Saturday, June 09, 2007

Twisted statistics.

That statistics can be presented or distorted in any convenient manner is a well-worn cliché.

Take this matter of CO2 emission that was discussed at the G8 meeting this week. The G8 countries present compelling evidence that India is already the fourth largest emitter of CO2 gas in the world and urges steps to control the trend. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, with that deadpan expression and that mono-toned voice of his, uses same piece of statistics to explain that India’s per capita emission of CO2 is one of the lowest in the world, and please, don’t ask us to reduce.

In a different context, Rajaji had quoted per-capita figures to explain a point. In an editorial in the Swarajya magazine of May, 1961, he criticized the then Finance Minister, Mr Morarji Desai, who had claimed that the proportion of taxation to national income in India was only 9 per cent compared to 28 per cent in U.K., 33 per cent in U.S.A., 27 per cent in Germany, and so on, to make out a case that there was scope for additional taxation in India. Rajaji responded by providing the per-capita national income figures of these countries as Rs 289, Rs 4561, Rs 10124 and Rs 3530 respectively and added :

"Take off even 50 per cent from the other figures, we have still round about Rs. 2,300, Rs. 5,000, and Rs. 1,800 But any experiment of that sort on Rs. 289 would leave a calamitous result. Reduce the courses in a Raj Bhavan dinner by half, the guests can still be content. But reduce Oliver Twist’s ration by a little, and you will starve him to death. There is nothing so fallacious as percentage fairness when we are dealing with vastly unequal quantities. Mathematics is good when it is fully understood, dangerous when knowledge is incomplete."

So, using similar logic, it is unreasonable to expect India to cut down on its CO2 emission any further, when its per capita emission is one-ninth that of USA's.

But, why should per-capita consumption or emission be the basis for evaluation? Who defines the yardstick? Suppose, the USA were to argue that Indians having bred like rabbits had three times the population of USA’s in only one-third the land area, and therefore a better yardstick would be to measure the CO2 emitted per sq.m of land per person. The figures for USA and India would be the same then.

1 comment:

Sunita Venkatachalam said...

Do rabbits breed that much?