[Podcast] GigaWhat: Renewables go reckless

  • To set up renewable energy projects and meet the country’s net-zero emission goals, India needs an area almost the size of Bihar and primarily consisting of open natural ecosystems.
  • The largest patches of these ecosystems occur in the arid parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat. These two states are also the states with the highest potential for expanding renewable energy.
  • These grasslands and semi-arid areas are also home to critical biodiversity such as the great Indian bustard and blackbucks that are unique to the ecosystem.
  • Listen to the third episode of GigaWhat to know how narrowly-focussed climate mitigation goals can have an adverse impact on biodiversity conservation.

As India transitions to clean energy, there is a growing need to understand the ecological and social impacts of the industry, to effectively make choices that balance the pains and the gains of this transition.

The land areas which have the most potential for clean energy projects are usually ones with low vegetation cover. Such ecosystems, known as Open Natural Ecosystems are estimated to cover 10% of India’s land surface and have biodiversity unique to the region.

However, many of these ecosystems are also classified as ‘wastelands’ in official documents as they are neither of value in terms of bringing revenue from agriculture, nor are under forests of some cover – a classification that some environmental experts refer to as a “colonial hangover”. The need to make these lands of productive use or one that generates revenue is at the heart of the pressures that are building over these lands today.

Contributing Editor, Mongabay-India and the podcast host, Mayank Aggarwal, explores the linkages between India’s energy transition and biodiversity loss. In conversation with him are M.D. Madhusudan, senior scientist and the co-founder of Nature Conservation Foundation, Parth Jagani, a farmer, entrepreneur, and a field coordinator with the Ecology, Rural Development & Sustainability Foundation and Sumit Dookia, a wildlife biologist who has worked extensively in Rajasthan.

Listen to the full episode:

Read more: [Podcast] GigaWhat: Renewable energy, limited land

Full transcript:

Mayank Aggarwal (MA): You are listening to Everything Environment by Mongabay-India.

The loss of biodiversity… the sixth mass extinction… high chances that you would have heard these terms.

It’s clear what pushed us into this situation – overexploitation of natural resources, pollution, the way we farm, climate change and more.

One big reason is that plants, animals and all other life forms on Earth that we collectively term as biodiversity are losing their natural spaces. Human activities have destroyed or degraded habitats such as forests, deserts, rivers, et cetera, making it hard for living organisms to survive.

But why are we talking about biodiversity loss in a podcast about renewable energy?

Shifting to clean energy is one of the world’s solutions to climate change. So it’s getting a massive push and investment. India has set up large-scale solar and wind farms in many states, and some are in the works. These projects stretch across acres of land equivalent to the size of a village or a town and sometimes even a city. To set up these projects and meet the country’s net-zero emission goals, India needs an area almost equal to the size of Bihar.

From an energy developer’s point of view, there are specific kinds of landscapes that could meet their needs and be selected for large clean energy projects. But when these landscapes are not understood well, and environmental safeguards towards them are weak or absent, renewables can go reckless. In this case, the local communities, the flora and the fauna pay the price.

In this episode, you’ll hear about these unique landscapes, their non-human inhabitants and how solar and wind projects could decide their survival. The previous episode touched upon the human lives impacted by renewable energy in similar landscapes.

I’m Mayank Aggarwal, Contributing Editor at Mongabay-India. We are an online publication dedicated to bringing you stories on science and the environment in India.

In our special podcast series, GigaWhat, we’ll explore some of the biggest questions, challenges, and opportunities in India’s transition from fossil fuels to clean energy sources.

Think of treeless land with acres and acres of brown grass.

Or a vast dull coloured flat landscape with small green bushes scattered around. Or the desert.

These might not be the scenes we picture when we think of the word “nature.” They might seem lifeless and barren.

But these lands and the skies above are alive.

Before we talk about the plants and animals here, we must know about the seemingly empty-looking places they live in… places vital in the country’s clean energy expansion plans. You’ll hear about it next.

We spoke to M.D. Madhusudhan, senior scientist and the co-founder of Nature Conservation Foundation. He has looked beyond the trees and the forests to shed light on India’s ignored ecosystems.

M.D. Madhusudhan (MDM): ONE or ONEs, as you call them, is the name we came up for a complex of Open Natural Ecosystems. These are natural habitats ranging from, say, dunes and ravines at one extreme and rocky outcrops at one extreme to areas that are grasslands, shrublands, and even wooded savannah on the other. So these are all habitats that are found in India’s semi arid zone. Over half of India’s landmass is within the semi arid zone, by which I mean it receives about 1000 millimeters of rainfall or less every year.

Mayank Aggarwal (MA): These ecosystems are estimated to cover 10% of India’s land surface. A large part falls in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.

MDM: And within this, a whole range of different ecosystems naturally occur. And many of them are naturally treeless. And these are what I call open. And these are open natural ecosystems. So what characterises them is the fact that they’re not of closed canopies, but of open vegetation. And although we have had a very good understanding of the different kinds of forests, we have, by virtue of having had a forest department since 1860, and having done a range of mapping and other kinds of exercises, for forest based ecosystems, these are lands that have largely been neglected and have been beyond the pale of conservation for a very long time. So as a first step, we thought we should undertake the task of mapping open natural ecosystems, which is what we did. And I say we, my colleague, Dr. Abi Tamim from ATREE and myself. That’s the work we did.

MA: The interactive map is linked in the show notes. You’ll see the estimated expanse of these areas that Madhusudhan just described.

MA: We don’t have any such maps already?

MDM: We have a very interesting map currently. And that is a map that is produced every few years that is called the Wasteland Atlas of India. So this is a map produced by the Department of Land Resources in the Ministry of Rural Development. And this is essentially an exercise that looks at largely lands that are neither of value in terms of bringing revenue from agriculture, or are under forests of some cover. So this is actually a colonial hangover where what was considered a wasteland was lands that did not bring…that could neither be profitably cultivated, nor be profitably used as forests for production forestry.

So these were lands that were in a sense for the government, which, through the eminent domain became the largest land owner and could assert its right over lands to the exclusion of citizens rights. These essentially became lands that were worthless. And therefore, there is a map that is currently made very carefully every few years that is called the Wasteland Atlas of India. So, in a sense, the ecosystems that we’ve identified and mapped are largely part of what is today, the Wasteland Atlas. So in a sense, the map exists. But normatively, that is a map that far from recognising the ecological values of these lands, it straightaway goes on to declare these as wastelands.

So by and large, given that these lands have been seen as wastelands, the government is constantly trying to see, what productive use, to what productive use could such lands be put. And that is really at the heart of the pressures that are building over these lands today.

So if you look at the kind of lands that are conducive for large grid scale, solar and wind energy projects, they happen to be areas where you need a good degree of insulation. And they, they need, they need to be open, unobstructed areas over which wind can blow. And this is precisely the description of ecosystems that I talked to you about.

MA: According to their analysis, the largest patches of these ecosystems occur in the arid parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat. These two states are also the states with the highest potential for expanding renewable energy.

MDM: These are extraordinarily diverse ecosystems. So If you look at species, habitats, and those complexes that are, in a sense, unique to the Indian landmass with no species that occur either in the African, the Eurasian or the Indo-Malayan regions, a large part of them are within the open natural ecosystems. To give you an example, the great Indian bustard – the great Indian bustard is not found anywhere else. The blackbuck, it is relatively common. But it’s an antelope, Africa is full of antelopes. But blackbuck doesn’t occur in Africa. So there are a whole range of such species that are unique to these ecosystems. And thereby, they have very, very high biological value, ecological value, just as much as any rainforest or coral reef does. Open natural ecosystems happen to be very important ecosystems.

MA: Rajasthan’s Jaisalmer district is one such place with Open Natural Ecosystems. Over 64% of the land here is also classified as a wasteland.

We’ll talk to someone who has lived and works in this region to know more about its biodiversity and the brewing issues.

Parth Jagani (PJ): Myself, Parth Jagani and basically, I am a farmer here and an entrepreneur. My work involves selling organic fertilisers and training farmers on organic practices with special focus on biodiversity protection on the farmlands.

MA: Parth Jagani also works as a field coordinator for the Ecology, Rural Development & Sustainability Foundation. He collaborates with local communities to protect wildlife.

PJ (dubbed in English): All these farmers, especially young farmers, in their 20s and 30s started coming forward and sending us photographs daily, alerting us about the birds that came to their fields. And this is when we went ahead and started training them. Through the farmers, we came to know that common cranes or Eurasian cranes and demoiselle cranes come to the fields regularly. And from some fields, we even got records of the great Indian bustard from the farmers.

MA: The GIB or great Indian bustard is a large, dignified-looking bird that inhabits arid and semi-arid grasslands. Locally, it’s called Godavan.

To see how it looks, go take a look at the link in the show notes.

PJ (dubbed in English): Even though the farmers couldn’t take photos, they confirmed that a great Indian bustard came here or it was sitting at this place and then it flew away. It’s a very shy bird. It flies away even if it sees the slightest of human activity.

So, this was a very important thing that we got to know. Farmers have supported us a lot in identifying the farmlands and GIB habitats. Similarly, there are livestock herders that roam in these landscapes. We’ve also trained them on how to click pictures using mobile phones and inform us about animal activities in the area.

MA: It’s critical to monitor their movements and habitats because only about 150 of these birds are left in India. Apart from a few records in Pakistan, this bird is found nowhere else in the world. Of these 150, around 122 are in Rajasthan, concentrated in the Jaisalmer district.

Hunting and habitat loss wiped the bird off from several other Indian states. Moreover, they lay one and very rarely two eggs per year. So you can imagine the risk of extinction the species faces.

Increasingly, there’s another threat looming.

PJ (dubbed in English): In September 2020, a female great Indian bustard in Degrai Oran died after colliding with a high-tension wire.

MA: An Oran is a forest patch. The Degrai Oran is a sacred forest in Jaisalmer that spreads over 15,000 hectares and houses a local deity and is believed to be worshiped by communities for over 600 years.

PJ (dubbed in English): Before this, livestock herders often told us that GIBs were present within the Oran, but because we were never able to document anything, we were a bit confused if GIBs were actually present or not. We didn’t have any photographic evidence.

But then in September 2020, when we found a dead GIB right under the high tension wire, we could confirm the bird’s presence in this area. After that, many people started observing seriously and regularly.There were many sightings of GIBs in the area.

The area that I am talking about is located at the center of the Jaisalmer district. All the high tension lines that go to the solar plants in the areas nearby, pass through this Oran. And at present, more than 8 power lines are passing through this Oran.

You can see that almost every week a bird is dying due to power lines. Apart from that, near the windmills installed, just over the boundary of the Oran, we found dead Himalayan vultures and Griffon vultures. We saw this in April last year when the birds migrate back.

Our farmers and our livestock herders over here click photos of the dead birds and send to us. Infact, last year in October-November we were told that three to four demoiselle cranes were found dead everyday due to electrocution. Within a month more than 20 demoiselle cranes got electrocuted and died.

MA: Rajasthan attracts birds from the Himalayas and even from beyond borders. Collisions with power lines and wind turbines can hit local and migratory bird populations.

The Wildlife Institute of India conducted a study to find the impact of power lines on birds in the bustard’s prime habitat – the Indian Thar desert. They studied 80 km of power lines 7 times over a year and found 289 carcasses of around 40 species, including the great Indian bustard.

Six dead GIBs were recorded from 2017-2020, all due to high tension transmission lines – some of them connected to wind turbines.

Their report concluded that unless power line mortality is mitigated urgently, extinction of GIBs is certain. Again, it’s important to remember that there are only about 150 left in India.

Sumit Dookia is a wildlife biologist who has extensively worked in Rajasthan for over two decades. He works on programmes to conserve the GIB, among other projects covering grasslands in arid and semi-arid regions.

Sumit Dookia (SD): If we will talk about the mortality of the great Indian bustard which is a critically endangered species, the government of India, state government of Rajasthan is working on population recovery program. We encountered and recorded six deaths of GIB under the power lines. So, you can see the numbers are very limited. Surviving GIB numbers are very limited and we have encountered six in the last two and a half years or three years.

Nobody talks about biodiversity. Even 80% population of great Indian bustard is roaming outside Desert National Park. Just take one example – we are not talking about dung beetles, we are not talking about any small spider or or very small like honey bee and other things – we are talking about one species for which government of India is currently having a project of Rs. 35-39 crores, government of India is investing taxpayers money. They are doing conservation, captive breeding – excellent – but what about the habitat? 80% population is roaming outside Desert National Park. These are the areas where GIB is roaming. I told you that all these six deaths of the GIBs are being reported from these wasteland categories. So why GIB is roaming into the wasteland category? Because it’s a habitat.

If you are a power developer, and you can see this category as a wasteland category, so it’s like you can jump on your seat and say that it’s a huge chunk of land, where we can go and install a power project? And since this is already classified into the wasteland categories, so we don’t have to go for all sorts of permission. There is no need to take any type of permission. Now, if we are going to see as a student of ecology, then you will see that Jaisalmer has various habitat types. What is this? Sandy or sand dunes, then magara – it’s flat gravelly plains, barren rocky plains with small hillocks, flat sandy arable lands.

And now, all these solar parks are again connected with a power line, because they are generating power. You will see that it’s a kind of a spider web and these parks are scattered over a large landscape. Almost every park is again connected with power lines and power lines of varying degrees from a minimum of 33 kilovolt (kV) to a maximum of 765 kilovolt (kV).

So, these lines have high energy and go into the main grid of India and going into the faraway area.

MA: Dookia believes that the impacts of these infrastructures on flora and fauna need more research and attention in India.

SD: We did a small study with the locals of Bhadla region in Phalodi of Jodhpur and that has largest solar energy parks right now – commissioned solar energy park. Jaisalmer parks are upcoming and the surrounding area of the Bhadla is having good agricultural farms. So the local farmers are complaining since last three to five years that the yield is low, annual yield of the farms are decreasing and a very striking point is that date palm yield is decreasing and few more like pomegranate and other crops yield is decreasing. And a small study was done and we found that the number of pollinators visiting close by this solar park is very less in comparison to any area which is far away from the solar park.

Why are these numbers decreasing? Our estimate says that around two to three degrees to up to five degrees temperature is high in and around the solar park areas and all the pollinators, especially the honeybees and other wild bees, they are temperature sensitive.

MA: Here’s Parth Jagani talking about how he has seen Degrai Oran change over time.

PJ (dubbed in English): Two years ago when we used to visit Degrai Oran, it was a huge jungle with desert vegetation and nothing else. Around the Oran, there were huge agricultural fields, and they were all rainfed and pure organic fields.

There was no electricity connection near those fields, they had neither tube wells nor canal water. So the farmers practiced all-natural and organic farming and were dependent on the monsoons.

When the farmers used to leave the land post monsoons, chinkaras, foxes and the great Indian bustards arrived to feed on the leftover grains. But now, companies have taken over these farmlands on lease. Grasslands surrounding these farmlands, which did not fall under the Oran, have been allotted to the solar companies by the government.

Now you can see the whole landscape has been blocked. Boundary walls have been constructed for all the solar parks. Solar panels have been installed. And the natural desert vegetation such as khair, ber, khejri, kumbhat, guggal, all these trees have been removed because we had to install solar. So there have been quite a lot of changes in the landscape of that area. Because of the solar panel installations, local grasses have also been damaged as the base of the solar panel is made of concrete. Because of these reasons, the landscape has been disturbed. The wildlife which used to feed outside the Oran are now unable to do that. They are restricted inside the Oran. And similarly, livestock herders cannot move more freely outside. So the grazing pressure within the Oran has increased.

Today, inside that Oran, almost 5000 camels graze daily. Apart from that, cattles, sheep and goats from more than 12 villages graze in that area. So now, where will the GIB go? Ultimately, the whole area is under stress. And the wildlife now stays hidden. Earlier, we could easily spot wild animals but now they’re in hiding and they’re scared.

PJ (dubbed in English): This whole area is a desert. People eat the local vegetation that grows in the desert. For example, the khejri tree bears fruits called sangri which are eaten by people. Khair fruits are dried and consumed. Khumbat tree produces a type of gum that can also be eaten.

So the local desert vegetation such as these have been in use for thousands of years now. All these plants are being cut for the installation of solar panels. So people are worried about their food plants. These types of desert plants are not found in any type of nurseries and they do not grow on their own. They have a lengthy cross germination process. So these things are worrisome as their food plants are being destroyed. People are worried that their food habits are changing and they have to buy these things from the market while earlier they used to get it for free from their backyards. Khejri’s fruit known as sangri is very costly in the market and its supply has also been harmed. It’s a concern that they have to buy this fruit for a thousand rupees per kg. A normal farmer cannot afford this.

SD: Wind farm came in Jaisalmer, around ’98 or ’99 onwards. And being a local of that landscape, I had an opportunity to visit Jaisalmer in ’98…’97-’98. And I saw the installment of wind farms and other thing and at that time, it was an amazing view to see a huge wind turbine is in the background of your photograph, we used to take a photograph, keeping windmill in the background, that was the time when we used to see these as a very good indicator of prosperity and development.

Now, we are analysing all these land records and we came to know that at many places, the government placed local sacred groves, we usually call them as Oran.

So, these Orans are also classified into the wasteland category and these wasteland categories are being easily converted into other things. So, at many places, these wind farms are commissioned in the Oran category.

Now, the sacred groves as per the Supreme Court order in 2018, they directed the state government of Rajasthan to declare each and every Oran, especially the word… they also mentioned the word Oran as well as devbhumi. in the other part of Rajasthan that you have to declare them as a deemed forest. Rajasthan government is yet to declare even a single oran or single devbhumi as a deemed forest, we are waiting for Rajasthan government to declare these areas, but the power companies or the developers are not waiting for this, they have commissioned, so any number of wind farms.

MA: In April 2021, India’s Supreme Court directed the governments of Rajasthan and Gujarat to consider laying all power lines underground in GIB habitats: existing and potential. Till then, it directed companies to hang bird diverters from the existing power lines. Bird diverters and reflectors are small devices hung on transmission lines to make them visible to birds and avoid collisions.

However, in December 2021, the central government approached the Supreme Court, asking it to modify its order. The government argued that undergrounding medium or low voltage lines over such a large area will lead to high cost of renewable energy produced from this area and this could have adverse implications for India’s clean energy growth.

PJ (dubbed in English): I have seen reflectors at some places and bird diverters at some places. Basically, these are put up in places where there are a lot of people. But the interior areas have no bird diverters or reflectors. Apart from that, people tell us that the bird diverters in some areas are of very poor quality like thin papers and they fall off due to the wind. Some of the reflectors only reflect when an external source of light falls on them. Birds won’t carry a torch with them at night while flying. So, what they are doing is not right.

SD: Right now there is nothing going – underlying, underground lines are not being done and reflectors, bird reflectors…we are still waiting to see the bird reflectors on almost all the lines.

And I gave one example of the Degrai Mata Oran and the death of the demoiselle cranes are being reported under the powerlines, which is equipped with the bird diverters.

MA: When we look at clean energy projects that require a lot of land, and there’s, if you look at Rajasthan, which is certainly the one of the biggest of the biggest states in the country, do you see this as an opportunity or a threat?

SD: If you will throw this question into hall of Jaisalmer, in a community gathering of Jaisalmer, then you will see opinion is coming into a very different manner. If you will throw this question in a conference where all the power developers are sitting, then you will find that they are seeing this as an opportunity that “oh, it’s like 76% land is there”. And as per the renewable energy policy and other things like land conversion policy, another thing for development projects, there is a huge opportunity.

You can say ease of doing business kind of situation is there. Because processes are very short and direct because you don’t need to get any clearance since it’s a renewable energy project. So no need to go for Environmental Impact Assessment and other things. And you don’t have to go for all sorts of environment and forests clearances.

Then since the land is outside the protected area, the land is wasteland category. So you again don’t need to go for any kind of clearance. So for a developer, it’s like a win-win situation where you can add more win if you want to. So it’s like a win-win-win, it’s like huge win infinity type of situation where if you if you will go for the view of the locals, then they see that this type of situation is making them more and more poorer, rather than making more and more prosperous because their pasture lands are shrinking day by day.

I am working with the locals to take GIB as a keystone species, and we are working with locals, farmers, shepherds, camel herders, schoolteachers, schoolchildren, even a milk seller, is a GIB warrior or GIB volunteer. So how these people are being connected with the GIB – because GIB survival is basically correlated with the survival of the grasslands and grasslands are grazing grounds for all the livestock irrespective of their size and this variety from camel to small sheep.

And if they will not have GIB their grasslands are degrading like anything. So this bird is basically a symbol of all the prosperity and the survival of the sustainable development model in this landscape.

In my opinion, we have to prioritise certain areas for the solar farms and certain areas for the species conservation… at least priority species conservation…and I’m not talking about all the species. At least you have to make a list of five or 10 or 15 species – those are your priority species in that landscape where you have to save the species at a cost of your cheaper solar energy installment.

MA to MDM: So how can it be ensured that grasslands and these open natural ecosystems can be protected as critical ecosystems? At the same time, while decisions are being taken for such large scale renewable projects? Is there a policy or implementation gap? And if it is, where?

MDM: I think that’s still an open question. I don’t think it’s as clear as it is, for instance, in the case of forests, so we’ve had laws under which forests have been reserved and protected for a very long time, for over a century, we’ve had laws under which forests have been protected. Corresponding laws that see grasslands and other open natural ecosystems and as ecosystems of worth and protect them do not exist.

So under the current regulatory regime, if you would like to have a project cleared, you really need to be in compliance with the environmental, the forest and the wildlife laws. So in pretty much none of these three sets of environmental laws are grasslands covered. To a large extent, they are commons areas, in many places, they’re not under the control of forest department, they’re actually under the control of the revenue department. And the revenue department is forever looking for ways in which land can be used better, rather than protected.

So therefore, I think in the larger regulatory structure, there really aren’t many options by which you can protect grasslands, scrublands, dunes. There are a range of species that depend on a desert being a desert. So I think these are important things that one has to bear in mind.

So no surprise at all, that all of these developments, especially with the kind of push that is coming in, with the kind of capital that is coming into nature-based solutions, and so on, this is displacing marginal people, and marginal ecosystems.

If you are trying to design a vehicle that will take us into a sustainable future, you cannot design that vehicle with only an engine. You also have to design that vehicle with brakes. You’d not only need impetus and momentum and power, you also need safety in that vehicle that’s going to convey you into the future, trying to protect our ecosystems and trying to protect these grasslands and livelihoods. These are the brakes to that vehicle. So we can’t forever be thinking that we are doing a splendid job by investing in engines, and ultimately create a monster that we can only set in motion and it will go hurtling and we can’t stop it. That’s not a good design.

This is not to say that the technology being used for this energy, and I, my understanding of clean and clean energy is about the technology that is being used to create to generate energy, here. And that is not carbon-intensive, as carbon-intensive as, say coal. Whereas if you’re looking at the scale, I make no distinction between a large grid-scale solar farm and a big dam.

They are clean in the sense that they don’t burn fossil fuel, as oil and coal might, but one needs to be a little more critical when one tries to understand the impact of projects like that.

Ultimately, the ecological impact of an energy generation project is not merely in the technology, in fact, it’s not at all in the technology. It’s much more in the ecological and the land footprint that it imposes. to give you an example, there are projects that have been undertaken in Karnataka, In Madhya Pradesh, in Rajasthan, that single projects that take up as much as 30, 40, 50 square kilometers of land. And by and large, what our analysis also shows when we went about mapping open natural ecosystems is that they’re largely fragmented.

So, these are already fragmented ecosystems, which are being completely taken over. So we might be in situations where the last breeding population of a florican or you know, or wolves is being exterminated in the desire to produce clean energy.

So, this is tragic, because India is a signatory, not just to the Paris Agreement. India is also a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

So, it’s not just our commitment to mitigate climate change, that we need to make as a nation, we also need to uphold our commitments to biodiversity conservation, which we have ourselves signed. So here is a situation where we are trying to uphold one set of agreements, global agreements, by completely running counter and undermining another set of agreements we have ourselves signed. So this really calls for a very careful, well-thought-out strategy on how the expansion of clean energy has to happen. The idea is not to say no. The idea is to find out where are the places where one could conceivably expand this capacity without undermining some of our most endangered, valuable and critical ecosystems and the livelihoods of millions of people that depend on these ecosystems.

MA: But isn’t climate change the bigger issue at hand? Short answer, no.

When 50 of the world’s leading biodiversity and climate experts from two intergovernmental bodies met in 2021, they emphasised that climate change and biodiversity loss are linked and cannot be solved in isolation. In fact, actions that halt, slow down or reverse biodiversity loss – such as protecting rainforests or grasslands – can also help reduce or prevent greenhouse gas emissions.

But they warned that narrowly-focused actions to combat climate change can, directly and indirectly, harm nature. This, in turn, can impact climate change goals. For instance, they highlighted that the renewable energy boom could lead to a surge of mining activity or consume large amounts of land.

MDM: Generating 100 gigawatts will involve ecological and social impact, but we need to be able to see where are the pains going to be? And where are the gains. And to balance the pains and the gains, to negotiate this trade-off between pains and gains, we need to have a very good understanding of both ecology and society. We need to make this choice more transparent and equitable. That I think is the lesson to take away rather than to see this as an objection to every form of energy generation and just naysaying by people who are concerned for the environment. That is not it.

MA: Thank you for listening to GigaWhat. If you know someone who loves stories about India’s development and environment, please share this episode with them. Or you could just share it on social media.

This show was produced and scripted by my colleague Kartik Chandramouli,
Edited and mixed by Tejas Dayananda Sagar,
Copy edits – Aditi Tandon
Podcast production assistant – Ayushi Kothari
GigaWhat artwork – Pooja Gupta

We’ll be out with another episode of GigaWhat soon. Take care.


Banner image: The critically endangered great Indian bustard in Rajasthan. Photo by Saurabhsawantphoto/Wikimedia Commons.

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