It is a sobering thought. In 2006, according to the UN, India was the fourth largest emitter of carbon dioxide (C02, or greenhouse gas) in the world. At that time, it was emitting 1.5m metric tons, or 5.3% world emissions. Today, India is the third largest polluter after China and the US. And yet, over 400 million Indians are not even connected to the electricity grid. That is over a third of the population of this country of over 1.1 billion inhabitants - more than the entire population of the United States. Bringing those people into the modern era is the right thing to do. By allowing them to use things we take for granted - lights, TVs, fridges and computers - we will alleviate vast suffering. But by doing this, while serving the ever-increasing needs of the rapidly growing urban middle class, India is creating a whole new environmental crisis all of its own.
Today, India imports 70% of its oil, while 50% of electricity is provided by coal plants. Its creaking infrastructure can barely keep up with its current needs, let alone the vast expansion coming. For this reason, the government of Manmohan Singh has placed nuclear energy at the center of its political, economic and environmental policies.
This has not been without cost or challenge. The Prime Minister broke with his left wing coalition partners and risked losing office over the nuclear deal with the US that was key to the nuclear plan. The vote was close and dirty, involving vote buying scandals, but Singh and the Congress Party prevailed, and we called it a historic milestone.
Not only did the deal, giving India access to nuclear technology, go through, but voters supported the move, giving Congress a landslide victory at this year's general election, on expectations that rural India will be developed. A central plank of that development, of course, rests on bringing electricity to vast swathes of the countryside.
Like all world economies, India does not today have particularly good options regarding its energy needs. In the short term, it has little choice but to ramp up purchasing of fossil fuels. And while India would like to increase its use of renewable energy sources - like virtually everyone else except for the oil companies and their scurrilous supporters in the Republican Party and amongst lobbyists (who have resorted to outright lies in TV ads claiming that CO2 is green) - there is a dearth of proven options that can scale in the way that India needs it.
Facing similar challenges, China is looking to establish industrial leadership in a number of new areas such as clean coal/ carbon capture technology and solar power, as well as increasing use of nuclear power. With its lack of manufacturing capability, the former are not viable Indian options. But in the latter area, the two emerging giants have similar ambitions.
China today has 11 nuclear reactors producing 8GW of power, but plans to scale that up 10-fold by 2020.
But India plans to go even further. Today it has 4.7GW of power from 17 reactors, but it plans to increase that 100-fold, to 470GW of nuclear power by 2050. That would make it the largest nuclear energy producer in the world by a considerable margin. The largest nuclear power today, the US, produces just 101GW of nuclear energy.
Over the next decade the payoff will be small, increasing nuclear power's contribution to India's energy consumption from 3% to 6%. But by 2050, that contribution will rise to anywhere between a third and a half of all energy needs, depending on overall consumption growth.
This policy is - and will remain - highly contentious in India because nuclear power both is and isn't green. It is green in that the actual production of nuclear power doesn't produce CO2, although plant building, production and shipping materials do cause plenty of emissions.
However nuclear isn't green because the plutonium waste it produces is radioactive, and is harmful to life for thousands of years. Where and how to store that waste safely has been a target for concerns and protests from environmentalists for years.
Prime Minister Singh believes that Indian scientists will be able to solve this problem. More than 2,000 researchers are working on a technology to 'virtuously recycle' plutonium waste to re-use it in power generation. It uses a material called thorium, which is available in large quantities in India.
Recycling radioactive material is the green dream of the nuclear industry, but this technology is not proven, and attempts to master it have been dropped by several countries. India remains hopeful, and has announced that it has entered stage two of the program.
Environmental activists, including former government allies, are sceptical. SP Udayakumar of the Indian Alliance for Anti-Nuclear Movements, says the Prime Minister is leading the country down the wrong road. "The technology ... is not proven. If we start going ahead then the amount of carbon emitted by building, maintaining and running nuclear plants means that [it] is a hugely polluting technology. If it does not work then we are left with waste that takes 24 thousand years to become safe. This gamble we will pay for for generations to come."
Battle is about to be re-joined. Whatever the outcome, it is clear that energy strategy will be at the centre of the political and economic battles that will shape the future in both India and the world.
Watch this space closely.
Dwayne Ramakrishnan, EconomyWatch.com