We are the world and our battles are one

Omair Ahmad | Updated on December 31, 2019

Same old grievances: The anti-government protests in Chile echo with the all too familiar anger against corruption, socio-economic inequality, poverty and governmental apathy   -  REUTERS/ PABLO SANHUEZA

From Chile to rural Maharashtra, the dots are connected. What affects one, affects the other too

Over the past few weeks, I have been thinking of issues that usually don’t make to the front pages of newspapers in India — or, frankly, anywhere else. My colleagues were in Madrid, covering the UN climate change summit earlier this month. The Paris Agreement, which was concluded in 2015, is all set to come into effect in 2020, and yet the agreement has been largely hollowed out. One of the primary movers of the Paris Agreement was US President Barack Obama. His successor, President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly mocked climate change as a hoax, has pulled the US out of it.

But we live in a world so insane that the Trump administration is not the worst actor. There are many claimants to that crown. One contender worth singling out is Saudi Arabia. It has tried its best to stop scientific consensus from becoming part of the climate change framework. In the coming year it will host the G20, helping set the agenda for the group that represents 80 per cent of global trade.

All this seems far from the day-to-day challenges in India, which, too, has a deplorable record on climate-related issues. Our economic growth is the lowest in almost 30 years; the number of unemployed people is on the rise, and our banking system has lost credibility and the trust of the people. Add to that the damages we suffered due to weather fluctuations, delay in the arrival of rains as well as showers that destroyed crops. Much of India suffered both droughts and floods, one on the heels of the other.

We are paying, partially, for the fault of richer countries — who have spent 200 years creating the climate mess through fossil-fuel-driven development. But we are also making the impact harder upon ourselves. For all the floods and droughts, all the farmer suicides and protest marches, there is little discussion on whether agriculture needs to change. For all the drama of political coalitions and who partners with whom, the Maharashtra elections were deeply impacted by unseasonal rains. In the ensuing madness over the division of power and ministerial berths, we heard nothing on whether loan waivers are enough when it comes to dealing with the ongoing crisis.

I do not wish to sound gloomy, especially when the tail-end of the year is witnessing an uprising in India; a movement that is being led by the young and the old, by students and ordinary citizens, activists and lawyers; a movement that is against bad legislations and foul politics. That effervescence, the joy, the courage and the willingness to take personal action — at great risk, too — is a splendid thing. But it is not enough to save the country.

The reason the climate summit was held in Spain, instead of Chile, is the anger of Chileans against status quo politics in their country. They took to the streets, marching in thousands, raising slogans against problems that sound only too familiar — corruption, socio-economic inequality, apathy of the administrators and so on. They stood up to the crackdown by security agencies, braving rubber bullets and tear gas. A shaken government quickly announced reforms and concessions, but the people are unwilling to settle for anything less than complete reformation of the system.

It is easy for many of us to empathise with the average Chilean out on the streets today. But it is also true the protests in Chile are partially responsible for the poor show at Madrid. Most of the delegates came unprepared; when important questions — such as the mechanism of calculating the cost of loss and damage — came up before the participants, discussions just fell apart.

The frustrating thing about problems in today’s world is not that they are hidden or that people are unaware. It is that there are so many problems, with too many layers. When a student in Mumbai hardly knows about the agrarian crisis in Maharashtra, it is unfair to expect protesters in Chile to think of how the collapse of climate change negotiations will impact poor farmers in India. And yet, if we are to have any hope for the future at all, if we are to not descend into groups fighting isolated battles, we need to see that this world is ours together. That our freedom also lies in the freedom of each other. This is the hope I take from this year into the next.


Omair Ahmad is the South Asia Editor for The Third Pole, reporting on water issues in the Himalayas

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Published on December 27, 2019
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