By Sonia Mehta
My grandmother, a feisty 90-year-old, carefully washed and cleaned the plastic milk pouches that the daily milk was delivered in. When she had a week’s collection, she painstakingly cut them open, and stitched the whole lot together to make a large plastic bag. She then used this bag for veggie shopping. She did this every week, until we had piles of plastic bags which she then distributed to neighbours. And when all of us bratty grandkids teased her about her fetish, she would wag her finger at us and say, “You will think of me one day.”
That was 40 years ago and yes, I think of her every day. When I read about the plastic scourge, global warming and climate change; when I see little children sniffling and sneezing because of air pollution; and when every Diwali, smoke fills the air and people and animals struggle to simply breathe.
I’m not a pessimist, but even my sunny cheer sometimes gets clouded when I see and read all about climate change. There are those of us who breezily believe that it’s not really our fault. That the earth has been spinning for millennia before man arrived to mess things up. And it will keep spinning for another million years. And that we are too small and insignificant to make any real change.
But when you see tragic images of a bird stuck in plastic waste, or read about koala bears dying of thirst, you begin to wonder. When cocktail conversation talks about how “winter is so late nowadays!” or “You simply can’t say when it will rain” or when we read about unseasonal floods that take thousands of lives…you are sure that something is afoot and that something’s not nice.
Climate change is real. Global warming is real. And if we don’t do something about it, as a human race, we will get hurt at different times, in different ways. Our grandparents had a sustainable, simple lifestyle. My generation, into its forties, fifties and sixties has moved into the ‘throwaway society’ as Alvin Toffler called it. But it’s our children–and theirs–who will bear the brunt of climate change. And so, rightly, it is they who can effect change and very optimistically begin a reversal.
Which is why, hearing about the efforts of young Greta Thunberg, is so heartening. When she was just in the ninth grade, the young Swede began her first protests, refusing to attend school till the election after the Sweden’s wildfires and heat wave took a tremendous toll. She simply sat outside her school holding a sign that said SCHOOL STRIKE FOR THE CLIMATE (in Swedish). She wanted her country to reduce carbon emissions in accordance with the Paris Agreement. She inspired others and by December 2018, more than 20,000 students in over 250 cities had registered their protest. That this brave young girl has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for climate activism, is simply a testimony to the fact that you can make your voice heard, and make a difference, no matter how young you are.
And let’s not be fooled. It’s kids who can influence careless parents to make a difference. Schools are in a wonderful position to create this awareness. Through debates, discussions, guest speakers, competitions; there are a million creative ways in which the message can be given to children, without alarming them. And as many progressive and aware schools drive the message home, we see young children choosing to not burn fire crackers; we see them admonishing their mothers for using plastic; and we see them rooting for a dry Holi to conserve water.
The reality is that while it may seem daunting when we view the scale of the issue, but like everything important in life, it’s actually very simple. If every person does his or her bit, it’s bound to make a difference. There are examples everywhere of how children have helped. So while we believe that parents need to sensitise children, often the reverse works just as well. Aware children can sensitise parents.
One of my favourite quotes is, “We all want to leave a better world for our children. But it’s time we left better children for the world.” Do this and the children will make the world a better place – for themselves and for the coming generations.
(Sonia Mehta is the author of the Puffin Green World series on climate change, aimed at children as young as five years, about a bunch of kids who call themselves the Econuts, because they are nuts about the environment.)