If there’s any way to describe the story and journey of Aman Sharma, a sixteen year old climate champion based in Delhi, it’s ‘extraordinary’. An avid bird watcher and wildlife photographer, he describes himself as a young person who consistently advocates for the environment, climate action and climate justice.
“All we are doing is killing the one planet we have,” he says. Aman was speaking at the Youth Ki Awaaz Summit, held last month in Delhi, where the issue of climate change was among the key topics of focus. “I am really thankful that kids are getting to speak at forums on issues that actually matter,” he said. “Historically, the Indian ethos has always been about a deeply aesthetic environment, considered sacred.”
But today, India is facing a serious existential crisis. Climate-related disasters such as cyclones, heat waves, water-logging and floods have seen a marked rise in the last few years, because of the rising global temperatures. India is particularly vulnerable to climate change-related catastrophes, given the high instances of inequality and social conditions in the nation.
Growing up, Aman had an unparalleled admiration for nature, the environment, which he credits to the complex ecosystem and its numerous species. “The more I fell in love with nature, the more it broke my heart, because it kept becoming more difficult to see what leaders are doing to the world – their own world,” he said.
The disillusionment he faced sparked in him a desire to rise and fight for climate action and climate justice. Inspired by the actions of 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg, Aman began a petition on Change.org last year, after noticing that every successive year was getting hotter, drier, thirstier and more polluted. His petition demanded the declaration of a national climate emergency, increasing the country’s green cover and meeting the commitments made under the 2015 Paris climate agreement to try to limit a rise in global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
“How can India become a developed nation if its rivers are full of plastic and poison instead of fish and water?” he said. “Indians have not woken up to the urgency of the situation. Climate change is real and it is impacting people.”
Aman rejected the idea that development and environment can’t go hand in hand. The root of the issue, he believes, lies in the ideals of development that conflict with the ideals of environmental security and safety – one that focuses on urbanisation, profit-making and businesses. “The toxic debate of environment versus development is something that is fed to us by our political leaders,” he said. “If anyone tells you development can be achieved only by sacrificing nature, they are lying to you.”
As his petition gained support from celebrities and environmental activists alike, Aman quickly grew to be one of the most powerful student voices leading the Fridays For Future chapter in India.
While Aman applauds the mass mobilisation of students for climate action, he is disdainful of the lack of political will to take concrete action and protect the future generations. “Our politicians are still in denial and our corporates hate us,” he said. “But we don’t want to inherit a dying planet.”
He believes the issues that the children are protesting over are very real and deserve complete attention from leaders. “Greenwashing, smart PR and blatant lies that go around by our leaders are only to distract us from the real problems,” he said. “No one talks about the fact that Delhi is one of the most polluted cities in the world, how children are dying, or how eleven out of fifteen hottest cities of the world are in India, or that India had the largest number of climate related deaths in 2018.”
And yet, he doesn’t believe this is anything the nation needs to be proud of. “Don’t congratulate me on doing what I’m doing,” he said. “Be ashamed of yourself, that you are part of a system where children are forced to protest, and fight for their futures.”
Every Friday, Aman skips schools to fight for his future with hundreds of other children, who should be learning, growing and building successful futures for themselves instead. The life of activism also comes with a price for children. “Handling school with activism isn’t easy,” he said. “It’s tough, mind boggling and exhausting. But it has to be done.”
In Aman’s eyes, the the power of citizens in changing the way things are shaping up for the environment is paramount. Where the system has failed, he believes people can help bring the change. To him, there’s an abundance of science, research and brain at our disposal and we must use it. “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” he asks. “Waiting for others to save us is the biggest failure of history. Don’t wait. Let’s take matters into our own hands.”
Inspired by Aman’s words? Want to take action and be a part of the fight for climate justice? Join #WhyOnEarth, Youth Ki Awaaz’s campaign to build political will for climate action and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Find out more and join the campaign here!