Blanket of Toxic Haze – Does India Have Another Solution?

Climate change is no unfamiliar account to anyone. For the last 30 years, countries have been exhausting their efforts (or so they claim) to reduce the brunt of their destructive behavior through investments in innovative renewable energy, improving agricultural practices, and even protecting forests like the Amazon. While the aforementioned have been somewhat of a starting point, nothing seems to work. The collective conclusion: the rate at which global economies are contributing to climate change outweighs the rate at which we can restrict pollutive routines and redeem ourselves.

The implications of chronic contamination surround us. The irregular weather serves as a reminder that the clock is ticking, not to mention food decrements, increased risk of poverty and displacement, and finally pollution. Conditions that have recently been observed in Nigeria, Bangladesh, and especially India. A pattern is beginning to formulate…One in which developing nations contribute little to nothing but experience deeper suffering where the repercussions are more severe. You don’t need to look very far to find a recent example; take India’s recent strife with air pollution and toxic haze.

New Delhi, India has had a long battle with toxic smog for years now resulting from levels of air pollution that have granted Delhi the title of ‘most polluted city in the world’, beating China. There have been several measures in place to diminish the hazardous effects of breathing in the polluted air such as traffic measure restrictions (the even-odd rule where vehicles with odd number plates drive on odd days, and the same for vehicles with even number plates), multimillion-dollar air filtration towers – two of them specifically, costing more than $2 million apiece, as well as fleets of water-spraying trucks in an attempt to dissolve particulates in the air, but none of these allotments seemed to have worked, not to mention, are considered to be a waste of resources by concerned citizens fighting for the health of the nation.

Policymakers are now considering one of their most controversial elucidations yet, cloud seeding. However, the policy seems to be unpreferred by the majority. Cloud seeding, as most policies provided by the government to fight air pollution, is a temporary relief to a long-lasting, and reoccurring problem. If anything, the investment would be a sunk cost for the economy, with a low success rate. To ensure that cloud seeding works, an aircraft must fly over the city and spray clouds with salts that are commonly known as ‘dry ice’, as a form of inducing precipitation. Clouds need to have significant coverage with reasonable moisture content – something that Delhi especially lacks during the wintertime.

If any policy put forth by the government weren’t controversial, we wouldn’t enjoy Political Economics, especially at Christmas parties where debates can get a little heated, so let’s do what we do best as economists-in-training and derive a cost-benefit analysis that could potentially help come to a value judgement about the ramifications associated with cloud seeding as an environmentally focused policy to combat air pollution and toxic haze in India.

To begin on a positive note; we begin by looking at the developmental external benefits that could potentially be extracted when investing in cloud seeding.

Cloud seeding creates an ideal environment for agriculture to flourish (if carried out effectively), consequentially expanding employment opportunities in the labour market associated with the agriculture industry. This industry is indisputably the largest livelihood provider to the nation and any increase in economic activity will likely string together multiplier and accelerator effects that boost India’s economy, in proportion to the predicted growth in the agriculture sector. While business is booming, existing suppliers will enjoy positive growth, attractive to new potential suppliers looking to contribute to India’s GDP or simply find a new avenue of income.

But what about the demand side of the country? Suppose that the industry does in fact incline due to optimal agriculture conditions, demand for labour will likely grow to accommodate the farming, if so, we may expect higher employment rates. A greater proportion of the population will have a steady stream of income and growing disposable incomes with which they are prepared to consume. The aggregate demand of the economy will thus advance and contribute to expansions in India’s circular flow of income – creating secondary opportunities for economic development.

We may simplify the above analysis; cloud seeding, if effective and successful, will lead to greater development in the country, along with a positive solicitation on reducing air pollution in the city, or even the country if policymakers decide to go national. Our focus for this article has particularly been cloud seeding, yet several alternatives exist that may be productive to implement alongside the one above such as; vacuum cleaning of roads, methane recovery, banning open burning, improved rail and waterways for freight and even improved cookstoves for households. 

Our job isn’t finished yet. We must access our inner pessimists and discuss the potential negative effects of cloud seeding.

One of the most obvious hesitations could be the uncertainty surrounding the effect of cloud seeding on public health. Due to the use of harsh chemicals associated with encouraging precipitation, there is a high chance that the environment can be harmed, especially crops that depend on contaminated rainwater to grow. Citizens who consume these crops are under threat of falling ill as well, affecting standards of living, as well as the quality of life if healthcare isn’t sufficient to provide a haven to those unfortunate. However, these issues can be reprimanded with the correct extensive research that investigates the long-run, permanent implications of cloud seeding. If we continue: relatively buried effects of cloud seeding could be the tradeoffs and opportunity costs associated with government spending on this policy, which is likely to create not only a divide in society between those who stand in favor of the policy and those who don’t but also, could hinder economic growth and development. This is partly because public expenditure budgets are finite; whilst the Indian government may have numerous goals, they don’t have a tree on which money grows. Cloud seeding is an expensive process that takes away from other priorities the country may need such as infrastructure investment to promote efficient and sustainable public transport (which is a key asset in reducing long-term pollution which is unobvious to the government). The substantial tradeoffs associated with choosing cloud seeding over other public policies come at a large cost that may prove a hesitancy allied with using cloud seeding as a policy to improve air pollution in India.

As much as I would have loved to personally dictate the policies of the Indian government to reduce the annual toxic haze occurrences, I cannot. At least not yet. The goal of this article is to shine light upon the urgency that India faces when battling air pollution, which they are not equipped to brawl with – partly due to their ‘low income’ status. But also, to display the controversy behind policies like cloud seeding that have society’s utility at central intention – the solution to most countries’ problems are often normative questions, not positive ones. They involve value judgments that differ from person to person and will never be Pareto efficient. And contrary to popular belief, the Indian government is not a people pleaser, or at least it can’t be. And so, the cost-benefit analysis above depicts a consistent event where the long-term implications of a policy cannot be properly measured or weighted against its external positive/negative counterparts.

About this article

Written by:
  • Daria Haidar
| Published on: Dec 13, 2023