Yesterday, hundreds of students skipped school and kicked off the ‘Fridays For Future’ protest outside the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs and Ministry of Environment, New Delhi to demonstrate worldwide agitation against the impending effects of climate change.
Protestors joined the Global Climate Strike – a series of demonstrations held ahead of the United Nations Action Summit in presence of Antonio Guterres on September 23 in New York.
Students demanded the government to prioritise the alarming situation of environmental catastrophe by holding up banners that read slogans such as, “There is no Earth B,” “Is this the last generation?” “Be a part of the solution and not part of pollution,” and so on.
A group of students from the O.P. Jindal Global University, led by The Final Stand – a student initiative – also participated in the protest shouting, “The Earth is dying, stop denying”.
September 20 will be followed by a week of escalated pre-planned activities wherein the protesters will demand the shutdown of fossil fuel projects, zero carbon emissions and action against fracking and fuel finance.
“We want climate action” and “We will keep our planet cool,” were some of the other voices that echoed the roads at Central Secretariat’s Nirman Bhawan. Students were accompanied by teachers and parents.
Where it all started
Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, started protesting a year ago against the sustainability crisis and impending environmental emergencies. She skipped school every Friday and was soon accompanied by thousands of people who marched with her, calling out the government for its negligence and apathy.
The largest global mobilisation for climate action is being held in 150 countries, with millions of students skipping school to speak in solidarity.
In India, protests will be held in Agra, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Bareilly, Calicut, Chattisgarh, Baroda, Chennai, Gurugram, Hyderabad, Pune, Pondicherry, Nainital, Kochi, Jhansi, Kolhapur, Indore, Jaipur, among other smaller cities.
At the protest site in Delhi, Yashita Singh, a class VIII student said, “I believe newspapers should have global issues like climate change on their front page rather than political issues.” Expressing the seriousness of the issue, she said that it is high time people realise if there is no earth there will be no politics.
“I am here to save our planet,” said Promila Chaturvedi – a 79-year-old lady among the droves of protesters. She has been a member of the Bombay Natural History Society for the past 48 years.
“Every individual and political leader will have to take a step to prevent climate destruction further. We are on the verge of extinction and it is already too late,” she said.
Environmental crisis in India
“Our generation was never exposed to the potential threats to the climate and, unknowingly, we made it miserable for the coming generation,” said two teachers from Shri Ram Millennium School, Noida. “It’s not the inspiration, it is the thought of making our lives better that drives us to be a part of this protest.”
Bindu Kapuriya cited the incessant deforestation in Delhi – under the guise of development – as the main cause of the problem.
“Every single breath is worth the fight,” she said. “I am fighting in Vasant Kunj for the past six years and have fought the PWD [Public Works Department] after finding discrepancies in the way it was cutting trees.”
She targeted the corporates and capitalists, adding that they need to hear the “voice of the earth”.
Recently, some two-storey buildings of the erstwhile East Kidwai Nagar in South Delhi were redeveloped into high-rises after demolishing the colony roads which used to be shaded by a canopy of trees. According to data, 1,852 trees were cut for this redevelopment project. A similar development project is entrusted to the National Building Construction Corporation for government-owned land at Sarojini Nagar and Netaji Nagar in Delhi.
“Our protest is a drop in the ocean and every drop counts.”
“Business people, the urbanites, ministers – they don’t want happy people because they want money and this greed will eventually impact the economy,” charged a protestor from Chandigarh.
This year on March 15, students from Delhi and Gurugram took to the streets against modern environmentalism and addressed the apocalyptic manifestations of climate change across the country.
The Aravali Hills in North India are being destroyed as a result of incessant deforestation and encroachment for government-approved real estate projects. Climate activists are, therefore, holding protests in Gurugram to save the 692-km long Aravali range as part of the ongoing climate strike.
Similarly, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has signed a Rs 23,136 crore Colaba-Bandra-Seepz Metro line 3 project. In order to build a car shed for the metro line, the BMC nodded to cut down thousands of tress in the Aarey colony.
The decision sparked widespread protests in the city, with celebrities, activists and researchers participating. However, it couldn’t change the government’s mind. The impact of this apathy has been catastrophic in the past couple of years.
The cyclone in Odisha, ravaging floods in Kerala and other cities along with Delhi’s air pollution are some of the visible impacts of the climate crisis. The pollution in Delhi has even led to lung cancer among children.
This year, Chennai faced a shortage of freshwater and is expected to run out of freshwater by 2030.
“The government looks and takes action on the surface, implementation will happen when the production is stopped and an alternative is provided,” said Bhavreen Kandhari, organiser of the protest in New Delhi.
The world is at a greater risk
With changing climate conditions, largely stemming from human indifference for centuries, not only India but the whole world is increasingly facing natural and man-made disasters.
As a result, protests are being held worldwide in cities such as Minnesota, Washington DC, Davos, Poland and New Hampshire, etc. They are urging the government and its institutions to understand the ‘emergency’ and not the ‘urgency’ of the environmental catastrophe.
We all know how the Amazon forests fires burnt around 80,000 trees and this year has seen the highest number of fires in Brazil. California experienced the deadliest and most destructive wildfires in its history in 2017 as well as in 2018 fueled by unprecedented drought, dry vegetation and extreme winds.
This year, June was recorded to be the hottest ever in years as temperatures soared up to 48 degrees celcius in some countries including India.
According to Greta, we are in the middle of the sixth mass extinction with up to 200 species going extinct every single day. She says the government has the power to implement legislation that compels industries to act sustainably and break their ‘language of silence.’
She leads mass protests to question the US government for withdrawing from the Paris Agreement and urges governments around the world to declare a climate emergency.
Protesters in Delhi joined Thunberg’s cries of resistance as the students, in unison, shouted, “We will not go to school, we will keep our planet cool.”
They will march to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office on September 27 to demand the declaration of a climate emergency.
All images by: Jigyasa Agarwal.
Featured image credit: Jigyasa Agarwal.