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Scientist calls for energy balance

Bikash Sinha at the lecture. (Bhubaneswarananda Halder)

There are some dedicated smokers in the world who believe that the talk about smoking causing cancer is rubbish. Similarly, there are people who believe that the talk of climate change is alarmist.

“Both these categories of people choose to remain blissfully ignorant about reality,” said nuclear physicist Bikash Sinha, Homi Bhaba Chair Professor at Variable Energy Cyclotron Centre in Salt Lake.

Sinha touched upon this and a few other “inconvenient truths” while delivering a lecture recently at the Ballantine’s Presents Bengal Chamber Think, in association with The Telegraph, on “Meeting the growing clean energy needs of India — a new paradigm for prosperity”.

Sinha highlighted the grim reality of climate change and thanked the audience for turning up in large numbers to hear him speak on the issue.

“Prince Charles is a great advocate of controlling climate change and he said: ‘I would fail my grandchildren if I don’t do anything to control climate change’. He would no doubt want to leave the planet a better place for his future grandchild, and so do all of us, but what is it that we are doing to achieve this?” asked the scientist.

At the beginning of the very beginning there was the Big Bang and an awesome lot of energy. Energy is universal and universal energy equilibrium is what we should aim for, reminded the scientist. The world’s primary energy is hydro-based, followed by coal-driven thermal energy that leaves a lot of ash and is a major pollutant. Then come nuclear and renewable energies, which are clean.

Bengal, Sinha pointed out, “is in a peculiar situation. The best quality coal from the state and neighbouring Jharkhand is exported to Maharashtra, while bad coal is left for the state”.

The former Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics director is an advocate of solar energy but realistic enough to stress the need for an energy mix. “We cannot have only solar energy or only nuclear energy. There should be a good energy mix to fuel our development.”

Talking about the global energy use pattern, Sinha pointed out that the US used about 48 times the energy consumed by Bangladesh. “If one uses a lot of energy, one feels very opulent. But the fact is 80 per cent of the energy used comes from fossil fuel.” Breaking it down further, he said 43 per cent of the energy comes from oil, 32 per cent from coal and 25 per cent from natural gases.

He narrated a tale popular in the energy-rich Saudi Arabia to drive home the fate awaiting the world unless it curbs its dependence on the fast depleting fossil fuel. “There is a saying in Saudi Arabia that goes ‘my father rode a camel, I drive a car, my son flies a plane and his son will ride a camel’. This is what the world is heading towards,” warned the physicist, who felt it was inconvenient to read the writing on the wall.