Earth is home to around 8.7 million species. Their life, and the fate of the blue planet itself, now lies in the hands of the younger population of humans who have to clean the mess left behind by their forefathers. Now it’s up to them to save the planet.
It’s ironic how the destroyers have become the saviours of the planet. The earliest human civilisation known to man is only 6,000 years old. Yet, we already have taken so much from the planet that soon we will need another Earth to feed our greed. Is there another planet like ours? We don’t know. And by the looks of the dire state our planet is in, we never will.
Earth has given us life, the most precious and invaluable thing. What have we given to the planet in return? We dump tons of waste every year that is slowly but surely killing our planet. To add some perspective, we have already produced almost one billion ton worth of waste in just half a year. If that is not scary enough, we also drop 8 million tons of plastic waste into the oceans every year. And in the same period, we dump almost 50 million tons of electronic waste in Asian and African countries—at this rate, it will become almost impossible to save the planet.
We all know what industrial waste, deforestation, exploiting natural resources can do to our planet. Global warming, melting ice sheets, rising sea level, depleting ozone layer, climate change—the devastation is occurring from all corners. Environmentalists have predicted that the end of 2020 will determine whether the wounds inflicted on the environment by our negligence will turn fatal or not.
“The Earth will not continue to offer its harvest, except with faithful stewardship. We cannot say we love the land and then take steps to destroy it for use by future generations.” — John Paul II
Now, the future generation has taken the matter to save the planet into their own hands. Young eco-warriors like Greta Thunberg (17), Destiny Watford (20), Annabel Caren Clark (18), Ridhima Pandey (11), Shalvi Shakshi (12), Gautam Dayal (17), Bilal Ahmad (18), are fighting on the frontlines of the war against climate change. This World Environment Day, Soulveda gets candid with one such eco-warrior, Mehak Bhargava, the founder of Millennials for Environment (MFE), to find out how the millennials hope to save the planet.
How did your journey start in the fight against climate change? What was your inspiration?
As children, we had read about the climate crisis and environmental degradation in our textbooks and I always thought that someone, somewhere will do something about it. I tried to be conscious of my habits and be sustainable, but I wasn’t very involved. When the UN-commissioned Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC ) published a report on the climate crisis, it clearly stated that we had only 12 years to save the Earth. This report was published around the same time that I took a course in Environmental Studies. Both these events changed my perspective on what needed to be done. I have always been taught that if something is wrong, fix it; and always fight for what is right. If I have the time, energy, and resources to do something, I should. These things pushed me into acting on the climate crisis.
Your initiative is a students’ collective called Millennials for Environment. Tell us a little about it.
Millennials for Environment (MFE) was founded in March 2019. My two friends and I wanted to do something about the lack of discourse about the environment and climate crisis in the General Elections 2019. We decided to spread awareness about the environmental crisis. We realised that climate change and environmental sustainability are two such issues that aren’t covered as much as they should be, in mainstream media or in newspapers. We wanted to eliminate this gap by bringing forth the latest stories on environmental issues through social media, to the youth of this country who we believe can bring the change. We also aspire to start projects that could help in mitigating the effects of the climate crisis.
We have seen young people like Greta Thunberg, Jamie Margolin, John Paul Jose taking the lead in the fight against climate crisis. What do you think it is about the youth that is so promising?
There’s a famous quote by the environmentalist David Brower: “We don’t inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” Today, that future generation is demanding action for its survival. We know that we have reached the threshold where change is necessary, and if it is not taken seriously, we may not have a future. As the younger generation, we refuse to follow the old systems of discrimination and destruction; which is why we are a promising lot. We imagine a better world for us and we don’t hesitate in fighting for it.
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, do you believe there is a connection between the global outbreak and the climate crisis?
The coronavirus pandemic is a result of human activities. The scientists have claimed, it was originated in an animal market in Wuhan, China where the virus jumped species. For decades, humans have encroached upon the natural habitat of animals and have engaged in the massive multi-billion dollar wildlife trade. When the animals are moved from their natural environment and kept in cramped, filthy conditions they develop diseases. If these animals were left untouched in their natural habitat, this may have never happened.
As for the connection between coronavirus and the climate crisis, since the world has entered the lockdown we have seen clearer skies and cleaner air, the rivers have become pristine, and thousands of flamingos have descended to Mumbai. Carbon emissions have dropped due to human inactivity—but it is not enough. However, this is proof that the environment can recover and there is a way we can build a sustainable Earth.
During this global lockdown, how is your collective operation carrying out activities? Especially because this is a crucial time for spreading awareness on climate.
All field activities are on a halt right now. Our team has been focusing on creating awareness through social media. We have been video conferencing to continue our efforts. We have also been tweeting and posting on different social media platforms to increase our reach. In June, we’ll be launching our website to further reach more people.
What kind of a planet do you visualise 20 years from now?
A greener planet, where life in all its varieties and forms flourish. An Earth that is more equitable and empathetic to all life forms and environment. To achieve that, we need to be conscious of every choice we make and ensure that it’s sustainable and ethical. Whether we buy clothes, food, or travel we need to keep our carbon footprint in mind.
To achieve a greener and sustainable Earth we need to support organisations and people who work in the same space. As consumers, we have immense power to drive demand and if we all demand sustainability, the producers will have to comply.
What are your ultimate goals to address the climate crisis?
Farmers are vulnerable to extreme drought conditions because of climate change. All the people who don’t have adequate access to resources, health care, and shelter are exposed to the consequences of climate change such as heatwaves, harsh winters, erratic monsoons, and other climate-induced calamities.
Our ultimate goal is to drive climate action and mitigation efforts at all levels of society. We want to help the communities that are more vulnerable to the consequences of climate crisis and environmental degradation. For instance, communities living in coastal areas are vulnerable to rising sea levels and cyclones. Tribal communities are dependent on forests for their livelihood and are vulnerable to deforestation.
What do you think can and will mobilise the youth to become actively involved in crucial causes?
Not everyone has access to information and resources about the climate crisis and the consequences it will have. This is why the first step is to create awareness. When an individual becomes aware of the gravity of a situation and its impact, they will realise change is necessary. This will mobilise the youth.
The youth’s opinions are often brushed aside, especially in serious matters like climate crisis. How do you plan to climb this obstacle in your journey to save the environment?
Our voices are brushed aside as our elders think that we don’t know enough or we shouldn’t be talking about this. However, the facts about the climate crisis are out there and they are clear from the beginning. Climate crisis is going to impact everyone. There is no escaping from it. So, we pursue a narrative where we make it personal for the people we are trying to convince. Personalising how it is going to impact them is one way of making them understand the seriousness of the crisis we are facing.