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`Green concerns to drive future technology'

Our Bureau

CHENNAI, Feb. 7

ECOLOGICAL and environmental imperatives will be the driving forces for technological innovations in the coming decades, according to Dr Anil Agarwal, Chairperson of the Centre for Science and Environment.

Delivering a lecture at a meeting of the Society of Automobile Engineers, Dr Agarwal said that the new technologies will be forced to be different from the ``dinosaur technologies of the past'' and move towards systems that ape nature's sophisticated met hods.

The energy systems of the future will be sophisticated, micro-power systems rather than centralised mega-power generation systems. These would be akin to the monsoonal system, that lifts 400 million hectare metre of water and drops it over the Indian sub continent. The driving force for this system is the small temperature gradients rather than the large gradients of the man-made systems.

According to him, the water harvesting systems of the future will be more decentralised ones through local initiatives, rather than large systems of water storage and delivery (through dams and canals).

A rain water harvesting system with a collection surface of one hectare can collect up to a million litres of water in a worst-case year with a 100-mm rainfall, he added.

There would also be changes in the present sewerage system, which prevents the nutrients and micro-nutrients available in human waste from reaching the farmlands. Instead, the waste ends up in water bodies and causes health problems downstream.

Dr Agarwal said that since the last decades of the 20th century, the thrust of scientific quest has been in understanding the ``web of life.'' This had become necessary since nature kept throwing up ``surprises'' in response to the resource-intensive and polluting technologies developed in the West.

Some of the surprises have been the death of the bald eagle in the US due to bio-magnification of DDT in their tissue; the discovery of the ozone hole due to the use of chlorofluorocabons (CFCs) as refrigerants; and signs of average temperatures rising a cross the earth.

The danger at present is due to the fact that these dinosaur technologies are being taken up in the developing countries. As a result, some of the environmental problems, which were earlier restricted to the developed countries of the West, are now becom ing global in dimension.

Today, Asia is seen as the fastest-growing and also the most polluted part of the world, he said. ``That too, we are just beginning to motorise, urbanise and industrialise.''

Western countries faced strong environmental problems following the post-Second World War economic boom. However, since the 1970s, these countries have been investing enormous amounts of financial resources to reverse these problems. The developing count ries are going that path of development, without having the resources for environmental amelioration, he said.

For instance, the adverse effects of climate change can impact up to 10 per cent of the Indian GDP, whereas in the US this will be restricted to less than two per cent, he said.

``For meeting the challenge of climate change, we have to reinvent the energy system,'' Dr Agarwal observed. A fossil-fuel based system, howsoever efficient, will pose the problem of greenhouse gas emissions.

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