India’s capital city New Delhi and much of northern India are routinely shrouded in man-made pollutants. In fact, Delhi vies with Beijing for the dirtiest air in the world.
Many of India’s 1.3 billion people — a fifth of the world’s population — face pollution that is cutting short lives, stunting children’s cognitive development and putting public health under terrific stress.

To lift millions from poverty, it will require ever more energy. But most of India’s electricity is generated by coal-burning power plants. Millions of new cars choke the roads each year. Add to the mix the burning of garbage and crops, and it’s a toxic cocktail that makes India the third-largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, after China and the United States.

Under pressure to cut these emissions — which contribute to global warming and climate change — India is turning to its greatest source of clean, renewable energy: sunshine. It’s drenched in it 300 days of every year. Already, solar energy is changing the landscape across New Delhi, and the deserts of Rajasthan. But pollution is diminishing its power.

When solar panels are clean — like the ones on the rooftop of Delhi’s Habitat Centre, a conference and office complex in the central part of the city — solar energy production typically doubles, according to a new study led by Duke University researchers. Unaccounted for are the effects of things like burning trash, a widespread practice in India.

In the state of Uttarakhand, the air is clean. And here, changing climate conditions can seem more like an opportunity to exploit than a looming threat to fear.
Uttarakhand, straddling the Himalayas, has an abundance of natural streams and rivers. The headwaters of the Ganges are in this northern state. But river water doesn’t feed agriculture — it’s too difficult to pipe the water up. Villages are rain and snow-fed.

But the villagers report that less snow is actually falling, a decline they began to notice in the 1980s. Farmers were persuaded to make the most of their less snow-filled winters by cultivating land that used to lie fallow during the cold months.
“So now, they benefit because they are taking a crop out of it,” says Bhadwal. “And it gives them more in their homes and more to sell. It was a total win-win for them.”

Adapting to their changing conditions, women are now harvesting the organic potatoes they planted in January. That’s when villagers took advantage of their lengthened growing season for the first time. Surji Devi’s digging releases the scent of fresh earth into the air.

Kailash Bhatt is a community organizer who helped mobilize 48 of the 100 families here to try their hand cultivating year-round. Bachi Singh, a field supervisor for TERI, demonstrates best practices for planting in a village in Uttarakhand. He says this village could someday grow fruit trees — excellent cash crops. Read More

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