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Update from India

June 24, 2015

About Me 

Lindsey Bressler is a rising third year International Affairs and Economics student with an interest in climate change and development. Originally from Tucson, Arizona, Lindsey spends a good deal of her time at Northeastern trying to adjust to the cold. However, when she’s not trying to brave the weather, you can find her leading campus tours, working on interfaith initiatives or editing for the Northeastern Political Review. In the fall, Lindsey is excited to start her first co-op at the Office of Public Affairs at the EPA. 

C-TARA

First stop: Mumbai. It’s hard to believe that it’s been a week since our Dialogue began. Everything is still new for our group, but we’re beginning to get adjusted. We endure a heat that is exactly the opposite of Boston’s most recent winter. By now, drinking two water bottles before lunchtime feels normal. The girls in our group don flowy pants and colorful tunics. Our stomachs are filled with naan, mango lassis and breakfast dosas. We adjust our internal clocks to “India time” knowing that three minutes really means 30.

Yesterday, the group had the opportunity to visit IIT-Bombay, one of the world’s premier institutions of higher learning. Although the United States college admission’s process is stressful, it pales in comparison to the entrance exam for the Indian Institutes of Technology. Every year, 1.3 million students compete for only 10,000 spots. At IIT-Bombay, we learned from engineers across the university, all working to address specific challenges created by climate change in India.

Our class toured the nanotechnology lab, food engineering lab and C-USE, the Centre for Urban Science and Engineering. My favorite part of the day, however, was the first lecture by the director of C-TARA. C-TARA stands for the Centre for Technology Alternatives for Rural Areas. Last summer, my visit there was one of the first times that I clearly saw how civil engineering, climate change and improving the lives of the poor all connect. This year, that view was only reinforced.

The head of the department, Rangan Banarjee, offered us a “warm, but not too warm a welcome” and described the basics of their Masters in Technology in Development. The university emphasizes fieldwork, so Masters students spend 9 weeks living in a rural community between their first and second year. According to the director, rural India has not a money or attention deficiency when it comes to development, but a knowledge one. Large urban areas like Mumbai have expensive consulting firms sponsored by places like the World Bank and Ernst and Young that help solve their infrastructure problems. C-TARA seeks to remedy the knowledge gap and develop real-life solutions.

Banarjee also spoke with us about the concept of “appropriate technology.” Climate change is going to require a lot of action, on the part of all of us. Whether in urban Chicago or a village in Punjab, people will eventually need to address warming. But Professor Banarjee let us in on a secret: “People don’t want to change.” Appropriate technology is the idea that adaptation and mitigation innovations should require as a little deviation as possible from people’s normal lifestyles. We learned about an iron twisted metal, that when added to a stove, improves efficiency by 10%-40%. 

After our talk with Professor Banarjee, we headed over to the C-TARA lab and saw some of the machines and tools that are being developed. One exciting innovation was the bricks made out of cow dung as alternative fuel. These bricks are helpful in many ways: from lowering wood logging, to improving efficiency and reducing pollution. Overall, knowing that India’s brightest minds choose to use their intelligence for rural development is extremely inspiring. All day at IIT-Bombay, I was surrounded by some of the most dedicated students and academics not only in India but in the world. Knowing that they utilize their talents to help people and lessen the impacts of climate change is something I’ll never forget.