I had never thought of penning down my thoughts before I had applied for the ‘Climate Reality Leadership Corps’ started by Former US Vice President Al Gore in 2006.
The Climate Reality project gave me an opportunity to introspect on why I wanted to work for the climate. So here’s my story
After Graduation I went to the Mountains
As a young journalism student hailing from Mumbai, I knew I didn’t fit into conventional jobs of Public Relations or Marketing. I wanted to make a difference and I wanted to do it in the mountains. Back in 2018, I worked with India’s largest trekking community that is making trekking sustainable. Since the past decades trekking has gained immense popularity and has been looked upon more as a vacation than a sport. This creates an influx of trekkers on the slopes of the Indian Himalayas. Unlike most cities in India, mountain states don’t have a municipal corporation. Therefore there is no waste management system in place.
Having read that, I knew this was it. For someone that loves the mountains so fondly I packed my bags and headed straight to the mountains. I haven’t looked back since.
Converted villages into Zero Waste
I travelled 1,891.6 km from the metropolitan city of Mumbai to Lohajung, the basecamp of India’s most popular trekking destination-Roopkund in Uttarakhand. I worked with villages to make them zero waste, diverting the waste from the landfills. On my zero waste journey, I taught at schools, interacted with the market association & conducted clean up campaigns.
I interacted with the ‘Mahila Mandal’ or the women groups making sustainable eco products, such as an eco-pillow. But one of my all-time favourites has been the ‘Bottle Bricks’.
As the name suggests the bottles are plastic perpet that are stuffed with non-recyclable waste such as candy wrappers. Once stuffed with no space left, it becomes hard as a rock and can be used for construction purposes. We created staircases in schools, bookshelves, benches and stools to sit on with bottle bricks.
Waste Management Piqued My Interest
Working at the height of 7,750 ft above sea level I trekked 15,700 ft to Roopkund along with a batch of twenty-three trekkers collecting litter from the trails and segregating them at the respective campsites. During my brief four months stint in the mountains, my team and I managed to divert 3,000 kgs of waste from the landfill.
I was shocked & exhilarated but I knew this was just the tip of the iceberg that piqued my interest in working on different social issues especially since my team and I witnessed a devastating landslide that took away acres of fertile land and property. Living amongst the locals in the last motorable village in India, the local farmer and I shared an intimate bond where they shared a daily observation with me which was pretty insightful to me. They noticed the snow didn’t last the whole month that it melted off within the first 15 days of snowing due to the warmer climates.
My next turning point came exactly a year. I worked with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) on ‘Climate Change. It was a pilot study that aimed to capture the voices of the poorest, most vulnerable sections of Indian societies that are disproportionately affected by climate change.
The job involved me travelling a total of 2,125.7 km across four states of India from the Western Himalayas of Uttarakhand all the way to the Eastern Himalayas of Assam, Meghalaya and Nagaland to the forest and tribal areas of Maharashtra. I interviewed the communities asking about the change in agricultural practices, dietary patterns & cattle rearing practices. This gave me insights into how climate change is impacting their livelihood with or without them knowing.
Seeing is believing
I learnt from a seventy-four-year-old Naga headman dressed casually in a half-sleeved shirt and trousers, sitting in the Morung, young men’s dormitory, with tiger skin hanging in the background, that the change in rainfall patterns have led them to consume less of their traditional beverage- rice beer.
I saw dried up lakes in Maharashtra, change in cattle rearing practices due to the extreme weather conditions in Uttarakhand.
I believe I am an irrational optimist and a rational pessimist. Climate change is inevitable true, but unsolvable, hardly. To me, it’s a challenge I am waiting to get my hands into and my feet dirty.
I read this quote somewhere that resonates with why I plan to work on climate change in the future, “Don’t be afraid to speak, there are past generations supporting you, there are future generations wanting to join you. You are never alone.”