We caught up with 13-year old Climate Activist & TEDx Speaker, Ridhima, featured in BBC’s 100 most empowering and influencing women’s list 2020 and member of youth advisory council for COP26
What inspired you to act as a catalyst for sustainable practice? Is there a particular story you can share?
The 2013 Kedarnath flash flood made me take action. In 2013 when I was 5 years old, a very devastating flash flood occurred in my home state Uttarakhand. Many houses and agricultural land were destroyed. Thousands of people died and many children lost their parents. I saw all this destruction on television and in the newspaper. My dad also went there to rescue animals.
After asking my parents about how the flash flood occurred, thundering, cloudburst and flash floods became one of my biggest fears. I used to get nightmares that I died in a flash flood or I lost my parents due to a cloudburst so I was scared of rain – I was traumatized and terrified. That flash flood had a very bad impact on me mentally and after speaking to my parents about the reason behind this flash flood, I came to know about climate change.
I was confused about how our human emissions change the temperature of such a big planet like Earth. I learnt that not only flash floods but many natural disasters are occurring because of it and as the global temperature is rising, natural disasters are getting more frequent and much more destructive. This made me take action for myself and for the coming generations.
How do you balance activism and your studies?
It was a little difficult in the beginning as I used to travel a lot due to my activism and awareness program and had school at the same time so I had to take a lot of time off, my work used to be incomplete, my notebooks were empty, I didn’t understand any thing and as I didn’t do my work, my teachers consequently didn’t grade me.
I used to study the whole night before my exams in order to learn everything. It was pretty hectic but with time I got used to it and now I manage my study pretty well compared to when I just started in my activism.
Born in Haridwar and being South Asian, did you face any backlash about this choice of activism from family, friends or society at large? Particularly as you’re still in education – how did you overcome it?
I never faced any backlash from my family or my parents but did face trolls and unpleasant comments from society. People used to say that it’s a good thing that you are doing, but instead you should study and focus on your career. Some used to say that it’s useless and what you are doing is for fame and money. Many people used to comment on social media that we are anti-nationalist, we don’t want our country to develop, our parents are using us or someone else is using us for money and what not.
I used to get a little angry and frustrated in the beginning, but
Now I don’t really care what other people say about me – it doesn’t bother me anymore!
How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?
I try to live a sustainable life – I save electricity, water and food. I do plantations, I try to reuse and recycle my things and most importantly I’ve reduced my consumption of fast food and things that come in single use plastic and instead I used biodegradable, eco-friendly products. I carry my own cloth bag when I go shopping. I try to reduce my carbon footprint as much as I can.
Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis among South Asian communities? What do you believe the blockers to be and how do you go about solving the issues?
I feel like everyone thinks that it doesn’t affect them or if it does then government money can resolve it.
Most people in the front line are being affected by climate change the most, but they don’t really know what to do and they also aren’t aware that all these things are happening because of climate change. I try to educate my community and especially children about climate change: how it’s affecting them, why the global temperature is increasing, how bad it can be, what their rights are, how they can protect themselves and what steps they can take to reduce their carbon footprint or to contribute to this fight. I also run different campaigns on different issues in India such as on air pollution and saving the Ganga river.
What have been your greatest successes and learnings so far?
I guess everything that I have done to bring change is a success to me. But being a TEDx speaker, being on the COP26 youth advisory board and being mentioned in BBC’S 100 most influential and empowering women’s list are the best successes I have ever had.
You work constantly with younger people, facilitating workshops across the world – what key advice do you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment? Why is it important for them and their future?
When I create and run workshops, I try to be as open and interactive as possible, because I feel until and unless the kids are having fun they won’t learn and understand me. I try to give them real life examples rather than telling them some data as they can find that information anywhere, but they can’t find out about the reality on the ground, unless someone who has seen it tells them about it or they see it themselves.
I try to make them realise the importance of the environment in our life and why it is important for them to work for environmental conservation. I try to make them understand that our future depends on the decisions that are taken today by policy makers and since money and development are the main focus areas for most policy makers; we have to make sure that they also consider the environment as a priority, because only then our future will become a priority too.
You mentioned how some young people ‘jump onto the hype’ of being environmental activists. In your opinion, is this wrong or just the first step towards greater action?
It’s not wrong but it’s not justifiable because a lot of the youth here think that being an activist is a fun thing. They never realise the importance and responsibility that comes with being an activist; instead they think that being an activist will make them famous(!)
Why is community, grass-root level activism and action so important?
I feel it’s very important because the indigenous communities, the local communities and the communities on the front line are the one most attracted to the cause. Since they are most affected, it’s very important for us to show everyone how their excessive luxuries, greed and emissions are affecting those people.
Showing everyone what is happening at a grass root level is also very important, as most of the time we see our government reports and they say that they have done a lot, but in reality things are much worse and until and unless we show everyone what is actually happening, no one will know about it.
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