Taking the first stride in my climate journey and an invitation for you
My journey into feeling too overwhelmed with the climate crisis, overtly pessimistic about life in general to finding hope again through a loving community and an invitation for you to join us!
TL;DR: Given that this is a long post, if you just want to know about my next steps, you can skip to the section “My next steps and the invitation” and look at the postscript at the end.
As a species, we have a long history of battles. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors had to battle it out (as per one theory) with the Neanderthals to ensure their survival. Further in our evolution, we had to battle each other to expand our kingdoms or to prevent our lands from being taken away. It’s not a surprise that some of the most captivating movies and TV shows of our times are centered around epic battles. Something about them keeps us on our toes. In some ways, adversity is like an old friend.
What is different this time though is that we are fighting an enemy that is not visible to us (or at least not until it’s too late) and sometimes the enemy that we have to battle is none other than our own self. Yes, I am looking at you: COVID-19, climate change, and mental health.
I think not having a tangible enemy right in front of us greatly impedes our motivation, ability, and urgency needed to battle it effectively. The past year did a great job of removing that barrier to some extent.
Let’s start with COVID-19. During the first wave, we definitely took it seriously to begin with but we highly underestimated what it could potentially do because most of us were hearing about deaths and highly critical cases only in the news. For most of us, it never hit home. The second wave changed all of that. Hearing about our close ones struggling for oxygen, witnessing our friends and families losing their loved ones without even getting a chance to say goodbye, all of it made us finally take the virus as seriously as we should have in the first place. This seems like the right place for a Naruto quote (warning: this post is going to have a significant number of these):
If you don’t share someone’s pain, you can never understand them
Let’s look at the climate crisis next. We have known about the impending climate disaster for a long time now. The first Conference Of Parties (COP) meeting, where different governments come together every year to discuss climate change, took place in 1995. Personally, climate change has been on my mind for about 4 years now. I remember bringing up this topic with people only very close to me, often at awkward times when they’d least expect me to do so. I would feel anxious, angry, sad, concerned, worried, existential, afraid, fearful, all at the same time. I kept thinking that I should do something about it in my capacity but never took any action towards it. However, the world witnessed more than a glimpse of what a climate disaster could look like with wildfires, severe cyclones, landslides, and extreme rainfalls ravaging some of the wealthiest nations (the ones who’ve always felt that climate change is a problem whose effects they might have to face in the far future), to name a few examples.
Finally, mental health. It is a subject that we never really talk about. Not nearly enough. Maybe it is because, as a society, we don’t give enough importance to our feelings and emotions along with that of others. We are so obsessed with trying to earn the maximum amount of money that we can in the shortest amount of time. Money has become the single metric that we are after. And as I am saying this, I am aware of my privilege to be able to say this. I am able to say this because I have enough now to lead a comfortable lifestyle. I am not questioning the importance of money, just our definition of how much is enough and at what point money starts providing diminishing returns. Anyways, I am probably digressing. My point being, all of us are going through our own internal struggles but we find it hard to talk about it because no one else around us is talking about it, making us feel that we are the only ones suffering when nothing could be further away from the truth. A lot of times, we are not even aware that we are suffering because we never pause to think about it (as we are on the lookout for “good vibes only”) or we don’t want to because it can be too hard to face the raw truth.
The pandemic was the first force of nature that literally forced us to sit in our homes and think. Because when you are confined within four walls for the whole day every day, especially if you are alone, you eventually run out of things to do. You have no other option but to face yourself. Those of us who’ve lost a loved one have probably realized the hard way something which those of us who’ve been spared the pain still have the chance to realize: the people who’re close to us matter the most - above everything else. We don’t know when we might have had the last conversation with those special people. We might have had a lot to say to them that we never said. We might have wanted to apologize for a few things that we never could. There might have been stories that we wanted to share with them. The conversations we never had. Once you lose someone, it creates this void that stays with us throughout our lives. We learn to live with it, but it probably never goes away.
I still distinctly remember the day when we were in the middle of the most horrific part of the second wave. At that time, I was very deeply immersed in my work - almost spending all of my waking hours just working. We wanted to launch something that we’d been working on for educators around the world. It was my baby. So, no one was forcing me to do anything. I remember having received multiple phone calls during a day in which I heard about someone dying. And my only reaction was feeling sorry for the other person, putting down my phone, and starting to work again. Mostly. It was not acceptable to me that someone could die just like that when they could have been saved. So many someones. So many saveable lives lost. So many hearts broken. So many families, torn apart. So many hopes, killed.
When the second wave got over, I just couldn’t sit in front of my laptop anymore. I dreaded getting up every day. It left me no other option but to take a break during which, among many others, one of the key reflections was that I had to do something about climate change in my capacity. I have been worried about it for about 4 years now. But until late last year, I didn’t do much about it. The field of climate change always seemed very daunting to me. Where do I begin? Is there any hope at all? Is there any point in trying? Why are others around me not talking about it? Am I understanding things incorrectly? Why does everything seem fundamentally broken?
That is when I luckily stumbled upon Terra.do - an organization with a mission of empowering 100 million people to work on climate change by 2030. They offer a 12-week flagship course on Climate Change called Learning For Action that covers the entire landscape from the science, global and local impacts, economics, and development to solutions like clean energy, electrification, carbon sequestration while also covering very important topics like climate justice, climate communication, corporate action, and climate finance. This, along with providing mentorship and talks from experts in the field and a community of people who cared about the problem. It seemed like the first course that would look at the problem from a holistic perspective, exactly what I was looking for. My eyes lit up and I couldn’t resist applying to be a part of it right away. I could have never imagined how the 12 weeks that followed, once the course began, would fundamentally change my life trajectory.
Firstly, I don’t have a lot of people around me who talk or are willing to talk about climate change too much. That left a large part of me silent in most conversations. However, becoming a part of a community where every single person actually cared about this problem made me feel very accepted. It validated all my feelings and I could feel free to be myself without fear of judgement.
Secondly, the content that I used to consume on climate change only covered the doom and gloom aspect of the problem leading to a constant feeling of fear, and helplessness. It made me feel that there is no point in trying to do anything. However, through the community, I met so many people who were struggling with the same pain, fear, and anxiety that I was feeling but were still pushing ahead, doing their best to contribute to the climate movement in their own capacity because they have to try. They just have to try. Also, knowing the facts and being educated about different facets of the problem made me feel empowered to take action. Because now I deeply knew where the problems are, what caused them in the first place, what are the solutions that are available to us right now, and the fact that we can still prevent the worst. We can still save all we can. All we have.
One of my very close mentors noticed that I was super depressed one day. He told me that today, a single person has the power to do so much. So much more than any of our ancestors could have ever hoped for. And while it is very important to feel our feelings, feel the grief, do we really want to just sit in a corner while we wait for doom to arrive? I don’t. I want to give it my best. I want to at least try. Even if nothing works out in the end. I have to at least try my very best. If for no one, for my own values. And we need every single person that we can get in this challenge of our lifetime. Every single person counts. You, yes you, we need you. We really do. The world cannot afford to not have you fighting alongside us.
The course converted my pessimism towards life to optimism. It gave me my energy back. It gave me hope again. I don’t know if there is a higher metric of success than giving someone hope to live again. It made me connect with my authentic, human self a lot more and broadened my horizon of curiosity. It made me realize how disconnected I have been from the natural world. Disconnected from people who really deserve my full attention when I am with them. It made me a better listener and realize the importance of listening, validating, and acknowledging our feelings. It made me a better human being.
We have walked through the darkness of this world, that's why we are able to see even a sliver of light
I am finally able to have conversations on climate change at the depth that I’d always wanted to instead of always floating at the surface level. It gave me very reliable sources that I could rely on if I have to dig more on a given topic. I can understand most of the important terminologies that are used in this space, read articles & books, listen to podcasts and watch videos without the fear of not being able to understand anything. And to go a step further, I am confident in my ability to be able to spot bullshit and critique from first principles. It showed me the power of diversity and groups in the learning process while demonstrating the full potential of what an online course, done right along with a community, can do.
It also enabled me to feel confident enough to go for climate meetups and one such meetup led me to become a volunteer in the Bangalore chapter of Fridays For Future and go for a climate strike against the questionable cutting of trees to build a metro station without consulting the locals here in Bangalore. It was my first experience with advocacy for climate justice where I got to learn so much from the locals and the other activists around me. It was amazing to be around such a passionate bunch of people who were actually raising their voices. It was there that I realized the importance of showing up.
I’ll share some of my key insights and next steps from here. Before I do that, it is important to highlight that these are very specific to me, my life journey, my preferences, and my abilities. This is because, as I said before, this movement needs all of us to bring our full selves. And since all of us have lived such different lives, your journey is bound to be unique to you and very likely to be very different from mine. Here you go, that was the first insight.
I used to believe that, through the course, I’ll find that one single solution that can solve the climate problem. That solution which gives the biggest bang for the buck. However, now I’ve come to realize how naive that thinking was. It stemmed from the capitalistic mindset that I’ve come to develop which requires that the optimal thing to strive for is a monopoly and as such, only one solution can dominate everything. However, our ecosystems are way more complicated and diverse than we can ever imagine. Each subsystem interacts with and depends on several other subsystems in magnificently beautiful ways. For example, the fungi in our soils form a microbial network that enables the communication between different trees in a forest so that if there is a pest attack on one tree, that information can quickly dissipate across the network to the other trees so that they can strengthen their defenses. And this is just one example within one subsystem. Because of this diversity and complex interconnections, we really need all the solutions that are out there. And for that, again, we need you to do what you resonate with the most.
Did you know that educating girls and family planning are the 6th and 7th most effective solutions for battling climate change as noted by Project Drawdown? Combined together, they are THE most effective solution. Surprised? I am too. Educated women are likely to have fewer and healthier children thereby curbing emissions due to population growth, they actively manage their reproductive health, they are less likely to be married as children or against their will, their maternal mortality rates are lower, their agricultural plots are more productive and families more nourished.
I realized the true importance of climate justice. This applies at various levels, from across countries to across different geographies within the same country. Climate change disproportionately affects those who have historically contributed the least to the problem. These are often low-income people who barely create any emissions but end up being the first ones to have their homes washed away in case of a flood, for example. Similarly, developed nations like the United States and the European Union are the largest historical emitters and as such, they need to take a larger role in helping us clean up our environment. There is a lot to unpack here, but the main takeaway is that someone like me, who is privileged enough to live very comfortably in my home, probably has no idea of the kind of atrocities that so many people have to face every day and at the very least, we can empathize with them and ensure that their voices are heard.
Time and again, the importance of community to find real climate solutions has been constantly emphasized in every context. Having been a part of a community for the last 4 months, I am starting to understand why that is so true. This segues really nicely into my biggest insight on what is really causing the climate crisis, where I’ll talk about the role of communities more deeply.
As you might know, we are counting on clean energy sources like wind and solar to replace fossil fuels as our energy source. The deployment of both wind and solar has been increasing at a very rapid pace, breaking every prediction or estimate. It is already cheaper than coal in most places. However, our emissions from energy still keep increasing. Why do you think that is happening?
It is because our demand for energy is increasing at an even more rapid pace. The pace of renewable energy deployment is not able to keep up with it and hence, we need to keep burning fossil fuels to meet the energy demand. It is worthwhile to pause and think, why is our energy demand increasing in the first place? For those of us who are moving out of poverty, this increase completely makes sense. But the energy demand is increasing even for the top 1% of people living in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Weren’t they already living a pretty comfortable life with their energy demand a few years back?
The answer for this lies in consumerism. Quoting Dr. Saumyajit Bhar, “Consumerism was meant to provide us convenience. However, it has become a part of our identity. It drives how we define meaning in our lives and how we narrate our life-story”. For example, so many of us have set our life goals as buying that luxurious car or a super big house, for which we might keep grinding for years. When we talk about our life journeys, it ends up revolving around all the things we’ve accumulated. And it’s natural to aspire for those because, as a society, that is what we’ve come to see as our definition of success. In spite of the fact that we have so many accounts of people who’ve already achieved all of that and are still unhappy.
I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it's not the answer.
- Jim Carrey
Studies have consistently shown that happiness increases with money only until a limit. Beyond that limit, more money does not lead to more happiness or fulfillment. However, our need to keep focusing on accumulating more money comes from the capitalistic nature of our economy where we are constantly striving for growth. No milestone is big enough. We want to keep growing. But have we ever paused to wonder, how big is big enough?
Our obsession with consumerism also stems from capitalism. Let me explain how. A major outcome of capitalism has been the transition of our society from community-based living to individualism. While it has certainly come with its benefits like more freedom, it robs us of our “need buckets” being filled, as Dr. Saumyajit likes to put it. All of us have certain buckets of need like having a purpose, feeling needed, contributing to a larger cause, having a say in how things work, to name a few. Earlier, these “need buckets” used to be filled through our community. However, because of our shift to individualism, those buckets remain empty now. And that is why we are trying to fill them up with more and more stuff.
So, according to me, at the base level, to effectively battle climate change, we have to reduce our unnecessarily increasing energy demand. That is only possible when we, as a society, can fundamentally alter our definition of success to be more centered around harmony, values, fulfillment, joy, and our bonds, both with each other and with nature. We need to transition back to communal living, though our communities are likely to look very different from those of our ancestors and less likely to be governed by our physical location. So, the trillion-dollar question is, can we alter our definition of success?
The hole in one’s heart can only be filled by others around you.
Finally, we need a combination of both actions at a personal level and a massive systemic change. Think about it, you are using a petrol/diesel car not because you are consciously making an unsustainable choice. We don’t really have enough options to choose from in the first place. That is something which the system has to enable for us. And it can only happen when we make the ask. We have to use our voice as citizens, use our voting power, make climate change a voting factor, and if our government is not taking climate change seriously, we have to vote them out and put one that does. Enough of us need to care to take action. That is why this needs all of us and a collective effort. The planet needs you. I need you. We need you!
My next steps and the invitation
Before we talk about the next steps, let’s talk about goals. These are some of my broad goals:
educate and empower more people around me to take climate action
facilitate behavioral change at a large scale so that we can alter our definition of success that is aligned with our collective values and our relationship with the environment
build a deeper understanding of how various ecosystems really work and build experience on the ground
develop deep empathy for those who are currently facing the brunt of the climate crisis
These goals directly shape my next steps:
I’ll be starting a cohort-based course along with one of the fellows from my Terra cohort, Nidhi. It will be a much lighter version of the course that we went through with the intention of getting more people started by reducing the barrier, empowering them by giving them the right knowledge and tools, focusing on helping them figure out the actions that they can take right from week 1 and making the content more localized to India so that they feel included in the conversation around climate change. The last point is important because a lot of climate content ends up being focused around the West and that can easily make people, here in India, feel very excluded. This is the first time that both of us are going to do anything like this. We’ll be figuring out everything as we go along and will probably make a lot of mistakes. But we are ready for the challenge and to learn from our mistakes to keep improving. If you are interested in being a part of the course, please fill this form. We’ll be sharing more details in a separate post.
The cohort-based course is also our first step towards the goal of creating a large-scale behavioral change by increasing more conversations around climate change in India and providing safe spaces for people to share about their fears, anxieties, doubts, successes, and everything that makes them human. We want people to feel heard and overcome the barriers that are preventing them from taking action.
I will actively seek out organizations with whom I can volunteer or people with whom I can collaborate to spend time on the ground for specific problem areas so that I can deepen my knowledge, build empathy and eventually figure out how I can contribute towards solving that problem in my capacity.
Finally, I have a huge list of content that I need to consume - everything from books, movies, podcasts, articles - related to climate change, as part of my lifelong learning journey. I want to eventually become a writer on climate change and I plan to share some of my key insights from these sources to begin that journey.
If you’ve made it till here, I want to first express my gratitude for sticking with me for such a long post. I really hope that this was worth your time (and please let me know if it was not and what I could have improved). We have been called a generation of existentialists. Never before has any other society had as much access to information and resources as we do today, yet we have never been lonelier. I’ve often wondered why that is the case. The whole idea of capitalism driving us away from communities to individualism leading to the mass failure of consumerism to meet our true needs is the first idea that has come close to a reasonable explanation. We’ve always had goals throughout our childhood. Those goals guided us and gave us a direction in which we want to take our lives. However, once those survival goals were met and WE had to take charge of defining the next set of goals for us, that is where the problem began. The goals that we are setting, which are probably centered around gaining more social currency, are just not meaningful enough. Somewhere within us, irrespective of how much our minds have been hardwired differently over the years, our deep humanity still craves connection, purpose, and meaning that is grounded in the values that make us human. We have the chance now to fundamentally reshape our goals to make them bigger than us. Bigger than you and me. We have the chance to redefine how we connect with each other and with the various ecosystems that nurture us.
Honesty in small things is not a small thing
- Clean Code
I invite you to join me and join us in this journey of a renaissance. I know how hard and daunting it might seem. You will have to face your innermost demons. You will have to do things that might seem strange, at best, to those around you. You might feel completely lost at various points in time. But I can assure you, if you look around, you’ll find a thousand lanterns waiting to carve the path for you. I can assure you that it will be worth it. And we’ll invite even more people to join us, together. What’s the worst that can happen? We would have tried our best to save the planet and ensure a safe, healthy, clean, and bright future for ourselves and all the species on this planet!
P.S. If you are interested, a new cohort of the Terra course is starting on January 24. You can check it out here. You can even get a 25% discount if you use the coupon code “Aman Dalmia” while applying. Please do let me know if you ended up applying after reading my post. It would make me immensely happy, more than I could ever express.