Young voices/India: “Climate change will not pass!”

Activist Kanishk Gokul

Filed by Amudha Kannan. «People look at climate change as something that will pass. Since they are not able to physically witness it, they are not able to take it seriously”, says Kanishk Gokul from Chennai, India.

Kanishk (18) from Chennai in South India challenges older generations as he feels they are neglecting the climate crisis: “Ice is melting in the Poles. They do not see the ice melting. They watch it on television. There is no direct connection to it. Most of them have a narrow mindset that there are not going to be any repercussions during their time. So they think, let me live life to the fullest and let the next generation take care of it”.

Kanishk Gokul became engaged in climate issues through a river project at school. He chose this project together with a friend, “because we cannot live without water”. “As I got more involved in it, it struck me how neglectful we are about the environment around us.” He came across a part of a river which was “covered in plastics.” This discovery of destruction of the ecosystem became a turning point for him when he was 15 years old.

Media: sometimes surreal

Later he joined an NGO working with rivers, and in 2019 joined the “Vettiver Collective”, and this collective took action in the autumn 2019 to “show our support to Greta Thunberg’s movement as well as to raise awareness among people.”

Although he is satisfied with much of the media attention given to his organisation, he also challenges the media. “Sometimes it is surreal. Because when you are talking about the global temperature increasing, it is too general a data to connect with the people”. He suggests that more coverage of climate change in the local media will help people relate more to it. One area, which is much connected to climate change is the wetlands in his home state Tamil Nadu, where Chennai is the capital. The wetlands “retain water when there are floods, they are not wastelands, but they are endangered. The 2015 Chennai flood damage could have been minimized if these wetlands were well preserved”, says Kanishk. He hopes to see the end of deforestation: “It should not be a one-way process where you destroy the land to build your factory or house, which would only lead to dire consequences. If we can stop deforestation, many of our related problems will end”.

Covid 19 and life styles

He thinks the target of limiting the global warming average to 1,5 degrees is fine, “but less will be good. If it increases to 4 degrees, it will have serious consequences and it can quite possibly collapse the ecosystem. It will affect the Poles, to begin with, then the winds and ocean currents  will be much disrupted. This will lead to a cascade of events.”

Kanishk was interviewed after the first wave of Covid19 had entered India. “Because of the lockdown, the Earth is technically healing. Pollution levels have gone down drastically, forests are getting their animals back, water bodies are clearing. But once this is over, people will again go back to more or less their earlier lifestyle. So, it will take some more time for people to change their lifestyles to bring about a positive change!”