Major media outlets have been humming about Tata Motors’ new $2,500 car, the Nano, which is expected to speed into mass production in India later this year. While many in the West were previously unfamiliar with Tata, an informative profile in the New Yorker by James Surowiecki reports that the $30 billion conglomerate has been sparking India’s industrial sector since the 19th century. However, it is the company’s impossibly cheap car that has prompted worldwide media attention, fueling fears about the potential environmental impact of putting automobile ownership within reach of a market containing more than a billion people.
Gavin Rabinowitz of the Associated Press sounded the eco-alarm in a story picked up by USA Today, ABC News, and many other news outlets. Somini Sengupta of the New York Times noted these environmental concerns and added that because India lacks a driving culture like that in the United States, wacky high jinks, like dodging elephants in the road, might also ensue.
As Gwynne Dyer points out in the Toronto weekly Now, such hysteria is hypocritical, given that cars in the United States and Canada are more environmentally onerous since they are larger and far more numerous.
Dyer writes, “Clucking disapprovingly about mass car ownership in India or China misses the point entirely. At the moment, there are only 11 private cars for every thousand Indians. There are 477 cars for every thousand Americans.” Dyers proposes we adopt a “contraction and convergence” model like the one pioneered by Aubrey Meyer, whereby developed and developing countries agree on a future meeting point for their emissions.