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20/09/2019 5:27 PM IST | Updated 20/09/2019 7:33 PM IST

Climate Strike: Governments Need To Act, Next Generation At Risk, Says Climate Change Campaigner

Jhatkaa.org Executive Director Avijit Michael says citizens can play a small part, but big changes can only be brought about by the government.

Avijit Michael/Facebook
Executive Director of Jhatkaa.org Avijit Michael

NEW DELHI—More than 14,000 people have signed up for 26 events in as many locations across India to participate in the week-long Global Climate Strike that began on Friday, following a call from 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. The United Nations-sponsored climate summit will be held in New York beginning Monday.  

These numbers are from just one online platform that helps citizens’ mobilisations—the campaign website Jhatkaa.org. It is likely to increase since multiple organisations will participate in small, localised events

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HuffPost India spoke with Avijit Michael, the Executive Director of the Bengaluru-based not-for-profit campaign organisation Jhatkaa.org, to understand the concept behind the much talked about Global Climate Strike and attempts by various groups to implement it in India. 

For reducing emissions, action “has to be done at the systemic level, therefore governments and corporates have to take action,” he said. The idea behind organising the Global Climate Strike was “to make it one turning point and talking point because the solution is actually long term action by the government”, Michael further said.

The campaign non-profit’s head also emphasised that “people in government need to act since the next generation’s lives are at risk.” 

Edited excerpts from an interview:

Tell us the idea behind the climate strike. We have had strikes before for labour, farmers’ rights and other issues. But what is a climate strike?

So the background of this is, actually Greta Thunberg, who is this Swedish girl who last year started striking, not going to school on Fridays, going outside the Swedish parliament asking them to take action on climate. That movement started to gain traction, and eventually, she went and spoke at the UN Climate Summit where she talked about how the climate crisis is a crisis facing her generation that will live to see the impacts that are happening. I mean, we are already seeing the impact right now in more and more extreme weather events like floods, storms and hurricanes. And this is projected to get worse because governments across the world are not taking action by reducing emissions. That has to be done at the systematic level, therefore governments and corporates have to take action. 

So she started that and then, earlier this year, she called for a global climate strike this week because there is a UN Climate meeting happening in New York. So, I think there’s estimated to be a climate strike happening in over 500 cities across the world and it’s mostly going to be young people. Thus far, many students from schools were going out and encouraging people, but this week she has called everyone else to join. So we, and many other groups and individuals, are coming in and supporting it. 

In the Indian context, what are you hoping to achieve in terms of actions from policymakers and the government to address the issue?

I think it’s looking to make it one turning point and talking point because the solution is actually long term action by the government. To have plans to be switching over to renewable energy, to have plans to be making transport sector more sustainable. People in the government need to act since the next generation’s lives are at risk. 

By “acting”, exactly what do you mean? Is there a charter of demands?

So Greta’s demand is, “Listen to the scientists.” 

How many locations is the Climate Strike being organised in India and what is Jhatkaa.org’s role in this?

We have, on our portal, 26 events registered across the country. From Patna and Hyderabad to Kochi, Goa, Calicut—obviously the metros are included as well. 

What kind of activities are registered at these locations as part of the climate strike?

A lot of these activities are young people coming together with posters and signs, and then talking to each other, sharing about why it’s important for coming together to demand change from the government. The “action” here is for the government to take because people can’t make systemic changes, right? We can do our small, small parts but the big changes are what people are coming together for. 

Is there a ballpark figure about the number of people who are participating in events across the country?

On our website, we have gotten little over 14,000 registrations. But like I said, because it is organic there’s other sites that are hosting it, there’s Facebook events, so how many actually show up on the ground is what we will be waiting to see. 

The second part of my earlier question was about the role of Jhatkaa.org’s role in this climate strike.

We have been working on the issue of climate for the last three years and specifically focusing on air quality, which is also a huge public health risk. The Indian Medical Health Association has said it’s a public health emergency, and finally the Ministry of Health has also admitted that it’s a public health emergency. So we are very specifically focusing on the transport and energy sector which accounts for more than 70% of India’s air pollution.

Ok. And what is Jhatkaa.org’s role in the week long climate strike in India?

So we are just helping and supporting in terms of some of the logistics and background stuff. We are just supporting the mobilisation. 

Supporting specific organisations or individuals?

It’s a mix of things. It’s so organic so there’s loads of different groups, Fridays For Future, which is Greta Thunberg’s organisation, there is Extinction Rebellion, which is another organic movement, there are local organisations which have been working on the issue for years. So everyone’s coming together. So I wouldn’t say anyone has the lead role. Perhaps you could say Fridays for Future and Greta Thunberg, because she made the call, I guess we could say they are leading it and we are supporting it. 

Has there been any interface with the policymakers and government about this week’s action?

So, we personally, at Jhatkaa.org, have been interfacing with them, running campaigns on various issues in Bengaluru, trying to get electric buses inducted, in Bombay trying to save the Aarey forest from being chopped down, in Delhi we have probably saved over 100,000 trees from being chopped down.  

As part of this week’s events, has any representation or charter of demands been sent to the policymakers or people in government?

In Bengaluru, no. But the folks in Delhi are going everyday to a different ministry. So today, I think, they are going to the Housing and Urban Development Ministry, then the MoEF&CC (Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change) and a number of other ministries who need to take action. The folks in Delhi have gathered. 

This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.