Interviewsand Articles


Two Climates of Bangalore : A Sad Story and How It Could Be Different

by Rajesh Shah, Oct 4, 2016



I met Rajesch Shah while he was visiting the Bay Area from Bangalore. It happened that I’d already met his son, Parthiv, who is enrolled at the experimental new university, Minerva. Over a period of three or four days, Rajesh and I found ourselves in a number of long conversations. Like many of us, he questions the standard vision of “progress” in which more and more resources are squandered for short term conveniences and manufactured “needs.” This essay first appeared 27 May 2016 in Citizen Matters in Bangalore—a city of ten million in southern India. I couldn't help thinking his plea to the citizens of Bangalore for a review of values and an expansion of vision ought to be shared with a far broader audience.—RW

The rocky plateau of Bangalore was originally grassland, scrub and thorn forest with small trees. Without a historical record of the original climate, we can guess that it was warm and dry similar to today’s climate in nearby districts, possibly receiving only from 11 to 16 inches of rain a year with temperatures not rising above the high 80s. But in recorded history two different climates have been created in Bangalore by man.

Bangalore’s First Man-made Climate Change
In 1537 Kempegowda I started to work on his dream—a new fortified city. Ambitious ruling class members have always dreamt of expanding territory, erecting victory towers, building walled cities and so on, but Kempegowda’s vision was different. He envisioned a city where nothing existed. No rivers, no tropical forest, no resources. To achieve his dream he first had to create the resources the city would need.

Lakes as the Foundation
A city cannot exist without water and Kempegowda started on his vision by creating a supply of water, a perennial supply, where only a couple rain-fed tanks existed before.
     Kempegowda and his successors continued to build on his vision; hundreds of additional tanks were built and then an incredible network of kaluves (canals) were built to connect them all. The lakes of Bangalore have always attracted attention, but it is the canals that make them work. Almost a thousand miles of these lake-connectors ensured that not a drop of rain left Bangalore’s three gentle valleys until all tanks were filled. Work on this design continued for generations of rulers; the Wodeyars in the last century continued to build canals and tanks, and a couple of lakes were even added by influential citizens and farming communities. It was India’s famous lake culture on steroids.
     A water culture was created. Everyone knows water is life, but to conserve and protect it became Bangalore’s religion. For centuries the lakes remained pure. One could drink from them because nobody would let any waste enter the lake system. But the problem shifted from water storage to water itself—there was not enough rain to satisfy the growing population.
     We see how extraordinary Kempegowda’s vision was because of its results. He and his successors knew that if Bangalore grew a forest, it would rain. So a major investment in tree planting was made. This was also an activity that continued for centuries. As the forest grew, its breath grew and began influencing the climate. The water released from the trees in transpiration and from the lakes as evaporation formed low-lying clouds and then returned as gentle showers. The temperature dropped. Bangalore became the coolest city in the south and later the coolest in the summer across India. This attracted more rain from the monsoons that earlier would pass by without interest. Now the monsoon clouds, lightened after crossing the western ghats, dipped lower due to the cooler climate and shed more of their weight; rainfall more than doubled.
     This natural air-conditioning required no energy and almost no maintenance. And the problem of water scarcity was solved. The Vrishabhavati River that carried exess rainwater water off the plateau started flowing out of the city perennially. Other side effects such as the creation of a rich, moist layer of topsoil and a high water table also created lasting benefits in food security and livelihoods.

Economics for Cooling – Kempenomics
Economics is a social creation. In this article, we will refer the economic system used in South India five centuries ago as Kempenomics and today’s system as Smithanomics. In Kempenomics, there was no GDP to grow, no single number to worship. Thus Kempenomics did not reduce other sacred beliefs; it retained and strengthened the religious beliefs. Land, water—all of nature—had social and spiritual value, and connections with them were not broken. Rather relationships with them were nurtured and even revered. A culture that involved sacred relationships with water (all rivers were named after goddesses) and actively demanded conservation could flourish. The commons and the common good had status in Kempenomics, and improving both created value.

A Most Attractive City (with limits)
The salubrious climate of Bangalore attracted many rulers and power changed hands several times. In 1806 the British made it their military cantonment—a city-state inside the expanding boundaries. It attracted many Europeans, Anglo-Indians and missionaries.
     The sacred water culture gave way to an engineered water culture. Traditional tanks gave way to soup bowl style tanks to store more water to satisfy rising demand, a demand fueled by a growing population and a new lifestyle of consumption.
     Water was brought from new reservoirs farther and farther away as electricity and motors made their way into the planner’s hands. As early as 1923, planners declared Bangalore to be unsuitable for development as an industrial center on a large scale. But when the British left, the city continued to grow, especially in scientific research and aeronautics. While Bangalore’s reputation as the Garden City remained intact, sustainability indicators started moving off the charts and some foresaw water issues.

Bangalore’s Second Man-made Climate Change
While the first man-made climate change is speculation, the second is fact and is being experienced by all the residents. In the 1960s Bangalore started getting transformed. Ironically it was the reverse transformation of Singapore. Singapore recognized its cesspool conditions and started cleaning up and creating lakes for water security. Bangalore’s lakes were destroyed and the remaining ones converted to sewage-fed cesspools. The great transformation took off with the complete adoption of Smithanomics in the 1990s. It was to transform this cool city back to a warm, dry place and, then beyond, into a hothouse.

“Calakes” – the new lakes of Bangalore
To warm up a cool city takes a lot of heat. How do you generate massive amounts of heat? Bangalore had two big coolers—trees and lakes. The groves of trees, hundreds of years old, with trunks as wide as cars were axed. In Smithanomics the value of a living tree is zero, but the activity of cutting down trees and the resources from their chopped-up remains both add measurable increase to the economy. With such a system, it’s easy to build momentum and about 85% of the vegetation was lost between 1992-2009 as per a study by Dr. T V Ramachandra and Dr. Bharath H. Aithal from the Indian Institute of Science.
     Cutting trees that capture rainwater flow and create moisture both in the root zone and in the air above, is not enough; you have to replace them with heaters. Thousands of calakes (concrete and asphalt “lakes”—roads, parking lots, malls, office complexes etc.) came into being at faster and faster rates.
     Trees use solar energy to produce oxygen, moisture, and fruits while providing shade and soil and capturing runoff from rain. In contrast, calakes use solar energy to produce heat perfectly and efficiently. They heat up quickly, stay warm and release the heat later, both into the ground and the air. Elevated roads and bridges take this heat generation to new levels of efficiency. They bask in the sun, are dark in color and can easily become hot enough to cook on. Lakes of water keep the ground and air cool and moist. So we replace water bodies with calakes, too.
     While it is not possible to own lakes privately in India, the climate disruption left many of Bangalore’s lakes dry, looking like unoccupied land. The conversion (destruction) of lakes that followed created much financial activity for builders, bureaucrats, politicians, and banks. Consumers and investors flocked in to build and purchase homes and offices.
     In addition, since the quality water supply was severely degraded, tankers and household filters became prominent—amazing progress when calculated in Smithanomics terms.
     Kempegowda remains Bangalore’s hero; his name is kept alive even in creations that dismantle his vision. Bangalore’s largest heater, close to Kempegowda’s village, is named after him. Larger than all the remaining lakes of Bangalore combined, this calake is well over 2,500 acres in size, much more if you consider the elevated highway to get to it. It is the Kempegowda International Airport.

Heating appliances galore
The second source of heating comes from our appliances. Cars, trucks, diesel generators, refrigerators, outdoor lights, and other big items generate the most heat. But millions of smaller appliances such as set-top boxes, microwaves, all the way down to chargers, also contribute to local heating.
     The laws of thermodynamics inform us that all appliances that use the transformation of energy will generate more heat than actual work performed. So refrigerators generate around four times as much heat as cooling.
     We love our cars, which are truly efficient heaters. Modern gasoline engines have a maximum theoretical efficiency of about 25% to 30%. In other words, even when the engine is operating at maximum efficiency (which requires beautiful design, quality construction, good lubrication, and steady operation at high speeds), about 70-75% of the energy used is sent out as heat. In Bangalore traffic, only a couple of percent of the fuel burnt in the engine goes towards transportation. Heating efficiency, as opposed to transport, is more than 90%—more if the car has AC.
     In addition, particulates in auto and truck emissions also impact climate. They coat the leaves of the remaining trees reducing their vital functions. Haze also retains more heat compared to clean air.
     Air-conditioners have to be highlighted for two reasons. They are the most efficient heating appliances made—well over 90% of their operating energy goes towards generating heat. For every unit of personal cooling created, around 99 units of heat are sent outside. So for the short-term cooling of 1% of the population, 99% have to warm up. ACs are also the main reason why state power generation cannot keep up with demand, and thus diesel generators are required—efficient heaters as well as airborne particle generators.

Economics for heating – Smithanomics
The head of Harvard’s Anthropology department, David Maybury-Lewis, eloquently stated: “The driven economy is accompanied by a restless and driven society. The educational system teaches children to be competitive and tries to instill in them the hunger for personal achievement. Drive is esteemed and required in business executives— and even anthropologists, if they want to be promoted.”
     Smithanomics makes countries measure their economy by the single indicator of increasing financial activity. Personal wealth is made the goal for individuals and the means of acquiring this wealth is not regarded as important. This breaks all links to religious beliefs and the sacred. Unbridled drive (greed) with no limits is unleashed as the necessary driving force of society.
     In Smithanomics, personal consumption (strongly linked to, and confused with, the term “personal freedom”) drives the economy. So creating more devices for the individual is highly valued. In addition to being touted as a solution to commuting problems, private cars have high status. If the side effects in heat or pollution are bad, it actually increases the economy—for example, as more people install personal ACs and start using air filters.
     Since the focus is to sell more appliances leading to greater energy consumption our made-in-India heating effect will only increase.
     New technology like LED lights, solar panels and lithium batteries promise more efficiency, but in a Smithanomics system of perpetual growth, they can only marginally slow down further heating; they cannot reverse the trend.
     A public AC, especially a free one such as old Bangalore’s, would not generate enough economic activity and would be labelled backward, as have many of India’s historically sound personal and social practices.
     Man is seen as a one-dimensional being—homo economicus—and as Maybury-Lewis continued, “Other human capabilities—for kindness, generosity, patience, tolerance, cooperation, compassion—all the qualities one might wish for in one’s family and friends, are literally undervalued.”

The Oven City
Bangalore has not only become hot, it’s become dry. With the removal of cooling lakes and trees and their replacement with large, highly efficient heaters—calakes—and billions of smaller heaters, a towering pillar of heat rises from the new city. This ferocious pillar pushes monsoon clouds higher and to the side. So rainfall events are fewer.
     The monsoon is still mighty. Once in a while it will overpower the pillar of heat and heavy clouds will descend and rain will fall. Intensely. Precipitation that took hours can happen in minutes. Instead of regular, gentle showers, these less frequent heavy downpours result in floods with minimal water capture in the greatly reduced storage capacity of Kempegowda’s former system.
Now Bangalore is hot and dry and extremely dusty. We have transformed the Garden City into the Oven City. Rapidly.
     The first climate transformation for Bangalore took at least three centuries; the second transformation for Bangalore took only a few decades and has been entirely man-made (made-in-Bangalore). No credit need be given to global warming. And we don’t have a visionary to credit for this new climate shift in Bangalore. Nowadays it’s said that working for the common good is “socialist” and that work on improving the commons is only for NGOs. So current leaders will hesitate in advocating for advances in these areas. Of course, while it’s implicit that destroying the commons is the price of economic progress, no leader wants such deeds on their record.

What’s next for Bangalore?
Current leaders want it to become a “smart city.” That might mean having lots more sensors to track temperature and then having visuals for the heat distribution on smart phones (a smart oven!)
     In cooking, a pot of water takes a while to boil. Similarly, while we turned on heaters in Bangalore a couple of decades ago, climate change took a bit of time. But Bangalore’s climate in 2016 has reached the boiling point. It’s broken all records and is currently showing higher temperatures in April than Chennai, Goa, and Mumbai.
     Residents complain helplessly as they see the future being snatched out of the present. It’s not nostalgia that makes people lament the transformation of the places they call home. It’s the conversion of life-affirming, visionary cities to something that’s merely skin-deep—a beauty that does not support life: the replacement of cool homes surrounded by lakes with fish, trees, birds and a connected community that reveres the space with a hot, concrete megalopolis in a cesspool filled with plastic waste and sewage, engulfed by sooty air inhabited by a burnt-out, worried and isolated population. This is bound to make everyone unhappy and angry. And the same fate awaits every Indian city—even if there’s a river going thru it.
     The folks building the new capital of Andhra Pradesh are visionaries, but of which kind is the question. Riding on the momentum of Smithanomics and led by foreign consultants, they are unlikely to see Kempegowda as their role model. The result is likely to be the same as we have with the new Bangalore.
Heat pollution ranks far behind all the other pollutions in people’s eyes, until now. In 2016, it has made a noticeable impact; whether it’s enough to motivate action is the question. There is a movement in Bangalore to stop further destruction of the few remaining lakes and last few meters of canals. But there’s no movement to reduce the total heat generated, or to actually increase cooling.
     In Kempenomics we would follow Will Rogers’ advice: “If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.” In Smithanomics that would be against the system and labeled as anti-progress. Instead we dig faster. Maybe we can reach Fahrenheit 115 in 2017. Why not try to win the gold in the climate change Olympics with Fahrenheit 120?
     Of course, we could always choose to move to a new economic system, Kempenomics, or another modern avatar, where people and nature matter and under which we could create a city with a pleasant and cool climate for the benefit of all.



About the Author

Rajesh Shah works on sustainability—physical, social and spiritual.   


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