Have you heard of Greta Thunberg? If you have been living under a rock, here is who she is: Greta is a Swedish teenager, who began a solo climate protest in August 2018. She skipped classes to sit outside the Swedish parliament, holding a placard that read, “School Strike for Climate”.
Greta is no longer alone. At 16, she is has triggered a youth climate change movement, inspiring thousands of students in nearly 300 towns and cities around the world to join her in #FridaysForFuture. Every Friday, students are taking to the streets to sound the alarm about the climate crisis and to demand governments to treat it like the emergency it is.
I will not go into the detail about climate change; there is sufficient, scientific knowledge that is easily accessible. I will, however, point out a recent headline that highlights that the probable range of global temperature rise between 2 degrees Celsius and 4.9 degrees Celsius could happen within the lifetime of the children today. As Greta told world leaders at the December 2018 climate conference in Poland, “You are stealing our [children’s] future.”
Such rise in temperatures means rapidly rising seas, melting glaciers, scorching, unbearable summers, unpredictable monsoons, decreased rainfall and an increase in the intensity and frequency of storms.
Don’t delude yourself that it’s an abstract, remote threat. The consequences for India are among the worst, no matter which air-conditioned, gated bubble we live in. India has seen freak weather conditions — frequent, devastating hailstorms in Maharashtra, massive floods in Ladakh, Kerala, Chennai, Mumbai — exacerbated by the loss of wetlands and green cover. India is facing intense heatwaves, which get worse every year.
Climate change is increasing heat-related mortality, malaria, dengue, chikungunya, cardiovascular diseases, just to name a few. Pollution in cities, such as Gurugram, makes it worse. It will affect our food as well. Droughts, unpredictable weather, decreased fertility of soils will lower the productivity of crops that are vital to our diet — rice, wheat, maize, soybean, coffee etc.
Then there is water. Climate change is affecting the Himalayas, Asia’s water towers, more than almost any region in the world. Fifteen percent of Himalayan glaciers, which feed India’s major rivers, have melted since the 1970s. If there is no urgent, global action and requisite fundamental changes in our economic and political systems, as much as 90% of snow in the region may disappear. The consequences are floods, followed by drastically reduced flows, exacerbated by back-to-back dams in Ganga, Yamuna and other rivers. This means acute water crisis, much worse in water-stressed regions like Gurugram. It will mean large-scale migration, as people move due to lack of water, and this swell of migrants will lead to conflicts.
Climate chaos is a crisis we refuse to acknowledge. I know it’s scary. Greta says the truth like it is: “I want you to panic.” Because, only then will you act.
Why do I start this conversation with Greta? Because she is an inspiration for us. And because children taking to the streets is a terrible indictment for the rest of us. It says that if a 16-year-old can bring herself up to speed on the Paris agreement on climate change and hold powerful world leaders to account, what stops us from empowering ourselves with knowledge and demand our government to act, especially with the elections around the corner. Individual action is important, political action more so. Speak up, be active in the campaign to protect the Aravallis and wetlands like Basai, which protect us from climatic impact, and are being destroyed for short-term gains that serve a few. Read the election manifestos. Do they sufficiently address environmental issues? I suspect not. Make pollution, forests, nature, water, climate change issues for the election. Hold governments accountable.
On March 15, a big global mobilisation is planned, with lakhs of students from over 40 countries expected to join the movement, including in India. Be a part of it.
Trust me, our home is on fire, and while our generation might just escape the worst of the consequences, our children will have no escape. They will scramble for normalcy in a wrecked, hostile planet. We must do everything in our power to give them a secure, rich future.
(Prerna Singh Bindra is a former member of the National Board for Wildlife. She is the author of The Vanishing: India’s Wildlife Crisis.)