The economics, and politics of crackers

Abhilasha Purwar
Oct 29, 2019 · 6 min read

Clean Coal, healthy “Yoga” bar in a plastic wrapper, Springwater (with leached micro-plastics) in a plastic bottle, the list of environmental and health oxymorons is endless. The 2019 Indian Diwali season saw one of the best green-washed marketing gimmicks in the name of “Green Crackers”. While the sales numbers will be revealed in a few days, I predict that 2019 sales of firecrackers would be significantly larger than 2018. Thanks to the genius consultant behind the 20% less polluting “green” crackers. Whoever you are, I salute your mental sharpness and want to hire you in my marketing team.

In one of the last attempts to save a dying industry, like the clean coal invention of the early 2010s, the Indian firecrackers industry and the army of sustainability and marketing consultants ran a fairly successful “green” cracker campaign. In an already prevailing and amplifying economic downturn, the environmental ministry is shying away from serious actions on the crackers industry for the loss of Rs. 1,000 crores of economic activity and much more crores worth of political wealth.

Really? 🤦🏻‍♀️

On Oct 27, 2019, people across the nation, participated in Diwali celebrations. Some with teetotaler religion while some with whiskey and wine till 4 am. But the ones who matter the most were the ones who burst firecrackers & the ones who don’t

Bro, you are buying firecrackers? Don’t you know about Air Pollution and all.

Arrey man, just a few crackers, I am buying. All these power plants, Punjab fires, all the cars on the road, but my Diwali celebration will destroy the world.

No man, but still, what’s the point, let’s do something else no.

Dude, see, its my culture, my heritage, that’s how celebrated Diwali growing up, with my parents, with my friends, and you know what, these are like “green crackers”, they pollute 20% less and are like certified and all.

But bro, it will still affect your health, your kids’ lungs, your neighbours, and add to the already such high pollution in the city.

Back in the days, we used to buy like 5000–6000 Rs. worth of crackers and burst for hours. I am just getting a few rockets and a few phooljharis for ceremonial purposes. People have become snowflakes now. Back in the days, we used to burst so many crackers, but I am fine no, my lungs are alright, I am healthy. This small stuff doesn’t matter “that” much.

Air quality hovered ~150 before Diwali, spiking to 500+ on Diwali and regularly above 300 after Diwali 🤬

It is easy to put a lens of logic, pollution emissions, immediate exposure to self and sustained prolonged exposure to the entire neighborhood or city, and find crackers as a highly stupid, so-called uneducated, non-sensical activity. Yet, many of our own countrymen indulge in that as a means of a celebration of something which is sacred and close to our hearts and culture. Beyond the worlds of rights and wrongs, environmental or non-environmental, stepping on religious freedoms or trying to stop a horrible practice, let’s explore the nuances of individual human decision “to burn or not to burn” firecrackers.

  1. One day, a few crackers don’t matter “that” much

A major problem of an average person is to “objectively” quantifying our direct impact in the world. Years of conditioning, being taught to compromise later, we often feel so small, like nothing we would do or say matters.

Add a layer of lazy self-explanation to change our own habits, and welcome to the thesis of “I or my actions don’t matter much”.

So evading responsibility or accepting a quick defeat, we are quick to undermine our individual contribution to destruction; leading to the common problem of “Its just one day, a few firecrackers” said 1.3 billion Indians.

2. But all those other “big” things

In the world of climate change and environmental arguments, the divide of “corporate crony capitalism” and “collective human consumption choices” long remain unresolved. Is Coca Cola responsible for all the plastic bottles in the sea, or the millions of Coca-Cola bottle consumers? Did chicken come first or the egg?

Any of these debates of who did how much and is more responsible is just a distraction. The Great Indian Air Pollution phenomenon is a mixture of many factors from the coal-dependent energy sector to dysfunctional agri-energy system design resulting in pointless crop-burning, a lazy not-so idling inventory of diesel vehicles, and the layer of increasing desertification induced dust-storms. However big, corporate, government, farmer, or personal these polluting items are, they are a direct result of our collective consumption patterns and regular habits.

It is very difficult to stop consuming coal-power electricity or resolve the complicated spaghetti of politico-economic mess of stubble burning and rice growing, but it is fairly easy to convince yourself and other friends to Say No to Crackers.

3. The Cultural inertia

Place yourself in the shoes of a 35 something man, father of a four-year-old, who grew up in a traditional Indian family, and saw a certain way of celebration; built a nostalgic memory of the happiness from the sparkling crackling lightning, the laughter, and banter around the crackers and merely wants to see the same smile on his kid’s face.

Good memories have a funny persistence of wanting to be repeated. Years of marketing genius have solidified the association of crackers with happiness. Hence, people consume firecrackers in a search for happiness.

When something needs to be changed at a policy level, economic level, or business level, a few devoted actors in a room can (maybe) drive the agenda. But to change the consumer behavior of 1.3 billion Indians, every citizen needs to become a marketing guru of the new age. The agents of change in such cases are each and every aware individual who can uncover this marketing babble. If they can conjure green crackers for 2019, we can light up “no to crackers” for 2020

4. The Green-washed permission of Green-Crackers

The last 5 years have been miles of development for environmentalists, or like I liked to call us “survivalists”. There is one beautiful insidious (and very smart) category of sustainability consultants (aka the wolf in the sheep’s clothing) who have successfully hijacked any strides made by all survivalists combined.

Sustainability 101 = reduce, reduce more, now reduce more, okay reuse, recycle. The green-washers promote “consume (so-called) environmental green-clean-sustainable-ethical shit that you don’t need, now show-off to other people how woke you are and collect brownie points, and now share more and make others consume more.

Similarly in the fire-cracker debacle, there is an organic rise in awareness and decline in consumption across the nation. In the last gasps of breath, the innovation of green-crackers, allow people a guilt-free or rather even a morally-superior consumption.

“Dude, I spent like 4x the money on crackers, because these green-crackers, no, they are good for the environment”.

The onus is now on each and every non-consumer, to convince uncover this green-washing, move ourselves and others from this cultural inertia, find our own potential for impact, and change this one “big” thing: the small little Diwali fire-crackers

To quash, one day, few crackers don’t matter “that much” check the consistent year on year air pollution peaks across various locations in India every Diwali at BreeZo and see the direct hockey-stick spike in pollution from one day and a few crackers. You can also download the BreeZo App and chat with our BreeZo Air Quality bot on Facebook Messenger to get all air quality details on your finger-tips

Using Technology & Data to save the Planet

Abhilasha Purwar

Written by

Blue Sky Thinking

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