I had the privilege of listening to Sonam Wangchuk during a Press Institute of India(PII)-ICRC award ceremony. Although the evening at the India International Centre, New Delhi, was lit in anticipation of the awards, it was Wangchuk’s speech, with an emotional appeal, that drew my interest and heart. Of all his attributes, it was his humility and modesty that reflected more. He never irons his clothes, as the same amount of energy can be used to light a house in an Indian village. He even prefers taking a train instead of a flight, wherever possible, to reduce the carbon footprint. His sheer conviction, for me, was nothing less than being a guardian of the earth.
At the function, Wangchuk discussed his idea of dedicated ‘pledges’ where people swear to protect planet earth through their small actions. He further explained that this unique idea of ‘voluntary pledges’ was drawn on the background of decentralised planning which is indispensable to reverse the climate vulnerabilities. He said that he seeks every individual to contribute through their actions, not money. “Your efforts will be scored as money. Every step you take that saves energy, saves our climate.”, he said. He reiterated that small acts such as using a bucket instead of a shower, keeping your air-conditioner at 25 degrees, avoiding wastage of food, and saving electricity, if adopted well, have a compounded benefit which will minimise crises like that of Capetown or Shimla in the future.
Solutions, including the ice stupa, are small efforts helping us survive in the mountains. These can work for a few more years but the real solutions lie in big cities. To quote Mahatma Gandhi "live simply so that others may simply live": Sonam Wangchuk @Wangchuk66 #ICRCPIIAwards pic.twitter.com/W2edS7P2lu
— ICRC New Delhi (@ICRC_nd) September 27, 2019
As days passed after the event, I waited to check if ample coverage was given to what was said by him. After all, it was an event flooded with journalists attending the award ceremony with the theme ‘climate-change’. I thought, Sonam Wangchuk’s novel idea of ‘voluntary pledge’ to battle climate change was definitely newsworthy. However, to my bewilderment, not a single newspaper or many news websites whose journalists were present carried the story.
Irony unsheathed itself, when Greta Thunberg’s debates comprehensively pervaded the Indian newspapers and websites, whereas, here, a local resident giving practical solutions with tangible results, was left unnoticed. The war against climate change will require building regional heroes rather than having a ‘global centralised nucleus’. Talking about India, there will be a significant proportion of the population that might not be moved by Greta’s emotional, yet passionate appeal. However, they may associate themselves with the individual that inspired the character of Phunsuk Wangdu, in the successful movie 3-Idiots, who was shown as an innovative spirit. It is here that the media must play its part, by being the appropriate channel to propagate the winds of change.
Wangchuk was bestowed with the Magsaysay award in 2018, Asia’s highest honour. He is known for his out-of-the-box inventions and is the founder of Student’s Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL) that has revolutionised education by adapting to local needs. Moreover, setting an example, the campus of SECMOL is a self-sustaining green building that has zero carbon emissions. The global community recognised Wangchuk’s efforts to restore the environment after his construction of ice-stupas. These ice stupas or ice-glaciers are today miraculously helping change the barren cold desert of Ladakh into a greenbelt.
Another significant challenge in our society is that although every individual appreciates innovation and an idea of change with a round of applause, only a handful among them incorporates these behavioural changes. This battle against the climate-change will demand more. It will seek participation from every corner of the nation. The current lifestyle will have to be adjusted towards a simpler and a more unadorned one.
At present, though the fight against climate change has begun, it remains non-proportional to the real efforts required. Amidst the swirling debate, it is with the same attitude that the 16- year-old climate activist accused the world leaders of failing us on climate. “How dare you!” resonated her ferocious voice in the halls of the United Nations, challenging the leaders and their modus-operandi. While it is good to have a billowing global wave demanding ample protection and restoration of our planet earth, decentralised projects in every country, state, district, and village will be the engines for climate restoration. And, it is for this reason why I feel the unfolding of regional heroes is a desideratum.