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  • Writer's pictureAishwarya Lahariya

Why should you and I care about climate change?

Climate change, global warming, biodiversity loss, record heat in summer, or simply the-weather-these-days-is-so-unpredictable. Just some catch phrases that have become buzzwords around us. The next one is sustainability (with its blurred boundaries and rampant green-washing under its umbrella).

Why should you care about any of these terms? and what do I tell about it differently? Anything that the climate scientists, news articles and even school books haven't been telling you for decades?

I have written five different version of this blog and many many more in my head for a long time, but realized only moments ago that none of the preachy stuff or definitions is going to help. So I will tell you today how and why I got into climate action, and am still at it; no matter how many times the news tells me that governments are not even doing a bit of what me and many others like me are trying to do everyday.

Before I start my story, let's just clear the table first. The earth as a planet survives life because it can trap carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to keep us warm enough. We as humans have increased the amount of carbon dioxide (read carbon emissions) so much that earth has got a fever, and it's getting high. High enough to create many other ailments that we see as 'climate change' in everyday weather. Now that I have explained you what's global warming and climate change, let's get back to the story.

For the first 15 years of my life, I grew up in Vidharbha region of Maharashtra, India. It is in central-west part of India's map and eastern end of state of Maharashtra, if you want to check. Since I have been alive, the region has faced severe droughts and water shortage; thus resulting in heavy electricity cuts, loss of agriculture and social evils like farmer's suicides; these are just tip of the iceberg issues. I remember when I was in school, we used to get drinking water once a week. My home used to be filled with storage containers and family members, largely women, would fill all these up to ensure they last the water supply till next week. In our apartment, we would go to the ground level, fill these containers and carry them up. God forbid there was an electricity cut that day, and one would end up carrying these through four floors of stairs. This was privilege vs the conditions in the villages. Even today, the drinking water supply comes twice a week in my hometown. Thanks to technology, our apartment has taken steps for the water being available in homes and we now have a large storage tank indoors connected to the water purifier, so clean drinking water is directly available in the kitchen. Why am I telling you this? Because this 'small' routine of ours everyweek, taught me in the childhood to care for the natural resources. It made me pay a little more attention to the humanities and environmental studies class in school. A class that was compulsory but mostly ignored by teachers and students alike.

So not wasting water, using a single or on good days two buckets of water to shower, never leaving any electric appliance on unnecessarily was a way of life. Not a favor I was doing to the planet. Cut to 15-18 years old me, I moved to Pune for studies, living in a hostel. My first time living in a large city, my state's second largest city. No water scarcity or electricity cuts here. Also the first time I got introduced to a lot of 'disposable' culture. Cities filled with anything and everything plastic, ready to be thrown within a single use. In my studies I was just learning about how plastic is made-it is a polymer that can be easily manufactured. The intent of scaling plastic production was to introduce people to light weight everyday objects that will be 'more durable'. I was studying one thing and observing us going to another. Just because it was easily manufactured and easy to throw, plastics have quickly become disposable option rather than a durable option.

During my bachelor's degree at ICT, Mumbai, I studied fiber and textile chemistry to depth along with core chemistry and chemical technologies. One subject that stuck with me was how chemistry and chemical industries are a base of many other industries and in turn everyday products. In my major and internships, I found how the heavy use of salts in textile processing is making our water sources highly alkaline with each passing day. The waste water discharge rules are more on paper less on practice and that we are all, in a way, drinking invisible chemicals each day. I dedicated my bachelor's project on removing salts from textile dyeing process, but six months weren't enough to find a solution to a humongous problem. I also learned how petrochemical derivatives are pretty much the source of many many polymers and plastics in our life, including all synthetic textiles we wear, chemicals used to surface coat products, even household cooking appliances and that it is NOT a good sign.

If I trace back, this is when I actively started taking personal steps to reduce the impact of synthetic products in my life- started reducing usage and purchase on plastics, advised at home to not buy non-stick cookware, started checking ingredients on cosmetic products and food labels. The further I studied, more I started connecting the dots.

Dots to Connect

In Other Words

Petrochemical and coal burning = largest carbon dioxide emitters

i.e. electricity production, transportation, flying, driving

That online delivery you received in 1 day emitted tonnes of carbon dioxide, your little package. There's your little contribution to melting arctic ice and increasing flooding chances in some coastal town.

Petrochemical derivatives = also large carbon dioxide emitters

i.e. manufacturing synthetic chemicals, dyes, fibers and all of the plastics

Every product made of plastic in your home also contributes to the hotter summer this year, or late rains or flooding or a harsh winter.

All plastics = so durable that they live in landfill for 100s of years if not thousands

Congratulations, your very first toothbrush in life, still lives in the nearest landfill of your home, or in the river or ocean close to you, so nostalgic! so does every pen you used, the water bottle you threw, the coffee cups, food container and what not!

Synthetic dyes = petrochemical derived plus bonus carcinogenicity claims

That beautiful deep red dress got its color while exposing the dyers to possible cancer and the river where waste dye was discharged made it reach many other people; not to forget, it already emitted a lot of carbon dioxide while it was manufactured.

Synthetic fibers = petrochemical derived plus looonngg durability plus microplastic shredding

That perfect polyester shirt that you bought on sale as a ramp knock off, is either sitting in a developing country's landfill or choking some sea animal through microplastics or did you order seafood at that restaurant today? so maybe a part of your shirt is in you! how wonderful!

C8 or the base of all non-stick, stain-repellent, water-repellent coatings = petrochemical derivative;

also called- forever chemicals

The non-stick pan that makes perfect eggs or that formal shirt that rolls the water off, it has released some nasty chemicals- in your food, or the water discharged from its manufacturing. But don't you worry, those chemicals live in your body forever and you may rightfully pass them on to your unborn child as legacy.

Land use for food production and animal farming = cutting down forests for animal grazing = reducing earth's capacity to absorb carbon dioxide

The food you just wasted because you over ordered, had a substantial carbon emission in its production, even more if it was meat. More correctly, it emitted carbon while reducing earth's capacity to absorb the emission.

Cosmetics and their packaging = plastic packaging covering chemicals that shouldn't be made at all

That long lasting mascara or the perfect matt lipstick is directly putting forever chemical in your body, while its case will last forever on the earth, what a combo!

You see, the industrial revolution did bring us many good things and sprawling development but also unleashed barely researched chemicals our way that are creating more health problems today than ever. Before these things affect the planet, they are affecting us. We just see it more through the planet.

Image source- Greenpeace Instagram account

Once I understood the fine lines, I have actively worked personally and professionally to reduce my carbon emissions. That is not enough, equally important is holding our local and national governments responsible to reduce carbon emissions. But I never underestimate individual actions. Imagine if 8 billion people woke up tomorrow and didn't buy a single plastic cup or decided to not use coal powered electricity. Little extreme but just explaining you the power of mass change. I have also oversimplified a lot of climate atrocities here for the sake of explanation, it is more complicated than we think. It is directly related to melting of arctic ice, releasing micro-organisms that were never a part of our ecosystem, it is making refugee crisis worst, not to mention the burden of climate change on minorities and women, especially in developing countries. We have mountains of landfill and tonnes of waste in ocean that is literally in the air and water we breathe. Microplastics have been found in our drinking water, our blood and even newborn babies, so are forever chemicals.

If these are not reasons enough to care about climate change, I can't give you anything more. You can wait and watch the next calamity hit your village, city, state, country or start to take action. It is your choice, always is. But what I do know for sure is, we do not do this for the planet. Earth has survived way more than this, it is 4.6 billion years old! We came now. Earth will survive a global warming apocalypse if it comes to that. It is us humans who won't. So I am not doing this for the planet. I am doing it for me.

In the next part of this series, I will write about what I do to care about- climate change or for us? Let me know your thoughts on this piece, if it prompted you towards any climate action?

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