'Reclaiming Our Future': Young Climate Activists Talk Eco Anxiety & Action
The climate crisis is keeping young people in India up. Here's how they're turning their climate anxiety into action
"Everyday we keep screaming and fighting, but we don’t get any response and that scares us. The frustration of it is just so huge that it impacts you mentally, and keeps you up at night. That is something we all have been dealing with. That is the anxiety, I think, that I can relate to."Avantika, 18, Hyderabad
Inspired by Greta Thunberg and armed with youthful idealism, 18-year-old Avantika is a young climate activist, who isn't just worried about the future of the planet, but taking action where she feels adults aren't doing enough.
She isn't the only one.
“They (young people) feel threatened that our world will be gone due to climate change. We feel like we are the victims in this situation and that is why we get involved,” says 13 year old Aarav, who has been actively contributing a better part of his childhood to climate activism with a slew of different projects.
FIT speaks to young climate activists from across India about climate anxiety and what keeps them going.
"I got into climate activism when I was 8 years old. I didn’t want my family and my friends to become victims of climate change, so I started by boycotting plastic and planting trees individually. “Aarav, 13, Ghaziabad
Climate Anxiety: Young Indians Take a Stand
In the past, people have been able to brush the climate crisis under the rug as the future generation's problem. 'They'll deal with it when it comes.'
But now, it's becoming clear with every flood, and heat wave in September that the future is here.
“Climate anxiety would be that you are constantly under the threat that you won’t be able to live the future you want. By future, I mean, your rights are respected with respect to the environment, and you get the same share of resources that our ancestors had," says Dinesh, a 20 year old climate activist who also works with Fridays For Future India.
"We shouldn’t have to be in a position where we use air purifiers and oxygen tanks just to breathe. We should be able to follow our aspirations without any threat following us.”Dinesh, 20, Mumbai
This is one of the fears that fuels climate anxiety. And a big part of it is the anger that those in power, the 'older generation' didn't do enough to soften the impact of it when they could.
“I know that by definition it (climate anxiety) is about being anxious about the future and about climate change, but for us I think it's more about how the people in power are ignorant."Avantika, 18, Hyderabad
This, she says is what pushing the kids to take matters into their own hands.
“They are seeing the difference. They are seeing how the policies are made and the changes that are happening around them,” adds Avantika.
Dinesh also talks about how the proposed amendments to the Environmental Impact Assessment act was what pushed him to join the movement. "The impacts of EIA 2020 were so disastrous that I said I am done with being silent. I have to do something."
"By 2030, if we don't stay below the 1.5 degree oC target, we may risk making the climate crisis irreversible. And stuff like that is a constant stress that will remain in the back of our minds," he adds.
Dinesh is talking about the IPCC's (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways.
Speaking of Greta Thunberg—the person that inspired Avantika to join the movement—and having a global icon, she says that it’s comforting. “They (young people) are able to believe that what they do matters. When you look at someone who is around your age say the things you believe in on such a powerful platform, you get the confidence that you can do something. Even if the impact isn’t massive, doing what’s right is important and that’s what they are able to see.”
But it isn’t just Greta, it’s all the other young activists who step out that fuels her confidence in the movement.
“I never saw people my age going on the streets, you know? Chanting and talking about issues like this. Then I saw. It happened in my own city. That is what motivated me. Seeing that people my age are going on the streets and fighting fearlessly, so why can’t I do it?”Avantika, 18, Hyderabad
'We Create Hope': Dispelling Climate Anxiety with Action
“They (young people) feel threatened that our world will be gone due to climate change. We feel like we are the victims in this situation and that is why we get involved.”Aarav, 13, Ghaziabad
“At times some children may feel helpless, like ‘what can we do?',” he adds.
This feeling of helplessness that comes from being confronted with a crisis that is so massive and out of your capacity can breed apathy.
"Although they are aware of climate change and its effects, one thing is that people have already accepted their fate in some way and given up," says Gilbert, a 24-year-old activist who has been involved in climate conservation since he was 11.
But young Indians are full of hope and the will to try. They do this by turning their climate anxiety into action.
Gilbert believes that it must start with spreading awareness. "When people talk about climate change, they talk in a very generic way and what happens is that people don’t interlink a lot of the factors that are factors or effects of climate change."
"Because people don't fully understand it, they feel like the solutions that are being put forth by those who do understand are too idealistic, or unattainable."Gilbert, 24, Goa
"The way to cope with climate anxiety is by focusing on what you can control," he adds.
Speaking of an instance when the young climate warriors were able to translate their concerns into tangible results, Ronnan, a 22 year old from Goa talks about the ongoing Save Mollem Project that he’s a part of.
The Save Mollem project was started last year as a response to the 3 new developmental projects green lit by the government that threatened to destroy the natural habitat of endangered animals in the Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary and Mollem National Park.
The innitiative was able to bring this issue to the attention of the residents of goa and concerned authorities and create an effective push back.
Aarav on the other hand has recently co-founded the We Rise Together Foundation to realise this.
“We donate eco-friendly sanitary pads to those girls who can’t afford these necessities. So far we have distributed to over 500 women,” he explains.
“In Sunday4Secure future, we encourage young climate activists to take climate action each Sunday and planting trees. We have planted over a thousand trees as of now. I myself have planted more than 4 thousand trees and distributed 3500 trees,” he adds.
Ronnan is also curating a series on climate change in Goa. “Everyone in Goa knows that the climate is changing but no one really knows what is happening, and why it is happening. This is what I’ve seen after speaking to people.”
Ronnan also talks about how the Save Mollem project was able to do this, and also create enough momentum to dally the developmental projects in large parts thanks to the power of the internet and social media.
Social Media: How the Youth Mobilise themselves
Gilbert talks about how his father, an environmentalist himself, was his source of inspiration, and information. Now Gilbert shares his insights with other through social media.
"Young people aren't so into reading newspapers, but social media plays a huge part in raising awareness. The moment environmental conservation issues pop up on social media, a lot of youth pick up on them, and it spreads."Girlbert, 24, Goa
Ronnan, too, vouches for its visual appeal to get across information from news reports to young people in a simple and engaging way.
“I come from a journalism background and I love reading the newspaper, but I know that isn’t something a lot of young people like doing. So taking this information from the newspaper and putting it in a creative way helps.” He says they do this with creatives, infographics and illustrations on Instagram.
“We have come to realise that twitter is a good place to directly engage with people. It tends to have a very direct impact in terms of connecting to our elected representatives and other leaders.”Ronnan, Goa
The results aren't always there, and least of all immediate, but the end of the day, the kids are determined to keep up the good fight.
The sense of helplessness comes from feeling like their individual actions won’t amount to anything when the big corporations continue to pollute in the way they do, and the governments continue to allow it. But Aarav wants you to know that it isn’t so.
“I believe that I can change the world through groundwork and awareness," he says.
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