Earlier this year, the Gujarat government announced it was planning to cover 8 lakh households through its Solar rooftop energy scheme, with a potential to generate 1,600 MW of power. With such ambitious targets, it was only befitting that we heard what people in Gujarat had to say about this decision.
So in the last week of September, the Youth Ki Awaaz team reached Ahmedabad to host its first CONVERGE on climate change. This was a special moment for us, it was the first time that CONVERGE was going regional, but what made it even more special was the overwhelming feeling of seeing over 400 residents from Ahmedabad, who had queued up just to discuss solutions around the need for climate action. “We have very limited time, use it well,” screamed one of the messages from the 20 ft wide whiteboard banner placed at the entrance to the Ahmedabad Management Association, the venue for the YKA climate change event.
The audience at the event was young, enthusiastic, informed, and most of all, they demanded change. The first speaker on stage was Mudita Vidrohi, a popular local environment activist, who has been challenging the government at every step, questioning their agenda behind taking certain policy decisions. “We are being drawn towards a false sense of development, where construction and building new structures are being mistaken for development and progress in our city. We should be wary of that,” she said, cautioning the government not to look at construction as the hallmark of progress.
— Mudita Vidrohi (@MuditaVidrohi) September 23, 2019
Mudita also spoke about how society is moving towards a “consumerist” culture where our needs are exceeding our “wants”. Citing global events such as glacial melts and a rise of 1.5 degrees in global temperatures, Mudita cautioned us “not to ignore these events anymore”.
In the debate around climate change, not many people are addressing the millions of tonnes of waste being dumped in our landfills, especially menstrual hygiene waste, which contributes to 12.3 billion tonnes each year in India alone.
Our co-founder Kristin Kagetsu was speaker at #Converge in Ahmedabad organized by Youth Ki Awaaz . Talked about how we can make an impact by switching to sustainable products and take #climateaction. #convergenow #sustainability #ecofriendlyperiods pic.twitter.com/nGoUMOwpQc
— Saathi (@SaathiPads) October 1, 2019
Next speaker was Kristin Dagetsu, Co-Founder of Ahmedabad-based Saathi, a company producing 100% bio-degradable sanitary napkins for the last decade. She touched upon the responsibility of opting for sustainable menstrual hygiene products. “If you are choosing to buy a toothbrush or vegetable, then please carry a cloth bag. If each one of us makes these small lifestyle choices, then we can really make a huge difference to our community,” said Dagetsu, while admitting that “scalability of the product” has been an issue with bio-degradable menstrual hygiene products. “If more people started using this product, I am sure the cost will come down in the next few years. But it is heartening to see that the conversation has already started,” she added.
The audience pitched in with their questions from time to time: people of all ages, including school children, graduates, environmental enthusiasts, school teachers, subject experts, among others, everyone was bound by the idea of wanting to do something for the environment.
The next session featured a Fireside chat between Shwetal Shah, Technical Advisor to the Govt. of Gujarat in the Climate Change department and one of the co-organisers, Gaurang Raval, Founder of Sauhard.
— Shwetal Shah (@ShwetalPShah) September 28, 2019
During the talk, Shah turned defensive on more than one occasion, especially when it came to responding to a question about the government’s responsibility towards fighting climate change. “The role of the individual with regards climate action cannot be ignored,” he said, acknowledging that the government of Gujarat has voluntarily taken steps to mitigate carbon emissions in the state. However, he did not have a response when one of the audience members stood up to ask him about why the government was “non-compliant in taking measures to publicly disclose the data on carbon emission records of companies which are high emitters.”
With regards to the policy-level action he said, the Indian government had voluntarily taken steps to mitigate carbon emissions even though it is not among the highest emitters of carbon. Shah tried his best to defend his government’s stance to order the felling of six lakh trees in the name of development and progress but stressed on the importance of relying on Indian traditions to fight climate change. “It is the blend between modern technology and ancient practices such as worshipping a cow, utilising a cow’s urine for health benefits that will help fight climate change in the long run,” he added.
This session ensured that the audience questions kept coming in one after another. Most people in the audience felt agitated and demanded to know why the government had not been pro-active in tackling pollution in the state. While acknowledging the government’s move towards waste-segregation, the audience wanted to know how the government was planning to segregate waste at the landfills.
The next speaker, Prakshal Mehta, Co-founder, World Around You (WAY) talked about his work in building empathy and creating a sense of dialogue around environmental education in communities and schools. He focused on the consumerist culture that is prevailing in our society and how easily we discard items. “Any social work in not complete if it is at the cost of dignity of the other person. We create a set of mock shops (as part of the work at WAY) where people in need can get those additional and extra items based on what they require and not what is just discarded items. This teaches them to value what they are buying.” he said.
The final speaker was the most hilarious and captivating. A familiar voice on radio in Ahmedabad, RJ Dhvanit from Radio Mirchi ensured that the audience did not just sit and listen, but interacted with him. Using an example of mango and its various uses in households, right down to the seedling, Dhvanit drew parallels with how we could easily reduce waste from our daily lives if we thought about it more consciously. “Let us be more sensitive towards consumption and the more we are running a consumerist society, (by buying more) we should be at the same time mindful of the waste that is being generated as result of our actions,” he said, while talking about how the government cannot just absolve itself of taking policy-level actions to fight climate change.
The audience posed several questions to the speakers about how the government and policymakers need to be held more accountable for their actions towards fighting climate change. While the speakers tried their best to respond to their queries, it was clear that time for individual action is over and bigger policy level changes are required now. More and more audience members scribbled their messages of hope on the 20 ft banner kept at the entrance to the auditorium, while some scribbled questions which conveyed their fear of climate change.
The positivity among the audience really left a deep impact on all of us that regardless of the government acting against climate change or not, the youth will never give up demanding action.
Stay tuned for more updates as Converge goes regional. Join us for our next round of young change makers and inspiring voices as Youth Ki Awaaz hosts its first Converge on the issue of Menstrual Hygiene Management and SRHR in Lucknow, on 20th October.