Published: 28th September 2019
A letter of solidarity to Greta Thunberg from the Third World
How dare we allowed the climate to go berserk in the first place? Even though we accept that we destroyed it, we never really bothered to correct it
Hope you find this letter in good spirit. All of us have been following the movement you had started to act now on Climate change. It's heartening to see a young bright student quitting school to come to the streets, demanding answers from the powerful. You were absolutely right in asking “How Dare You?” to the most powerful people in the world.
However, if I may seek your permission and change the locus of it, I would change it to “How Dare we?” How dare we allowed the climate to go berserk in the first place? Even though we accept that we destroyed it, we never really bothered to correct it. When I am speaking of we, here I mean the rich and ruling class of the developed and the developing world.
I am writing this letter, not to contend you, but to express solidarity from the exploited part of the globe — the third world countries. If there is a way that farmers, workers and common people can express their feeling they would say “All is not okay over here”. Things are bad, if not worst. South Asia is witnessing its worst-ever heat waves, droughts, floods and cyclones. The climate extremities are expressing themselves more frequently.
The climate change negotiations that started with Earth Summit of1992 went through the Kyoto protocol of 1997 that was ditched by the United States of America by not ratifying it. However, the end of the climate negotiations and hope practically happened with Paris agreement in 2015, from which the leading polluter United States of America walked out after signing it. Such observation comes due to the fact that we moved away from historical common but differential responsibility principle with equity as norm where the polluter takes the responsibility to compensate to voluntary emission reduction program where the poor who is suffering also has to contribute. This policy change didn’t happen overnight, rather happened in a planned, strategic way where the poorer and vulnerable countries were pushed in a situation to survive or perish. They had to decide, whether they wanted to be seen as ones blocking the negotiations or ones who are actually facilitating them.
The developed world, through various means, wanted itself to be free from the burden of emission reduction. Media was used as an instrument to take the politics of extinction and the imminent collapse of the environment to a new level. The poor countries' lack of resources and system of support clubbed with the presence of the elites who wanted to ward off the pressure and wished to be in a safe zone allowed the narrative to change.
Your speech, your words and your anger is not only justified but reflects the collective failure of us not being able to rise above capitalism, the model that brought us doom to find a solution to the present predicament. The subsequent politics wanted the present system that destroyed us to be preserved.
Sadly, this didn’t leave us with many options. The farmers will now have to accept the Climate Smart Agriculture policy dictated by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This policy, in the long run, will promote genetically modified crops and technology as an alternative to deal with hunger and crop loss due to rising temperatures, floods, droughts and other climate extremities. New technologies will replace the older ones, but the inequality and structural discrimination of the poor and marginalised will continue if not aggravated.
In Africa and other poorer countries, climate and environment-related problems are turning into security issues. United Nations peacekeeping forces have intervened in numerous environment-induced conflicts and this will only increase in future. Taking this as a cue, the developed world wants to take away climate change negotiations from the democratic framework of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to United Nations Security Council (UNSC). All this is happening, citing the threat of the island nations' survival, as the rising sea levels will submerge these smaller nations if not acted. The most unfortunate part, which the media and other analysts will never tell you or anyone is the efforts, made by the developed world and the capitalists, who for their profits didn’t allow the developed world to pay for their sins of the past. The $100 billion- green fund promised didn’t even get started, nor the assurance of payments for loss and damages caused.
Media as a platform is being used to take forward the agenda of climate emergency. We aren’t debating whether it’s an emergency or not. The question that arises from the politics of emergency is an exclusion. Rather than solving the problem, it aggravates the existing inequalities. Isn’t climate justice a better policy where our actions and policy resolves to provide justice to the poor and the vulnerable?
We are already witnessing climate excesses. I'll give you a few instances. The Kerala flood of 2018, the 2019 floods in Bihar and Assam and severe drought in Southern India have exposed how climate polarities work. Governments don’t have a solution to deal with such scenarios. In Chennai, capital of Tamil Nadu a state in southern India, riots broke out for water during the extreme drought. Durban in South Africa rationed water and deployed their armed forces to control conflict and riots for water. We aren’t talking about some 2030 or 2050, but of 2019, where farmers are realising the changing patterns of rainfall and falling productive from their farmlands.
Farmers protests are talking about climate change, workers are speaking about rising pollution and women struggling to get drinking water in urban and rural areas. The governments aren’t listening, they aren't discussing climate change. It's just us, who are angry because no solution can come with the existing system. Here, your anger reflects the larger helplessness of millions who are feeling left out and cheated. But, there is a fear that the developed world, rich and the privileged will exploit your genuine quest for justice for their agendas. They would like to push the poorer and vulnerable countries using this despair not to undo the historic wrong, but to submit them into further obedience.
It may be too much to ask for a system overhaul, but how will we solve the thousands of death due to air pollution? Will bringing in electric vehicles solve the problem? Alternatively, will the so-called green technology which the developed world has, solve the climate crisis as the poor pay the royalty for the patents, just to survive? Where will the money come from? I certainly don’t know, maybe you also might not.
But this is the politics that will follow your quest for answers. Negotiation after negotiation, year after year, we all have seen it how the idea of justice that began with Earth Summit in 1992 have been taken over by interests of the polluters. Ridiculous enough, Multi-National Companies (MNCs) that were responsible for air pollution in the first place are now providing air purifiers to breathe. Government’s whose duty was to ensure policy measures have been busy serving and protecting the ruling elite.
Greta, the way you captured the imagination of millions makes the polluters jitter. Just the way they destabilised the earlier efforts, there is a genuine fear that they may be repeating it this time too. It's high time we come together to break the chains of pollution and destruction and create a model of development that doesn’t look at nature as a commodity.
We need to change our consumption, production and knowledge systems. This needs to start from those who started the system of destruction. We can't expect a landless Dalit labourer working on land who will be affected by a cyclone repeatedly to worry about what he or she can do to tackle climate change. They never had a choice and not giving them a choice of a better life will be a crime we will be committing.
We should ask the high powers “How Dare You don’t speak of climate justice?" Why cant they lead the way in reducing emissions and creating an alternative structure that doesn’t talk of carbon trade, royalties and patents and trade facilitation, but talk of a solution for the people not only to survive but to celebrate their living.
Greta, we must have a vision of the world that would be inclusive, just and equal for everyone. That must be the solutions for climate change have to strive for. I know it's too ideal to ask for from a young rebel. But trust me, you are doing what we all had to do collectively — question the collective wisdom that doomed our existence today. Maybe if you find time please do visit farmers in Prakash District of Andhra Pradesh, India who, through their lived experience have been demanding a law for protecting them from drought. They understand climate change better than us, who have the luxury to keep failing ourselves.
Yes, it's time to act or perish. But let's ensure that the world acts to ensure climate justice.
N Sai Balaji
(The Writer is the former President of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Student’s Union. He is currently researching on the linkage between agriculture, climate change and politics behind it)
The opinions expressed here are the author's own