Tuesday, 27 November, 2007

Right Every Wrong Social Justice & Action Conclave

‘Mitigating steps – individual, community, national and international levels: Debating a Domestic Strategy While Driving a Hard Bargain Internationally.’

The title of this conclave is more than slightly demanding in its expectations. ‘Opinions on Climate Change that will open your eyes’ Whilst I am not even close to being an expert on greenhouse gas emissions, the IPCC or the Kyoto protocol, I will talk about my realizations with Climate Change, a little closer to home, focusing on the individual’s role and potential within the domestic strategy that now more than ever needs to be addressed, in a proactive, humane and responsible manner.

I recently read a comment by the former secretary of the Ministry of Environment & Forests that left me worried. The architect of the government’s climate strategy shared a comment, saying: “India is certainly not responsible for the mess. We are, in fact, victims of it. So why expect us to tighten our belts?”

I have worked for the last 6 years with The YP Foundation, formerly known as The Youth Parliament, a space where over 800 young people have come together, to build awareness on negating the validity of that statement.

· Rishab Khanna, is a 20 year old college student who created ‘Accentuating Eco Amity’, a project that engaged young people in understanding the meaning of the eco friendly label, enabling them to evaluate the implementation of the protocols for the eco label, as they are currently used by the hotels and local market retailers in his community.

· Shanta Rana, is a 23 year old who uses online communication to spread awareness on the effects of global warming amongst her peers, with an aim to try and influence a change in their behaviour.

· Simran Brar, is a 28 year old lawyer who started The Right to Information Programme for young people, a unique resource system that is designed to de-jargonize the law for young people, encouraging them to apply it more effectively to their environment.

· Devaki, was the 13 year old Prime Minister of The Children’s Parliament at The Barefoot College in Tilonia I met, who along with her peers, re designed the governance systems that impacted health, water and electricity in her village.

· Saudamini is 19 and Rohanjit is 18. Together, they coordinated a project that trained 15 young people to become peer educators on Child Labour and Child Rights, using workshops as a tool to teach 1000 school students in New Delhi about deforestation, child employment, environmental hazards and what students could do, to make a practical change.

These are only a few of the young visionaries The YP has encouraged. If you actually examine the relationship shared today between most young people and their environment, you will find a chasm. In their identity as citizens, their perception of how they be valid stakeholders and their understanding, of the realities of climate change and its impact on our planet.

And so, with each and every young person that I work with, reversing indifference and apathy is probably the most important thing we have ever done.

As has been more than well established at this conclave, I believe that as individuals, we do very much need to tighten our belts.

As a privileged young person, I have grown up in a country where it is often the urban educated that never seems to be inspired enough to challenge the status quo to become conscious leaders in their communities. Rather, we remain passive reactors and political commentators.

The historicity of emissions is to the crisis of climate change today, both misplaced and irrelevant. It certainly shouldn’t be legitimate argument enough for us to take the moral high ground at a time when we need to work harder than ever to preserve and protect all of that which we value and are so intrinsically inter dependent on. Equally important with the international dialogue, process of commitments and action, is the sharper reality where we need to look closely to the truth in our own homes and our own lives.

Climate change is not a new issue, it’s a multigenerational one. We know that. It’s certainly not something we haven’t heard about or tried to understand whilst growing up. But its part of a more basic attitude we have, as citizens in India, to at times refuse to be touched by a problem unless it travels from outside our homes, past our doorsteps, directly into our lives.

It is then that we choose to take ownership for where we live.

And this is the thinking value system that we are leaving for the next generation. For 70% of India’s population that is currently under 36 years of age.

70% that watches you and notices that the missing political leadership is not all that’s missing, that the lack of citizen caring or understanding is inherently absorbed by most of us with great ease, that there is a non integrated approach towards combating climate change with very little motivation to cross sectors and bridge divides in thinking and approaches.

There is very little I can say here today about the subject itself, that you will not already be acquainted with. But in my mind, the opinion that needs to open all our eyes is the one opinion on climate change that you yourself have. Are you informed? Do you have a connect with why climate change is an issue in the first place? Do you know what you can do? Are you enabling the environment in your home or your community to make these changes?

And if you aren’t, what are you waiting for?

As citizens, we do need to hold the government accountable. But we can also inspire and challenge it. Towards gearing an economy that is obsessed with measuring value beyond just GDP growth and towards helping India adapt to a lifestyle of sustainability. In doing so, we will address critical economic and social opportunities as well.

The oddest thing perhaps is that the simple solutions – better fuel efficiency, insulation, water heating, water harvesting, renewable energy, energy reduction, recycling, waste management – are very much solutions that lie within your grasp. And for once, they have the potential to make a significant amount of the difference needed.

So why does it matter so much whose fault we can call it? Or who we think should pay the price?

Because, in Malini Mehra’s words, ‘The global climate does not distinguish between borders. The greenhouse-gas emissions being pumped into the atmosphere do not come with country flags attached.’

And in the scheme of things, you and I will be directly responsible.

Reminding us that what is at stake here is life itself.
The lives of not just people, but organisms and living beings.

Whose voices we won’t always hear, whose perspectives don’t always get represented; but whose survival depends on the quality of the commitment you make to change your opinions, your attitudes and your way of everyday life.

- Ishita Chaudhry

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