This post is part of the Climate Action Fellowship, a 10-week integrated bootcamp to work on stories that highlight the impact of climate change on India’s most marginalized. Click here to find out more and apply.
Quitting a high-paying job to preach climate justice? To some, this may sound like an absurd thing to do, to others, it may sound like a brave and inspiring move. Anyway, that’s exactly what I did. I quit a job that would’ve paid me a handsome salary and made me financially stable. Who knew environmental campaigns could alter a person’s career?
My name is Pushpam Singhal and I am a resident of Dehradun. I grew up in Bhogpur, a mountain village on the outskirts of Dehradun city. My childhood was heavily entwined with natural elements and that instilled in me a love of nature and greenery. After my higher secondary education, I started searching for a job that would not trap me within skeletons of concrete and decided to pursue a career in Merchant Shipping to become a Navigating Officer. But my life took a hard right turn and changed for good.
In September 2020, when the world was still trying to figure its way out of the pandemic, I was browsing through my Instagram feed and the Global Climate Strike registration popped up. ‘Youth for Climate India’ had sent out a volunteer registration form for a Global Climate Strike which was supposed to happen on the 25th of September.
Almost instinctively, I started filling it out. Scrolling down a list of areas to work in, I chose the option of ‘on-ground actions. This eventually made me the strike coordinator. I planned the whole event with help from YFCI, but on the day of the strike, I found myself standing alone underneath the Clock Tower, with a banner in my hand that read – “ जल– वायु परिवर्तन काल्पनिक नहीं, सच्ची घटनाओं पर आधारित है।” (Climate change isn’t fictional, it is based on true happenings)
That day I realised, not many people believe in climate change. Or even if they do, they fail to raise their voice and act upon it. I went back home disheartened. My mother told me this is how things work in this country. She wasn’t trying to demotivate me; she was only reiterating what I had just experienced.
Not a week had passed since this incident that I received a call from a mutual friend, about the expansion happening in Jollygrant Airport of Dehradun. On the call, he asked me to go to the meeting and discuss the issue. I did some background search about the issue and discovered to my amazement that almost 10,000 trees were going to be chopped for this project.
In the meeting, people from ‘Citizens for Green Doon’ raised this issue and we decided to stage a protest against the unjust expansion. In the middle of a pandemic, when we weren’t expecting even a crowd of fifty to gather, more than five hundred people joined the protest.
That day ignited a fire inside me. That day, I decided I would not sit quietly until this forest is saved and the fight for saving Thano’s forest became personal. I addressed a public gathering and saw how motivated people were to conserve forests and ecology. I started working on the SaveThano campaign with a few other individuals and NGOs. The issue was highlighted in the media and soon became a national one.
With no prior experience of campaigning, I kept working and in those tiring times, a dear friend became my source of inspiration. In November 2020, I was given the opportunity to join a workshop on ‘People, Power and Change’ by the Haiyya Foundation, where I came upon this quote by Rabbi Hillel:
“If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am for myself alone, what am I?
If not now, when?”
The quote deeply affected me. And I realised that since I’m the one affected by bad governance and policymaking, I will have to raise my voice against it. I pursued what my conscience told me and, in the process, I met several people who too wanted a change, who believed that our definition of ‘development’ has to change.
It is my privilege that my family doesn’t depend upon me for financial needs. I decided to use this privilege to bring about a change. I quit the merchant navy and started looking for opportunities to learn how to practice and preach environmentalism. Today, I’m a core team member of Youth For Climate India, a climate fellow with Youth Ki Awaaz, and actively working with Citizens for Green Doon. This is just the beginning of my journey for climate justice.