The What and The How

A really long break, I know, but I have half a good excuse for a small chunk of it.

For three weeks this past month, I taught a bunch of kids three different courses. The three courses had some overlap in terms of the students who attended each week, and a lot of overlap in terms of how the three courses covered the subject matter, but as with all of the previous times that I have taught in this program, I had a blast.

Much more importantly, so did the students have a blast. Best as I could tell, at any rate.

One of the reasons they had a blast was because I used a lot of interactive tools, and this was one such:

Click on the link and try it out for yourself. It is, as the support page says, “a fast, powerful climate simulation tool”. And so we had fun trying to see what would happen if, say, coal was taxed more heavily. Or if, say, the transport sector saw much better rates of electrification. And so on and so forth. Have fun playing around with different scenarios, for that’s the point of this tool.

But after a lot of fun was had, and after a lot of scenarios were built, I had to put a dampener on the session. “This”, I gravely intoned, “is not public policy”.

What we have done, I went on to g.i., is build out scenarios. And while the best case scenario is a very pleasant thing to contemplate (relatively speaking, at any rate), it isn’t necessarily achievable.

In other words (still g.i.’ing, naturally), we may well know where we have to reach. Public policy, unfortunately, concerns itself with not just what the best scenario is, but also how realistic it is, and whether it is achievable at all in the first place.

In other words, “How > What” when it comes to public policy. Not always, and not necessarily, but it is a rather good heuristic when it comes to thinking about the subject.

The thing with teaching young (really young – I had the privilege of teaching 13-15 year olds) students is that you must learn to wait. You may know the next topic of discussion and you may know the correct answer to a question you yourself have asked, but you need to wait. Wait for them to process what you’ve said, reason things through, and then ask the inevitable question that will take the discussion forward.

And so I waited.

Until one of them asked, “But wait. Are you saying that this scenario is not achievable?”

And that allowed me to neatly segue into an article that – and let me be frank here – most adults would find boring. That’s not (at all) a slight on the topic, let alone the author. But quite a few folks would probably choose to skip over an article whose headline says “Free electricity ruined discoms. Now they will cause trouble in transition to renewables“. Especially when the subheading goes “When high tariff paying customers leave, discom finances will further deteriorate. Discoms, therefore, find ways to not allow open access to keep customers captive”.

Please do read the whole thing, but I’ve quoted the most important excerpt below:

If C&I (commercial and industrial) customers have ESG (environmental, social, and governance) mandates, they may prefer buying electricity from the renewable generating companies. As per the Electricity Act, distribution companies are required to grant “open access” when customers (largely C&I) and generating companies privately negotiate a deal, and want to use the network for transport of electricity. When the high tariff paying C&I customers leave, discom finances further deteriorate. Discoms, therefore, find ways to not allow open access to keep C&I customers captive. (Please note that abbreviations have been expanded to make this quote easier to understand)

Again, a wait, post an explanation of what the article was about.

Comprehension, horror and outrage all dawned at more or less the same rate on all the faces.


“Hang on a minute!”

“So you’re saying that…”

They had realized, for themselves, that the public policy re:electricity in our country was such that we end up making it difficult for our commercial and industrial users to switch to renewables. And why do we do so? Because this is the only segment (for the most part) that pays over and above their fair share. And so while we know what is required for a greener world, we choose to prioritize more greenbacks in our wallets instead.

With good reason, discoms might say, and they have a point. Well, in a manner of speaking. But you do see what I meant when I told my students that building out the scenario was the easy bit. Actually getting to a place where one can begin to implement all these policies?

Ah, what a very, very long road that is.

An introduction to public policy, if you ask me, should be taught to everybody while they are in school. That sentence deserves to be expanded into an entire blogpost, which is what I plan to do next.

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