What's with the Climate?

Voices of a Subcontinent grappling with Climate Change


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Inspiring Action through Art – ft. Niharika Rajput

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On World Sparrow Day, we had caught up with Niharika Rajput,  a bright young artist/entrepreneur who is using her passion and art for spreading the message of bird conservation through her initiative ‘Paper Chirrups’. On the occasion of World Migratory Bird Day, we share her journey off the beaten path and what inspires her, in her own words. Read on !

 

 

 

 

“Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark” – Rabindranath Tagore

Birds are intriguingly referred to as God’s messengers as they traverse all the five elements that constitute life: Water, Earth, Air, Fire and Space, literally and in mythological metaphors. They traverse the length and breadth of this planet without having to acquire a passport or visa. Nationality doesn’t define their colour, race or character, whether it be the tiny Humming birds flying from Alaska to Mexico or the Black-necked cranes flying from Tibet to Ladakh, they all become bearers of diverse nationalities.

My love for the winged species is not recent, I’ve had a deep admiration for birds and wildlife in general since I was young. Growing up, life caught on to me and I didn’t realize when I stopped observing them, until I saw a flock of 10 to 12 Red Billed Blue Magpies in Himachal Pradesh. The idea of doing something creative always made me feel very comfortable. At the time, I was struggling to find the subject I connected best with to build my pieces. After my sighting of the Magpies, I was certain that Birds will be my focus. However, it didn’t end there. That was just the beginning.

Black necked crane workshop

Black – necked cranes workshop, Druk Padma School,  Ladakh

The more I delved into it the more I learned about what was happening to them. Climate change, loss of habitat, hunting, poisoning, illegal trade to name a few, really opened up my eyes to the plight of birds. So I started using Art as my channel of communication. With the support of many conservationists and nature centres, I have been successful in conducting Art for Wildlife Conservation projects in India and all over the world. From Delhi to Ladakh to British Columbia my focus has been various species of birds.

Birds of Ladakh , workshop , Satho Govt school , Ladakh

Birds of Ladakh Workshop , Satho Govt School , Ladakh

I’ve conducted workshops with almost 1500 children, men and women through my projects which tend to be educational, entail discussions, hand building activities, bird watching trips and introduction to Bird Guides. These workshops are a step towards getting people excited about the birds found in their region and help train them to be ‘bird sleuths’ and ‘citizen scientists’.

Birds of Paradise workshop, Alan Brooks Nature Centre( British Columbia)

Birds of Paradise workshop, Alan Brooks Nature Centre, British Columbia, Canada

“From being a farmer’s best friend for protecting the crops against pests and insects, to helping in cross pollination and proving to be true custodians of the environment by cleaning up most human waste, birds are capable of doing it all”.

I have always believed that the natural world has the most magnificent and sophisticated mechanisms. Every creature big or small has a significant role to play in the ecosystem and in our survival. From times immemorial birds have played a significant role in preserving and balancing various ecosystems. From being a farmer’s best friend for protecting the crops against pests and insects, to helping in cross pollination and proving to be true custodians of the environment by cleaning up most human waste, birds are capable of doing it all.

However some of these chirrups are rather feeble and perishable. For example, the humble Sparrow (also the state bird of Delhi) holds great significance in our lives. They have always nested in our homes, helped study Earth’s magnetic fields and are great indicators of climate change. Modern infrastructure lacking the curves and crevices, change in climate, habitat loss and lack of adequate food sources are some of the many reasons why the House Sparrow is on a constant decline.

We should work together to keep the natural world alive, whether it be birds or our oceans or our forests. They need us the most now, to fight the battle of survival for them.  Choosing this path has its ups and downs but the cause also motivates you to keep at it because the eventual result is always very fulfilling.

To read more about her projects, you can visit the ‘Campaigns’ section of her website.

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High Heels

Chhaya Vani Namchu 

“Can the subaltern speak?”

Many years ago, I read this essay by Gayatri Spivak as part of my undergraduate syllabus. I cannot recollect too much detail about it now, but 7-8 years down the line, what has stuck with me through the years is its title.

Today, I work as a researcher on climate change and its impacts on mountain communities, and specifically women in these communities. Sometimes I feel the pressure to provide academic and statistical information which I feel, although fair to research, reduces the people I interview to data and objects. But work is work and I understand that even my research will eventually help communities in the long term (I hope).

When carrying out fieldwork in my study site, I come across stories which may be considered too simple for the academic discourse, but which can be thought provoking nonetheless. One of my field sites in Kalimpong, a beautiful community village, is affected by erratic rainfall that leads to massive landslides and floods that eventually end up blocking communities during monsoons, effects that can in part be attributed to climate change.

Predominantly a Lepcha village, the route to this village is through chor batos. The village has no infrastructure and has several streams that need to be crossed through bridges constructed using locally available bamboo by the local residents. There are about 3-5 such bridges. I visited the village in the dry season when there was no water, rain or flooding.

The indigenous communities of the mountains are very resilient and independent, as opposed to the larger perception (and rightly so) around them facing hardships such as commuting, accessing drinking water, walking hours through rough terrain to get to the nearest school, etc. It’s true that these communities are marginalized, economically as well as educationally, and face multiple hardships, but this is only one side to them. They undertake many initiatives by themselves that involve working together as a community, and aren’t the (usually expected) rescue projects.

Coming back to my field trip to this village. I had set out with an agenda as part of my job to interview and draw information on the changes in the climate experienced by the indigenous Lepcha women through questions such as:

  • What variations in temperature and rainfall have you noticed?
  • How has it changed your cropping pattern?
  • What are the challenges faced during monsoons?
  • Have you noticed other climatic changes?

And so on..

On one such day after I got done with the more formal interview, and as I was retiring my notebook to my bag and getting ready to leave, I got into an informal chat with these women. We discussed the weather, the village, and the walk back to town. Small talk. I shared my fear of shaky wobbly bridges with them while dreading the journey that lay ahead of me. And just then, a woman well into her forties, who was also very vocal in my group discussion, spoke in agreement with me. Her solidarity with my fear was heartening mostly because of the story she narrated next, and the jolly-as-ever casual tone that she took.bridge

She said that the bridge indeed made life very uncomfortable for them. Sometime back, she set out on her way to the weekly Saturday market to Kalimpong town, wearing a pair of high heels as she usually does. As she was crossing the bamboo bridges, her heel got stuck between two bamboo logs. She added, in between bouts of laughter, that she was extremely embarrassed. There she was, all dressed up, sitting on the bridge, trying to get her heels out of the space in between the bamboo logs. Even though she didn’t want to be seen by anyone in that rather hilarious situation, she found it extremely funny herself. Just a minor glitch in the mundane order of the day.

This incident was very interesting to me. Most of us would wear trekking shoes and trekking clothes to visit such areas. But what is trekking and hiking to us is their daily route and daily life. The above narrative shows that this life is as normal to them as is dressing up to catch drinks at Hauz Khas village for so many of us city people. And although places like these require help in policies and infrastructure, I hope that in the discourse on Mountains, the resilient women are not treated as rescue projects alone.

This brings me back to Spivak’s- Can the subaltern speak?- that communities and especially women are not subaltern objects, and that if we really had to talk to them and listen to them without a set of questions- what would they say?


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Time is Up, Time is Now

Shradha Shreejaya

Like every 8th of March, we rise this year in 2018 with an official theme of ‘Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives’. This is a reminder for our movement and people on the original ‘revolutionary’ and ‘left’ origins of women’s day back in the early 1900s (until it became adopted by United Nations in 1975), and the reality of present day where every week we lose a woman environment, human rights defender to ‘development’ ambitions.

In the current climate politics of the world, where we are delaying justice to the most affected communities and negotiations lost in translation, hope and action come from the grassroots women leading the way for a just transition. Attempts of ‘pinkwashing’ by corporations and jargon agencies are trivializing the intent of strong movements by confining women’s roles in climate action to merely ‘cooking stove interventions’ and gender inclusive ‘colours’ or ‘text’, whereas the demands for real solutions are sidelined.

So what are we talking about when we talk about a ‘gender just’ climate agreement this Women’s Day – ensure just and equitable transition[1] of the economy and employment that safeguards environment, thus truly transforming women’s lives.  As we progress into the UNFCCC intersessionals in May, women and gender movements urge governments to take action and honor their promise for gender equality.

To be fair and equitable, this transition must also challenge the gendered-division of labour, which places women in often low waged, insecure and informal subsistence and service industries. This just and equitable transition should challenge the foundations of paid labour so that both paid and unpaid care and domestic work, mostly assumed by women, is valued and redistributed.

The climate crisis persists when private interests and profits matter more than the respect of human rights or the conservation of the Earth and the environment. We need energy and resource democracy, where local people, particularly women, are able to make decisions over the use of local resources and the best way to fulfil their needs. The fight against climate change cannot be impeded by commercial interests[2].

Women’s rights are human rights. Without safeguarding the climate agenda and agreements within the human rights charter and progressing on the commitment towards Loss and Damages, we will continue to fail the activists losing their communities and lives to the crisis.

So this year when we rise, let it be in remembrance of everyone who has risked, fought and lost their lives to keep us moving forward towards a just world that ensures a fair future for all.

 

[1] Women and Gender Constituency key demands 2017

[2] Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development’s Feminist Fossil Fuel Free Future (5F) vision statement


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Belief v/s Ban

Ipshita Das

“Oh! That’s a fantastic verdict by the Supreme court of India”

“Well, has a ban ever served any purpose?”

“This definitely slams the age- old tradition followed by us”

“How can banning crackers for a day (on Diwali) solve the pollution problem in Delhi?”

“This year Delhi-ites did set an example to adhere to the verdict on not bursting crackers”  

As confusing as the above statements sound; these collectively reflect some of the notions (and emotions) of the people of Delhi on the directive passed by the Supreme court of India on 9th October 2017;“No firecrackers would be sold in the Delhi-National Capital Region (NCR) till October 31”, ten days prior to the holy festival of Diwali which is one of the widely celebrated festivals of India, on the occasion of home-coming of the mythical God in ancient Hindu epic; Lord Ram along with his wife and brother to their native place after defeating Ravana; the primary antagonist.

The age- old tradition called for lighting- up of houses and its surrounding with diyas (a cup shaped oil lamp) and candles, making Rangolis, purchasing new goods and having a feast.

And then came… the primary antagonist of today’s time; the ‘Crackers

The joy and thrill of the sparkles exuding out of the crackers and fireworks overshadowed the ill-effects of the pollution, disturbance to animals, health issues and environmental damage it caused; so much so that it soon turned into a ritual among people. With passage of time, this practice of cracker and fireworks bursting got associated with warding of the evils spirits and a customary mark of celebration.

It was only in the year 2016, that people woke up in a city engulfed in suspended particulate matter reaching alarming levels to a point where the national capital of the country was considered ill-livable in the world. But did that morning really wake us up? The answer lies amidst the different varied stance taken by people on this particular situation.

The use of crackers has a bigger connotation than just deriving a thrill out of it. Crackers and fireworks acts as a medium to get families together and celebrate this festival, it denotes a gesture of gift exchange between the elderlies and the children, it holds the traditional and religious beliefs of using them to ward off the evil spirits, and on a lighter note; it comes to the rescue to kill the mosquitoes around.

The directive on cracker ban was interpreted as an ‘immediate ban’ on all these gestures, notion and spirit behind the use of cracker among people on that one day of the year. Yes, there is a dire need for people to understand the circumstances under which the directive was intended at but every change takes its due course of time. The good news lies with the fact that there has been a reduction in cracker use this year compared to the previous years and there are people who are making a conscious effort to bring a change with alternative ways of celebrating the festival but the change that we envision among the masses will only begin when the alternative ways of celebration is presented to them. Maybe a state regularization on its usage, maybe demarcating areas for bursting crackers, maybe stricter laws to check the quality of cracker production, maybe thorough checks before grating suppliers on quantity and quality of cracker and fireworks.

The problem is far more deeply rooted to have a ban as a handy or immediate solution to tackle this problem. The practice of crackers and fireworks bursting is intensely entangled with the beliefs of people. To witness change, one needs to begin by acknowledging these strong beliefs associated with this ritual among people and thereafter, work out ways to propose alternate methods to shift from the current practices. One needs to adopt the approach of setting examples of some easy yet relatable and actionable pointers to substitute these practices and with that motive, lay a pathway for the people to shift their practices to a more conscious and inclusive Diwali.


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Electric Vehicles, Quo Vadis?

Manish Gautam

Indian government is on a roll. Two years ago at Conference of Parties (COP) 21 at Paris, it surprised the world by setting up its renewable energy generation target of 175 GW by 2022.  This was one of its INDC (now transitioned to NDC) at the Paris COP, the other being the creation of an “additional carbon sink by increasing forestation and tree cover”. Recently the government indicated that it is planning to transition completely to non-hydrocarbon fuels based vehicles, i.e., electric vehicles (EVs). If one believes Mr. Nitin Gadkari, the Minister of Road Transport and Highways, after year 2030 the only vehicles on the Indian roads will be fueled by electricity, or else the government will ‘bulldoze’ the non-electric vehicles.

In year 2001, the total cars registered were numbered 5.3 Million (7.1 Million, combined number for Cars, Jeeps and Taxis). It had increased almost 3 times in 11 years, 17.5 Million (21.5 Million, combined number for Cars, Jeeps and Taxis) in 2012 as per the data on the website of Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation. This number (combined figures for Cars, Jeeps and Taxis) stood 28.6 Million in 2015. The projection of total number of such vehicles in 2030 is difficult to make considering the factors that will drive such an increase; the prospects of having more than 60 Million carbon-emitting vehicles (of all kinds) is a rather scary thought! Also, it seems unrealistic, by any means that a major chunk of these 60 Million plus vehicles will run on electricity if we take Mr. Gadkari seriously. Amitabh Kant, CEO of the Niti Aayog, provide us a slightly better picture. He estimates that the country will see the sale of 7.3 Million EVs by 2030. Hoping that the adaptation to EVs will be fast even though the market may show some reluctance to embrace it, he projects that the sale of EVs will be 30.81 Million by 2040.

Will the country be able to achieve this target? Some are skeptical. An Economic Times article lists out few obstacles or ‘bumps’ in the road ahead of EVs target –  issues of scaling up and prioritizing of infrastructure needed for the functioning of EVs such as setting up the charging stations. There are few, for instance Amitabh Kant, CEO of Niti Aayog, who are hopeful that the country can finally get rid of hydrocarbon fuels run vehicles and have a zero-emission future. A study carried out by the people from Rocky Mountain Institute and Niti Aayog outlines a vision for country’s efficient mobility by 2030 and it includes EVs in this roadmap. It emphasizes on the “concerted action at the central, state, and local government levels, enhanced coordination among central-government ministries, and collaboration with the private sector will be required for India to realize the full potential of a mobility transformation”.

Two important aspects of this entire discussion of EVs in India are missing or not being given much attention in news and other portals.  Is the electricity needed to run the EVs as ‘clean’ as the purpose of running EVs on the roads?  – the zero carbon footprint of the electricity needed for EVs along with the target of zero emissions from the vehicles? The Draft National Energy Policy does talk about “de-carbonisation through the twin interventions of energy efficiency and renewable energy” where deployment of EVs comes under its Energy Efficiency ambit.  

The other is the question of road congestion. How is the switch to EVs going to solve this problem that has been a nightmare for many? This question has not been addressed, let alone completely understood or analyzed. The RMI-Niti Aayog study try to address this problem that “adding vehicle or congestion fees in congested cities will reduce travel demand met by vehicles”. This solution in the report lacks elaboration and is unconvincing.

A future of transportation in the form of EVs sounds all hunky-dory. The urgent need of the country is to address the problem of having too many vehicles on its roads. Perhaps the zero-emission future lies not only in manufacturing and running millions of EVs but creating an equally efficient public transport system.

(First published in the IYCN Newsletter – August 2017 issue)

 

 

 


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Climate Change and The Struggle to Keep Up Cultural Practices

Sharanya Sanjeev*

Is climate change all about raising temperatures we say? We at Climate Tracker are taking a closer and distinctive outlook. Time-tested survival techniques and cultural traditions are falling prey to detrimental human activities. Once joyous occasions, now conservational obligations.

Dhe Village of The Himalayas

Inheriting Indian and Chinese traditions, the present-day Tibet celebrates New Years’ eve called Losar in a unique mix of music, dance, skits, food, and drinks. Dating back to prehistoric times, the festive celebration is marked by offering grains that is used to brew Chhaang, an alcoholic drink like beer.

Climate change has had detrimental effects on this age-old festival and similar traditional practices. Once a fortnight full of merry making has now been reduced to a tradition that the community is battling to conserve for the generations to come.

Amount of snow in these regions have been considerably reduced in the past few years, shrinking the volume of snow-fed water resources. Decline in water levels has affected grazing lands by narrowing their expanse, thereby fatally affecting livestock such as cattle, goats, and sheep.

Ancient Maldivian calendar forecast turning futile

The Nakaiy-monsoon calendar played a crucial role in the lives of Maldivians, accurately predicting best times to fish, travel, cultivate crops, build houses, etc. Comprised of ninety-nine percent water and one percent land, lives of Maldivians surrounded the monsoon calendar’s forecast. Climate change has now made this ancient technique unreliable. Unpredictable weather changes are agonising people, driving them away from their ethos.

Progressively drying lake in Peru

Year after year, the Huacapunco thank their goddess Panchamama, Mother Earth in the Peruvian culture, for the prosperity their land adorned and ask her blessings to offer perennial grant of water. Recent times have proven hard for this tribe. They continue the tradition of dancing at the foot of the lagoon in colourful attires, seeking the goddess’ blessing, but in vain, as the lake gradually drying up with no signs of recuperation.

Making a difference

We, at Climate Tracker, a network of 3000 journalists and photographers track these adverse changes and voice out to save cultures and traditions that are falling victim to human activities. We are publishing a photobook documenting these changes and striving to complete it just in time for the UN Climate Change negotiations

How you can help

Support us by funding this Project where you will aid journalists and photographers visit these communities, engross themselves in their culture and traditions, document climate change effects and publish the photobook by November, 2017.

(Sharanya Sanjeev is part of a youth global organisation – Climate Tracker. Climate Tracker is a group of 3000 journalists and photographers that track climate change, create awareness amongst stakeholders and present our report during the UN Climate change negotiations.)


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BONN Ultimatum?

Saumya Chaudhari*

In March this year, the world-renowned physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking revised his Doomsday Clock and declared that humanity only has 100 years before a cataclysmic event destroys life on Earth. He accompanies these apocalyptic predictions with seemingly fantastic solutions for survival. These at best involve, a one-world government and at worst, colonizing other planets for multi-planetary human existence.  One would hope that these possibilities, both terrifying yet exciting, would evoke sincere efforts and accelerate collective global actions to combat disastrous climate change.

In this backdrop, the world once again gathered together in Bonn, Germany (8th-18th May, 2017) in the hope of furthering the climate negotiations at Paris and following through with their commitments. Every attempt at climate negotiation begins with countries standing at vastly varied footing, looking towards a commonly acceptable ambition and pace to achieve the same ends. Considering the enormous disparity between the economic and social positioning of all Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), arriving at a consensus on many issues at the Conference of Parties (COP) is undoubtedly challenging. However, it is the political considerations of a nation that reinforce this disparity and prevent a magnified outlook and a possible compromise between Parties. Some suggest that politics may be kept aside and a pragmatic approach be adopted in order to arrive at an agreement on an issue of such global importance. However, the recent political shuffle in the United States has visibly held progress of years of climate negotiations at ransom. Creating a vacuum in place of leadership at the Bonn climate talks, the new US government was suddenly seen denying climate science and hinting withdrawal from the Paris agreement altogether. The US, with a record of the largest contingent of diplomats from a single country, was represented by merely seven officials at Bonn with a clear agenda to advance US business and commercial interests.

In the eyes of a lay observer, the tussle at each Conference of Parties (COP) essentially surrounds the incompatible interests of the developing and developed nations. The Paris climate agreement of 12th December, 2015, was hailed as landmark since it culminated years of attempts by United Nations to forge an international and collective consensus. Nearly 200 nations had signed the agreement. The decision to contain the rise in global temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius (above pre-industrial levels) had been agreed upon by both developed and developing nations alike. In addition, periodic stock-take of progress on national commitments, provision for an adaptation fund for developing nations seeking to combat climate impacts, etc. were settled between all Parties. However, in seventeen months from Paris to Bonn, the positions of countries have altered and the unanimity between the Parties on these issues is less evident.

Put simply, the compromise between the developing and developed nations is essentially one that strikes at the question of equity. The developing countries believe that the major chunk of contribution to the climate change that manifests itself today has been caused by the developed countries due to their reckless economic and technological growth since the industrial revolution. Following this reasoning, they conclude that mitigation efforts today must witness ‘Common but Differentiated Responsibility’ (CBDR) with a focus on the developed countries that have nearly peaked economic and human development indices. This is opposed to the developing nations, some of which continue to languish and others that are inching towards economic goals along with efforts to alleviate poverty, hunger, diseases, and fulfilment of basic human rights for all citizens. As expected, the issue of CBDR is a bone of contention between the two blocks of nations. So is the issue of adaptation fund and technology transfer that puts the onus on the developed nations, firstly, to contribute towards the adaptation strategies of the developing nations; and secondly, to assist their transition to low emission economies by providing innovative technology. Despite having agreed upon these commitments in Paris, the developed countries were seen re-evaluating these at Bonn.

National agendas for progress lie at the heart of active political considerations. At this point it must become clearer why the international climate negotiations are largely at the mercy of the political regimes globally. Political shifts in countries that pivot on certain matters of primary concern to nations may leave other matters that are not perceived as critical unhinged and astray. Despite its urgency for over a decade or two, climate change has failed to occupy this central position in any national agenda. With the rise in global terrorism and the risk to national security, a jingoistic approach to development has overtaken most parts of the world. Many democracies have begun nurturing populist measures instead of measures that foot holistic and sustainable development of the country.  In such a situation, concerns such as adaptation to climate change lack the necessary political wind beneath its wings.

Clearly, political flux cannot be kept mutually exclusive from climate negotiations. However, for concrete results that effectively mitigate climate change, national commitments of Parties at COP cannot be as fickle as politics would render them. Nearly all Nationally Determined Contributions and goals for climate change mitigation fail to legally bind Parties. In the absence of real political will towards collective action, it becomes easy to evade these commitments. Therefore, every climate talk that seeks to build upon the previous efforts may appear more like another fresh start with countries possibly approaching the forum with altered political agendas.

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source: World Resources Institute

Being the two largest greenhouse gas emitters in the world as per the World Resources Institute, the US and China usually led the developed and developing fronts at the helm of climate talks. With the US taking a backseat, the mantle has now passed to the European Union. At Bonn, the EU was seen rising to the occasion, taking the lead and seeking future collaboration with China and Canada. At this point it is also worth considering that although EU is in principle a single entity, the positions of the EU member nations are not identical. This may raise doubts about the consistency in their position on climate change as a single entity in the future, especially in light of Brexit.

For any effective progress, it is imperative that the commitments by Parties be made legally binding. Although there exist progress trackers and a framework for periodic reviews on various parameters such as individual efforts, implementation, transparency, adaptation, etc., a system for holding nations accountable for the results is lacking. Goals once agreed upon at COP must be unalterable by Parties despite any political flux or change in the national political regime. Further, any scope of deferring effective action must be eliminated. This usually involves ambiguity surrounding the agreements signed at COP. For instance, the meaning of the term ‘equity’ when applied to global stock-take of progress on national commitments was unsettled. Although the term was first introduced in the Paris talks, it was sought to be interpreted and clarified by the developed nations over a year later at Bonn. Such delays may be averted by timely and thorough discussions and in its absence pose as convenient opportunities to evade compliance. These measures among others may mitigate the effects of ill-conceived political decisions that risk undoing years of global progress. Maybe with some sincere strides in the right direction, we could hope for Mr. Hawking to revise his Doomsday prediction and lend us some more Earth time.

(Saumya Chaudhari is, a law graduate from the National Law Institute University, Bhopal, set to begin her career as an environmental lawyer in Delhi.)