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有毒的空气和交通堵塞:印度的科技城市正被它们的成功窒息

2020-1-15 15:28

Like thousands of others, Megha Mathur moved to the Indian city of Gurgaon for a coveted job in tech. She soon realized she wouldn't be able to live there very long. The pollution was so bad she had to check an air quality app on her phone several times a day to see whether it was safe to go outside without a mask.

 

"Having to live like that can cause a lot of anxiety and stress in knowing that's constantly your life," Mathur, 27, told CNN Business. "Even though there are exciting opportunities in terms of companies and jobs, it just wasn't a place that I could see myself living long term and I think a lot of people share that opinion."
 
Gurgaon, around 25 miles from India's capital New Delhi, is one of the country's newest tech hubs — home to global players such as Google (GOOGL) and Microsoft (MSFT) as well as some of India's biggest startups like food delivery firm Zomato and India's biggest hotel chain OYO. Mathur, who worked for Zomato, stayed there only nine months before moving with her fiancée Harshvardhan Singh to the southern city of Bangalore.
 
"If you want to work in tech then Bangalore is your number one choice," says Singh, who left OYO for Flipkart, India's top online retailer that was bought by Walmart (WMT) last year. Often described as India's Silicon Valley, the city is also the main India base for Amazon (AMZN), Flipkart's main rival, the birthplace of ride-hailing firm Ola and home to leading outsourcing companies such as Infosys (INFY) and Wipro (WIT).
 
Gurgaon and Bangalore have exploded in the past two decades as the main centers of India's tech boom, with millions like Mathur and Singh taking up the highly prized and well paid jobs that come with it. The cities underscore one of the main dilemmas the country faces: The rapid growth needed to drive its $3 trillion economy and sustain 1.3 billion people has spawned an environmental emergency.
 
India's energy needs are rising as it tries to extend the manufacturing and tech boom to lift millions more out of poverty. That means more factories, more offices, more residences and vehicles.
The country has set itself ambitious targets since signing the Paris Climate Agreement, aiming to source 40% of its energy from renewable sources like wind and solar by 2030. There has been significant progress — renewable energy now accounts for nearly 23% — but India is still one of the world's largest oil importers, and more than half of its electricity still comes from burning coal.
 

A perfect storm

 

When Sanjay Gupta and his family first moved to Gurgaon in 1999, there was hardly anything around. "It was sparse, desolate, and for most requirements we would have to go to Delhi," he said. "It was a distance away from everything that we needed."
 
Gupta, who worked for American Express, soon moved overseas for stints in New York and Singapore, before returning to Gurgaon as the company's India head in 2006. By then the tech frenzy was firmly underway. "You always felt that you were in a construction war zone," says Gupta, now the CEO of AI education startup EnglishHelper.
 
Today, the drive into Gurgaon — now officially known as Gurugram — is a blur of glass buildings and company logos. It's now one of India's fastest-growing cities but mostly makes headlines for having the world's most toxic air, based on an index compiled by Greenpeace and AirVisual that measures the level of fine particulates.
 
As recently as the first week of November, Gurgaon and neighboring New Delhi were blanketed by a layer of smog so thick that officials declared a "public health emergency," dozens of flights were canceled and schools were closed. Traffic pollution and construction dust are partly to blame, but the annual burning of crop waste by local farmers makes the situation worse at this time of year.
 
It's a public health crisis that resurfaces every winter, thanks to what experts refer to as a "perfect storm" of pollution. And it only seems to be getting worse.
 
"Gurgaon had an opportunity to make this a world class city and we are nowhere close to it," says Latika Thukral.
 
A former Citibank executive, Thukral quit her job in 2004 and co-founded I Am Gurgaon, a citizen's group that has been working to increase the city's green cover, clean up its water supply and create more open spaces.
 
"I think the exodus is happening," Thukral says. "There will be no water, pollution is at its peak. Why would people not move out?"
 
Bangalore's tech boom preceded Gurgaon's and its transformation was even more dramatic. The city, now officially called Bengaluru, used to be dubbed "Garden City" or "Pensioner's Paradise." Not any more. Where Gurgaon has poisonous air, Bangalore has gridlock — the number of vehicles in the city has gone from around 1.4 million in 2000 to more than 8 million this year.
     
Singh's four-mile commute in Gurgaon used to take him around 15 minutes. In Bangalore, his five-and-a-half mile journey to work usually takes close to an hour. The longest he can recall is two and a half hours.
 
He also says it's not uncommon at Flipkart for people to email colleagues in the morning saying they're working from home because there's just too much traffic, or there were no ride-hailing cabs available.
 
"The biggest worrying factor seems to be that there seems to be no immediate solution," he says. "The city seems like it was built for 10 people and we've put in 10,000."
According to estimates last year from the Japan International Cooperation Agency, which is helping build a system to ease Bangalore's traffic woes, the average speed on the city's roads during the morning rush is just 8 miles per hour.
 
"The biggest challenge which Bangalore is facing now is that of unbridled growth," the city's municipal commissioner B.H. Anilkumar told CNN Business. City authorities are thinking about introducing bus lanes and even a London-style congestion tax to ease the pressure on roads, he said. But those will take time to put in place.
 
Bangalore's higher elevation and moderate climate mean it doesn't get blanketed by smog like Gurgaon and Delhi. However, multiple independent studies from recent years have said transportation is the biggest source of harmful emissions in the city — contributing about 40%.
 

Running out of water

Both cities have another huge problem in common — they're using up water faster than it can be replenished. Their populations are projected to more than double over the next decade after rapid expansion in recent years, further straining already maxed-out infrastructure. Gurgaon and Bangalore (and 19 more Indian cities) will run out of groundwater next year, according to estimates by government-run think tank NITI Aayog.
 
"Industrial growth in and around cities will be severely compromised as companies will move their operations to more water-secure locations," the think tank said in a recent report.
 
Millions already rely on private water tankers because government supplies are often inadequate. Bangalore's groundwater usage is running at 143%, according to the latest government data, meaning it's consuming more every year than comes from rain and runoff. For Gurgaon that number is 220%.
 
"If you look at the map of Gurgaon in the 1970s and trace out the rivulets... it's like a web," says M.D. Sinha, a senior official at the city's metropolitan development authority, the GMDA. "Now you trace it and you'll see that a lot of these have become roads."
 
 
Set up in 2017, the GMDA is focusing on recycling water and setting up sewage treatment plants. "Water... can be viewed as both a waste and a resource," says Sinha, who heads the city's conservation efforts. "It is now being viewed as a resource, and that is the shift we need for all our resources. We need to understand that we must save it or it will destroy us."
 

Getting involved

 

Companies that rode India's tech boom know they have to pitch in because the future of their business may depend on it.
 
"If some things are not done or a lot of things are not done, can it get worse? Yes, it can absolutely can get rapidly worse so it is important that everybody gets with it," says Aditya Ghosh, a member of OYO's board. (Ghosh was OYO's India and South Asia chief until Dec. 2 when he was succeeded in that role by Rohit Kapoor.)
 
OYO, which operates over 20,000 hotels across 80 countries, is in the process of moving to a bigger headquarters in Gurgaon. Ghosh says the company has tried to make its new office sustainable, ensuring proximity to public transportation, creating larger open spaces to reduce the need for air conditioning and lighting, and cutting down paper and plastic use. It is making similar efforts in its hotels to promote recycling, waste management and rain water harvesting.
OYO's current office has 3,000 employees across eight floors. The new office will accommodate those employees across five floors. "Every time you add that next floor you're actually leaving behind a bigger footprint," Ghosh says.
 
More than 1,300 miles south in Bangalore, Flipkart and Amazon are locked in a race to reduce their impact on the environment, even as they fight for top spot in India's online retail market. Flipkart announced in late August that it would eliminate single-use plastic packaging from its supply chain by March 2021. Amazon said a week later that it would do so by June 2020. The companies are testing out alternatives made of paper, cardboard and other recyclable materials. Flipkart has also started collecting plastic packaging material from customers so it doesn't end up in landfills.
 
Both companies also say they're trying to reduce the amount of packaging each delivery requires and the carbon footprint of their vehicles. "If I was to compare last year versus this year, we have doubled the number of customers who have received more than one item in one box," says Akhil Saxena, Amazon India's vice president of operations.
 
The US company has installed solar power and rainwater harvesting technology at several of its warehouses, as well as motion sensing lights that switch off as soon as workers exit. Flipkart says it has over two dozen warehouses with an ISO 14001 certification, a global standard that rates companies on how well they manage energy consumption, water usage and waste management.
 
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos pledged in September that the company would become carbon neutral by 2040. India poses a particularly large challenge. "I think if we do get off to a good start in a sustainable manner then the scale up becomes much easier," says Saxena.
 
As part of its September pledge, Amazon said it would have 100,000 electric delivery vehicles in operation worldwide by 2023. But the company hasn't yet revealed how many of those will be deployed in India. Walmart-owned Flipkart has already begun using electric delivery vehicles and says 40% of its fleet will be electric by March next year. 
 
Amazon India uses recycled water at its Bangalore headquarters and at its new campus in Hyderabad — Amazon's largest office building in the world. The company also partnered with a local NGO, city authorities and several other tech firms to help fund and construct a sewage treatment plant at one of Bangalore's dozens of lakes.
 
Flipkart says it has eliminated single-use plastic inside its Bangalore headquarters, which currently accommodates around 8,500 employees, by using alternative materials like stainless steel and glass. The e-commerce firm says the amount of waste it produces has gone down despite its rapid growth. Flipkart executive Mahesh Pratap Singh, who became the company's first head of sustainability earlier this year, says raising awareness among its thousands of employees has had a wider impact on the community.
 
"When you do something at this scale... it goes back to their homes," Singh told CNN Business.
 

No time to lose

 

While some of the biggest names in tech and finance are committed to solving India's environmental crisis, there's much more to be done. When it comes to fighting India's pollution, congestion and water shortages, the country's lack of infrastructure can be a challenge.
 
Amazon's Saxena says it's harder to procure plastic substitutes like wood and paper in India in large enough quantities than in more mature economies, and the fact that most deliveries take place on motorcycles rather than vans or trucks means the packaging has to be a lot more flexible and adaptable.
 
"It's not like a cut paste copy because the contexts are different, the environment is different, the infrastructure is different," Saxena adds.
 
Simply put, it's tough for companies in India to keep pace with its growth and drastically reduce their carbon footprint at the same time.
 
"We are at a stage where we're figuring out mass scale alternatives we can actually take to people," says Singh, Flipkart's sustainability head. Flipkart is having to design custom electric vehicles from scratch with a local startup because there aren't viable options locally.
 
Ghosh at OYO says companies only really start changing the way they behave when two things happen: "When consumers demand it more — and consumers have started demanding it more — and secondly when the cost of technology needed to make it happen also starts coming down."
The companies all acknowledge the sense of urgency and the enormity of the problem. Time is running out.
 
"While leadership companies have begun to factor sustainability thinking (including climate change) into their business strategies ... the process clearly needs to be deeper, wider, and faster," Shankar Venkateswaran and Mukund Rajan, former heads of sustainability efforts at Indian conglomerate Tata, wrote in "India and a Warming World" published earlier this month.
 
Mathur, who now works at Indian e-commerce startup Meesho, says she prefers Bangalore to Gurgaon. But that hasn't stopped her from worrying completely, and she says she feels "exceptionally" lucky that her building has a reliable water supply, at least for now.
 
"For a lot of people that live in Bangalore ... there are massive water outages. That is becoming more and more real and I imagine over the next couple of years that will become a big part of our lives as well," she adds.
 
As the water runs out, plastic waste piles up and the air gets ever more toxic, everyone has to do what they can.
 
"You can be despondent that this is never going to be enough but you have got to take those small steps and believe that can make a difference," Ghosh says.
 
和其他成千上万的人一样,梅加·马图尔(Megha Mathur)为了一份梦寐以求的科技工作,搬到了印度城市古尔冈。她很快意识到,自己在那里的日子不长了。污染太严重了,她不得不每天数次查看手机上的空气质量应用程序,看看不戴口罩出门是否安全。

27岁的马图尔在接受CNN Business采访时表示:“不得不这样生活可能会带来很多焦虑和压力,因为你知道这一直是你的生活。”“尽管在公司和工作方面有令人兴奋的机会,但我认为在这里我无法长期生活下去,我想很多人都有同样的看法。”

古尔加翁距印度首都新德里约25英里,是该国最新的科技中心之一,是谷歌(GOOGL)和微软(MSFT)等全球公司的总部所在地,也是一些印度最大的初创公司的所在地,如食品配送公司Zomato和印度最大的连锁酒店OYO。玛图尔曾在佐马托公司工作,她在那里只待了9个月,就和未婚妻哈什瓦德汉•辛格搬到了南部城市班加罗尔。
 
辛格表示:“如果你想在科技行业工作,班加罗尔是你的首选。这座城市常被称为印度的硅谷,也是Flipkart的主要竞争对手亚马逊(Amazon)在印度的主要基地,也是叫车公司Ola的诞生地,也是Infosys和Wipro等领先外包公司的总部所在地。

过去20年里,古尔加翁和班加罗尔迅速发展成为印度科技繁荣的主要中心,数百万像马图尔和辛格这样的人获得了随之而来的高薪工作。这些城市突显出中国面临的主要困境之一:推动其3万亿美元经济和养活13亿人口所需的快速增长,引发了一场环境危机。
 
印度的能源需求正在上升,因为该国正试图扩大制造业和科技业的繁荣,使数百万人摆脱贫困。这意味着更多的工厂,更多的办公室,更多的住宅和车辆。
 
自签署巴黎气候协议以来,中国为自己设定了雄心勃勃的目标,目标是到2030年40%的能源来自风能和太阳能等可再生能源。这方面已经取得了重大进展——可再生能源现在占了近23%——但印度仍然是世界上最大的石油进口国之一,其一半以上的电力仍然来自燃煤。
 
一场完美风暴

当古普塔(Sanjay Gupta)和他的家人在1999年第一次搬到古尔加翁时,那里几乎什么都没有。他说:“那里人烟稀少,人烟稀少,大多数情况下我们只能去德里。”“离我们需要的一切都有一段距离。”

古普塔曾在美国运通(American Express)工作,不久就搬到海外,在纽约和新加坡工作了一段时间,然后在2006年回到古尔加翁,担任该公司的印度业务主管。到那时,科技狂潮已经开始了。古普塔现在是人工智能教育初创公司EnglishHelper的首席执行官。

如今,开车进入古尔加翁——现在的官方名称是古尔加翁——是一片模糊的玻璃建筑和公司标识。它现在是印度发展最快的城市之一,但根据绿色和平组织(Greenpeace)和AirVisual编制的一项测量细颗粒物水平的指数,它的空气毒性是世界上最严重的。

就在11月的第一周,古尔加翁和邻近的新德里还笼罩在一层厚厚的雾霾中,以至于官方宣布进入“公共卫生紧急状态”,数十架航班被取消,学校停课。交通污染和建筑扬尘是部分原因,但每年这个时候,当地农民焚烧农作物废料使情况变得更糟。

这是一场公共卫生危机,由于专家所说的污染“完美风暴”,它每年冬天都会卷土重来。而且情况似乎越来越糟。
 
“古尔加翁有机会让这座城市成为世界级的城市,而我们离它还差得很远,”拉蒂卡•图克拉尔(Latika Thukral)说。

曾任花旗银行(Citibank)高管的图克拉尔于2004年辞职,与人共同创立了“我是古尔冈”(I Am Gurgaon)市民组织,该组织一直致力于增加城市的绿化覆盖率,清理供水,并创造更多的开放空间。
 
“我认为大批移民正在发生,”图克拉尔说。“没有水,污染达到顶峰。为什么人们不搬出去呢?”
 
班加罗尔的科技繁荣早于古尔加翁,它的转变甚至更引人注目。这座城市现在的官方名称是班加罗尔,过去曾被称为“花园城市”或“退休老人的天堂”。没有任何更多。古尔加翁的空气是有毒的,而班加罗尔则是交通堵塞——该市的车辆数量从2000年的140万辆左右增加到今年的800多万辆。

辛格在古尔加翁(Gurgaon)的通勤路程为4英里(约合1.6公里),过去他大约需要15分钟。在班加罗尔,他去工作的5英里半路程通常需要近一个小时。他能回忆起的最长时间是两个半小时。

他还表示,在Flipkart,人们早上给同事发邮件说他们在家工作,这并不罕见,因为交通实在是太拥挤了,或者根本没有叫车服务。

他表示:“最令人担忧的因素似乎是,似乎没有立竿见影的解决方案。”“这座城市似乎是为10个人建造的,而我们已经投入了1万人。”
 
根据日本国际协力机构(Japan International Cooperation Agency)去年的估计,该市在早高峰期间的平均速度仅为每小时8英里。日本国际协力机构正在帮助建设一个系统,以缓解班加罗尔的交通困境。

“班加罗尔现在面临的最大挑战是无节制的增长,”该市市政专员B.H. Anilkumar告诉CNN商业。他说,市政当局正在考虑引入公交车道,甚至像伦敦那样开征拥堵税,以缓解道路压力。但这些措施需要时间才能到位。

班加罗尔较高的海拔和温和的气候意味着它不会像古尔加翁和德里那样被烟雾笼罩。然而,近年来的多项独立研究表明,交通是北京最大的有害排放物来源,约占40%。

耗尽水

这两个城市还有一个共同的大问题——它们消耗水的速度快于水的补充速度。经过近年来的快速扩张,这些城市的人口预计在未来10年将增长一倍以上,进一步加重本已不堪重负的基础设施的负担。根据政府智库NITI Aayog的估计,古尔加翁和班加罗尔(以及另外19个印度城市)明年将耗尽地下水。

该智库在最近的一份报告中表示:“随着企业将业务转移到更安全的水源地区,城市内外的工业增长将受到严重影响。”
 
由于政府供水经常不足,数百万人已经依赖私人运水车。根据最新的政府数据,班加罗尔的地下水使用量为143%,这意味着它每年消耗的水量超过了雨水和径流。对于古尔加翁来说,这个数字是220%。
 
“如果你看看上世纪70年代古尔加翁的地图,找出那些小溪……它就像一个网络。”“现在你追踪它,你会发现很多地方都变成了道路。”
 
GMDA成立于2017年,专注于循环水和污水处理厂的建设。“水…可以看作是一种浪费,也是一种资源。“它现在被视为一种资源,这是我们所有资源需要的转变。我们必须明白,我们必须拯救它,否则它会毁灭我们。”
 
参与

受益于印度科技繁荣的企业知道,它们必须参与进来,因为它们的业务未来可能依赖于科技。

“如果有些事情没有做,或者很多事情没有做,情况会变得更糟吗?”是的,情况绝对会迅速恶化,所以每个人都要跟上形势,这一点很重要,”OYO董事会成员阿迪蒂亚•高希(Aditya Ghosh)表示。(高希曾是奥尤在印度和南亚的主管,直到12月2日,他的职位被罗希特·卡普尔(Rohit Kapoor)接替。)

OYO在80个国家经营着2万多家酒店,目前正在迁往古尔加翁的一个更大的总部。高希表示,公司已经努力使新办公室可持续发展,确保其接近公共交通,创造更大的开放空间,以减少对空调和照明的需求,并减少纸张和塑料的使用。该公司在旗下酒店也做出了类似的努力,以促进回收、废物管理和雨水收集。
 
OYO目前的办公室有3000名员工,分布在八层楼。新办公室将容纳那些雇员住五层楼。高希说:“你每增加一层楼,实际上就会留下一个更大的脚印。”
 
在班加罗尔以南1300多英里的地方,Flipkart和亚马逊(Amazon)正展开一场竞赛,以减少它们对环境的影响,尽管它们正在争夺印度在线零售市场的榜首位置。Flipkart在8月下旬宣布,到2021年3月,其供应链将不再使用一次性塑料包装。一周后,亚马逊表示将在2020年6月前完成这一目标。这些公司正在试验用纸张、纸板和其他可回收材料制成的替代品。Flipkart也开始从客户那里收集塑料包装材料,这样就不会被扔进垃圾填埋场。

两家公司还表示,他们正在努力减少每次运输所需的包装数量和车辆的碳足迹。亚马逊印度业务副总裁Akhil Saxena说:“如果我比较一下去年和今年,我们的客户数量翻了一番,他们在一个盒子里收到了不止一件商品。”
 
这家美国公司已经在几个仓库安装了太阳能和雨水收集技术,以及工人一离开就会关闭的动作感应灯。Flipkart表示,它拥有超过24个仓库,并获得了ISO 14001认证。ISO 14001是一项全球标准,对企业在能源消耗、用水和废物管理方面的表现进行评级。

亚马逊首席执行官杰夫·贝佐斯9月份承诺,该公司将在2040年实现碳中和。印度是一个特别大的挑战。萨克斯纳说:“我认为,如果我们能以可持续的方式有一个良好的开端,那么扩大规模就会容易得多。”

作为9月份承诺的一部分,亚马逊表示,到2023年,全球将有10万辆电动送货车投入使用。但该公司尚未透露其中有多少将部署在印度。沃尔玛(walmart)旗下的Flipkart已经开始使用电动送货车,并表示到明年3月,其车队中将有40%是电动的。

亚马逊印度公司在班加罗尔总部和位于海德拉巴的新园区都使用再生水。海德拉巴是亚马逊全球最大的办公楼。该公司还与当地一家非政府组织、市政当局和其他几家科技公司合作,帮助为班加罗尔数十个湖泊之一的污水处理厂提供资金并进行建设。

Flipkart表示,该公司在班加罗尔的总部目前容纳了约8500名员工,它已经用不锈钢和玻璃等替代材料消除了总部内部的一次性塑料。这家电子商务公司表示,尽管其业务增长迅速,但其产生的垃圾数量却有所下降。Flipkart的执行总裁Mahesh Pratap Singh今年早些时候成为公司的第一位可持续发展主管,他说提高数千名员工的环保意识对社区产生了更广泛的影响。

“当你做这种规模的事情时……它会回到他们的家里。”
 
刻不容缓

尽管一些科技和金融领域的巨头致力于解决印度的环境危机,但还有很多事情要做。在应对印度的污染、拥堵和水资源短缺问题时,印度基础设施的缺乏可能是一个挑战。

亚马逊的Saxena说很难采购塑料替代木材和纸张的足够大的数量在印度比在更成熟的经济体,事实上,大多数交付发生在摩托车而不是货车或卡车意味着包装更灵活,适应性强。

“它不像剪切粘贴复制,因为上下文不同,环境不同,基础设施也不同,”Saxena补充道。

简而言之,印度公司很难在保持增长的同时大幅减少碳足迹。

Flipkart的可持续发展主管辛格表示:“我们正处于一个阶段,我们正在研究大规模的替代方案,并将其真正用于人类。”Flipkart不得不与当地的一家初创公司合作,从零开始设计定制的电动汽车,因为在当地没有可行的选择。

OYO的高希表示,只有当两件事发生时,企业才会真正开始改变它们的行为方式:“当消费者的需求增加时——消费者的要求也开始增加——其次,实现这种需求所需的技术成本也开始下降。”
 
这些公司都认识到问题的紧迫性和严重性。时间不多了。

“虽然领导型公司已经开始将可持续性思维(包括气候变化)纳入他们的商业战略……印度塔塔集团前可持续发展项目负责人尚卡尔•文卡特斯瓦兰和穆昆•拉詹在本月早些时候出版的《印度与全球变暖》一书中写道。

现在在印度电子商务初创公司Meesho工作的马图尔说,她更喜欢班加罗尔,而不是古尔加翁。但这并没有完全阻止她的担忧,她说她感到“特别”幸运,因为她的建筑有可靠的供水,至少现在是这样。

“对于很多住在班加罗尔的人来说……有大规模的停水。这正变得越来越现实,我想在未来几年里,这也将成为我们生活中的重要组成部分。”

随着水的流失,塑料垃圾堆积,空气的毒性越来越大,每个人都必须尽其所能。

高希说:“你可能会感到沮丧,因为这永远都不够,但你必须采取这些小步骤,并相信它们会带来改变。”
原作者: Rishi Iyengar 来自: cnn