Scorching heat waves, torrential rains and other extreme weather events make India one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. Many Indian cities recorded temperatures as high as 48 degrees Celsius in 2020. And by 2100, an estimated 1.5 million additional people will die from climate change each year.
Many metros, including Delhi, are expected to be unlivable in the next 80 years. A recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that India is likely to experience more extreme weather events such as heatwaves, droughts and floods over the next few decades that will have irreversible climate impacts.
India pledged to reduce its emissions intensity (emissions per unit of GDP) by 33 to 35 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, yet the government failed to generate emissions data to monitor these targets and validate the claims. that it would meet the objectives of Paris in time. .
NGOs play an important role in India because of their ability to respond and act as harbingers of change for economic and social order to flourish. But instead of pressurizing the government, many NGOs are pressurizing the public to mitigate climate change. For example, NGOs promote less meat consumption, cloth shopping bags, reusable straws, LED lightbulbs, etc.
The “Green Me Fallacy”, a term coined by American writer and filmmaker Eleanor Goldfield, feeds into the belief that a person’s lifestyle choices will be enough to solve climate problems and restore ecological health. But these solutions cannot work without institutional or policy-level support.
Instead of focusing on symbolic gestures or actions that increase one’s social capital, Indian activists need to pressure the government to institute effective environmental policies and programs. They should protest, stifle corporate offices, petition and hold dharnas to the government, go on hunger strikes and strengthen climate action, and spread awareness about the urgency of the climate crisis in India. As a climate scholar and activist, I have participated in environmental campaigns in New Delhi and Bengaluru to understand the objectives of NGOs and how they operate.
act with a sense of urgency
India is already facing the negative effects of climate change. Yet it is the world’s third largest emitter of carbon dioxide, and its electricity and heating sectors emit more than 1.1 billion tons of carbon annually. Coal is still central to the country’s energy sector – and with more coal-fired plants planned – emissions are set to increase with economic growth. Additionally, 22 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities are in India.
Except for a few NGOs, environmental advocacy groups in India have failed to campaign for the closure of coal-fired power plants and other industrial projects. Instead, several NGOs have started small campaigns like “monsoon wooding” and “pedh lagao” (plant saplings).
These initiatives serve as vulnerable solutions to India’s suffering environmental situation, at a time when environmental activists need to examine and clarify the most effective responses to climate change. These campaigns become problematic when they fail to establish themselves in science and begin to claim that they can solve impending threats such as air pollution and climate change.
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When poorly planned, tree planting can have negative consequences on ecosystems and climate change. For example, planting trees in areas such as grasslands, savannahs and dry land reduces carbon sequestration and increases air temperature.
With the climate crisis at India’s front door, climate activists are becoming reckless if they do not hold industries accountable for their carbon production, and instead look to citizens to reduce their relatively low carbon footprint.
Climate guilt and shame
The capitalist system drives our ideological guilt: If we can’t plant trees in our neighborhoods, buy solar-powered products, or choose a green lifestyle, we’re not green enough. It enhances the sense of responsibility of the person.
Yet changing our lifestyles may not affect the environment meaningfully, as individual lifestyle choices are not the problem, mass production and consumption are.
Even when we act with what we believe to be the best intentions, our efforts often contradict our goals. For example, light bulbs emitting less energy may prompt us to keep the lights on longer. Plantation allows the continuation of deforestation by corporations, claiming that afforestation will be done elsewhere. Whatever green initiatives we take, there is always an incentive to consume more.
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Governments and corporations should not be let off the hook. NGOs should demand action from the governments. They must engage in everyday resistance and rights-based activism, campaign against poor and ineffective environmental policies, and demand climate justice and action.
Only a handful of Indian environmental NGOs are challenging this mainstream narrative and speaking the truth in the face of power. is an example Pathalgadi movement, which defies the advocacy of the private sector by challenging the management of the government Tribesman (Indigenous) Resources in the State of Jharkhand. Pathalgadi Activists assert their constitutional rights to holdings by imposing blockades on outsiders and promoting self-reliance.
NGOs can reach out to other groups in solidarity and collectively pressurize the government to restore the environment. Instead of feel-good token gestures exacerbating the climate crisis, Indian activists need to frame environmental inequalities in a way that pressures governments to institute effective policies and programs. This is only possible by leveraging public opinion and avoiding a system where individual responsibility is seen as having a greater environmental impact than the state taking ownership of the problem.