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‘Studying’ Climate: As Much A Social Issue, As Much As A ‘Science’ One

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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.

Rising temperatures, rising sea levels, higher ocean temperatures, shrinking glaciers and melting polar ice caps– are the first things that we think of when we hear of climate change.
Though true, that isn’t all climate change can do or has done.

Ranging from famines, droughts, floods to energy and health crises, climate change’s impacts are embedded in almost every aspect of our life. The World Bank suggests that the implications of climate change in India alone could lead to food and agricultural crises and affect water security, energy security and even migration.

Climate Change Is A ‘You’ Issue, Not A ‘Them’ Issue

Climate Change requires urgent attention, and it does concern us all. But the question is, do we see it as such?

The answer seems to be no. As per a recent Washington Post poll, only 49% of teens and young adults said they consider climate change to be a major threat to their generation. The planet is warming faster than ever before, the last decade has been the warmest in history, but our understanding of the climate crises leaves a lot to be desired.

Research suggests that the general public tends to perceive climate change as a psychologically distant phenomenon—something that, if at all, happens not here, not now, and not to oneself. For the creation of that distance, how we’re educated on the subject needs to be held accountable.

A Social Issue Too, Not Just A Science One

For the longest time, our primary understanding of climate change and global warming has come from our science school textbooks or disaster management books.

Our attention has been directed towards the scientific aspects of climate change and how it will affect the planet– not on the nearly 8 billion people living on that planet.

Though a natural phenomenon, it is one caused by humans and one that stands to affect all spheres of human life.

Our science-only approach to climate change makes it sound like it’s always somebody else’s problem and not ours, which in turn, seemingly invalidates the urgency.

Climate change education needs to be integrated into mainstream social sciences.

Climate change isn’t a change of the future, it is a change in motion in our present. Five million deaths are linked to it each year across the globe– a number that comes down to some 13,000 each day.

India’s own first-ever climate change assessment report found that between 1951 and 2016, both the frequency and intensity of droughts had increased. In the same period, the number of heavy rainfall days has climbed by an alarming 75%. Communities across India and the globe are facing threats posed by climate change.

Ms Sushmita Patel, Climate Policy Manager at Youth Ki Awaaz believes an improved approach could help us better understand the urgency of climate change. “With climate change affecting how our meals look like, what we earn, where and how we live and what opportunities we have access to, it is important to link all these and tie them up to the phenomenon of climate change,” she explains.

Research suggests those who felt psychologically closer to the phenomenon expressed greater concern towards it. That very psychological distance can be reduced through better education on the subject.

The complexities of the climate crisis require addressing them with a holistic approach that draws upon many disciplines including climate science, history, law and policy, ethics, sociology and economics. Their intersection can improve our understanding of the causes of climate change while providing us with solutions and equipping us with the tools to bring change at an individual and community level.

Representational image.

Why History

Generations of marginalization have left some communities more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than others. Initial inequalities, such as poverty, cause disadvantaged groups to suffer disproportionately from adverse effects of climate change, like droughts and floods, resulting in greater subsequent inequality, research suggests.

Without proper historical and social backgrounds of their circumstances, it has become a challenge to engage and garner the support of such groups when it comes to combating climate change.

“The absence of consultations and inclusivity is what often derails accountability in decision implementation and results in an uproar of unacceptability by those who are impacted by it,” Ms Patel explains.

Furthermore, the inclusion of history in climate education can provide crucial contexts to our present situation. It can allow us to understand how ambitious states have been built upon social inequalities while creating a highly unstable relationship with their surroundings. It can bridge the disconnect between humanity’s social and technological advancements over centuries and the grim realities produced precisely as a result of such ‘advancements’.

Why Political Science

Similarly, Political Science can help improve our climate change advocacy, providing insight into the role of different groups and political institutions in the decision-making process. It can equip and empower individuals to organise and have a say when it comes to climate change.

It can also provide an objective viewpoint on many ethical and moral questions are raised in attempts to address climate change, such as finding the right balance between securing our future generations and protecting the interest of the present ones.


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Why Economics

Basic economics can help students understand the impact of climate change on the economy– how it can lead to inflation, increase poverty and how it can affect both short-term and long-term growth. Although the impact of climate change on the economy has increasingly been the driver of change at the international level, it has never been given the same importance in our education of the concept.

It can help us manage our resources better by providing an improved model for sustainable use of natural resources in the form of tools such as taxes, quotas, grants, subsidies, licences and market rights.

Moreover, it can familiarise us with the relevant economic instruments required to mitigate climate change and provide practical and meaningful solutions to problems caused by climate change.

Basic economics can help students understand the impact of climate change on the economy. Representational image.

An improved Climate Education can help people understand and address the impacts of climate crises better while empowering them with the knowledge and skills required to act as agents of change.

When it comes to the inclusion of climate change in educational curriculum at a young age, the key lies in simplification, says Ms Patel. Climate change and its effects are affecting all aspects of our lives and, as a result, it becomes important to introduce it as just that.

Ms Patel further adds, “Associating an ‘everything we do and are’ identity to climate change could hold value in imparting education centred around climate change.” And research backs it up.
This, however, is only one step in identifying climate change as pervasive in human life.

“The next step is in developing mechanisms to integrate into education – solutions-based perspectives for combating climate change,” Ms Patel further explains. Such circumstances ask for accountability, not only from individuals but from our institutions too. “It cannot be an approach that is solely centred around individual actions, but inclusive of institutional accountability and transformation,” says Ms Patel.

Educating future generations about the causes and effects of global climate change is imperative since implementing solutions depends on an informed public, for both societal and individual level actions. Actions taken today can and will improve our ability to respond and adapt to change in the future.

The author is part of the current batch of the Writer’s Training Program
Featured image is for representational purposes only.
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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.

Read more about his campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

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.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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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.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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