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Climate Change Is Real, But Much Of It Is Caused By Humans

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WhyOnEarth logo mobEditor’s Note: Are you bothered by the drastic changes in our climate, causing extreme weather events and calamities such as the Kerala Floods? #WhyOnEarth aims to take the truth to the people with stories, experiences, opinions and revelations about the climate change reality that you should know, and act on. Have a story to share? Click here and publish.

This post is part of theYKA 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.

I know that there’s a lot one can write in relation to climate change, but I want to begin my story with ash. It sounds a bit weird, I know, but I hope things will make more sense once I finish explaining.

India: 26 dead as glacier bursts in Uttarakhand
A barrage of NTPC power project was washed away by flooded Dhauli Ganga in Uttarakhand on 7 February, 2021. (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

As we all know, the mighty Hindu Kush Himalayan region is melting fast. Some say the Gangotri Glacier is disappearing; some say there will be no ice by the end of the 21st century, and some have pointed out that the recent disaster in Chamoli in Uttarakhand is because of a glacier melting. 

In unison, we like to blame it all on climate change — as if the environment has turned on us humans for no fault of our own. And yes, while climate change is definitely a cause for melting glaciers, can we ask ourselves why we are witnessing it in the first place? 

Let me share with you three anecdotes from my life in relation to what I’m talking about. My very first memory of ash relates to my childhood. It’s from a time when I didn’t know the difference between climate and weather, from a time when words like global warming hadn’t even entered our lexicon.

I was born and brought up in southwestern Haryana, a region neither wholly green as Haryana nor dry and bare as Rajasthan. It’s a mix of fertile plains and Aravalli hills, water and arid soil, fair habitation and sand dunes. Here, mercury touches 48° Celsius every summer and dips to zero every winter. A below 0° Celsius temperature leaves frost (a thin layer of ice) over the crops and other vegetation.

Since we didn’t have a toilet in our home those days, I would follow my mother every morning to our farm to attend nature’s call. In winters, before we left home, my mother would collect last night’s ashes from the earthen stove in a basket. On reaching the farm, she would spread it over small spellings and crops. 

The logic? Ash, my parents believed, would protect the crops from frost. Not letting it settle over them, or in case it did quickly dissolve it. Ash wasn’t an enemy as it is made out to be now — in fact, it was treated as a friend of the crops. 

I have already spoken about my limitation to distinguish weather from the climate in those days. So, I opted for Geography as a major subject during college, in part to correct this deficiency and in part to study about land in more detail. When it came to the environment, the conversation around this time involved understanding the difference between global warming and climate change. 

fire ash embers
Representative Image. (by VIVIANE MONCONDUIT from Pixabay)

I too was curious about what was happening to the earth and my quest to understand the human impact of these then newly-minted terms would take me to Spiti Valley in the months of March and April in 2014. Spiti valley is famous for its off-season pea cultivation, for which sowing happens in mid-April. But how can that happen when every inch of land is under several inches of snow during this time, you wonder?

Yes, the secret was ash. For a few afternoons consecutively, I observed that farmers of the valley threw ash over pockets of land covered under snow. After a few days, as if by magic, the snow over that pocket melted and the farmers then ploughed the pockets to sow peas. Ash, again, turned out to be the farmers’ friend.

My third encounter with ash is the most recent. I am a researcher, and 3 years ago, I moved to the Himalayas permanently. I got a house in the middle of a pine forest. The good part about living where I live? During storms, the forest whistles beautifully. The sad part? Every summer, they catch fire badly. 

Factually speaking, approximately 4,000 to 5,000 forest fires take place in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand every year. When there is a fire, that produces ash, ash that flies and settles somewhere. In the mountains, it settles over glaciers. 

According to reports, we know that it is the black carbon particles of ash (a product of incomplete combustion and burning) that gives off smoke that settles over the glaciers. They darken the surface and enable higher absorption of light and heat, eventually causing the snow or ice to melt. The black carbon particles settle over ice and melt it. 

Uttarakhand Forest Fire Continues, 2270 Hectares Affected
Representative Image.

Now, let’s think about that question again, the one we began with — why do glaciers melt? There are many reasons for it, but human-made actions, including forest fires, are one of them. Even a child can understand that much of what we like to blame on climate change is actually human-made induced by human activity and indiscriminate exploitation of our natural environments. 

And if that’s the case — isn’t the action that we can take obvious too? 

When a 7-year-old child could sense it. When a 25-year-old understood it. Why is it so hard for our grey-haired policymakers to find out what causes glacier melting and what needs to be done?

I personally feel our present discourse on climate action is very one-sided, based on a top-down way of decision making that fails to consider local contexts. To better deal with the unravelling crisis, we need a holistic understanding of the issue — not just from a policy or a scientific perspective but also from the perspective of the local communities impacted by the use. 

It is only through the merging of traditional wisdom with cutting-edge scientific methods — when we include the local communities in problem-solving — that we can understand the issue better and design the right policies that help the communities preserve these resources. 

Ash can both melt a glacier and save a crop. It is human action that ultimately determines whether we use it for the benefit of the environment or its peril.

Featured image by author and his friend
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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