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Thunberg’s Call

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Swedish ‘Climate activist’ Greta Thunberg ‘scolded’ the world’s leaders at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York on Monday for ‘failing to address climate change’. This budding Medha Patkar has been the toast of environmental activists ever since she began her own strike every Friday outside the Swedish Parliament a year ago to focus attention on the problem. This confrontationist approach is quite obviously a reaction to politicians in some countries, particularly President Donald Trump, denying the scientific evidence that warns of increasing global temperatures caused by human ‘development’ that threaten the entire eco-system with dire consequences, particularly humanity. However, it is unfair to paint all countries and leaders with the same brush. India, for instance, has always been in the forefront of nations that have taken the issue seriously, inspired by its civilisational reverence for nature and all living beings. Indira Gandhi, it may be recalled, was the only head of government to attend the Stockholm Conference, the first United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in 1972. She steered legislation within the country that provided strict protection to the forests and wildlife. The tradition has been continued in the country since then in a multiplicity of ways. But, environmentalists also need to look at the other side of the picture which elected leaders cannot ignore, particularly in the developing world. They are responsible for ensuring the well-being of the people that elect them and that often means making hard choices between a bad and a worse alternative. They do not have the luxury of making the ideal choice. By insisting on the perfect, environmental activists often oppose even the possible. In this process they become as fundamentalist in their approach as radicals of any other kind. And it is not that the world was not moving in the right direction. Slowly but surely, protocols were being developed and enforced, for instance, on curbing carbon emissions. The action taken on methane and its impact on the ozone layer was crucial. It was only natural that the developed countries – responsible for much of the emissions in the past century and a half – were expected to bear a greater burden in terms of transformative sacrifice, technological change and subsidising expenditure. A consensus was built up on this that has only recently been broken by Trump and other climate change deniers. They are more transactional in their approach and want others, too, to pick up the bill. It is no wonder that Thunberg had the strongest glare for the US President when he walked by her at the UN. The alternative now is for the other, more responsible countries in the world to chart their own course and, undoubtedly, India will have a significant part to play. In fact, Prime Minister Narendra Modi cast some light on this from the developing nations’ perspective in his speech at the Climate Action Summit. Name calling will not do, understanding will!