Silvia Miles, Regen’s latest intern, reflects on her time in India and how it inspired her to work in the clean energy sector
India is a country where you can see the impacts of the climate crisis starkly; so much so that once you bear witness, you cannot carry on without doing something.
I have arrived in New Delhi from the UK three times over the past four years. Every time, the pollution has been suffocating. On each visit I made to the city last year, the Air Quality Index was either Very Poor, Severe or Hazardous. Those who suffer are the poorest and most vulnerable: rickshaw cyclists test their lungs to the limit in the winter months, having no choice but to expose themselves to toxic gases, unable to give up their livelihoods.
Smog in Delhi, India
Retrieved from: https://qz.com/india/1741262/delhi-smog-makes-people-look-for-cities-with-better-air-quality/
Pollution is not the only environmental source of disadvantage. All three times I have been to India, I have lived and worked in rural farming communities; twice in the foothills of the Himalayas in the very north of West Bengal, and once in the Sri Ganganagar district of the desert state Rajasthan. The insecure nature of farming and the culture of moneylending in the industry has led to what has been called a “national catastrophe” of suicide in agriculture workers since the 1990s. This can only get worse as climate change accelerates: temperature rises putting a strain on crop output have already been linked to 59,300 suicides in India. With 70% of the rural population relying on agriculture as their source of income, people’s futures are on the line.
West Bengal, India Sri Ganganagar, Rajasthan, India
Retrieved from: West BengalCC-BY-SAMad/Wikimedia,https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geography of West Bengal#/media/File:India West Bengal locator map.svg
Retrieved from: By Antur – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w
I was working for a women’s health charity in rural Rajasthan in 2019, researching a mental health intervention. In tandem with this, we were developing a program that aims to tackle gender-based violence, something particularly prevalent in this area. Studies are already showing links between environmental pressures and violence against women and girls. In Sri Ganganagar it was the cotton harvest when I first arrived. Rain hit the area, much later than it usually would; this has huge impact on cotton crop yield. Thankfully, it was nearing the end of the harvest. But, uncertain weather patterns like these – undoubtably linked to the climate crisis – will continue to put a strain on the lives of families across rural India. This socioeconomic precariousness will only exacerbate the already pervasive gender-based violence that exists in places like rural Rajasthan.
Farmland in rural Sri Ganganagar
Climate justice is something I cannot ignore now. The communities I lived in are some of the least responsible for global heating, and yet they are the people who will suffer the most.
Seeing the impact of the climate crisis first hand has motivated me to work in the green energy sector. I find a lot of hope here, in the work that Regen, and other sustainable energy organisations do. Working on a local and national level, Regen demonstrate that decarbonisation in the UK is not only possible, but entirely within our reach by the 2050 deadline (or earlier). We need organisations like this, that blend technical expertise with a strong commitment to the mission, to translate the words of this movement into action.
To me, green energy doesn’t just bring the possibility of preventing the climate crisis and the consequent suffering, but an opportunity for social transformation. In India, there could be a new industry where women and girls would be trained to be the skilled workers; a focus on sustainable small-scale farming to bring security and prosperity to places like rural Rajasthan and West Bengal; and the potential for clean, fair cities that don’t force people to put their lives on the line to feed their families.
[Silvia Mills joined Regen as a Graduate Intern at the start of this month]