The title of the book makes you feel like, “Oh, no, not another one”. That human activity has been causing emissions of greenhouse gases that tent up in the atmosphere and prevent heat from dissipating out, resulting in the planet getting warmer with a bouquet of disastrous consequences for everybody, has probably eaten up enough paper and ink, adding to the problem.
And the book — at least the first three-quarters of it — doesn’t seem to provide any takeaways for somebody who has been following the climate discourse. To somebody familiar with the subject, the book initially comes across as a bricolage of stuff gleaned from the internet. However, before the last page is flipped, the book forces the reader to revise opinion. Mridula Ramesh deserves to be complimented, for two reasons. First, the book is a breezy read on climate change and its consequences to those who are less acquainted with the issue. Punctuated with anecdotes and data, it tells the story of the looming dangers of climate change very well. Second, the last few chapters give interesting anecdotes of activities of start-ups and NGOs in India — that have made a material difference in favour of climate resilience.
Mridula Ramesh wears many hats, apparently at the same time. She is part of the TVS family and runs some of the family businesses. She is the Founder of ‘Sundaram Climate Institute’. She has taught ‘Introduction to climate change’ at the Great Lakes Institute of Managemen, has chaired a government-aided school for the weaker sections, and she is an investor in a few clean-tech start-ups. The book is a synthesis of her experiences.
The idea of the book, she says, sprouted in her head when her family ran out of water. They drilled a bore to a depth of 850 metres, but there was still no water. From then on, the family did many things, including auditing water usage in their factory — an exercise which resulted in their slashing monthly consumption by 1.2 million litres. And, Mridula, on her part, picked up the pen.
The book is divided into two parts. The first deals with ‘Understanding’ of what climate change is all about, and how it affects all of us, and how it will bode disaster if nothing is done about it. The second part is on ‘Action’, which speaks about what could still be done at the micro levels of family and sub-segments of society.
Actions to be taken
Indeed, the last chapter gives ‘a checklist of actions’ that can be taken at the levels of individuals, institutions and governments. For example, some of the actions that Mridula lists out for an individual to do include switching to LED bulbs, painting the roof white, eating less meat, bathing out of a bucket rather than under the shower and carpooling.
The first part on understanding climate change is pretty basic, but told in a simple and easy style with anecdotes or illustrations. Anybody who reads it will be convinced that ‘business as usual’ is not an option. The author traces the history of climate action right from the formation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to the Paris Agreement, in a non-technical manner, giving telling examples of what global warming is already doing to the world. These examples range from Hurricane Harvey that hit Texas last year, displacing 30,000 people and causing damage of $125 billion, to Chennai floods of 2015, when the city received 290 mm of rainfall in a day. She dwells on floods, droughts, vector-borne diseases, nutrition and mental health — telling the reader how each one of these will result from global warming. She tells the reader how much water is embedded in his daily meal.
But the essence of the book is in giving examples of how individual or household action can make a difference. Climate-action, like charity, begins at home. Mridula gives a detailed account of how her own family brought down household waste, from 17 kg a day to about half a kg. This waste included everything from food waste to leaves, twigs and flowers from the garden to newspapers and packing material. The family did everything from segregating at source to composting to re-purposing some stuff.
Project this to macro level — Mridula gives the story of Bengaluru-based outfit, Harisu Dala, quoting the co-founder Nalini Shekar as saying that “the work of waste-pickers mucking through 1,050 tonnes of garbage saves the city about ₹84 crore annually.”
Mridula must have written the later chapters wearing her investor hat, because there is a fund of information about financing start-ups. For example, there is an narrative about Aavishkaar, a fund, which has invested $130 million so far, resulting in creation of 37,000 full-time jobs, enabling access to finance for 9.6 million people while saving over a million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.
There is a fascinating story of start-up Ergos, an investee of Aavishkaar, which began building micro warehouses for farmers and helping them raise loans with the warehouse receipts. Today, 10,200 farmers are registered with it and the company expects to turn in a profit this year. And there is another interesting story of the work of the water conservationist, Dr Rajendra Singh, who created a movement by getting villagers build check-dams — a movement that has brought back 12 dead rivers to life. You’d also learn of Grow-Trees, the company that Pradip Shah, founder of CRISIL, created to get people grow trees, and of Sahaas Zero Waste, in which Mridula herself has invested — this ₹10-crore company employs waste pickers to pick up 30 tonnes of waste a day, which is then either composted or re-purposed.
Today, most people have at least a nodding acquaintance with climate change and global warming, Most don’t care, and those who do care do little, or hope the governments will do something. But Mridula’s book is thought-provoking. By giving examples of economically-viable micro-level climate action, it impels the reader to think about what he/she can do to help the cause.
MEET THE AUTHOR
Mridula Ramesh is the founder of Sundaram Climate Institute. She is also an active angel investor in cleantech start-ups, with a portfolio of over a dozen start-ups.