The Power Of Consumer: Can Individual Choices Avert The Effects Of Climate Change?

When the entire world stands on the edge of so many disasters, the leading technological innovation is there to enrich the whimsical experiences, instead of solving any of the real problems. Image via Getty

If you browse through the tech news section, you will notice that smartphone specs dominate almost the entire section: the pricey ones with enhanced features, the budget ones with more and more features crammed into them, and the Chinese ones that have the best of both. Occasionally a small section is taken up by Alexa/PCs/tablets. And this very aptly reflects the consumer market for technology. The job sector reflects a similar story with the likes of Facebook, Apple and Samsung paying big bucks to hire the brightest of the lot.

But for a world reeling under pollution, climate change, water scarcity, sky-high garbage, this reflection seems disconnected with the actual reality. It’s true that the internet, along with other technological advancements, has made the world a more convenient place to live in, with positive impacts in the day-to-day affairs of a large population. But at this point, we could do more with affordable renewable energy harvesting than a device installed in the living room that uploads any sound to a cloud server for recognition and classification.

The tech giants of the current age have mostly evolved around personal gadgets and experience space. Peculiarly though, the demand for these products is created by these companies, instead of specific user need. When was the last time you felt the need to open your phone with fingerprints or found the use of handheld remote too mundane and needed a voice-based system? The technological innovations behind these products are worth applauding and undoubtedly provide a different user experience. And yet, it is worrisome that in a world where half the population lacks basic survival amenities, where the entire world stands on the edge of so many disasters, the leading technological innovation is there to enrich the whimsical experiences, instead of solving any of the problems.

The growth of any industry is consumer dependent. After all, the industries are there to make money, so, whichever way people are willing to spill it, the industry will take to that direction like catnip. And as with all other ethical questions, this one rests on similar grounds, whether we drive the product we need or the product itself creates a need in our life. We spend a lot of time online, watching things, buying things, and sharing them with others to bring them into the same loop. The rise of giants like Facebook, Amazon, Alibaba is in sync with this behaviour of the world economy. But what about the basic needs of survival, like clean air and water, of moderate temperature and natural beauty? That industry is growing too, but not in any way that is sustainable or justifiable.

The air conditioning sector has been receiving huge boosts every year with global temperatures soaring to new highs. Once the luxury of the upper class, now most houses and cars are equipped with it, only worsening the situation further. The water once thought of as a free resource, has to be now purified through layers of reverse osmosis and UV treatments. Next in line are personal checkup kits which are seeing a surge in demand as people experience difficulties even in basic routine activities. Air masks have already seen a good sales pitch in big cities, and air purifiers have started to soar in markets. So much for free air!

And while the industry—as it always has—begins to make money out of these new needs, the society gets further segmented as people who are unable to afford these luxuries are left to scramble in worsening conditions. Once again, since everything is money-driven, people with money prefer to to buy purifiers instead of getting rid of the pollutants, so guess where all the product research and development is happening?!

We need to be more aware of the products we are using and the impact we are making on the environment. Image via Getty

While the industries are catching up with the problems of the world, they continue to lag, providing post-disaster quick fixes instead of helping avoid the problem. Any technological advancement, which could actually avert the crisis—be it innovation in solar energy or nuclear energy—gets crushed in the research or start-up phase. There is news of cleaner fuel solutions, waste reuse and recycling schemes, of some local enthusiast providing a better way of agriculture or transportation in his neighbourhood. But after the initial euphoria, these initiatives die out, due to lack of funding, and effort and interest to sustain them. People are more willing to shell out exorbitant amounts for a weekend getaway in some grand resort in a distant locality surrounded by nature. Meanwhile, programs to protect local lakes and trees, clean up streams choked up with garbage, all die out due to lack of funding.

While the onus for implementing clean policies and stricter environmental rules is usually dumped on the governmental authority, as consumers, we form part of a much formidable agent of change. For starters, we can be more aware of the products we are using and the impact we are making on the environment. And then, instead of passively being fed products and solutions by the industries, we can drive the economy in the right direction by asking for sustainable products and rejecting the quick fixes ones.

This will indeed add an economic burden to our budget, but then, the cost of not doing so is so much higher. Think of the cost of your home air conditioning and electricity bills, of water and air purifiers, of blood sugar measurement strips. And add to it the unfortunate, man-made, floods and droughts, cyclones and heatwaves. All this exerts is a much higher financial burden in the long run compared to the one generated by switching to an eco-friendly lifestyle.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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