On The Value Of Free Public Toilets

What separates a “first world” country from a second or third world country?  Free and sanitary public toilets would be high on the list of distinguishing features.

In Mumbai, India, a campaign is underway to try to shame public authorities into establishing free public toilets for women.  Currently, women have to pay for the privilege of using a public toilet, while men can do so for free.  Moreover, there is a huge shortage of toilets, both public and private, in India.  Indeed, a recent survey showed that half — half! — of Indian homes do not have toilets.  As a result, it is commonplace for people to relieve themselves in public.  In a nation as crowded as India, that reality has obvious public health consequences, to say nothing of its negative effect on the sights and smells of everyday existence.

Americans take the existence of (relatively) clean and accessible public facilities for granted.  It’s hard to imagine what life would be like if they weren’t available — but in many parts of India that is the way of the world.  As India continues to surge forward to solidify its position as a global economic and military powerhouse, it also should focus on basic decencies like public toilets for its people.  You’re far more likely to be happy, productive, and full of self-respect if the call of nature doesn’t require you to squat, embarrassed, by the side of the road.

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MF Husain, R.I.P.

This week has seen the passing of one of the world’s most legendary artists — a painter who was as celebrated and vilified in India as he was unknown in America.  His name was MF Husain (also spelled Hussain).

Husain, who often was called “India’s Picasso,” was a highly controversial figure.  He was an artist who did not shy away from the public or from political or religious themes in his paintings.  Indeed, Husain’s representations of Hindu deities in certain paintings got him into trouble in India, causing his home to be vandalized and eventually leading him to leave India and live in the Middle East.  He died in London.

Husain’s artwork is quite interesting, although it is not well known in the United States.  His most controversial painting apparently was Mother India, which I have posted with this piece and which shows a naked woman on a map of India.  Conservative Hindus were outraged by the piece and brought lawsuits against Husain for obscenity and sacrilege; the India Supreme Court eventually upheld dismissal of several of the cases because in India there is a deep-rooted tradition of sexual iconography and portraying nudity in artistic work.  Imagine, bringing an obscenity and sacrilege lawsuit based on a painting!

Water Wealth

This story about dropping water table levels in India, apparently due to excessive groundwater pumping, just reaffirms what I think will become an increasingly obvious fact: one of the greatest attributes of the American Midwest is an abundance of water. According to the U.S. EPA, the Great Lakes hold more than one-fifth of the world’s supply of fresh water, and the only bigger source — the polar ice caps — aren’t exactly accessible. In addition to the water stored in the Great Lakes, the Midwest is home to large rivers, like the Ohio and the Father of Waters itself, the mighty Mississippi. Our winters aren’t exactly filled with brilliant blue skies, but they do feature lots of rain, and snow, and sleet, and freezing rain, and other forms of bone-chilling precipitation that cause us to cinch our overcoats tighter and mutter under our breath.

The Great Lakes, shown from space

The Great Lakes, shown from space

The question for the Midwest is how to maximize this resource and put it to best use. To their credit, the state governments of the eight Great Lakes states, including Ohio, have been proactive on the issue. They have entered into the Great Lakes Compact, which provides for management of the fresh water in the lakes and, for the most part, bans diversion of the waters to locations outside the Great Lakes basin. The Great Lakes States therefore have said to the world, if you want our water, you’ll need to come to the American Midwest to get it. I think people ultimately will do just that.

What If India Won’t Play Ball?

India not only is balking at agreeing to limitations on carbon emissions, it also apparently is challenging the science underlying global warming theories. This development is noteworthy, because if India and the other growing economic powers — China, Brazil, and Indonesia — refuse to participate in some kind of binding worldwide effort to reduce our carbon footprint, it puts the United States in a terrible predicament.

Efforts to reduce carbon emissions involve both a scientific component and a geopolitical one. As I have written before, I am skeptical of the science underlying global warming and its heavy reliance on computer modeling. In any case, the geopolitical component is at least as important as the scientic. I do not mean to downplay the significance of getting agreement from countries like Germany and Japan on capping and eventually reducing their emissions, but at least part of that reduction will be achieved by the ongoing general population decline in those countries. Japan’s population, for example, is projected to decline from 128 million in 2008 to 95 million in 2050. Germany’s population is forecast to fall from 82 million in 2008 to 71 million in 2050. If a country is going to experience significant reductions in the number of people who drive cars, it is necessarily going to reduce its carbon emissions, without making any lifestyle sacrifices or handicapping its industry with regulations that raise costs and therefore prices.

What about China, India, Brazil, and Indonesia? According to the U.S. Census Bureau, those four countries and the United States are the five most populous countries in the world. And, unlike Japan and Germany, the populations in those countries are growing rapidly. India, which had about 1.1 billion people in 2008, is expected to become the most populous country in the world by 2050, with 1.7 billion carbon-consuming and carbon-emitting individuals. During that same time period, China’s population is projected to grow from 1.3 billion to 1.4 billion, Indonesia’s population is expected to grow from 240 million to 343 million, and Brazil’s population is forecast to grow from 195 million to 259 million. The population of the United States, on the other hand, is projected to grow from 304 million in 2008 to 438 million in 2050.

If countries like India and China refuse to agree to reducing greenhouse gases because they don’t want to saddle their growing economies with the costs that would accompany that effort, the impact of those decisions would obliterate any carbon emissions reductions achieved in Germany and Japan. Obviously, if any significant percentage of the 600 million new Indian citizens uses electricity generated by coal-fired power plants, wears clothing produced in smoke-belching factories, or drives a car powered by fossil fuels, the impact on India’s carbon footprint will be tremendous.

What does this mean for America? Perhaps it means that we should not charge blindly ahead with legislation designed to force our industry to comply with difficult regulations that can only increase the costs of the goods they produce and try to sell in the global marketplace. Our businesses already have to comply with significant wage and hour, safety, and environmental regulations that are not found in other countries. If we add carbon emission regulations that are rejected by other economies, the only immediate impact will be to make our companies even less competitive with those in India, China, and elsewhere. In an era of significant global economic challenges, taking unilateral action that cripples our industries and makes them less capable of employing Americans seems ill-advised — indeed, almost suicidal.