The fight against the pandemic has entered its eighth month and India has seen floods in West Bengal, Assam, Orissa, UP, Bihar and Kerala. It has affected over 125 million people, leaving over 500 people dead and over half a million uprooted from their homes. Right in the middle of one of the severest lockdowns the world has seen so far. It has resulted in multi-billion-dollar devastation. And even then, the mainstream media is paying lip service to the most visible manifestation of climate change, alongside the equally visible zoonotic pandemic. It has chosen, among many inane issues, to “conduct a media trial” around the tragic suicide of an actor and narcotic drug abuse in the film industry. The Union government has been very busy too. It has tested opposition governments in different states, offered questionable economic recovery packages, inaugurated a temple site violating physical distancing norms, taken legal action on poets, writers, teachers, lawyers and activists, issued a controversial and arguably reckless EIA draft, announced a move to allot coal mines in pristine forests and biodiversity hot zones, run amok with irrational projects in Mollem National Park in the Western Ghats. The speed at which the government has chosen to approve projects in wildlife sensitive habitats has caused serious concern among the informed but has not yet entered the national consciousness.
Yet in the midst of all the chaos, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change received 1.7 million responses on the draft of Environment Impact Assessment 2020! After the ill-fated attempt to thwart an online campaign group with UAPA charges, an attempt which was later aborted. The uproar around the projects in Mollem, Goa from writers, poets, scientists, conservationists, ecologists, teachers led by some very imaginative student activism triggered the Supreme Court-appointed Centrally Empowered Committee (CEC) to intervene and seek an explanation from the National Board of Wildlife on the clearances. The online and offline Save Mollem Campaign was so strong that it caused the Goa Chief Minister to suspect a foreign hand! And there was – the students and the youth created such a powerful campaign that it attracted solidarity and admiration from Europe, Africa and other parts of the world. Hardly surprising, given the allure of Goa as a tourist’s paradise!
The active participation of students in the environment and climate change causes is a refreshing change. They see this as their fight, their own fight, sometimes, their solo fight – to secure their future. A fight where older generations, complacent in their affluent cocoons, are reluctant to upset the status quo. They see through the eyewash that the legislators fling on them in the guise of “sustainability and essential development”. The Work from Home scenario gives them more time on their hands. And that has also heightened their interest. Very appealing audio-visual memes are constantly pouring out. They are doing their job in multiplying the followers. The local/global networks that have been formed at There is No Earth B and Extinction Rebellion India are creating open repositories of information that can be used by any of the activist groups. Causes as diverse as Assam Floods, Vizag Mangroves, Save Aarey projects are covered here. Save Mollem Goa and My Mollem Goa groups, with active student participation, have brought together a diverse collective of scientists, artists, poets, illustrators and other creative people.
The active participation of students in the environment and climate change causes is a refreshing change. They see this as their fight, their own fight, sometimes, their solo fight – to secure their future. A fight where older generations, complacent in their affluent cocoons, are reluctant to upset the status quo.
All this has resulted in a breathtaking outpouring of creative content to save this pristine biodiversity hotspot in the Western Ghats. Fridays For Future India and Let India Breathe are playing similar roles. Let Me Breathe, powered almost entirely by youngsters, brings everyday sustainability and climate change stories from all over India. Using digital tools, it invites the youth to influence behavioural and policy level changes. Equally inspiring are emerging youth/teen voices – such as Aarav Seth, who as a teen is rallying support for the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); Licypriya Kangujam, a 9-year-old from Manipur, who addressed the United Nations Climate Change Conference of 2019 and takes pride in offering creative solutions to turn everyday waste into everyday usable items; Femin Johny, a Kerala teen who champions the cause of planting trees, and many others like Aditya Dubey and Ridhima Pandey who have added their voices to these causes.
The work initiated by Magsaysay awardee, P Sainath is no less noteworthy. His news portal, People’s Archive of Rural India, covers rural lives and livelihoods. They launched an initiative called PARI Education for schools. This initiative puts a human face on textbook concepts in everyday life in rural India. Driest topics like poverty, pollution, drought, farmer suicides and unsustainable livelihoods come alive through powerful storytelling by the people who face these daily. Kids for Tigers is another educational outreach programme from the Sanctuary Nature Foundation that touches the lives of rural kids living right next to the tiger and urban kids across the country. Going way beyond conservation education, the programme is dedicated to leaving kids with a better planet and leaving the planet with better kids.
It is a shame that the Environment and Climate Change causes have not attracted popular contemporary icons from society. Jairam Ramesh, an IIT Bombay alum himself, is perhaps the only politician who has made Environment and Climate change the cornerstone of his politics. Other than Dia Mirza, who is UN Goodwill Ambassador for Environment, there is hardly anyone from Indian Cinema or Cricket that has joined this movement. Amitav Ghosh and Arundhati Roy are perhaps the only globally known Indian celebrities from the literary world who have not only identified themselves with these causes but have also written critically acclaimed stories around these subjects. The young need new role models. They should be encouraged to explore the works of Vandana Shiva (Food sovereignty), Sunita Narain (Rural eco-regeneration), Medha Patkar (Narmada Bachao and other people’s movements), Prerna Singh Bindra (Conservation related journalism), young conservation and ecology scientists like Neha Sinha, Vidya Athreya, Jis Sebastian, Nandini Velho, Krithi Karanth, Purnima Burman, Prachi Mehta, Veena Srinivasan, cartoonist Rohan Chakravarty (Green Humour), Anushka Ravishankar (children’s books), Abhijit Prabhudesai (Rainbow Warriors), legal luminaries in environment law and justice such as Ritwik Dutta, Claude Alvares and Norma Alwares; Shweta Wagh (Urban ecology, heritage conservation) among many others. Narsanna and Padma Koppula, Bharat Mansatta, Madhu Reddy, Malvikaa Solanki and others are paving the way in the field of agro-ecology, championing Permaculture – a way of natural, sustainable farming and a way of life. Recent films like Kiss the Ground and Planet of the Humans have captivated the attention of the youth and given them different perspectives. The former focused on Soil Regeneration and the latter on the controversies surrounding Green Energy.
The young need all our help and support. They don’t need adults trolling them, questioning their evolving knowledge or their motives. They don’t need experts shaming their biases or their passion. They do need gentle help in understanding the issues in-depth, the Science, the options with the latitude to dream freely. They do need monetary support to follow their passion. The privileged should not hesitate to dip into their pockets to support them. They should see this as an investment in Inter-Generational Equity and in character building. Bob Dylan once said, “Passion is a young man’s game.”
A healthy planet need not be a moonshot.