HYDERABAD: It is on quite a regular basis that we encounter facts about the environment, the fast pace at which it is degrading and also the plenty of solutions designed to counter it. While most of us sit through hour-long discussions, there are a few of us who actually go out and do something to bring a change.
In a bid to spread awareness and to include more people to participate in change, Dirt(E) Talks was conducted in the city on Friday. A multi-city event, it aims to initiate dialogue among youth on how India perceives and acts on its energy needs.
Author and environmentalist, Bill McKibben was the key speaker at the Dirt(E) Talks. He penned ‘The End of Nature’ in 1989, which is regarded as the first book for general audience about climate change. The book is available in 24 languages and is also the founder of 350.org. City Express got in touch with the environmentalist.
How and when did you start working towards environmental causes?
I wrote the first book about climate change – 25 years ago and figured out that it was the most important problem the world has yet faced, and so I’ve just kept trying to make some change.
In 2007, with the help of some students in Middlebury college, we started Step it Up, a national campaign to get the United States Government to cut carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. The campaign then became 350.org in 2008 and has grown around the world ever since.
From your vantage point, are we making progress in demonstrating the value of nature? What is the kind of environmental movement you think works?
An environmental movement does well when the questions are about parks or wildlife – everyone can easily understand their value. It’s harder when the questions are about invisible pollution like carbon dioxide, and when the opponents are powerful fossil fuel interests. And to get attention to those areas, we need to build a much larger movement which helps us go quickly towards solar power and other renewable energy. The climate movement is gaining strength and increasing pressure on governments around the world but its just not enough.
What advice do you have for us here? How can we bring more people into the conservation tent?
They should be understanding the key to lasting development. The sun and wind offer a tremendous opportunity for India to tap these 21st century fuels. It is also important to make the connections between extreme weather events and climate change. The immense flooding in Jammu & Kashmir and the recent cyclone in Andhra Pradesh are growing examples of extreme weather disasters due to climate change.
What can people who are concerned about global warming really do about the issue?
They can do things around their own homes – but mostly they have to come together as a movement to put pressure on the rich and powerful interests that want to keep us hooked on coal. We will never have the kind of money that the fossil fuel industry has. So we need a different kind of currency, our bodies, that will come together to build a strong movement.
Many companies have huge environmental footprints, and some are more sincere than others in their efforts to do the right thing. Businesses can be constructive allies when we work together to change their practices. Do you agree? What can we do fully leverage this potential?
Most businesses can play a big role, especially by standing up to the fossil fuel industry. When companies – like Google or Apple – demand clean power supplies, it helps a lot. Apple now builds solar farms to power all its operations, and they are a model in this regard. This is again not enough but these are important steps in the right direction.
So how do we avoid wholesale use of coal for energy, which is cheap and homegrown, but creates a lot of carbon dioxide?
By realising that it’s not cheap at all. You pay for the coal, and then you also have to pay the health costs that come with pollution. There was a study this week showing that that pollution cuts India’s crop yields in half. With a solar panel, once you’ve paid for it the sun comes for free, and no one ends up in the hospital from breathing solar fumes.