Indian youth & climate change: From advocacy to action

Inaction & false promises lead to climate anxiety: Disha Ravi

Environment

October 4, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Indian youth & climate change: From advocacy to action

Climate activist Disha Ravi among others while protesting for Global Climate Strike organised by Fridays For Future in Bengaluru last week (Photo: Disha Ravi/Twitter)

A recent global study found that young people around the world suffered “profound psychological distress” due to climate change and government inaction on the crisis. Indian youth is becoming aware of the issue but the awareness and exposure levels vary sharply.

A survey published in British medical research journal, Lancet, raises alarming questions about the impact of ongoing climate change on the younger generation around the world. The study, one of the first conducted across the world, surveyed 10,000 persons in 10 nations, found that 45 pc of the respondents said anxiety and distress over the climate crisis was affecting their daily life and ability to function.

About 75 pc of the respondents, aged 16-25, felt that the “future is frightening,” while 64 pc of young people said that governments were not doing enough to avoid a climate crisis. The survey was led by Bath University in the United Kingdom and funded by global activist and research group Avaaz.

Many respondents perceived that they had no future, that humanity was doomed, and that governments were failing to respond adequately. They also felt betrayed, ignored and abandoned by politicians and adults. The countries covered in the survey extended literally across the world, featuring Australia, United States, United Kingdom, India, Nigeria, Philippines, Finland, Portugal, Brazil and France.

Humanity is doomed: India

The detailed survey report shows that the youth in India was amongst the most worried in the world about the climate change and poor response to the challenge by the government, business and society in general so far. As many as 74 pc Indian respondents believe that the entire humanity is doomed due to climate change.

It is pertinent to note that though the survey included nations in Global North (developed world) as well as Global South (developing nations) in equal proportion, on most questions, youth in three developing nations – India, Philippines and Brazil – were most worried and anxious, while the developed world youth seemed to be less apprehensive about the future.

Disha Ravi, a young climate activist in India, attributes the higher level of concern in India to greater awareness as well as higher exposure to the negative impact of climate crisis unfolding in the world currently.

“I think this is largely because young people have been reading about climate change and they have had to experience it at first hand. This coupled with the inaction and false promises on climate action from world leaders leads to a lot of us feeling anxious,” Disha Ravi tells Media India Group.

 

Bhavreen Khandari of the Indian chapter of Fridays for Future, the youth activist group founded by Swedish student-activist Greta Thunberg, says that children in India are willy-nilly aware of climate change as they are affected by climate change in multiple ways.

“As much as climate change affects all, it will challenge the very essence of each and every child’s rights to survival, good health, wellbeing, education, and nutrition. Air pollution in Delhi and many other cities has affected the children. At very young age, they have learnt terms like AQI (air quality index) and smog. When schools are shut down due to smog they are affected and disturbed. Not being allowed to play sports or to go to the park to play affects their growth and well-being,’’ Khandari tells Media India Group.

Socio-economic background impacts awareness

Both Ravi and Khandari believe that the socio-economic background of the students affects not only their awareness but also the level to which they are exposed to climate change and its ill-effects. They also agree that while the children from rich families have access to various kinds of sources of information, including the high-cost schools that offer ‘better’ education, the children from the poor or even lower middle class families feel the impact of climate change in all its forms – be it floods caused by heavy rains or shortage of water at home due to excessive heat or drought.

“The latest science on climate and environmental education in India has been limited to elite public schools in India which limits its discourse among citizens but even with these limitations, working class people from the ground have been fighting against big dams and even bigger authorities for a while. We have a rich history of environmental resistance in India but we need absolutely everyone to be talking about this and for that, we need to make climate and environmental education accessible,” says Ravi.

“Of course the difference in level of awareness is always there in every sphere. On climate, the rich know more but still continue to be apathetic, while the poor have no means and resources to support anything besides their livelihood. Experiences of the lower income group are much more than the affluent but the affluent know more out of the books and formal education,’’ says Khandari.

Khandari goes on to say that in the Indian education system and even beyond that, environment is deeply ingrained. “Surprisingly yes, if not climate change, then environment definitely yes. You are taught to plant trees, segregate waste or say no to plastics both in private and government-run schools, but somehow it gets lost as they grow into the adult world,” she says.

Ravi says that the government’s attitude towards ecological conservation is of serious concern to her and other environmental activists. “I am very concerned for India’s environment. The environment ministry has been approving mass deforestation projects in biodiversity rich areas and there is an increased need to do make “ease of doing business” which is coming at the cost of the environment. We have also seen an increasing number of environmental laws being diluted to benefit private companies,” she says.

Ravi goes on to accuse the government of releasing false data to claim ecological conservation is showing results, while the reality is entirely opposite. “We have been making false promises and using weak environmental norms to push false data. There is always the talk about how forest cover increased but the truth is that only open forest cover increased and the definition of open forest cover is so vague that most tall shrubs can be counted as forests,” she says.

Khandari remains optimistic about the engagement of Indian youth in saving the environment and fighting climate change. “Yes very much, the youth is doing much more than our generation. For example, they will quickly point out at frequent use of plastic bottles at government meetings. It is easy for the youth to fall into the trap of capitalism and consumerism, we have all gone through it and so do these children, but there seems to be more awareness now. Hoping it turns to acts! From advocacy to direct action we have come a long way,” she says.

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