Many youth in India are inspired to become the next Greta Thunberg, ever since the global climate change discourse led by her spread to this country. However, it may not be practically possible for India’s youth to become another Greta and travel the world to speak at climate events. This would be partly because our Indian passport would compel us to spend half the year waiting in long queues for visa applications, unlike Greta’s Swedish passport, that allows visa-free travel to several nations. And partly, because the rigorous rote-learning based school schedules in India, end up keeping our school-kids to the grindstone for the most part of the week.
However, there are still several ways our youth could also walk on Greta’s footsteps – and create a positive change in our own homes and communities.
Individual action may not be sufficient to reduce the industrial-scale emissions issue facing us. Still, it can go a long way to nudge the habits of businesses and policymakers alike so that the cumulative action leads to a change even at the industrial-level.
Youth must about climate change not as an impending apocalypse, but as a factor that can impact our health, expenses and jobs. People understand these latter aspects better because they can identify with them in their daily lives. An impending apocalypse, on the other hand, merely reminds them of Hollywood movies and slowly but surely, results in cognitive dissonance. Health, expenses and jobs are aspects that we interact with every day, and more so the youth in India, where youth unemployment and ill-health are only picking up. In short, alter the way you talk about climate in your homes and with friends – it can change the very impact of your words!
Action begins at home and nowhere is this better exemplified than waste and plastic. How many of you knew that several housing complexes in India are setting up small-scale biomass units, (within the complex or in close proximity), which utilises the wet waste of those households and converts it to biogas-based electricity.?
This waste-to-energy concept is something that each and every housing complex and neighbourhood in India can do, by merely helping segregate the wet and dry waste at source and reaping the benefit of valuable electricity. While the scale of the biomass unit would depend on the space available, some societies have simply used a parking garage space to install it.
Plastic is another area. Ubiquitous as it may be, even smaller developing nations like Rwanda and Kenya have taken on the plastic-ban challenge more seriously than India. From landfills to rivers and seas, the scrouge of plastic waste is severe, and reducing the use of plastic as much as possible in our homes is a good way all of us can make a positive impact. That would also put pressure on the businesses that use extensive plastic packaging to change their packaging to more bio-friendly versions. Currently, bio-friendly packaging comes at a cost, and many companies are hiking up their prices resultantly. But ultimately, it is up to us to buy that product or not. Reduced sales of own their products or increased usage by competitors – both would help mainstream alternative packaging. This is a small act all of us can do in our everyday lives.
Change the use-and-throw habit to repair-and-reuse! For instance, how many of us are aware that digital waste should not be thrown in dustbins but should be disposed of as per e-waste rules. This is because not only is plastic a part of that waste, which can be reused in new digital products, but a lot of valuable minerals and metals are used, (which India does not often have) to produce the chips and semi-conductors inside each digital device. Reusing e-waste not only saves these from polluting our landfills and rivers but can also reduce the prices of digital devices in the future. Would you not want a cheaper iPhone?
Travel smartly! While flying in planes and driving the latest cars looks fashionable and would get you more likes if you share those updates on your social media account, the fact is that planes and single-driver cars contribute more to greenhouse gas emissions that you can imagine. One is talking here on a proportionate per-capita basis, because the diesel smoke-belching truck, that transports essential goods and vegetables, daily emits more smoke than your car. But economic benefits and livelihoods of multiple people are carried by a single truck and the goods it carries.
Use public transport, it may not sound fashionable in India, but it is picking up and in vogue globally. Moreover, the youth in India is lucky; they are born at a time when Metro rail projects have been built in several cities. Under-utilisation of this is not only adding to emissions but is also a waste of tax payer’s money, which went into repaying the loans for these metro rail projects.
Eat natural food like our parents did, instead of only resorting to processed and packaged foods. Processed foods are a leading cause of health issues in children globally, not to mention the increased emissions that go behind the food processing and packaging units. The number of sugars and chemical preservatives that are added to make the packaged food long-lasting are often slow injurers to human health. It is no wonder than chronic illness amongst youth is only picking up. Yes, one needs time to cook, but it can still be done in 15-30 minutes depending on what you make. I do it every day, and so can you!
Instead of eating water-guzzling crops, change your diet to crops that are less water-guzzling. Water is a core climate-related issue in India, as a result of the lack of irrigation network, erratic monsoon, and reducing ground-water. Instead of rice and wheat, start eating grains like millets. These crops use far less water, and are picking up within the global discourse of “climate-smart agriculture”. Millet grains like foxtail millet or barn millet are available in all Indian cities and at affordable prices. As usage expands, the price would only move south. Your eating habits can make a lot of difference to climate change.
As the youth grows, so will their income and savings; and this is where they can also make a difference. If businesses that cause high pollution or climate issues are at risk, because people end up buying less and less of their products, so will their investors. As your income grows and you invest in financial products like mutual funds and shares, invest responsibly.
Make it known that you do not want to invest in a company that is making money the wrong way – from the climate’s perspective. If the companies change their ways, that is a positive step. An example is ITC, which was in the business of making cigarettes, which causes air pollution and damage to human health. In recent years, they changed their strategy to household and confectionery products, and this segment today has grown to almost half its revenue. This is a positive change. However, investing in companies that continue to damage the environment and health, and get further entrenched in the related business risks, would be a sloppy investing decision. Our youth can do better than that!
Try these small everyday tips in your home for a few days, and see if it makes a positive difference. We may not be Greta at global platforms, but all of us can be Greta in our own homes, schools and communities. The question is – are you up to that challenge?