Dhanada K Mishra
3-year-old girl at the central harbour-front in Hong Kong and a 95-year-old Gandhian activist at Master Canteen square in Bhubaneswar stood among a comparatively small gathering in solidarity with the children of the world to save their future. It was a historic day on which all records of global mass mobilisation were broken. It was on February 15, 2003, that more than 3 million people had marched in over 600 places in the world against the Iraq war.
By early estimates, more than 4 million people marched on September 20 in support of the ‘Fridays for Future’ movement initiated by the 16-year-old Swedish girl Greta Thunberg. She is in New York after crossing the Atlantic Ocean on a solar-powered yacht to address the United Nations General Assembly. What started with her standing alone in front of the Swedish parliament about a year ago has now transformed into a massive global movement of immense importance. She has now addressed the EU, the World Economic Forum, the US Congress and has been nominated for the Nobel prize.
Some believe technology can yet come up with a miracle solution that will simply make climate crisis go away. No notion can be more foolish, as profit motive drives most technological innovation. The solutions lie in policy action
It was the start of a global climate strike week that brought together all manners of environmental activists. It included the recently launched Extinction Rebellion (XR) which has been spectacularly successful in its effort to get authorities to declare the climate crisis as an emergency and act accordingly. Greta Thunberg has managed over the last year to inspire countless students all over the world to school strike every Friday. At the same time, XR has spread from the UK to nook and corner of the world and will be organising a general strike on a global scale from October 6. While school strikers demand of governments to do more to meet Paris Climate Agreement targets, XR is much more ambitious in calling for net-zero carbon by 2025 instead of 2050 as called for in the Paris agreement.
More than half a million marched in Australia, over a million in Germany and several hundreds of thousands in the UK and other European countries besides USA. In comparison, the numbers were modest in India — about 4,000 with the biggest rallies in Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and symbolic solidarity events in places such as Bhubaneswar. China and Russia showed the least number of events, even as countries in South America and Africa joined in, besides people in Antarctica. It was registered in all continents. In Odisha, other than Bhubaneswar, schoolchildren in Kantapada, Paralakhemundi and Adaspur also participated. Trees were planted and saplings distributed.
The lack of interest and participation in India and Odisha in the movement is puzzling, to say the least. Developed countries have the least pollution at the moment and are already best prepared to adapt to the effects of the climate crisis. It is people in countries such as India that are currently suffering the most from air and water pollution as well as natural disasters that are becoming more frequent and ferocious.
While much of the climate crisis owes to the emission of greenhouse gases originally in prosperous countries, nations such as India have an important role in not only cleaning up their act and adopting cleaner energy and technology, but also in demanding that carbon pricing and trading at institutional, international and individual levels be implemented so that the poor and disadvantaged nations and people can be appropriately compensated for losses.
Such demands will strengthen the hands of climate activists in countries of the global north. Greta Thunberg, and leaders of XR, who are deeply influenced by Gandhian ideals, emphasise the justice aspect of climate action at every opportunity. It means those who are least responsible for the climate crisis and most vulnerable to its effects must be protected at all cost.
The inequity is clearly illustrated by the fact that about 100 global multinationals are responsible for more than 70 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. About 30 investment banks are the financiers that make these companies do the damage. Similarly, the per capita emission of a citizen of a developed country such as the US is several times higher than an average Indian. Therefore, any solution for the climate challenge must take into account the economic disparity and compensate for the same.
XR likes to be a global platform that brings together all environmental movements to achieve what we have failed to achieve so far — meaningful action to reverse greenhouse gas emissions, global warming and climate crisis. Today, as academics increasingly support mass movements as the only option left to force governments to take action, vested interests, such as fossil fuel companies, have redoubled their efforts to create climate scepticism.
Fossil fuel companies have all along known the ill effects of burning fossil fuel and resultant climate crisis. They chose to do nothing about it and do everything to fund climate scepticism. Many of these companies are now being sued in American courts in mass action lawsuits by young children.
Some believe technology can yet come up with a miracle solution that will simply make climate crisis go away. No notion can be more foolish, as profit motive drives most technological innovation. The solutions lie in policy action. Even today, the solutions exist in renewable energy and electric transport; but we continue to build coal or gas-fired power plants and use fossil fuel-powered transport. In short-sighted pursuit of open-ended economic growth model incompatible with a planet with finite resources, humanity is unable to come together and consider alternative structural arrangements. Such a change will come from confronting the truth of climate crisis, taking action and allowing citizens rather than politicians controlled by vested interest to dictate and monitor progress.
The writer is a civil engineering professor and principal of KMBB College of Engineering and Technology, currently visiting Hong Kong University of Science and Technology as a Research Scholar. He can be reached by email at [email protected]