Engineers And Bankers – You Can Be The New Climate Activists That India Needs

By Shradha S:

In Naomi Klein’s recent book This Changes Everything’, she quotes Yotam Marom, an organizer with Occupy Wall Street in New York, who wrote in July 2013 – “The fight for the climate isn’t a separate movement; it’s both a challenge and an opportunity for all of our movements. We don’t need to become climate activists, we are climate activists. We don’t need a separate climate movement; we need to seize the climate moment.”

Climate protest in Dublin

Everyone is, or ideally should be, a climate activist; if not the out-on-the-streets-shouting-slogans type, at least the kind who is aware and advocates the need for addressing the issue of climate change. This however is not the current reality in our country where most people fall in distinct socio-economic classes and are on a rat-race for survival. To preach activism and climate change to this lot is definitely a dead pitch.

Yet, you encounter amazing statistics that make you hopeful of an underlying opportunity in India’s engineering and B-school graduates. Numbers show that India rolls out about a million students per year from various engineering and polytechnic colleges, and 4-5 lakh graduates from various B-schools including the IIMs. Out of this numbers, hardly 10-40 % are employed in proper pay jobs with any relation to their field. What the rest do is not much of a mystery.

Thanks to the trend of engineering students being fed up of the field being shoved down their heads and wanting to indulge their creative sides, as well as our mediocre education system, everyone wants to be a Chetan Bhagat now. While whether that is a good or bad call is a judgment I’d keep away from making, the fact is a lot of talent is being untapped or lured away into other menial every-day distractions.

We need writers and we need artists, but that is why there are some of us who go against the set norms and join places that train us to better in the fields we want to. If every engineer decides to give up their training and join these sectors, we are depriving trained personnel from their right to get employed at where they strived to be in. This is not the survival of the fittest.

Coming to the original theme of this rant is however quite different from the debate that I might have stirred up from the idea above. India’s current climate change stance is dictated by two main agendas – development and energy sector. That is quite an opportunity for young engineers and MBAs if they are actually passionate about making a difference in today’s world. How? Here’s the thought.

In spite of all the technology revolution, India’s power projects are still mostly conventional with excess pressure on generating power to satisfy electorates and zero focus on the environmental or landscape deterioration it causes. In one of my interviews with a senior engineer from the department of Power in a landslide prone state with over 60 upcoming hydropower projects, he points out how engineers are engineered to just build what the government asks of them; what happens to the ecology or the climate as a result is not their business.

As far as I know, every engineering course (apart from software and IT) is mandated to have an environmental education module in their learning system. What good does it do if they actually don’t make good use of this? I feel that every engineer who’s involved in various construction and power projects that significantly alter our landscapes has a responsibility to safeguard the interests of what the future generation might face as a consequence. If our engineers (and architects) step up to take responsibility for a climate-smart working style and not just shy away from what ignorant bosses ask them to, just because they are uninterested in the field their parents forced them to take, it will be a giant leap for all the climate activists out there in the world.

The same goes for all investment bankers and money people. If you could create markets and convince shareholders to invest in renewable energy in local markets (after of course, finding a way to go around without violating any of the WTO’s grandiose free trade regulations), you are helping the society to take a positive step towards building a green future. The market dictates that currently leave most of us still stuck to conventional fossil fuels and mining activities can be slowly brought to a minimum without having to suffer from serious economic losses.

The fossil fuel divestment campaign has been active around the globe, more recently endorsed by the Stanford professors in a call to ask the University to cut off its direct investments and endowments to coal mining companies. This is what is happening around the world slowly, and something we in India need to bring attention to.

If they can, why can’t we?

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