This Thunberg-bashing needs to stop

Every time I think a new threshold for stupidity has been set and people couldn’t possibly go beyond that, they do. Always. Without fail.

This time, it’s trolling a 16-year-old girl who’s campaigning against climate change and trying to save the planet.

I am, of course, talking about none other than the braided messiah of climate activists- Greta Thunberg.

So lately, I’ve read a couple of newspaper columns, exclusively by bitter old Indian men, whose sole aim is to bash Greta Thunberg. They say that she is just an immature schoolgirl who knows nothing of world politics whatsoever and her passionate UN speech was a typical juvenile outburst which was aimed at nothing but garnering attention. They say that being white and privileged, and from a first-world country whose per capita carbon emissions stand at a whopping 4.5 metric tons, she has no right to take away the opportunity to a better life for ‘our children’; namely, children in third world countries like India.

Whether India is a third world country or not is another debate for another time.

First of all, being white and privileged does not falsify what Greta is saying. Climate change is a harsh reality, our glaciers are melting and as Greta so accurately puts it, ‘our house is on fire’. I agree that she is better off than most Indian kids, or rather kids in less developed countries in general, but at least she’s putting the privileges she has to good use. If she is using her whiteness and privilegedness to speak out for the greater good, where’s the harm in that? The racism argument, therefore, is one that holds no water.

These bitter old Indian men also support coal secretary Subhash Garg who says that to meet basic energy needs, India must step up coal production from 600 million to a billion tonnes, a sentiment that is echoed by environment secretary Ashok Lavasa. Said bitter old Indian men also reason that India’s per capita carbon emissions of ‘only’ 1.7 metric tonnes are a fraction of developed nations’, so we have no need to listen to this tantruming teenager and even if we double our carbon emissions, which we need to do to develop faster, they will still be less than developed nations’ like ahem… Sweden’s.

Nobody can deny the numbers. I agree that our emissions are only a fraction of developed nations’, but isn’t that something to be proud of? It is partly because of facets of Indian lifestyle that are not as wasteful as things prevalent in Western culture. For example, Americans use toilet paper to wipe their behinds which is responsible for the cutting of countless trees. Indians use a small amount of water for the same purpose. Another wasteful thing that’s a part of the Western lifestyle is a long, hot shower. The electricity used to heat up the water, the amount of water that’s wasted during the shower- it screams unsustainability. Indians, on the other hand, used the good ol’ balti-mugga for bathing that uses only as much water as is necessary for cleaning your body. People from richer countries throw away their old clothes as soon as they grow out of them or the cloth develops an irreparable tear. In Indian families, when our clothes become too small for us, they go to either our younger siblings or are donated to house help. When even our younger siblings grow out of them, we use them for cleaning and dusting. When the piece of cloth becomes so torn and damaged that it can’t even be used for cleaning, we wipe a last table with it and then throw it away. You can laugh, but isn’t that a sustainable practice?

These are only some of such examples. Instead of cribbing about how our children are missing out on ‘luxurious’ things because Western kids have suddenly decided to save the planet, shouldn’t we promote such sustainable practices elsewhere?

I am not blind to the fact that India’s carbon emissions are less also because we are still a developing country. I know where India stands on the Global Hunger Index. I know where India stands on the Global Human Development Index. I know where India stands on numerous other indices, and it makes me ashamed of my country. And I know we need to remedy that. But development can be achieved without compromising the environment. If I take the example of small European countries like Latvia which is a developed country and still has a 56% forest area, I know what most Indians will say- that by referring to such examples, I am neglecting our country’s unique problem of high population density. So I will not take such examples.

But a simple fact these bitter old Indian men forget is that stepping up coal production or deforestation is not the only answer to India’s developmental problems. At best, it is a short term measure- what will we do once the coal or petroleum supplies are finished? What will we do once we’ve massacred all the forests and there’s nothing left to cut anymore? What will we do once the people are dead? Who will develop then? These are simple questions which we were taught to ask in third or fourth standard, but forgot to ask as we grew up. Sustainable solutions, like the ones Greta calls for, are the only permanent answer. I won’t bore you with what they are, because I’m sure you’ve been hearing about them for years.

Neither do I propose an immediate ban on fossil fuels nor immediate stoppage of the over 4.5 billion flights per annum, because let’s be real, that’s impractical. Not everybody can afford a zero-emissions sailboat like Greta. Plus, that sailboat was not really zero emissions- we also need to look at the manufacturing processes involved. The thing is, everything we use, even supposedly eco-friendly things like solar panels or windmills have an environmental impact. Consider the electricity used to manufacture solar panels, or the mines dug to get silver for their wires, or the land cleared for windmills. Nothing is really zero-emissions. But the reason these things are preferable is that they have a one-time environmental impact. Once your solar panel or your windmill is installed, it will more than make up for its ecologically harmful manufacturing process in a few years. Fossil fuels, on the other hand, will keep on releasing toxic fumes as long as they’re used and will always add on to environmental problems. There are numerous other such examples, and that is why sustainable solutions are preferable- not because they’re zero-emissions, but because they make up for their emissions. Development and environment conservation need not be conflicting issues- there’s a reason we were taught the concept of sustainable development as kids.

Climate change is not a controversial issue; it is something that is very real, something that is happening right in front of us, something we can’t deny. I think it is one of the few things that all of us can agree about, whether leftist, rightist or centrist. And that is why it surprised me so much when I found that haters of Greta Thunberg even existed. She might be from a first-world country but what she is campaigning for is a very real cause. Unlike many other activists, she’s not only campaigning but also taking action to save the planet. Her speeches might be passionate and undiplomatic but that is not because it’s a typical teenage tantrum, but because she’s fed up with world leaders spewing out empty words and not taking any real action. And for once, maybe bitter old men all over the world should let go of their enormous ego and just listen to her.


P.S.: Happy Diwali! All my fellow Indians, Diwali is the festival of lights, so keep it that way- don’t make it the festival of smoke by bursting crackers. Your pocket and your lungs will thank you.

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