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They take off on eco-caravans,cycle for change and represent India at climate meets. They are the young men and women who are taking the lead in whipping up opinion and lobbying the government into acting—fast.

They take off on eco-caravans,cycle for change and represent India at climate meets. They are the young men and women who are taking the lead in whipping up opinion and lobbying the government into acting—fast.

Like any 24-year-old,Govind Singh takes positions that are strident. Except,his issues are somewhat different—“I don’t attend climate change meets if they involve flying”,“I take the Delhi Metro as far as possible”,or “We have seen glaciers melting,species going extinct. Do we have time to act? No,we don’t”.
Militant environmentalism? “No,I believe in practical environmentalism. So we don’t ask people to turn off their ACs,but tell them to go a little easy,” says Govind,a research scholar at Delhi University (DU)’s School of Environmental Studies and one of Delhi’s growing voices on the climate change.
“Human beings are selfish. The only way to get the message across is to tell them how they will be affected. Tuvalu,a country on the east coast of South America,is negotiating with mainland Americas to buy land because their country is sinking. That could happen to any of our coastal areas,” says Govind,voice rising above the blaring music at Madras Coffee Home in Connaught Place,New Delhi.
Since graduation from Delhi’s Dyal Singh College,Govind has taken to juggling roles—he is director of Delhi Greens,a climate network and blog that sensitises Delhiites about environmental issues of their city; the Delhi face of Al Gore’s Climate Project India; the South Asia coordinator for,an international grassoots organisation that highlights the urgency and need to bring down CO2 concentration to 350 parts per million tonnes; and is on the advisory board of a project to green Teen Murti Bhawan.
Delhi Greens began in 2007 as part of a campaign to stop authorities at DU from felling around 1,000 trees on the campus to make space for a rugby stadium ahead of the Commonwealth Games. “Who plays rugby in this country? These are trees we spent all our time under,made friends under and to suddenly see them marked for cutting…,” he says. He walked up to the vice-chancellor’s office and told him that as an environmentalist,he wouldn’t let the trees be cut. “The VC turned around and asked me to define an environmentalist. I didn’t have an answer. I realised ecologists and environmentalists lived in brackets. The key is finding a middle ground—between the science and the sociology of environmentalism.” That’s a constant debate Govind has with himself—while he is organising eco-tours and mobilising youth voices through blogs and campaigns.
Govind was also a founder of the Indian Youth Climate Network with Kartikeya Singh and Deepa Gupta. But a few months into it,he found himself drifting because he thought the network was too elitist. “I realised that unless we include the many grassroots people working on climate solutions,we can never claim to represent the youth.”
So what do his parents think about his passion? “Just the other day,dad called up to say that he had found a book on ‘How to run NGOs’ and asked if I was interested. I told him I wasn’t. But yes,that was a touching change from the days he would buy me books on ‘How to clear the Civil Services’.”

Two years ago,when Vinay Jaju was nearing the end of his contract at General Electric,Sydney,the financial analyst knew what he would do: ask for his contract not to be renewed and fly home to Kolkata. That was one of the few times he flew—he would have ridden a bicycle if he could.
In January this year,Vinay finally rode that bicycle,this time from Kolkata to Delhi,through the coal belt of India and through some of the country’s poorest areas,with a campaign message for the bureaucrats and politicians who shape India’s energy policy: ‘Why New Coal’. “The idea was to ask why India was basing its growth on coal. Why new coal projects when we are aware of the environmental costs? And the social costs? People in the coal belt get nothing in return,” says Vinay,who heads Switch On,a network that encourages people to take direct action on climate change.
Direct action,he says,without waiting for climate meets and governments to settle the rich versus poor debate,without quibbling over who is the polluter and the percentage of pollution. “I am tired of these negotiations. I agree that it is the West that pollutes but I think it’s also important that we look internally and look for solutions at home. Look at equity within India and spread the message of climate change,” says Vinay,sitting on a park bench at IIT,Delhi. He was in the city to discuss procedures for airing a documentary that his colleague Ekta Kothari had filmed during their cycle campaign.
In that journey,Vinay used arts as a medium—the Bengali theatre form of Gombhira and patachitra paintings—to talk about the effects of fossil fuel on people’s health. He soon realised that while it was easy to inspire people,it was difficult to sustain the interest. But he is hopeful of a climate movement some day. “That’s what the Independence movement was about,wasn’t it? Look at the people who came out to fight then. For what personal joy? That’s where I draw my inspiration from,” asks Vinay. It’s the same adrenalin rush he gets when he watches his favourite movie,Rang De Basanti.  

“How much of the issue do you understand?” asks Kartikeya Singh,sitting across the table at a restaurant in New Delhi’s Khan Market. “Bali?” he prods further. Luckily,he doesn’t start shooting questions on the climate change negotiations at Bali.
Bali was where Kartikeya realised that India had no youth delegation—he had tagged along with an American team. In fact,none of the poor nations,the biggest victims of climate change,had any youngsters representing them. After Bali,Kartikeya,then in India from Yale University for an internship on climate and energy policy at Centre of Science and Environment,decided to stay on and work on setting up a youth network—a definitive voice that could lobby the government into acting on climate change. And so,he,along with Govind Singh and Deepa Mehta,set up the Indian Youth Climate Network in March 2008.
In less than a year,Kartikeya managed what he set out to do: in December 2008,he led a delegation of eight members to Poznan,the UN climate change conference in Poland. “I met Shyam Saran,the Prime Minister’s envoy on climate change,before Poznan and asked him if we could come.” How did he convince him? “Agenda 21,Sec 25.2 of the UN Division for Sustainable Development says it is imperative for the youth to participate in all decision-making processes that affects their lives. I used that card. And Mr Saran was sold on the idea.”
After Poznan,Kartikeya and his team of 17 went on a climate caravan across India in an innovative fleet of vehicles: three Reva electric cars retrofitted with solar panels,a biofuel truck,a van that ran on used-cooking oil and a solar minivan. Over five weeks,they found solutions in India’s villages and towns—biogas plants at homes,organic farmers,and an erstwhile royal in Gujarat who cultivated worms and sold them as eco-friendly alternatives to chemical fertilisers. It was a remarkable journey that found a mention of the columns of Thomas Friedman.
“The solutions exist within India. It’s just a matter of scaling them up. India needs to the see the kind of revolution that IT saw and combine IT with energy technology,” says Kartikeya. And combine that with youth energy? “Yes,climate change is a generational issue and the youth will be affected more than anybody. But it’s only the older people who are in control. We need to give younger people more control,” says Kartikeya. As of now,he is identifying agents of change who can,with IYCN,represent India’s cause at the UN Copenhagen climate summit in December this year.

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Every time she gets on a plane,Deepa Gupta wrestles with an inner guilt. “It’s hard. The choice is between checking my carbon footprint and deciding not to fly and come home to my parents,” says Deepa over phone from Sydney,where she is visiting her parents for two weeks.
But the 21-year-old has made such tough choices before. Like when she told her parents—who wanted their daughter to study finance and “make lots of money”—that she wanted to go to India to work on developmental issues.
So in 2007,when her friends came back from the UN climate meet at Bali and spoke of Kartikeya Singh and how he was the only Indian face there,Deepa wanted to know more. By early 2008,the two had got down to forming the first Indian Youth Climate Network.
Finally,Deepa took a semester break from the University of Sydney,where she is studying for her BCom,to go India. She will have to hop between the two countries till she graduates and then hopes to settle down in India by 2010-end. Her parents had emigrated to Australia in 1987 and Deepa,who has “roots all over the place”—from Orissa to Rajasthan to Gujarat—knew of India as the “special place” she came to for her vacations.
The climate meet at Poznan was her big moment,where she,Kartikeya and six others from IYCN took part,along with 500 young people from around the world. As she stood for a press conference,looking at the camera lights that flashed in her eyes and the microphones that hovered over her head,the petite girl realised this was special—not just for her and India but for all the poor nations that get the short end of the climate stick. And then she spoke of the right to survival,of people in the Sunderbans who drink saline water,of her bhaiya in Rajasthan whose tap has suddenly gone bone-dry,of her father’s family in Orissa that had to wade through neck-deep water as they stepped on carcasses and corpses during the 1999 cyclone and how,poor nations will see a lot more of this—for no fault of theirs.
Deepa and her team also got UN negotiators from over 80 countries to sign on a survival pledge that calls for a commitment “to a global climate treaty that safeguards the survival of all countries and peoples”. But the Indian delegate didn’t sign,saying he wasn’t authorised to do so! “These are challenges we face. We have no delusions of changing things overnight but we’ve got to start somewhere,” she says. Watch out for her at the UN Copenhagen climate meet in December 2009.

Anugraha John has a dream: in another 5-10 years,he hopes to move out of the urban madness of Bangalore,live on an organic farm,kick a football around when he fancies,listen to alternative music and live in a home that runs entirely on renewable energy.
Idyllic? Maybe,but not far-fetched,says Anugraha,who runs Global Citizens for Sustainable Development. “We will have to change ourselves to make a difference. Today we are at a point where it has become important to work towards climate change or else,we will soon be raising ‘Save Humans’ slogans instead of ‘Save Tigers’,” says Anugraha,who gave up his Citibank job in 2004 to begin working towards his dream.
After a stint with Pipal Tree,an NGO based in Dinnepalaya village,40 km outside Bangalore,where he worked with self-help groups,farmers’ networks and lobbied with the state government on water,communal harmony and child rights,Anugraha knew he was ready to go it alone. So in March 2008,he set up his network “to empower young people on climate change”.
And get them to act fast. “Climate change has to be seen as an opportunity to come up with innovative ideas that are climate-friendly. Initially this can be a trial and error effort,” he says. “But I am sure it will lean more towards optimism.”

As a features writer with a high-profile lifestyle magazine,Vidya wrote articles on ‘How to make nagging work for you’ and ‘Tips for a calmer you’. She did that for three months—it was her third job after earlier attempts at travel writing and HR—and she hated it. Next stop: TerraGreens,TERI’s magazine. “I enjoyed the green cause but I would be sitting all day in office,editing copies. I felt I should be more active than that,” she says. So a year and six months later,she quit to “simply follow Govind and his Delhi Greens team around the city”.
That’s when she read up on climate change,met people and came out with her theory of what needs to be done: Let the denominator talk. “At least 10 per cent of India’s rich pollute as much as the West. But when you divide India’s total emissions by its population,our per capita emission is not a fraction of the West’s. That’s because the rest of our population is so poor they don’t pollute and they are the ones who help keep our per capita emission down. But we don’t as much bother to thank them for it while we turn on our ACs and buy new petrol guzzlers.”
Vidya has joined Naveen Mishra of the Global Climate Campaign in setting up the Centre for Climate Justice and Equity that seeks to get “the denominator’s voice” heard at high-level climate discussions.
But she is most excited about a plan that has been buzzing in her head. “Before Copenhagen,I plan to get people from some of the poorest countries to squat before the embassies of the rich nations and say,“‘Our homes are sinking. We have nowhere to go and so we are here’. A Greenpeace-style of aggression,” she says,eyes narrowing into gleaming slits in her excitement.
“Another thing I can’t wait for is the Nano. The roads will be so clogged that people will just get out of their cars and start walking. And that’s what we need,” she says.
Vidya then sits back and says,“Ok,I am excited. When I was at TerraGreens,Dr Pachauri used to tell me,‘This energy is good. But I hope you don’t burn out.’”
For climate’s sake,we hope she doesn’t.


“Catching young minds and orienting them towards environmental stewardship is our ultimate goal. They have an enormous potential for transforming Indian society towards greater environmental consciousness and support for sustainable development. It is really the youngsters of today who will be the leaders of tomorrow,and in their role as ‘climate champions’,they would be major agents of change for a sustainable future.” Dr R.K. Pachauri,director-general,TERI and chairman,IPCC

First published on: 03-05-2009 at 02:02:16 pm
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