulatory incentives on further cost reductions -- not emission reductions -- even when allowances are selling at a fraction of what was expected when the cap-and-trade system was enacted, and even when quantifiable benefits of further emission reductions would exceed costs by a factor of 25.

[Note to JR re "... So they do more than is necessary ...": That is because of banking, which has the effect of shifting the over-allocation into future compliance periods. They do more now only so they can do less later.]

Suppose that the SO2 allowances had been sold at fixed price (no emission cap), with sales revenue distributed according to the same proportionate allocation formula that was used for allowance allocation (or any other preferred formula). If the price were set at the lower limit of the original expectation level (about $650/ton, compared to the actual market of about $200/ton) then SO2 scrubber technology would have been adopted much sooner, and the more ambitious goal of the EPA's recent Clean Air Interstate Rule might have been achieved years ago without further regulatory intervention.

But that's not the kind of program that Hansen and other carbon-tax advocates are propounding for GHG regulation. Their proposals are very similar to Obama's original 100% auction, 80% tax dividend plan, the main difference being that allowances would be sold rather than auctioned. Obama, to his credit, knows how to recognize a brick wall when he sees it and he backed off on his original plan. The carbon-tax lobby, by contrast, is still banking its head against the wall in its insistence that carbon taxes operate primarily to extract revenue from the regulated industry. In my view, it is this dogged and dogmatic adherence to a "punitive" regulatory approach that leaves W-M as "the only game in town".

However, if tax revenue is used only to finance or incentivize emission reductions in the taxed industry, then I think there would be three consequences: (1) Industry costs would be dramatically lower (even if emission-reduction incentives are much higher than cap-and-trade's), so pricing instruments would lose their political stigma. (2) Price certainty, in addition to low costs, would make pricing instruments much more attractive to industry. (3) Pricing instruments would be more compatible with sectoral policies having limited scope, and hence limited political opposition. (Monolithic, economy-wide policies like W-M's tend to lead to "monolithic, economy-wide" political opposition, but the rationale for economy-wide linkage disappears when the policy objective is minimum emissions -- not minimum costs.)

Passage of W-M is not a sure bet, so it would be prudent to start thinking about some kind of viable "Plan B".

By Ken Johnson on 2009 07 11

Re "a New Framework": One alternative approach is the following:

"A Decarbonization Strategy for the Electricity Sector: New-Source Subsidies"

(This is a draft publication submitted to Energy Policy.)

By Ken Johnson on 2009 07 08

Big emitters of CO2 (e.g. coal-fired power plants) pretend in public that they really want to do something. But the economic reality is that pollution control costs money, and doesn't increase profits, therefore shareholders don't like it. The last thing the big emitters want to see is new technology that solves the problem they create, because the EPA might compel them to buy it.

Knowing that the potential customers are so reluctant, private sector technology developers are not willing to spend money on R&D for clean tech no one will buy. So the "free market innovation" that policy makers count on to address the CO2 problem faces a strong headwind.

If there were a realistically high price on CO2 emissions, something near what it would actually cost per ton, with no bogus Nigerian tree offsets, then there might be an economic incentive for a breakthrough. But after ACES it is clear that this will not happen.

So that leaves government research as the only hope. But ACES killed that hope too. Even if there were adequate money available for a serious research effort, it would probably go into the usual DOE dry holes: chemical capture, sequestration, hot fusion, particle physics, etc. That's the inertia to be overcome by Secretary Chu, who seems to have been appointed to be the fall guy for Congress and the Obama Administration, with all of the responsibility and none of the resources for doing the job.

By Wilmot McCutchen on 2009 07 04

There is already a solution for CO2. It is called Nuclear Power. The French already get 90% of their electricity from Nuclear Power and Hydroelectricity.

The trouble is the Greens would rather melt the icecaps than admit that Nuclear Power is part of the solution.

By Joel Upchurch on 2009 07 04

Exactly our point, R... Browner's legislation based approach may work for something like the banning of BPA in plastics, but just yesterday I was at the store looking for a sports bottle and saw that manufacturers are already taking it out voluntarily--in response to public pressure and the threat of bad PR!!! When legislation can only accomplish things that good PR pressure can do much quicker-- a BPA ban is right now stalled in the Senate!-- what we need is an innovator at the head of our energy and climate task forces, someone who's not afraid to break some of the old paradigms. Unfortunately, Browner just isn't it.

By Tyler Burton on 2009 07 01

To get rid of CO2 the way we got rid of lead and asbestos would require a much more massive substitution. There are simply not that many existing ways to make energy without using carbon and many of those require energy storage technologies that do not exist currently. Maybe that is why so many politicians seem to bury their heads in the sand on the climate issue.

By R Margolis on 2009 07 01

Wow. You are voicing the concerns of the wrong critics. People who can get away with saying that any law to reduce carbon emmisions must raise prices and make it painful for the consumer with a straight face must really hate the United States of America.

Do not get me wrong. Green initiatives and a move toward renewable energy is needed. It does not need to ruin the economy, cause economic stife within the family unit and work soley through negative reinforcement.

Instead how about if this blog was truly a blog of BIG ideas. How about if we promote green initiatives through incentivizing and how about if we move to carbon neutral energy by looking at Nuclear.

What this site and many like it fail to realize is that Nuclear is not a dirty word. New Nuclear technologies can be used to actually REDUCE the amount of nuclear waste we have on hand already. By reproccessing existing waste we can produce energy and reduce the toxicity of said waste as well as it's unstability.

By Bryan on 2009 07 01

(1) There's an important incentive in the pre-implementation phase here that isn't acknowledged. In the run-up to the implementation of a cap and trade system with free auctioning (and before the free allocation plans are defined), firms could have an incentive to increase (or not reduce) their emissions or perform other "gaming" techniques to maximize the number of allowances they receive. And this creates an extremely cumbersome bureaucratic process for allocating allowances, as compared to auctioning. Of course, this depends on how the allocation process is defined in the bill, and I haven't had time to take a deep dive into this part of the bill. If you do, let me know what you find.

(2) You're still not addressing my first point, which is that free allowance distribution significantly reduces what is arguably the most important component of cap and trade, major public investments in clean energy technology. Given that these public investments are likely to produce more developments in clean energy tech than the very low carbon price in ACES will -- and given that making clean energy cheap is arguably the single most important factor for achieving global emission reductions -- how does it make sense to argue that free distribution vs auctioning results in the same environmental result? Yes, in a closed system, free distribution and auctioning may achieve the same result, but the mass majority of future emissions will come from developing countries, and the public investments we make in energy technology are critical for addressing those.

By Teryn Norris on 2009 06 30

"free allowance distribution doesn't produce the right incentives ... because it doesn't provide as strong of an incentive for polluters to reduce their emissions"

This just isn't true. Money is money. Energy companies are going to try to maximize profits all the same (despite some, i.e., utility companies, being heavily regulated), and if they can reduce emissions for less than the market price of a carbon permit, they'll do so. Also, large companies aren't like ordinary people; they pay the utmost attentions to finances and the bottom line.

Auction or no auction, emission reductions will be the same.

By Stephen Collins on 2009 06 30

Thanks for your comments. There are a number of reasons why free distribution of permits is problematic:

(1) Free distribution of allowances reduces or eliminates the single most important component of cap and trade, the revenue stream for direct public investments in clean energy technology. The world's top energy experts have consistently called for $30 billion/year of federal investment in clean energy RD&D, and our analysis shows that a full suite of RDD&D requires $50 to 80 billion per year in the United States. ACES would only invest around $10 billion due to the small number of auctioned allowances.

(2) Free distribution of allowances to utilities and other energy industries can enrich corporate polluters. That's why Budget Director Peter Orszag stated, "all of the evidence suggests that what would occur is the corporate profits would increase by approximately the value of the permit." Pew Environment Group(which ironically is a member of US-CAP) strongly emphasized this point in a review of the European ETS:

"Free credit giveaways can lead to windfall profits and do not guarantee that costs are not passed on to consumers. A significant portion, if not all, of allowances should be auctioned, generating revenue that can be used to protect vulnerable populations and spur clean technology innovations that ultimately lower the cost of compliance. Windfall profits in the electricity sector were another unintended consequence of free allocation within the EU ETS. In countries such as Germany, the power producers received permits at no cost but decided to charge consumers the full market price of these allowances.7 As a result, electricity prices rose, yielding large profits for utilities.8 If allowances had been auctioned, revenues could have been redirected to assisting low-income customers and other vulnerable populations, as well as to other beneficial purposes such as helping industries retool production and supporting the development of clean energy and carbon sequestration technologies"

Congressman Waxman argues that free distribution is designed to protect ratepayers, yet actual consumer advocacy groups like Public Citizen argue that the bill doesn't do enough to protect ratepayers. Public Citizen writes:

"Proponents of the legislation claim that the legislation shields electricity ratepayers from major rate increases by requiring them to only use the free emission credits for the benefit of ratepayers. But a careful reading of the legislative language suggests that the lack of any definition of what constitutes a "benefit" will be interpreted differently by the 50 state utility commissions that the legislation bestows wide latitude to design allocation of the allowances... it is clear that the decentralized, cumbersome nature of the LDC mitigation approach has been prioritized to preserve jurisdictional exclusivity for the Energy & Commerce Committee at the expense of superior mitigation mechanisms... that would leave competing congressional committees in charge of the disbursement of funds."

(3) As President Obama made clear in his statement, free allowance distribution doesn't produce the right incentives, not only because it is much more prone to gaming and windfall profits, but because it doesn't provide as strong of an incentive for polluters to reduce their emissions.

By Teryn Norris on 2009 06 30

You've set up an apples vs. oranges comparison. The utilities that Waxman is talking about are highly regulated. They receive NONE of the "corporate welfare" that Obama and Orzag decry, because they are not allowed to charge ratepayers more. Their financial inputs and outputs remain the same (except for a declining emissions cap they have to stay under). The situation Obama and Orzag attack is where you give the companies the permits, and then they raise their prices _as if they had to pay for them_, and reap the profit. That's just not the case with the permits Waxman's talking about here.

By Asa on 2009 06 30

Do you think people would drive the same amount if we gave them permits to drive equal to their current commute and let them buy or sell them to others or if everybody had to all of a sudden pay for every mile they drove?

Sure, the incentive to bike or carpool or take public transit is technically the same, but you don't have that "Oh crap now I have to take money out my pocket every time I get in the car" experience if the permits are just given to you.

Energy companies aren't any different.

By Isaac Silverman on 2009 06 30

In this case, Waxman is right and Obama is wrong. Freely distributing the permits WILL produce "the same environmental result as full auctioning."

Paul Krugman explains why: "Now, these handouts wouldn

By Stephen Collins on 2009 06 29

This is the weakness in ACES... will it survive a Senate vote? More than 40 democrats voting against it in the House does not bode well!

By Terrence Murray on 2009 06 29

I am dismayed at the needless vituperation directed at Dr. Hansen and now at BTI by Joe Romm. I used to comment at his site Climate Progress, until I found that my comments critical of Waxman-Markey's dubious offsets had been deleted. What comes to mind are the heavy-handed purges of dissident views under Mao.

Friendly fire casualties in the heat of political battle could be avoided with a little less personal investment in the issue. Aren't we all sincerely trying to come up with solutions?

Joe Romm believes that the solar technology we already know about, and biomass co-firing, can provide all the baseload power the world needs now and in the future. Therefore no more breakthroughs are needed. I happen to disagree, along with Dr. Steven Chu. But I respect the sincerity of his view. And I do see his point that "we need more studies" has been a frequent battlecry of the opponents of pollution control.

By Wilmot McCutchen on 2009 06 17

It is a revolutionary new car design that will cost only about $2,500 and will bring car ownership within reach of millions of new people in the developing world. The environmentalists' hypocrisy is breathtaking." This statement seems implausable as a reason for "hypocritical" environmentalists to put the Tata Nano down.

By club penguin on 2009 06 05

And look at all those liberal wealthy eco-freak supporters who attend some eco-freak meeting in their gas guzzling 4 mpg limos i mean TED TURNER is one of them and he tried to brainwash kids with green junk like CAPTIAN PLANET,ONE CHILD ONE VIOCE, and NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC EXPLORER and all that other green bull poo

By Flu-Bird on 2009 05 06

Cap and trade bill is about as senseless as enacting gun control legislation, i.e., guns don't kill people, people kill people. What puzzles me most though, is how the whole climate change issue became intermingled with forcing corporation to assume a moral obligation for protecting the air, water and land of their customers-this is totally incorrect thinking as it is not a realistic solution to the whole issue at all.
A solution would be to enact legislation similar to that of the early twentieth anti-monopoly legislation, whereby the rights of the consumers and shareholders to a safe environment is guaranteed. The government cannot be allowed to enact laws itself regulating corporate policy. The laws must originate from the people and shareholders!!! This is why those environmental groups are failing, they cannot support the legislation as it would violate their non-profit status!
To close, nuclear energy is not the solution as it does point out that as a instrument of foreign policy, it offers only nuclear combat (which i feel is inevitable).

By igmuska on 2009 04 20

The compromise is to invest in new "green" nuclear technology. Dr. James Hansen (NASA AGW scientist) has endorsed this approach.

Those concerned about the safety, proliferation, and waste of current nuclear will be much more comfortable with this vastly improved "green" nuclear.

Those concerned about co2 and AGW will support "green" nuclear.

Those concerned about energy cost and US job loss will support "green" nuclear.

What is "green" nuclear? LFTR (liquid fluoride thorium reactor). This is a thorium salt reactor technology that was demonstrated in the 60's but largely abandoned because the thorium fuel cycle produces very little plutonium. In the 60's plutonium was desired to build weapons.


By charlesH on 2009 04 16

Jon, If there was such strong agreement on cap and trade, why are there three bills? And if you support large public investment so much, why isn't that reflected in the legislation you've endorsed? I'm not asking for greens to be perfect or united. I'm just pointing out that a strategy based centrally on raising energy prices cannot succeed in creating the clean energy transformation we all want. There's a gap here between the rhetoric of technology innovation and the policy proposals, including Van Hollen's, being put forward to achieve it.


By Michael Shellenberger on 2009 04 14

Breakthrough's continued obsession with finding 'disarray and division among greens' is both odd and telling. Once again, the mischaracterization can be chalked up to not reaching out - to not talking with folks like me who so often want to promote the good content of Breakthrough's work.

For if Michael had bothered to ask me, here's what I would have told him:

Let's consider the 'disarray and division' claim in the paragraph in which I am mentioned as a supporter of the Van Hollen bill. In fact, in the two pro-Van Hollen public fora in which I recently participated (at Powershift and on a National Call-In last week), the bill's supporters were crystal clear: we support ANY climate legislation that will work (including, I might add, the kind of 'breakthrough' investments advocated by, well you know ...) To speak out in favor of one of the three main bills that aim to put a price on carbon - Van Hollen, Larson, or Waxman-Markey - is to be neither divisive nor to seek disarray. It is to be engaged.

Supporter that I am of Breakthrough, I find the continued greens-are-in-disarray meme to be rather ripe by now. It's an unproductive use of the good minds and outreach that Breakthrough has at its disposal. You have made the point, again and again and again, Michael: greens are imperfect. But to build a coalition is much, much harder than to judge. Breakthrough has proved its ability to do the latter; are they willing to really take on the former? At least among recent graduates of the Breakthrough Institute, I do see such promise.

By Jon Isham on 2009 04 14

What is with the SMALL FRACKEN typeing?????

By Ron on 2009 04 10

Sigh. If it was up to most environmentalist wacko's, we'd be driving horse and buggies, eating bugs, and crapping on the grass.

Environmentalists are like a plague. Hippies, too.

I hope this car gets mass produced to piss those earth loving human hating assholes off more.

By DZ on 2009 02 13

my name is Anh and for my BA-Thesis I

By anh on 2008 09 20

I think Solar is ready for Primetime. When you have large companies embracing solar and other renewables, it's time. Look at what Google has done with Solar and combining it also with the Prius:


By Jacob on 2008 08 02

I read that Dr. James Hansen with NASA testified under oath in a courtroom last year that if we don't stabilize atmospheric carbon at 450 parts per million we risk ocean levels rising by 20 feet this century. I feel Hansen is a credible scientist. It's not hard to imagine a 20 foot sea level rise if you think about the 2 mile thick ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica that are melting quickly. Meanwhile the IPCC is warning of sea levels rising by 0.6 to 2 feet. Clearly it's a very conservative estimate.

By Justine on 2008 05 21

It's great to see the progress that is being made on many fronts in the Solar industry. I do agree, however, that the industry is not quite yet ready for prime time.

By David on 2008 05 20

Just because a relatively popular journalist and former-politician aren't necessarily living what they preach doesn't mean that what they say isn't valid. Sorry to disappoint you, but they do not corner the market on the facts, ok? So, that's a ridiculous argument.

Anyway, the fact of the matter is that for a long time North Americans and Westerners on a whole have not really been paying the full cost for almost any thing that we use and -- yes -- that includes gasoline. Notice, I typed "cost" not "price". What we are paying for gas now still does not take into account the distance that the oil has to travel, the many government subsidies, the uber-expensive wars and military maintenance, etc, etc.

I am concerned about climate change, but I'm equally concerned about the social and human costs of our profligate Western lifestyles. The nano, in my view, though a step in the right direction, still symbolizes the things that are wrong with our society. This idea that progress HAS to be material in nature. One of the reasons people are still stuck on material growth is really because we've lost our connection to spiritual growth, but that's a whole other topic.

My point is, this linear system of waste is not sustainable. Please check out It's very entlightening.

By Roger on 2008 04 30

Jamshedpur, also known as Tatanagar, is well known as the steel city of India. It

is a major industrial center of India with picturesque surroundings. The steel

plant TISCO (Tata Iron and Steel Company), the automobile plant TELCO (Tata

Engineering and Locomotive Company), Rivers Meet and Jubilee Park in the

heart of the city which is a well planned garden like Vrindavan in Mysore, are the

major attractions here.
Please Visit For More Deatail

By remo on 2008 03 28

Hello everybody, my name is Damion, and I'm glad to join your conmunity,
and wish to assit as far as possible.

By DamionKutaeff on 2008 03 23

When Tom Friedman and Al Gore start walking as their primary means of transportation, then I'll begin to worry about climate change. When Gore decides that it is unethical to make egregious profits from carbon credit investments, then I'll begin to take him seriously.

Ten years from now, the eco-extremists are going to be exposed for the watermellons that they are: green on the outside, red on the inside.

By PD Quig on 2008 02 15

Is there any chance of this car making it to the US? I understand it has only 2 seat belts and no power steering...

By T.R. on 2008 02 13

Sir, with all due respect, you use the term "environmentalists" in a way that doesn't make much sense at all, for the sake of the argument.

The environmentalists' hypocrisy is breathtaking?

Most environmentalists do indeed understand that if global warming (and other environmental problems) is ever to be solved, it will be solved by human ingenuity, by technological innovation, by further human progress.

So who is Tom Friedman? I had never heard of him, so I googled, and he is certainly not an "environmentalist", but rather a financial reporter, an expert on OPEC, oil issue, and so on. He is hardly your average environmentalist.

By Martin F on 2008 02 13

CO2 <> global warming
Methane gas = global warming

By Rikard on 2008 02 08

Robert, the worldwide shortage of oil is an issue. However, is it fair to criticize the Indians and the Chinese for this? Don't people in India and China have the right to buy petroleum products, just as people in the United States or Europe do? Americans and Europeans criticizing China and India for oil price increases is like criticizing ordinary middle-class families for buying homes and driving up land prices, thereby making it more difficult for the rich to buy their mansions. Also, I would like to point out that demand from China and India is not the only factor driving up oil prices. The increase in the price of oil has been disproportionately larger than the growth in demand. The main reason for this is the monopolization of the crude oil market by a cartel of sellers – OPEC. It is well known that when monopolies exist, markets cease to function effectively. As a consequence, OPEC has been able to indulge in the worst kind of price gouging. In order to counter OPEC's monopoly, I feel that oil importing countries should organize themselves into a buyers’ cartel, whose combined buying power can be used to bargain effectively with OPEC to drive down the price of oil, much like what Wal-Mart does with its suppliers.

Colin, I admit that I may have indulged in a bit of exaggeration in characterizing Friedman's comment as "breathtaking" hypocrisy. As you very rightly point out, hypocrisy concerning the poor by Americans is rife, and environmentalists are no more responsible for this than any other group. Let me also assure you that hypocrisy is not the exclusive preserve of Americans and other wealthy populations. Indians, too, often indulge in various forms of hypocrisy towards other Indians, as well as towards Americans, Europeans, etc. One form of hypocrisy common in India and other developing countries is to blame Americans/Europeans for all the world's ills, rather than taking responsibility for reforming their own societies.

Side note: I am a fan of Tom Friedman, and I read his columns regularly. I am also a fan of the New York Times.

By Sid Shome on 2008 02 08

Friedman's comment that the Nano should be "taxed like crazy" is not evidence of "breathaking" environmental hypocrisy. It is simply the opinion of one person, albeit amplified considerably by being published in the New York Times. Hypocrisy concerning the poor and/or non-American world, by Americans and other wealthy populations is rife. However I do not think environmentalists are more responsible than any other group for this hypocrisy.

One can always selectively quote extreme opinions, but it it unfair to draw generalisations from these. I personally think the Tata Nano breakthrough is very encouraging. I drive a car myself and of course I think people in India should be able to as well.

I hope the Indian environmentalist Amulya Reddy's vision of "technological leapfrogging" can be realised. The Nano is a step towards this.

Photovoltaic cell manufacture is still very low in India. I hope that greatly magnifies. Whatever one's opinion about climate change it is clear that fossil fuel use should be phased out.

By Colin Butler on 2008 02 08

While the arguments above generally focus on the likely C02 increases that will come with the proliferation of cheap, entry-level cars such as the Nano, the most immediate effect on earth's environment and on the livelihood of our species appears to be entirely left out: the imminent end of cheap oil. The very idea of peak oil was a major disagreement among oil experts and researchers just a few years ago, but is largely now a matter of consensus. The concern has now shifted from 'if' peak oil will occur, to 'when' it will occur (it likely already occurred in 2006) and just how dire the effects will be.
What is most alarming now is that India and China are driving the demand way up whilst the supply is slowly and inexorably falling.

Simply put, the advent and proliferation of cheap, fossil-fuel based transportation in India and China will only hasten a global energy crisis, the likes of which mankind has never seen before.

By robert on 2008 02 08

Hi Gurdas, I too spent my childhood in Telco Colony, Jamshedpur. Such a nice nice little township. Also enjoyed reading your blog post on the Tata small car. Thanks.

By Sid Shome on 2008 02 07


Great post! Like you, I am taken aback by the environmentalists reaction to Tata Nano. It reeks with hypocrisy and dilutes their stand.

Which Tata town did you live in? My father was with Tata Motors for 39 years and I was born and brought up in TELCO Colony, Jamshedpur.

Here is a blog I had written in May 2007 on the Tata small car:

By Gurdas on 2008 02 07


Great post! Like you, I am taken aback by the environmentalists reaction to Tata Nano. It reeks with hypocrisy and dilutes their stand.

Which Tata town did you live in. My father was with Tata Motors for 39 years and I was born and brought up in TELCO Colony, Jamshedpur.

Here is a blog I had written in May 2007 on the Tata small car:

By Gurdas on 2008 02 07

Robert, I believe that global warming is indeed a very serious problem that we need to deal with. There is a widespread scientific consensus that global warming is a real phenomenon. There is also empirical evidence of global warming. From what I understand, the empirical evidence is irrefutable and the vast majority of scientists believe that a significant part of global warming has been caused by human-generated greenhouse gases. My understanding is that the theory to fully explain this phenomenon is not 100% there yet, and further research is still needed. This is not unexpected since global climate is an incredibly complex phenomenon with many variables and many unknowns. However, the broad outlines of a global warming theory that is consistent with empirical data has been established and is widely accepted by scientists. It is quite possible (as you seem to indicate) that some of the equations used to model climate change may need some adjustments. But I doubt that this calls into question the fundamental idea that human-generated greenhouse gases are contributing global warming. Unfortunately, I was not able to follow the technical argument you made in your comment, and the link you provided did not work.

I believe that global warming is a serious problem. I do not think it is a hoax. However, I reject most environmentalists' approach to dealing this problem, which (as James points out above) is to severely curb human initiative and human progress and embrace a society based on limited ambition, limited needs and subsistence production.

By Sid Shome on 2008 02 06

You seem to be making a false assumption with statements like "What many environmentalists do not seem to understand is that if global warming is ever to be solved, it will be solved by human ingenuity" You assume that global warming is man made. There is scientific proof that global warming can not happen as described by Al Gore.

The atmospheric greenhouse effect, an idea that authors trace back to the traditional works of Fourier 1824, Tyndall 1861, and Arrhenius 1896, and which is still supported in global climatology, essentially describes a ctitious mechanism, in which a planetary atmosphere acts as a heat pump driven by an environment that is radiatively interacting with but radiatively equilibrated to the atmospheric system. According to the second law of thermodynamics such a planetary machine can never exist. Nevertheless, in almost all texts of global climatology and in a widespread secondary literature it is taken for
granted that such mechanism is real and stands on a firm scientific foundation. In this paper the popular conjecture is analyzed and the underlying physical principles are clarified. By showing that (a) there are no common physical laws between the warming phenomenon in glass houses and the ctitious atmospheric greenhouse effects, (b) there are no calculations to determine an average surface temperature of a planet, (c) the frequently mentioned difference of 33 C is a meaningless number calculated wrongly, (d) the formulas of cavity radiation are used inappropriately, (e) the assumption of a
radiative balance is unphysical, (f) thermal conductivity and friction must not be set to zero, the atmospheric greenhouse conjecture is alsified.

see whole research paper at:

By Robert G on 2008 02 05

It is clear to me that many members of the so called environmental movement have no desire to make things better for humankind.

Their agenda is for all of us to live in log cabins and grow just enough food for ourselves in our back yards.

By James Givens on 2008 02 05

Andrew, Tata Motors have said that the Nano will meet or exceed all Indian emissions regulations, and also that it will meet Euro IV emissions norms. These are fairly strict regulations for emissions (for smog but not for CO2). I expect that the Nano will have a catalytic converter of some sort.

I agree completely with James that India is not "throwing away opportunity" with respect to mass transit. I feel that mass transit is indeed highly desirable and that India should invest heavily in mass transit (and in infrastructure in general). However, I think that it is a completely mistaken belief that simply restricting small cars will lead to the automatic appearance of mass transit systems. I think that if you want mass transit systems, you must invest in them. Banning small cars will not directly lead to the magical creation of mass transit systems. I do not think that this is a zero-sum game, an "either-or" situation. Encourage mass transit by all means, especially in densely packed cities, but why discourage companies from developing innovative new small cars? Let companies come up with increasing affordable cars. Let people have a choice. I think that if effective mass transit systems are built in large Indian cities, the most likely scenario will be that people will use mass transit for their daily commute to/from work, but if they can afford it, people will still want to have some access to personal transport, for trips that are not on the mass transit route, for family outings, for late-night or holiday travel, etc. Note that even in cities with extensive mass transit systems, like New York City, London, Paris, etc., there are numerous private cars and taxis. France, in spite of its very extensive public transport infrastructure, has some 500 cars per 1000 population; while India has only about 7 cars per 1000 population (the U.S. has some 700 cars per 1000 population). Also note that mass transit is usually much less suited for small towns and rural areas, and India is still far less urbanized than Europe or Japan or the U.S.

By Sid Shome on 2008 02 04

Who says they are throwing away opportunity? I think affordable transportation is increasing opportunities. Do you use a vehicle in Clarence, NY? Why should people in India be restricted from the comforts you allow yourself?

By James on 2008 02 04

Its not about MPG of gasoline its about the car not having any emissions controls like modern day cars do. Its also about the fact that India as a developing country has an oppurtunity to correct the environmental mistakes that other developed countrys have made as far as urban planning and transportation. India has this great oppurtunity to build a country that runs on mass transit and public transportation as well as the use of bicycles and walking which is far more environmentally freindly than some 50 MPG car, and through this cheap car that is opening up the automobile market to hundreds of thousands of people (maybe millions) that would otherwise need other forms of transportation, India is throwing away that oppurtunity.

By Andrew on 2008 02 04

Rob, Tata Motors has claimed that the car will meet all Indian as well as Euro IV regulations, which is a pretty stringent pollution/smog regulation. They have not yet revealed further details about the car's smog restricting technology. However, smog is not the main issue environmentalists are complaining about. Environmentalists are complaining mainly about Carbon Dioxide emissions that cause global warming. CO2 emissions are not considered pollution/smog in the traditional sense. Nowhere in the world is CO2 emissions regulated (though the EU is working on this), and no car in the world has any CO2 restricting technology. The only way to reduce CO2 emissions today is to increase miles per gallon.

Tom, the "Green Revolution" I have mentioned is very different from the worldwide environmental movement. Sorry for the confusion. I should have made it clearer. The "Green Revolution" I am talking about is the transformation of agriculture through technology and infrastructure that took place in India and other developing countries in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. For more about this, please see

Charles, The logic used by environmentalists is as follows: if cars become much more affordable than they are today then many in the developing world who cannot currently afford cars will be able to do so, thus increasing the world's car population and CO2 emissions. What makes the environmentalists see red is the low price of the Tata Nano, which makes it widely affordable. Had the Tata Nano come with a huge sticker price, most environmentalists would likely not have criticized it so vehemently. The point I'm trying to make is that it is simply the affordability of the car that is so disliked by environmentalists.

By Sid Shome on 2008 01 31

"The Tata Nano is cheap - very cheap. It is a revolutionary new car design that will cost only about $2,500 and will bring car ownership within reach of millions of new people in the developing world. The environmentalists' hypocrisy is breathtaking."

This statement seems implausable as a reason for "hypocritical" environmentalists to put the Tata Nano down. It "feels" to me like you may have an ax to grind but your point is not adequately or appropriately substantiated. Surely there is more behind the Tato Nano's put down than you have revealed in your article.

By Charles on 2008 01 31


You mention specifically "The Green Revolution." Are you speaking about the generic environmental movement worldwide, or a specific program of the nation of India? Excuse my ignorance, but it is an interesting use of the term "Green" and would love to know if there is an Indian usage different from the U.S. and Europe.

By Tom Riley on 2008 01 31

There's more to being green than miles per gallon. The Nano has none of the pollution restricting technologies that modern vehicles have.

By Rob on 2008 01 31