04/07/2008 12:56 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Green Livelihoods and the Planet's Future

Bombay -- After two whirlwind weeks of our listening tour, the Sierra Club has announced its first major overseas initiative -- a $100,000 prize to be given annually in India to the grassroots organization that does the best work developing and creating green livelihoods -- work that solves environmental or renewable energy challenges while simultaneously creating jobs to meet India's huge under-employment problems. This prize will be the first activity of the Sierra Club's Center for Green Livelihoods, whose primary mission will be to create a convening and networking space for the thousands of wonderful and creative but currently poorly connected initiatives already going on around the subcontinent.

There is clearly a struggle going on here. The government has announced that it will lay out its approach to global warming in a major policy paper in June, but at the same time global warming deniers and skeptics like the Julian Simon Center are cropping up here to urge India to ignore the IPCC report, chaired by Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, of New Delhi's The Energy Research Institute. But the media on the whole are not falling into the "on the one hand -- on the other hand" trap that marred most of the U.S. coverage of climate change until Hurricane Katrina pushed the public and the media over the tipping point. The media in India correctly take the science as established and are reporting both the implications and the potential solutions for their country.

But at its heart the struggle is really about whether a low-carbon, leapfrog energy pathway is truly a  viable, rapid-growth strategy, or whether it will instead prove to be a slower and more-expensive course than just using fossil fuels and nuclear. India's investment in carbon infrastructure is smaller than China's (and much smaller than that of the U.S.), so vested interests aren't a big problem -- but the assumption that the only way to grow is to follow the same energy pathways the West used in the 20th century is deeply rooted.

Our prize aims to bring together and highlight -- whether in environmental organizations, business, academia, or government -- those who are building the low-carbon, high-performance energy economy that India really needs. We know there are enough of them to carry the day -- the challenge is whether they can come together as a sufficiently cohesive force to thrust India into world leadership.