SIDDHARTH SINGH is an energy, mobility and climate policy expert. He was selected to be a German Chancellor Fellow in 2016–17 under the guardianship of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office. He has been a visiting fellow at the Wuppertal Institute in Berlin and the Fridtjof Nansen Institute in Oslo and has worked at TERI in New Delhi. He has a graduate degree in international studies and diplomacy from SOAS, University of London, and an undergraduate degree in economics from the University of Delhi. In 2018, he published his first book entitled The Great Smog of India. Here is a short Q&A with Siddharth:
What motivated you to write this book?
I’ve been professionally researching and consulting on issues of energy for many years now, and as a result, I have had an understanding of emissions from the energy sector. But as the air pollution crisis started to make news over the past 3-4 years, I tried to delve deeper into the issue and understand other related sectors of the economy that contribute to air pollution. I realised then that there was no accessible book available in the market. In frustration, I remarked that someone should write a book on the subject. It took me several months to realise that this “someone” is going to be me. After all, I had been reading scientific papers and technical analyses on the subject and had professional access to air pollution researchers. So I took up the challenge of simplifying the technical language and bringing social and political context to this issue.
Tell us a bit about the book. What is the main message?
The book is about choices: the choices that India has made and has been forced to make over the past century that has led us to this juncture where high levels of air pollution is the norm, especially in northern India. This book is not a report or a scientific study. Rather, it is the story of air pollution in India. The book is also about people: after all, 1.1 million Indians are killed every year due to air pollution. So I went on the lookout of people who were suffering, and the families who had seen deaths due to air pollution. People here also includes all of us who contribute to air pollution, and those who actively resist reforms. Who are they — and what are their motivations? These are the questions that I have tried to explore in The Great Smog of India. There are not one, but 10 main messages in the book. One of them is that there is no low hanging fruit. We have to take up a host of measures in several sectors to make a noticeable impact on the crisis.
Where do you place the book in the context of air pollution discourse in India?
While this is for the reader to decide, I have tried to communicate the science, political economy and policy making of air pollution. There is no other mainstream book on the subject, and that is unfortunate given that air pollution is the second largest killer in India after malnutrition. My hope is that it can raise awareness and inform the reader of the nature of effort it would take to address the problem.