Today's Headlines

Today's Headlines - 02 April 2023

Antarctic ice melt will slow global ocean flows

GS Paper - 3 (Environment)

Rapidly melting Antarctic ice is dramatically slowing down the flow of water through the world’s oceans, and could have a disastrous impact on global climate, the marine food chain and even the stability of ice shelves, new research has found. The “overturning circulation” of the oceans, driven by the movement of denser water towards the sea floor, helps deliver heat, carbon, oxygen and vital nutrients around the globe.

What the study found

  1. As temperatures risefreshwater from Antarctica’s melting ice enters the ocean, reducing the salinity and density of the surface water and diminishing that downward flow to the sea’s bottom.
  2. While past research has looked at what could happen to similar overturning circulation in the North Atlantic – the mechanism behind the doomsday scenario that would see Europe suffer from an Arctic blast as heat transport falters – less has been done on Antarctic bottom water circulation.
  3. Scientists relied on around 35 million computing hours over two years to crank through a variety of models and simulations up to the middle of this century, finding deepwater circulation in the Antarctic could weaken at twice the rate of decline in the North Atlantic.
  4. They are massive volumes of water… and they are bits of the ocean that have been stable for a long time.

Disrupting the base of the food chain

  1. The effect of meltwater on global ocean circulation has not yet been included in the complex models used by the IPCC to describe future climate change scenarios, but it is going to be considerable, England said.
  2. Ocean overturning allows nutrients to rise up from the bottom, with the Southern Ocean supporting about three-quarters of global phytoplankton production, the base of the food chain, said a second study co-author.

Leaving more CO2 in the atmosphere

  1. The study’s findings also suggest the ocean would not be able to absorb as much carbon dioxide as its upper layers become more stratified, leaving more CO2 in the atmosphere.
  2. The study showed that warm water intrusions in the western Antarctican ice shelf would increase, but it did not look at how this might create a feedback effect and generate even more melting.

Vaikom Satyagraha and centenary celebrations

GS Paper -1 (History)

On 30 March 1924, in the temple town of Vaikom in the princely state of Travancore, a non-violent agitation started, marking the beginning of “temple entry movements” across the country.

More about the news:

  • At the time, caste discrimination and untouchability was rife across India, with some of the most rigid and dehumanising norms documented in Travancore.
  • Lower castes like the Ezhavas and Pulayas were considered polluting and various rules were in place to distance them from upper castes.
  • The Vaikom Satyagraha was launched in opposition to these rules. Amidst rising nationalist sentiment and agitations across the country, it foregrounded social reform; it brought Gandhian methods of nonviolent protest to Travancore.

The social context of Travancore at the dawn of the 20th century:

  • The princely state of Travancore had a feudal, militaristic, and ruthless system of custom-ridden government. While the caste system was not unique to Travancore, some of the most rigid, refined and ruthless social norms and customs were seen in Travancore.
  • The idea of caste pollution worked not only on the basis of touch but also sight. This was documented by travellers such as Portuguese Duarte Barbosa.
  • In the second half of the 19th century, a number of social and political developments would usher in social change much faster than ever before.
  • First, Christian missionaries, supported by the East India Company, had expanded their reach and many lower castes converted to Christianity to escape the clutches of an oppressive system that continued to bind them.
  • Second, with pressure from the British Resident as well as the accession to the throne of well-educated and somewhat westernised Maharaja Ayilyam Thirunal, many progressive reforms took place.
  • Lastly, forces of capitalism and these reforms created new social hierarchies – which were not always congruent with traditional ones.

The rise of the Ezhavas community:

  • Political historian Mary Elizabeth King writes in Gandhian Nonviolent Struggle and Untouchability in South India: the 1924-25 Vykom Satyagraha and Mechanisms of Change (2015), during this time, the Ezhavas emerged as “the most educated and organised untouchable community in Travancore.
  • While a small Ezhavas elite had begun to emerge, ritual discrimination was still rife and in many circumstances, this overrode the material and educational progress made.
  • The continued pervasiveness of caste caused significant consternation among the Ezhavas community and other such backward communities, sowing the seeds for agitations to come.

The lead up to the Vaikom Satyagraha

  • The issue of temple entry was first raised by Ezhava leader TK Madhavan in a 1917 editorial in his paper Deshabhimani.
  • He inspired by the success of Gandhi’s Non-Cooperation Movement, by 1920, he began to advocate for more direct methods. That year, he himself went beyond the restrictive notice boards on a road near the Vaikom temple in north Travancore to make a point.
  • The 1920s saw upper-caste counter-agitations across Travancore and the Maharaja refused to institute reforms, fearing backlash from caste Hindus.
  • Till 1917, the Indian National Congress refused to take up social reform, but with the rise of MK Gandhi and increased activism within lower caste communities and untouchables, social reform soon found itself front and centre of Congress’s and Gandhi’s politics.
  • When Gandhi came to south India in 1921, Madhavan managed to arrange a meeting with him and secured his support for a mass agitation to enter temples.
  • In the 1923 Kakinada session of the INC, a resolution was passed by the Kerala Provincial Congress Committee to take up anti-untouchability as a key issue. This was followed by a massive public messaging campaign and a movement to open Hindu temples and all public roads to avarnas.

The Satyagraha:

  • Early morning on March 30, 1924, “a Nair, an Ezhava and a Pulaya, dressed in Khaddar uniforms and garlanded, and followed by a crowd of thousands, attempted to use the roads”, Between April and September, protests reached their peak. Protestors sat in front of the barricades, undertaking rigorous fasts and singing patriotic songs.
  • The focus of the national media was on Vaikom at this time. Leaders such as Periyar, who was arrested multiple times, and C Rajagopalachari came to Vaikom to offer support and lead the protesters.
  •  In March 1925, Gandhi began his tour of Travancore and was able to iron out a compromise: three out of the four roads surrounding the temples were opened up for everyone but the fourth, eastern road was kept reserved for Brahmins.

India for “diversified” lithium exports market

GS Paper -2 (International Organization)

Australia would have a diversified market for its lithium exports and this includes India said Don Farrell, Australia’s Minister for Trade and Tourism. Lithium is a critical metal necessary to make batteries for electric vehicles.

More about the news:

  • He was speaking in the context of the U.S.’ Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) passed in August 2022 that grants major subsidies to electric vehicles produced in the United States.
  • The European Union and South Korea have vehemently criticised the IRA on the grounds that it made electric vehicles imported into the U.S. from their regions uncompetitive.
  • Amitabh Kant, India’s G20 Sherpa has also labelled the Act “as the most protectionists in the world.”

Why Australia not critical of IRAbut want diversification:

  • It is because one of the clauses of the Act required that at least 40% of all the ‘critical minerals’ (which includes lithium) that go into making electric batteries must come from countries with a Free Trade Agreement with the United States.
  • It doesn’t want all of those critical minerals gathered up and headed to the United States.
  • Australia is the world’s biggest exporter of lithium with most of it going to China, which dominates the lithium-ion battery production market.
  • Australia was looking to diversify away from a single market and this opened opportunities for India. India is building an electric vehicles industry and Australia would like to be part of it.

Indo-Australia cooperation:

  • Access to critical minerals is increasingly an area of cooperation between the two countries. Australia’s Minister for Resources and India’s Minister for Mines signed an agreement earlier this month to invest $3 million each to investigate the prospects of Indian investments into two lithium- and three cobalt- prospecting projects in Australia.
  • Under ‘Critical Minerals Investment Partnership’ Australia wants to ensure and build secure chains for friends and partners, like-minded democracies around the world and even better when it involves a close neighbour like India.
  • While exports of coal to India and iron ore to China continue to be major planks of Australia’s trade relationships, its commitments to be net zero (zero net carbon emissions) by 2050 and cut the share of coal in electricity generation from the existing 70% to 18% by 2030, means that coal mines are increasingly falling out favour and greater priority being accorded towards mines that yield minerals useful in making batteries.
  • Australia based Sicona that works in battery technologies, is setting up a plant in Chennai along with an as-yet-unnamed Indian company to make improved lithium-ion batteries.

India’s solar push and waste management challenge

GS Paper -3 (Environment)

In the last few years, there has been a concerted push from policymakers and thought leaders in India to transition to a circular economy, among other things to, enable effective waste management. For example, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change’s revised electronic waste (e-waste) management Rules in 2022 brought solar photovoltaic cells, panels, and modules under its ambit.

More about the news:

The Green Credit Programme under the Environmental Protection Act, announced in the 2022-2023 Union Budget, aimed to promote green growth and sustainable practices.

About India’s solar photovoltaic:

  • India’s solar photovoltaic installations are dominated by crystalline silicon (c-Si) technology. A typical photovoltaic panel is made up of 93% of c-Si modules and 7% of cadmium telluride (CdTe) thin film modules.
  • A c-Si module mainly consists of a glass sheet, an aluminium frame, an encapsulant, a backsheet, copper wires, and silicon wafers.
  • The metals used to manufacture c-Si modules are silver, tin, and lead. The CdTe thin film module is made of glass, encapsulant, and compound semiconductor.

What is photovoltaic waste?

  • India stands fourth in solar photovoltaic deployment. India’s solar power installed capacity had reached nearly 62 GW by November 2022.
  • According to a 2016 report by the International Renewable Energy Agency, India could generate 50,000-3, 25,000 tonnes of cumulative photovoltaic waste by 2030 and more than 4 million tonnes by 2050.
  • In fact, India is expected to become one of the top five leading photovoltaic waste producers globally by 2045-2050.

About the waste recycling or recovery:

  • According to a 2021 report, approximately 50% of total materials can be recovered through such waste management and recycling processes.
  • India’s challenge is the growing informal handling of photovoltaic waste. Only about 20%of the waste is recovered in general; the rest is treated informally.
  • The waste often accumulates at landfills. Landfill disposal in turn causes acidification, leaching of toxic metals (such as lead and cadmium) into the soil, and contaminates the local water.
  • Gradual incineration of the panel encapsulant also releases sulphur dioxide, hydrogen fluoride, and hydrogen cyanide into the atmosphere.

Challenges ahead:

  • India needs to surmount significant challenges – in the collection, storage, recycling, and repurposing of photovoltaic waste.
  • The growing number (and sizes) of India’s landfills is a sign of misinformation about and ignorance of appropriate disposal practices among multiple actors and institutions across the supply chain, including producers, owners, consumers, and waste disposal facilities.
  • The market to repurpose or reuse recycled photovoltaic waste is minuscule in India because of a lack of suitable incentives and schemes in which businesses can invest.