In the last few days Disha Ravi, Nikita, Shantanu, and Extinction Rebellion (XR) activist Greta Thunberg have been in the news because of their links with the farmer’s movement in India and sedition charges slapped on them. How the environmental issues are linked to farmer’s agitation? What is the larger involvement of Indian youth in such international movements and are the international linkages so sinister to deserve the arrest of activists are few issues which need some serious probing.
The ball is at present in the court of the judiciary but the questions will remain even after the dust settles down. In the age of Social Media, the role of youth in initiating or sustaining mass movements has got magnified manifold and, in some cases, can assume even disruptive proportions given the inimical ecosystem ever ready to spring into action. What then is the politics of the environment and how it has got entangled with the Farmers Movement?
The Extinction Rebellion Movement, also identified as” XR”, is just a 3-4 years old phenomenon, which took shape in London in 2017, as a brainchild of environmentalists Roger Hallam and Gail Bradbrook. XR formally launched its campaign outside British Parliament with a Declaration of Rebellion on 31 October 2018. By April 2019, it had gathered momentum with peaceful protests all across London with thousands of arrests; it drew inspiration from the nonviolent philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi and soon it found international support and funding, But it really caught international imagination with “How Dare You” speech of Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish girl, at the UN Climate Action Summit in September 2019. She launched a ferocious diatribe on world leaders on their inaction on environmental issues.
Greta Thunberg, who spelt the “TOOLKIT’ is already the poster girl of the XR movement. Her initiation in environmental issues began in school at the age of eight and she soon started pestering her parents to reduce their carbon footprint. By the age of 15, she had started spending her school days protesting outside Swedish Parliament, calling for stronger action on climate change and had started the “Fridays for Future Movement”. She turned Vegan and gave up flying. In August 2019 she sailed across the Atlantic Ocean for 15 days in a 60 feet solar-powered yacht, making a statement for carbon-neutral travel. It is another matter that reportedly she was escorted by a flotilla and several crew members who flew to New York to sail the boat back to Europe.
The XR is now a movement of global significance with scores of XR groups springing up in cities around the world. Its global website states “We are on the brink of a global catastrophe, Life on earth is in danger” While its objectives of reducing global warming, halting biodiversity loss and reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2025 are noble, the movement has entered its share of controversies with allegations of anarchists infiltrating the movement and big Corporates with vested interests financing it. Daily Mail headlines described the movement as a “radical far-Left eco-rabble” and detailed how “the Extinction Rebellion eco-mob plotted chaos in London. Some activists give the doomsday scenario that the world will come to an end in 2030. In India, the nucleus of the XR movement remains in Bengaluru where most of the activists are. There was a clarion call given “India- joins the global rebellion October 7-13 2019”. Scores of students sat in Delhi in Central Park, Connaught Place New Delhi and all other metros in India. However, predictably, it failed to gather much traction thereafter and now remains confined to a handful of hardcore activists.
There is no doubt that the Environmental issues facing humanity and mother Earth are grave. It is equally true that Governments around the world have promised but failed to deliver on this score whether it is the Kyoto Protocol or the Paris Agreement with Donald Trump leading the US out of it. However, the pertinent question for the youth is whether global politics is the key to unravelling the problem or will technology and innovation pave the way to solving environmental issues. Won’t the changeover to Electric Vehicles, imminent internationally over the next decade, not drastically reduce fossil fuel combustion, a major environmental degrader? Won’t Alternate sources of energy like Solar Power, Hydrogen fuels or wind power largely reduce dependence on coal-based thermal power stations, a major polluter in India and some other nations? Can we not innovate and find a wonder material to replace plastic totally? Can we not invent even more eco-friendly refrigerants which do not drill a hole in Ozone Layer? Can we not redesign our agricultural produce and consumption so as to conserve water table and recharge the soil? In short, should we not trust and invest in human ingenuity instead of indulging in global politics, anarchy and doomsday brinksmanship?
It is in the above context that we have to examine the “Toolkit” controversy. Without going into the legalities/technicalities of the sedition charge, it is amply clear that this is an uncalled-for international intervention, especially when it peddles falsehoods like “Genocide of Indian Farmers”, which have an incendiary potential. Even if the Indian courts acquit the accused, which surely, they will ultimately, a number of questions deserve a response. Has the XR movement, professing to be championing the environmental cause comprehended the intent and content of the three Farmer’s Laws which are the bone of contention? Is the poster girl of Climate Change issues aware of the severe environmental degradation being caused by reckless and unwanted cultivation of paddy, much beyond consumptive requirements of human beings, especially by two North Indian States? Where is the Water Table going? What about the regeneration of soil wrecked by continuous repetition of a crop. In short, the XR champions are inter-alia supporting environmental degradation, contrary to their professed objectives.
Another dimension to be examined is the Social Media whose potential in flaring up controversies and moulding public opinion is immense. Youth are the majority of users as well as targets of social media campaigns. A devious mind or a conspiracy can quickly trigger the transformation of even just causes into an anarchic state. XR movement began with an undoubtedly noble objective but look where it is going, saddled with controversies; Priti Patel, the British Home Secretary, has claimed Extinction Rebellion activists are “so-called eco-crusaders turned criminals” who threaten key planks of national life. Although this may be a comment borne out of exasperation, Indian policymakers will do well to take note of the disruptive potential of such movements, magnified manifold by the Social Media. The “Toolkit” for Farmers agitation is just a forerunner; there would surely be more of such missteps for many other major issues which are bound to crop up from time to time. The energies of Indian youth have to be channelised into constructive and creative domains instead of being swayed by a teenaged upstart.
For the youth, it is time to introspect…Environment and climate change are extremely complicated issues; they will do well to repose their faith in science & technology instead of international politics. It is queer to see jean clad youngsters, passionately espousing environmental issues, unaware or unconcerned about the humongous water consumption by the fabric before denim is borne; such are the vicissitudes of youth.