Tag Archives: Climate change

Yogurt Containers (Image by Nikol Lohr from Flickr)

Green Desi Hacks That You Probably Didn’t Realize Were Part of Your Routine

Desi Talk – A column that works on embracing our brown background and unique identity using Coach Yashu’s helpful tips. Find her talking to IC Editor, Srishti Prabha on Instagram LIVE Tuesdays at 6pm PDT/ 9pm EDT!

As we continue the conversation about our environmental and sustainable practices, here is a list of green Desi hacks. As you read, you may come to realize that you already do most of these or have experienced growing up in your desi households!

Dahi Dabbas

We all have reused the dahi dabbas (plastic yogurt containers) and any plastic container to store leftovers or to send aunty that halwa your mom made. Although the concept of recycling may not have been addressed in your Desi household, in subtle ways, we all engaged in a “no waste” mentality. Considering that many of our desi parents immigrated to this country having lived a lower middle class to slightly upper-middle-class lifestyle in India, being resourceful and saving money was a priority. As we often say, finding the jugaad way of doing things is part of our no waste, save money culture.

Wash with water!

Let’s eliminate the taboo around washing your bum with water! Western culture traditionally uses paper products to wipe after using the toilet. However, not only is water more hygienic and healthy for cleaning but is also more sustainable. A single roll of toilet paper requires 37 gallons of water, 1.3 kilowatt/hours (KWh) of electricity, and some 1.5 pounds of wood to manufacture. Remember those plastic dahi dabbas we just talked about? How many of you remember your parents reusing them as plastic mugs for your bathrooms growing up? Or even the large plastic measuring cups, which was definitely an upgrade, considering the comfortable handle!

If that doesn’t pique your interest, perhaps a Bidet is your option! The bidet is essentially a pichkari for your bum. Using water has been a traditional method of cleaning for centuries in Asian culture. Why fix what isn’t broken and make your Desi parents proud?

Old Clothes

Take your dad’s old ripped-up banyan or any ripped clothes (non-donatable)  and convert them into cleaning rags. Whether it’s used to clean countertops or replace the swiffer jet sheets, these rags definitely come in handy!

Another common usage of old fabrics is taking my mother’s old cotton sarees or my father’s old cotton lungis, and converting them into water absorbent towels. When I was younger, I used to layer old blankets together and even old cotton sarees together into thick, soft quilts to sleep on. The old sarees were definitely versatile fabrics revamped into quilts, sofa covers, curtains, etc.

Desi Composting and Gardening Hacks 

Use Neem oil, which is sitting around, as a natural and bio-safe pesticide!

Havan (Image by Ninad Katyare from Wikimedia Commons)

Remember all those leftover pooja flowers and holy water? Part of the ceremony and pooja rituals is to discard the leftovers into house plants/ gardens and not throw them down the drain or into the garbage. That flower/rice/water mixture then becomes organic fertilizer, providing nutrients to your plants.

Through Desi gardening, we are able to maintain community. Towards the end of the crop season, take all the harvest and freezing them to use in later in the year. If freezing is not the choice of preservation, extra crop is dehydrated on a cotton saree in the hot summer sun on our patio or sidewalk, to later be used as needed (fryums, dry mirchi powder, etc). Taking extra vegetables, some of which were non-desi, and pickling them into achar was a summer tradition in my desi household.

Dishwashing Solvents

When my mom makes lemon rice, she saves the squeezed-out lemon halves to later reuse as a sponge and uses rock salt as her soap to clean her silver pooja gear. When she buys tamarind that came with too many seeds and/or too little pulp, she will add salt and use it as a cleaning agent for her jewelry and silver/copper/brass dishes. Not only does it help remove tough oxidation on metals but also removes tough grease on metals. Tamarind and Lemon have always been part of the Desi culture as dishwashing solvents, even before the invention of modern-day dish soap, and they work great!

Well, there you have it!

These are some of the best green Desi hacks, all of which I picked up in my childhood home and continue to practice in my household today.

This planet is everything we have and it is our responsibility to protect it. It’s not easy to be perfectly green nor can we expect that from each other, however, by taking action and participating in at least one green activity, we are making progress. So, I encourage each of you to evaluate your lifestyle and see if there’s one thing you can do, one lifestyle adjustment you can make to be more environmentally friendly.


Yashu Rao is the first South Indian-American plus-size model and doubles as a Confidence Coach. She is the Founder of #HappyYashu, a Confidence and Lifestyle Coaching Service specializing in desi family structures. She’s here breaking down stereotypes and beauty standards as well as inspiring and empowering people to lead a life with self-love, confidence, and genuine happiness. Find her on Instagram giving tips and modeling.


 

Melting Glacier (Image by Melissa Bradley at Unsplash)

Climate Change and…the Loss of Sukham?

Sukham Blog – A monthly column focused on South Asian health and wellbeing.

When I see or hear the words Climate Change, I conjure up mental images of global warming, rising temperatures, melting ice caps, rising ocean levels, increasing CO2 and methane emissions, more frequent extreme weather events such as flooding, drought, and wildfires, and our planet Earth rapidly becoming less habitable for present and future generations.  My mind does not turn immediately to the ongoing impact on human health, and the decreased quality of life that brings for people, something that is also happening today. Climate change is a big driver of poorer health and circumstance, resulting in hardship and loss of contentment – loss of Sukham for millions of our fellow human beings. Climate change and Sukham are intertwined.

We – the general public – need to be acutely aware of all the ways climate change can affect our health. We need to learn how we as individuals, as communities and as nations can respond.  Climate change as a current and future public-health crisis is not getting the attention it desperately needs. 

We often hear about the effects of air pollution on our respiratory system and eyes, and the need to take precautions, especially for those with asthma and other respiratory ailments. Plants produce pollen for longer periods in warmer conditions. Grass pollen and plant growth increase with increased carbon dioxide concentrations, causing longer and more intense allergy seasons. For some individuals, including this author, the allergy season now stretches from early spring into late fall.  In her 2019 Scientific American article, Emily Holden describes the associated worsening of respiratory illnesses and heart and lung disease. There are several other health impacts that we will discuss. However, climate change is not just making people sicker. Dr. Renee Salas, an Emergency Medical Physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School leads a working group of over 70 U.S. organizations, institutions, and centers working at the nexus of climate change and health. “The climate crisis is impacting not only health for our patients but the way we deliver care and our ability to do our jobs. And that’s happening today,” she says. For example, changing heat patterns affect the way in which prescription medicines work. Climate events impact the availability of critical medical supplies in hospitals. Disruption of electric power supply to homes, hospitals, and clinics puts the lives of patients at risk.  Evidence is mounting for decreased survival of cancer patients due to treatment disruption caused by extreme weather events.  These are just some of the ways the health care we receive is being impacted.

Climate Change CDC infographic
Climate Change Infographic (Image by the CDC)

The accompanying infographic from the National Center for Environmental Health at the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) provides an easy-to-understand overview of these health impacts of climate change.   Coupled with other natural and human-made health stressors, it influences human health and the spread of disease in a number of ways.  Physical, biological and ecological systems are impacted. The four primary manifestations of climate change are portrayed in the center of the graphic. Together, these manifestations drive eight primary responses: extreme heat, severe weather, air pollution, water quality, increasing allergens, environmental degradation, impacts on food and water supply, and changes in the ecology of vectors – agents such as mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, parasites and microbes, which carry and transmit infectious pathogens into other living organisms, thereby spreading a variety of diseases.  These eight primary responses in turn result in heat-related illnesses, asthma and respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, mental health impacts, forced migration, civil conflict, malnutrition, and a wide range of diseases ranging from diarrhea and cholera to malaria, dengue, chikungunya, and the West Nile virus. The complete list is frightening. 

The CDC points out that some of the existing health threats will intensify and new, as yet unknown health threats will emerge.  Some of these impacts are global, others are national and/or regional.  Children are disproportionately impacted by some of the health issues.  Health inequity puts parts of the population at higher risk, based on their age, economic status, geographic location, and access to resources. The U.S. Global Change Research Program published a detailed scientific assessment describing how climate change is already affecting humans, and what we may expect in the years to come. This is an excellent resource for those who want a deep dive on this subject.

What is being done about this public health crisis?  The US National Academy of Medicine (NAM) is leading the way in collaboration with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM).  They are developing an initiative to comprehensively assess the health risks of climate change and develop strategies to address both drivers and impacts.  In October 2020, they announced the NAM Grand Challenge on Human Health and Climate Change.  This is a multi-year strategic initiative to develop public-private partnerships with three objectives:  develop a comprehensive and long-term roadmap for transforming systems — such as health care, transportation, infrastructure, or energy – which impact or are impacted by climate change, with a focus on human health, well-being, and equity; mobilize all actors and institutions in the health community; and launch a global competition to foster innovative interdisciplinary research and actionable solutions at the intersection of climate change and human health.  Several other private and governmental efforts are underway across the world.

What can you and I do to help?  Learn more about these impacts and the response.  Inform and educate our friends and family. Support ongoing efforts and advocate for local and national programs to combat it. We cannot afford to do nothing. The health and Sukham of our fellow humans and that of future generations are at stake!


Mukund Acharya is a regular columnist for India Currents. He is also President and a co-founder of Sukham, an all-volunteer non-profit organization in the Bay Area that advocates for healthy aging within the South Asian community. Sukham provides curated information and resources on health and well-being, aging, and life’s transitions, including serious illness, palliative and hospice care, death and bereavement. Contact the author at sukhaminfo@gmail.com.


 

San Jose’s Ash Kalra Gets An ‘A’ On Climate Change

San Jose Asemblymember Ash Kalra (CA-27) got an ‘A’ from the California League of Conservation Voters (CLCV), winning a 99% rating as a climate change champion when CLVC released its annual California Environmental Scorecard this year.

Unfortunately, the state of California got a dismal C.

The Scorecard is a comprehensive analysis of where the state’s leaders stand on the environment and climate change.

Kalra was named Nature Defender  by CLVC for championing AB 3030 in the state assembly, to preserve biodiversity and access to nature. He  was recognized as “someone the environmental community can always count on to be the progressive leader and environmental champion that California needs.”

Kalra’s  track record supporting a range of environmental bills on the assembly floor (buffer zoners for oil and gas safety, clean cars, and transparency within the Department of Toxic Substances Control), earned a 100% rating for two consecutive years (2017 and 2018), and a 99% in 2019.

Most recently he co-authored AB 1289, with Assemblymember Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), to help smaller family farms stay in business by transitioning from animal agriculture to sustainable plant-based agriculture.

Kalra stated that CLCV was his ‘go-to group “ for environmental leadership because they were helping combat the climate crisis with new, innovative proposals designed “to strengthen clean air and water for our communities.”

Mary Creasman, CLCV CEO, said that though California had a reputation for being progressive, 2020 was largely a year of ‘climate change inaction.’

Only 11 (nine Assemblymembers and two Senators) out of 120 legislators scored 100%.

Governor Gavin Newsom earned a score of 87% despite California’s poor track record on climate change initiatives last year, only because he issued executive orders  at the year end to conserve biodiversity and boost climate resilience

CLVC said that the climate crisis took a back seat in Sacramento last year. For the first time, the annual Scorecard revealed that 70% of the California Legislature accepted campaign contributions from oil companies and major oil industry Political Action Committees (PACs). According to their analysis, 60% of Democrats and 100% of Republicans took these dollars.

Even though Kalra and a small band of legislators fought for climate justice, they failed to convince a majority in the legislature to pass bold policies. In reality, corporate interests are still calling the shots in Sacramento when it comes to the environment and public health, added Creasman.

“Corporate polluters continue to have an outsized impact on policy in Sacramento.”

With less than nine years left to address the most severe impacts of climate change, the California League of Conservation Voters is calling for renewed action in Sacramento and, in particular, the development of a comprehensive climate action plan for the state.

Mike Young, Political and Organizing Director at CLCV urged the Governor and the legislature to work together to renew their focus on the climate crisis. He pointed them to the Biden Administration’s climate action plan, with justice, jobs and public health at its center, nothing that “We need a vision for the future that centers the health and safety of Californians.”

CLVC called for California to create a clear climate action plan of its own, because “the country and the world is looking to California for leadership.”

California’s Overall Score: 74%

Governor Newsom’s Score: 87%

Assembly Overall Average Score: 71%

Senate Overall Average Score: 73%


Meera Kymal is a Contributing Editor at India Currents

COVID Creates Hunger Crisis in India

As the COVD-19 tsunami began its global spread, it exacerbated crises that were already taking a toll of vulnerable populations across the world.

In India the pandemic triggered a domestic migrant worker disaster. In Yemen it threatened a death toll far worse than the one inflicted by civil war.  And in Central America, where farming was destroyed by years of extreme climate events, the pandemic wrecked food security for 1.7 million people, according to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP)

“COVID is making the poorest of the world poorer and the hungriest hungrier,” said Steve Taravella, a senior spokesperson for the WFP, at an ethnic media press briefing on February 26 to discuss the fallout from the pandemic. Advocates warned that a coronavirus-induced global famine loomed for millions.

“270 million people marching towards the brink of starvation need our help today more than ever,”  WFP’s Executive Director, David Beasley, told the UN Security Council last year. “Famine is literally on the horizon.”

The pandemic has inflicted its heaviest toll on poorer communities in the developing world, exposing the inequities driven by poverty and economic inequality that plague marginalized populations.

In India nearly 1 in 3 people face moderate or severe food insecurity, said Parul Sachdeva, India Country Representative for Give2Asia, a non-profit that supports charities in the Asia Pacific. India has the distinction of being the country with the largest number of food insecure people, and accounts for 22% of the global burden of food insecurity. When the pandemic hit, people were already struggling with poverty and socio-economic crises that gave them less food to eat. The lockdown that followed disrupted both the harvest and the food supply chain. More than a hundred million people and their incomes were affected by the inability to harvest crops in time.

When India enforced a shutdown to stop the coronavirus spread, it forced tens of thousands of migrant workers to make the long trek back to their villages after they lost jobs and wages. Without ration cards or money to buy food, the disruption to food chains put thousands at risk of hunger, leaving them to rely on NGOs and charitable civic organizations like Akshaya Patra, rather than the government, to provide food aid.

In a double whammy, the pandemic lockdown that increased food insecurity also fueled gender-based violence (GBV).

During lockdown, reported cases of gender-based violence more than doubled during the pandemic, said Aradhana Srivastava, of WFP’s India office. “The extent of suffering is actually much larger than what is being seen.” Research shows that domestic violence closely correlates with income levels, said Srivastava, and GBV is higher among lower-income households and food-insecure families. Increased food insecurity causes mental stress in households and triggers domestic violence towards women. “The increased incidence of domestic violence is linked to loss of livelihoods, loss of access to food — so there is a direct bearing.”

Since 2014, prolonged drought and excessive hurricanes in Central America have destroyed staple crops. But severe climate events and poverty – the key causes of food insecurity – have worsened with the pandemic. “The face of hunger In Central America has changed,” stated Elio Rujano, a Communications Officer for the World Food program. In Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, food insecurity has now spread from rural communities into urban areas. COVID lockdowns have taken away income from daily wage earners – 50% of the economy depends on informal labor – which has made it harder for people to meet basic needs like food.

Six years of conflict inYemen has ripped apart the country’s infrastructure and fragile heath system, displacing almost 4 million of its 30 million inhabitants. Conflict has become the main driver of hunger, as food prices skyrocket, and frontlines move. With COVID and the ensuing lockdown, the hunger situation hit new peak in Yemen. WFP forecasts a severe risk of famine and acute malnutrition in 2021 for 2 million children aged 1 to 5, which will have severe long term impact felt by “generations to come.” But famine has not been declared in Yemen even though “people are dying of hunger,” said Annabel Symington – Head of Communications for the WFP in Yemen, calling for funds to mount programs and interventions. “The time to act is now.”

The WFP feeds 100 million in 88 countries every year divided between 3 initiatives:1.Natural disasters, typhoon, cyclones, 2. Conflicts, and 3. Ongoing non-emergency aid such as school meals, pregnant women new mother nutrition, community help, and small farmers. In 2020, WFP was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts to combat hunger.

“We provide basics for sustainability till long term solutions can be developed,” said Taravella.  For years the WFP “chipped away” effectively at hunger rates. But conflict, climate and COVID-19 are causing  humanitarian crises of catastrophic proportions, making it impossible for people to access food. Before COVID-19 there were about 135 million hungry people in the world. Today nearly 690 million people don’t know where their next meal is coming from. WFP projects they need $13.5 billion to bridge the gaps in their budget.

According to Taravella, a small group of 2200 billionaires hold about $8 trillion in global wealth. They could help to overturn the tidal wave of food insecurity washing over the world’s poor.

“We are making an appeal to the world’s exceptionally wealthy people to help us close that gap,” he added.

To donate

https://secure.wfpusa.org/donate/save-lives-giving-food-today-donate-now-7?ms=2000_UNR_wfp_redirect_EX&redirected=UShttps://secure.wfpusa.org/donate/save-lives-giving-food-today-donate-now-7?ms=2000_UNR_wfp_redirect_EX&redirected=US

https://sharethemeal.org/en/index.html


Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents.
Image by billy cedeno from Pixabay

It’s My Future: Climate Change Reform

At the Front Door –  a column on climate change in our lives

Nearly two years ago, Greta Thunberg declared that “our house is on fire” at the World Economic Forum. She wasn’t the only one who saw that fire.

Here in California, we could see the flames quite literally. As wildfires tore through the state, many teenagers felt a fire light in ourselves as well. We decided that it was time to stand up for our futures, just as Greta had done a continent and an ocean away from us. We began to show our fire wherever we went—in our homes, on the streets, in front of the offices of legislatures.

But some of us wanted to take things one step further: we wanted to put the fire right in front of elected officials’ eyes.

Kaushik Tota at a school assembly

For the past two years, this is exactly what I’ve done as an environmental policy advocate. My team and I draft and support sustainable legislation from the local to state level, pushing elected officials to opt for the most aggressive and far-reaching policy solutions. 

Being a teenager in the advocacy space has its upsides and its downsides. As youth, we get significantly more attention than our adult counterparts for participating in the political process, and our presence is noted. On the other hand, we’re sometimes written off as just “kids” who don’t understand the full scope of the issues at hand. This happened a lot during our earlier efforts. But we kept attending meetings and applying pressure.

Over time, fellow teenagers and young adults joined our cause, increasing our numbers at meetings. Our advocacy groups became larger and more robust, and we gained new perspectives and ideas through the diversity of our members. Thanks to the guidance of gracious mentors and elected officials, we became more knowledgeable on pertinent topics, conducting intra-organization workshops and study sessions to become more effective advocates.

Building credibility takes time, but after nearly two years of vocal involvement in policy advocacy, I’m proud to say that many more elected officials are taking the opinions of youth seriously as a result of the influx of students into the climate policy advocacy movement.

Since we began our efforts, we’ve successfully advocated for sustainable policies from the local to the state level, encouraging the adoption of legislation ranging from building electrification codes (“reach codes,” as they’re often called) in Cupertino, Mountain View, and Sunnyvale, to state policies such as AB 841, which has deployed vital resources for accelerating the development of electric vehicle charging infrastructure in the state of California. 

Our advocacy process involves multiple steps aimed to help educate advocates and enable them to create an impact in their communities. Rather than forcing advocates to trudge through endless pages of policy lingo and close-to-meaningless tables and figures, we find resources such as PowerPoint presentations, videos, and brochures that provide a high-level overview of what a certain policy entails. Then, we parse the language of specific parts of the policy to find weak points which we would like to see improved.

Based on the weaknesses we find, we draft a counterproposal, which we then cross-reference with other local advocacy organizations such as the Sierra Club and 350.org to ensure that our interpretations of the policy are correct. After constructing this “game plan” of asks, we begin drafting advocacy letters and public comments, which we send to city councils and present at official city meetings, respectively. Through well-informed and reasonable policy recommendations, repeated involvement in the political process, and strength in numbers, our advocacy teams are able to affect meaningful change in the final legislation which is passed.

For example, with regards to the aforementioned building electrification codes (which I helped advocate for in Sunnyvale), our advocacy team focused on two major asks: increasing electric vehicle readiness in Sunnyvale and eliminating exceptions allowing the installation of natural gas-powered appliances in certain types of buildings. By speaking at three different city meetings—the Planning Commission (which handles land use and development), the Sustainability Commission (which deals with matters pertaining to the environment and Sunnyvale’s Climate Action Plan), and the City Council—we were able to influence city staff to integrate our recommendations into the final language of the reach codes.

Now, EV readiness standards in Sunnyvale surpass that of calGREEN (California’s statewide building codes) and exceptions that once existed for nonresidential kitchens have been converted to a case-by-case system (meaning that no restaurants can simply use a gas-powered stove because they feel like it). The increased rigor of these components of Sunnyvale’s reach codes will go a long way in improving EV adoption rates and reducing the city’s greenhouse gas emissions over the long term.

The task of addressing climate change is daunting at first glance, but with so many passionate youths involved, what seems like an insurmountable challenge suddenly becomes feasible. The support of like-minded peers pushes us to keep attending meetings, writing advocacy letters, and taking a stand for our planet.

If you are interested in joining a youth-led environmental initiative, options run the gamut from community engagement to policy advocacy. The Climate Youth Ambassador Program is a youth-led environmental education organization that aims to equip individuals (especially children) with resources and knowledge to lead sustainable lifestyles. Organizations such as Silicon Valley Youth Climate Action and the Youth Public Policy Institute (both of which I’m a member of) are working on all sorts of climate policies with varying scopes—you can join an existing city team or advocacy team, or start a new team if one doesn’t exist yet.

And if none of these suit your interests, no worries! Find some friends or classmates who have similar interests to you and start your own initiative. In today’s climate, there are more outlets than ever for youth to share their voices, and what’s most important is finding your niche and leveraging your passions to enact impactful climate action.

We know that we have once chance to put out this fire, so we want to make sure we do it right. 

P.S. Here’s a cool video you can watch to learn more about pursuing climate activism, especially from a policy advocacy perspective: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nxFPCgXdZ9Q


Kaushik Tota, a senior at Saint Francis High School in Mountain View uses a three-pronged approach of innovative technology, community awareness, and sustainable policy, to help solve the planet’s most pressing sustainability challenges.

Edited by  Meera Kymal, Contributing Editor at India Currents.

Fatal Fallout of Fossil Fuels

At the Front Door: Renewable and Carbon-Free Energy –  a column on climate change in our lives

Renewable and carbon-free energy is cheaper than fossil fuels!

Don’t believe me? Look at your energy bill.

San Jose has a program called San Jose Clean Energy, which is one of 23 Community Choice Energy (CCE) programs in California. In fact, the vast majority Bay Area communities are part of CCE programs. These programs provide “competitively priced clean energy options to customers” and reinvests any revenues into local communities. The majority of San Jose residents were automatically enrolled in this program in 2019, and once enrolled your power bill would have gone down. That’s right, the default option from San Jose Clean Energy provides consumers with 45% renewable energy at a cost that is approximately 1% less than what you would pay for traditional energy generation (which is currently about 29% renewable). For $5 more a month you can opt for a plan with 100% renewable sources. All it takes is the click of a button on your PG&E account.

But money isn’t the only way we pay for our fixation with fossil fuels. An article published in Nature in 2017 stated that “all energy production has environmental and societal effects.” Another way to term ‘effects’ is to say ‘costs’. But what, exactly, does that mean? 

To calculate the true cost of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas, we must factor in the social and environmental cost of their carbon emissions. Let’s take coal as an example. In 2011 the perceived cost of coal was 3.4 cents per kilowatt-hour. However, a report by the National Academies of Science noted that each kilowatt-hour also cost 5.6 cents in adverse health impacts.

Another study put the cost of coal’s ‘externalities’- meaning releasing carbon dioxide – at between 9.4 to 26.9 cents per kilowatt-hour. They averaged their guess to about 17.8 cents, this may not seem like a lot but that puts the cost of the United States coal addiction at “a third to over one-half of a trillion dollars annually” in unaccounted for costs. And it turns out that these numbers are likely too low. Recent research has indicated that the costs of carbon are more severe and one of the study’s authors noted that a higher number is more realistic. 

And some countries will pay much, much, more than others. A paper recently released in Nature Climate Change used recent climate model projections and economic and social damage estimates to devise a country-specific social cost of carbon (CSCC). The CSCC is, in short, the projected “economic damages from carbon dioxide emissions” by country – and it highlights that the consequences of carbon emissions will fall unevenly across the globe. And it turns out that India, struggling under a cost of $86 per ton of carbon, will pay the most. In fact, the next closest country is the United States, which will end up paying just over half of what India will pay at $48 per ton of carbon. 

The non-monetary costs of fossil fuels have already become apparent in industrializing countries like India. A study published by the Mumbai-based Conservation Action Trust found that “[a]s many as 115,000 people die in India each year from coal-fired power plant pollution, costing the country about $4.6 billion.” The number of fatalities includes 10,000 children under the age of five.

India’s demand for energy, and thus its coal use and subsequent negative health impacts, will likely continue to rise. Despite its reliance on fossil fuels, the Indian government has placed a tax on coal with the aim of spurring developments in renewables. If India is able to take this initiative, why can’t we?

The money that comes out of our monthly budget isn’t actually what we pay for energy. We pay with our health in the form of lower air quality, higher asthma rates, and higher COVID-19 mortality. We pay social costs with environmental degradation, increased social inequality, and a reduced quality of life. In short, we pay with shorter, sicker, less-equitable, and less-enjoyable lives. And worst of all, we pay with the lives and the future of our children. 


Erin Zimmerman is trained as a Climate Reality Leader in 2019 by the Climate Reality Project, but has been active in the environmental movement for over a decade. Erin holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Adelaide, where she focused on environmental degradation and its impacts on country and regional stability in Asia. She is currently the Chair of the Speakers’ Bureau of the Santa Clara Chapter of the Climate Reality Project  and an active member of the Legislative and Policy team.

Edited by Meera Kymal, Contributing Editor at India Currents.

Image credit: Hermina Oláh Vass

Bibliography

Friedman, Lisa. (2013). “Coal-Fired Power in India May Cause More Than 100,000 Premature Deaths Annually.” Scientific American. URL: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/coal-fired-power-in-india-may-cause-more-than-100000-premature-deaths-annually/

Greenstone, M and Looney, A. (2011), “The Real Costs of U.S. Energy.” Brookings Institute. URL: https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/the-real-costs-of-u-s-energy/

Gres, E. (2017). “The Real Cost of Energy.” Nature, URL: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-017-07510-3 

Harvey, C. and Gronewold, N. (2019). “CO2 Emissions Will Break Another Record in 2019.” Scientific American. URL: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/co2-emissions-will-break-another-record-in-2019/

Meyer, R. (2015), “This Is the Real Cost of Coal.” Mother Jones, URL: https://www.motherjones.com/environment/2015/08/coals-cost-climate-change/

Ricke, K., Drouet, L., Caldeira, K., Tavoni, M. (2018). “Country-Level Social Cost of Carbon.” Nature Climate Change, Vol.8: 895-900.

San Jose Clean Energy. (2020). URL: https://sanjosecleanenergy.org/totalgreen/

Children volunteering at a Save The Bay project

Saving The Bay On A Sunday Morning

At the Front Door: Climate Change & the Bay Area –  a column on climate change in our lives

A few years ago, I started to wonder what success means to me. I came across the story of Watsi, the first non-profit to join Y-Combinator. In his startup school video, Chase Adams, the founder, talks about his journey building Watsi. The most impactful part of his story is the message that success to him meant helping just one more person and trying to do something that mattered more than his personal needs. This message resonated with me. The companies we work at, the job titles we hold, the money we make, the size of our homes, the cars we drive, the holidays we take, are not a measure of how successful we are.

The question to ask is, can we make a positive impact on at least one life, human or otherwise? If so, it is impossible for us to fail. 

I started on my journey to find something that mattered more than just my personal needs and wants. I found that environmental related charities received only 3% of all charitable donations and volunteering hours. This was a surprise to me given that climate change is the biggest threat we face. There were large gaps in awareness of the climate change crisis and a lack of  involvement from governments, business leaders and communities to solve the problem.

I started looking into how to be part of the solutions and where to start. 

Through friends at work, I connected with  organizations such as Save the Bay and  started seeking out other local organizations. I found that Our City Forest held several volunteering events over the weekend to plant trees in the Bay Area. It was a perfect opportunity to engage our children in something we can do together outdoors while also helping to make our community greener.

Kids participate in tree planting with Our City Forest in the Bay Area
Seema’s son volunteering with Our City Forest

I enrolled in Climate Reality Leadership Corps training led by Al Gore and engaged with my employer’s Green Employee resource group. As I started to become more aware of the various problems we face, so did the kids. They started to ask questions about things that didn’t look right.

“Mom, why is there so much plastic packaging?” “Why are there so many cars on the road?”

I encouraged them to pose the same question to business leaders and government officials – how will they solve these problems? I helped my kids write letters to the head of BART, the mayor of San Jose and to business leaders at Emirates, Kiwi Crate, and Amazon. Sometimes we heard back, but more importantly, we talked about how important it is to use our voice and refuse to accept the status quo in situations that can be harmful to our future. Kids are now using their skills to help create media to spread the message of climate change and what each of us can do about it.

Last year, on a cold November Saturday morning, I woke up my 7 year old son and 4 year old daughter early, packed some snacks and headed towards Marin. We were going to volunteer with Save The Bay at Bel Marin Keys to help restore wetlands. This was our first volunteering event together and we had a blast being outdoors, working to help restore nature. Since then, as a family, we have volunteered to plant trees, created videos and stories to share information about climate change, written to business leaders and government officials to do their part to tackle climate change and designed clothing to promote climate advocacy.

At home, we started with small changes to reduce our personal impact. We switched to bamboo toothbrushes, started to buy used books, exchange clothes instead of buying new ones, limit water wastage, use refillable bathroom products and to limit the use of products that have plastic materials or packaging. But we know that the biggest impact that we can have at a personal level is transitioning to clean energy for heating, cooling and transportation and changing our diets to be meat and dairy free. 

We have taken advantage of the opportunity to switch to 100% clean electricity through TotalGreen San Jose and are looking into how to transition to electric heaters from natural gas. And, while being vegetarian is an easier change for us, growing up with dairy products makes this change harder. However, black tea is turning out to be just as satisfying!  

When we think about sustainability, what we have to give up is not as important as t what we will gain. We will gain a healthier life, breathe cleaner air, drink purer water, live in a world where nature and biodiversity are thriving, giving us the opportunity to explore nature at its best. 

Start with small changes and work your way towards a truly sustainable lifestyle that becomes second nature to us. 


Seema Jethani is a sustainability advocate and a Climate Reality Leader with the Climate Reality Project.  She lives in San Jose with her husband and two elementary school age kids with whom she has been actively working in the community on the climate crisis, through various initiatives such as volunteering, social media engagement and petitioning elected officials and business leaders.

Edited by Meera Kymal, the contributing editor at India Currents.

Silicon Valley’s Success Sits on Toxic ‘Superfund’ Sites

At the Front Door – a column on climate change in our lives

The Environmental Burdens on our Neighbors

Silicon Valley has been one of the greatest wealth generators in the United States. Yet this wealth has come at a price, one that hasn’t been shared equally amongst the residents of the Bay Area. The more ‘visual’ costs, such as skyrocketing rents and urban sprawl obscure the more subtle, but far more dangerous and long-terms costs right beneath our feet. Literally. The true cost of Silicon Valley’s success is in the ground you stand on. Santa Clara County is home to 23 superfund sites, the most of any county in the United States. If you live in the South Bay, you are never more than a short drive from one of these sites. If you live in Mountain View, Sunnyvale, or San Jose, you can probably walk to one.

A site gains a superfund status if it scores above a 28.5 or higher out of 100 on the EPA’s Hazard Ranking System, which is a measurement of the site’s threat to human health. Sites must reach a certain level of severity before they can be designated as a ‘superfund’, which lets the government to force the parties responsible to perform cleanups or reimburse the government for EPA-led cleanup. There are also hundreds of other toxic sites which don’t qualify as superfund sites which are scattered across Silicon Valley.

To understand where we are, we need to look at where we have been. Silicon Valley earned its name by hosting semiconductor and microprocessor companies such as Atari, Fairchild, Hewlett-Packard. These companies used a solvent called trichloroethylene (TCE) in their manufacturing process. TCE is now a known human carcinogen and can also cause birth defects. After use, the TCE was poured down drains or kept in storage tanks which subsequently leaded and contaminated local groundwater.  In some instance, the pollutants can re-emerge as vapor and result in ‘toxic plumes’ or ‘vapor intrusion zones’.

The environmental burden of these sites fallen unevenly upon the shoulders of people of color and the poor, as most sites “are predominantly situated in Mountain View and Sunnyvale, and Santa Clara County cities which are comprised of the highest percentage of low socioeconomic immigrants of color.” Unsurprisingly, the whiter cities of Palo Alto and Cupertino host far fewer sites.

I live in northern Sunnyvale and I can easily walk to half a dozen, three of which are collectively called the ‘Sunnyvale Triple-site’. The vapor intrusion zone from this site encompass 400 homes and four schools, including the majority-Latino San Miguel Elementary School. Polluted in the 1980, the site was only fully cleaned up in the last decade and is now closely monitored by authorities.

Superfund sites are not the only environmental legacy of the economic boom. Another is traffic, a problem which plagues most of the Bay area, and Highway 101 is the “area’s most toxic industrial belt, with contamination impacting air, water, and soil.”

It is not a coincidence that Highway 101 through the same areas of Sunnyvale, Mountain View, and San Jose which host the highest concentration of minorities (and superfund sites).

The highway also runs through East Palo Alto on its way to San Francisco. East Palo Alto is diverse city with 61%  of its residents identifying as Latino, 15.6% African American/Black, and 11% Asian. The median income in 2018 was $58,783, a far cry from the average of $137,000 in whiter neighboring Palo Alto. Children in East Palo Alto are 2.5 times more likely to suffer from asthma as children in the rest of San Mateo County, and life expectancy is 13 years shorter.

And East Palo Alto isn’t an exception but rather part of a trend, a paper published by researchers at Santa Clara University noted that,

“Environmental burdens are concentrated along transportation routes and industrial centers that represent Silicon Valley’s rapid development. Hispanic populations, people of color, and socially vulnerable populations…are more likely to be exposed to multiple environmental hazards than other groups.”

The term ‘environmental burdens’ doesn’t quite convey the truth that our neighbors who bear these ‘burden’ will be sicker and die sooner than our neighbors without such burdens.

I felt two things when I learned this: shocked and lucky. Shocked, because I had no idea of the history of pollution and injustice which underlay the success of Silicon Valley.  And lucky, because while traffic is annoying I don’t live in an area where I have to worry that car exhaust will damage my health or the health of my family. Nor do I have to decide between affordable housing and living in an area which could be exposed to toxic vapor plumes.

And now I feel determined, because I can do something to help my neighbors who do have to worry about these things. I can vote for people who take environmental issues seriously, and who support clean public transportation. I can advocate at the state and local level for our legislators to ensure that the benefits and burdens of success are distributed more equally. I can speak up because we are all part of this community, and it is my responsibility to help my neighbors.


Erin Zimmerman was trained as a Climate Reality Leader in 2019 by the Climate Reality Project, but has been active in the environmental movement for over a decade. Erin holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Adelaide, where she focused on environmental degradation and its impacts on country and regional stability in Asia. She is currently the Chair of the Speakers’ Bureau of the Santa Clara Chapter of the Climate Reality Project  and an active member of the Legislative and Policy team.

Edited by Meera Kymal, Contributing Editor at India Currents.

Image by Hermina Olah Vass  @beautymakesasound

References
Fagone, J. and Dizikes, C. (2019). “SF’s Treasure Island, Poised for Building Boom, Escaped Listing as Superfund Site.” San Francisco Chronicle.
Greenaction. (2019). “East Palo Alto, California.” Greenaction.org.
Nieves, E. 2018. “The Superfund Sites of Silicon Valley.” The New York Times.
Pellow, D. N. & Park, L S-H. (2002). The Silicon Valley of Dreams: Environmental Injustice, Immigrant Workers, and the High-Tech Global Economy. NYU Press.
Rao, A. and Scaruffi, P. 2013. A History of Silicon Valley: The Greatest Creation of Wealth in the History of the Planet. Omniware Group.
Reilly, C. (2018). “Silicon Valley’s ‘Middle Class‘ Earns 7 Times US Average.www.cnet.com.
Schlossberg, T. 2019. “Silicon Valley is One of the Most Polluted Places in the Country.The Atlantic.
Siegel, L. (2015). “Building Trust at the Triple Site, Sunnyvale, California.” Center for Public Environmental Oversight.
Solof, L.E. (2014). “Bay Area Student Involvement in the Environmental and Food Justice Movements: A Narrative of Motivations, Experiences, and Community Impact.” Doctoral Dissertation. University of San Francisco; The Faculty of the School of Education.
Stewart, I. Bacon, C. Burke, W. (2014). “The Uneven Distribution of Environmental Burdens and Benefits in Silicon Valley’s Backyard.” Applied Geography. 55: 266-277.
Stock, S. Paredes, D. and S. Pham. 2014 (12 May). “Toxic Plumes: The Dark Side of Silicon Valley.NBC Bay Area.
Sustainable Silicon Valley. (2020).
United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2020). “What is a Superfund.

 

South Asians Running for Office – Sri Muppidi in Dublin, CA

Sri Muppidi, a 25 year-old Stanford graduate, is running for city council in her hometown, Dublin.  She may be one of the youngest candidates in the surge of South Asians running for office in the Bay Area – but Sri tells DesiCollective she is motivated by the urgency of the moment – with Covid-19 decimating the economy and Climate Change wreaking havoc on our environment. Sri wants a hand in shaping the future for her generation. 

This story is the third in our series on conversation with candidates – SHORT TAKES for India Currents – where first time contenders for political office share their aspirations and plans with our community!

If you live in Dublin, take a look!

SHORT TAKES/DesiCollective: South Asians are Running for Political Office

Short Takes: Belal Aftab in Saratoga

Short Takes : Harbir Bhatia in Santa Clara

Short Takes: Kuljeet Kalkat in Los Altos

Short Takes: Ajit Varma in Palo Alto

Short Takes: Sumiti Mehta in Natomas

 

 

Vote Yes On S

Protect Our Local Supply of Safe, Clean Water in Santa Clara County- Without Raising Taxes

For more than 20 years, Santa Clara County residents have benefited from the Safe, Clean Water Program through Valley Water. The program has provided local funding to build voter- approved projects that protect our local drinking water for future generations. Measure S allows Valley Water to continue to implement this program by creating a long-term strategy for safe, clean local drinking water.

MEASURE S WILL

  • Protect our local drinking water supply
  • Upgrade aging pipelines and dams to protect against earthquakes and climate change
  • Reduce pollution, toxins and contaminants in waterways
  • Provide natural flood protection

AND MEASURE S DOESN’T INCREASE TAXES: It simply renews existing local funding we’ve relied on for 20 years. It would extend Measure B, approved by 74% of county voters in 2012.

MEASURE S REQUIRES INDEPENDENT CITIZEN OVERSIGHT AND AUDITS TO ENSURE FUNDS ARE SPENT AS PROMISED All Measure S funds will be controlled locally, will go to our local water protection projects and cannot be taken away by the state.

SENIOR RESIDENTS CAN BE EXEMPTED FROM THE TAX

Join local residents, environmental groups, labor, business leaders, and elected officials in protecting our water supply for future generations.

 

Paid for by Safe Clean Water for Our Future, Yes on Measure S. Committee major funding from: California Alliance for Jobs – Rebuild California Committee
Operating Engineers Local Union No. 3 Issues Advocacy/Ballot Initiative PAC

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Forest Fires Aren’t the Problem, Climate Change Is

At the Front Door: Climate Change & Forest Fires –  a column on climate change in our lives

On a Wednesday morning just a few weeks ago, Bay Area residents woke up to a scene out of a dystopian movie. The sun hung low and red in a sky that looked like it too was on fire. Ash fell from the sky as evidence of the unimaginable destruction which spanned all the way from Los Angeles across the border north to Oregon. Air quality was so bad that authorities called for people to stay indoors. News headlines and radio hosts discussed the damage caused by forest fires, but what they really should have been discussing was climate change. 

For decades we have heard about the negative impacts of climate change on our planet. And in 2018, the total devastation of Paradise, California drove home that forest fires were no longer confined  to places where people just went on vacation. This was different. This was right outside our windows. For the first time ever, I knew people who had been evacuated to shelters and could do nothing but wait to learn if they had homes to go back to. For many of us, the last few weeks have been an unwelcome and long-overdue wakeup call. Climate change isn’t something that is happening elsewhere. It is happening here, right now, threatening our homes and filling our lungs with smoke.  

The link between Climate change and worsening forest fires in California and across the West is incontrovertible. While forest management is important it cannot  be blamed for the recent catastrophic nature of these fires. It is climate change that causes summers to grow hotter with less precipitation and an increased risk of drought. Not only is climate change making most of California drier, it is causing it to be drier for longer periods of time. This year’s hot and dry spring was no exception, which is why there was plenty of dry vegetation scorched by record-hot temperatures, just waiting to ignite. And ignite it did. In late August a thunderstorm passed over northern California. The dry air caused the rain to evaporate leaving only lightning to reach the ground. These lightning strikes started hundreds of fires, many in hard-to-reach places. 

Scientists note that the impacts of human-caused climate change means that we are looking at “a longer fire season with conditions friendlier to fire” resulting in larger, more frequent, more intense, and more destructive fires. This forecast has certainly held true over the last two decades, as the worst ten fires in the State’s history have all occurred since 2000. The last decade has been even worse, continuously smashing previous records for destruction. An analysis conducted by the LA Times found that “wildfires and their compounding effects have intensified in recent years  — and there’s little sign things will improve.” And 2020 is certainly living up to this prediction. 

California is once again struggling through its worst fire season ever, and the August Complex Fire officially became the state’s largest fire since records have been kept (1932). And the fire season has just barely started.

This is, of course, made even worse by the fact that people are often choosing to live near the forests, meaning it is increasingly likely for humans to intentionally and unintentionally start forest fires. The most consequential example this year being the El Dorado Fire outside of Los Angeles, which was started by a pyrotechnic device used as part of a gender reveal. So  far the fire has burned 22,000 acres and ten structures, caused the evacuation of over 20,000 people, and resulted in the death of one fire fighter.  

The real question is, “When will we stop acting like each progressively-worse fire season is an abnormality and acknowledge that worse is the new normal?” 

The climate we were accustomed to is not coming back, and the worst is yet to come.  It is inevitable. We can continue to applaud firefighters and first responders, but a more profound show of gratitude would be to acknowledge and address the root of the problem: climate change, largely caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

California Governor Newsom succinctly summed up the situation during a press conference: “What we’re experiencing right here is coming to communities all across the United States of America unless we get our act together on climate change.” It makes  one wonder if the recent fires will alter the Governor’s previously permissive stance on permitting new oil and gas wells.

Combatting the causes of climate change is no longer a luxury. It is a priority, not just for our politicians and legislators but for us too. The most recent report for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, noted that effectively tackling climate change would “require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes to all aspects of society.” 

If we want to adapt, and to do so equitably, we need to act now. We have to start making fundamental and uncomfortable changes in how we live – and demand that others arounds us do the same. 


Erin Zimmerman is trained as a Climate Reality Leader in 2019 by the Climate Reality Project, but has been active in the environmental movement for over a decade. Erin holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Adelaide, where she focused on environmental degradation and its impacts on country and regional stability in Asia. She is currently the Chair of the Speakers’ Bureau of the Santa Clara Chapter of the Climate Reality Project  and an active member of the Legislative and Policy team.

Edited by Meera Kymal, Contributing Editor at India Currents.

Image credits: markus spiske, Unsplash

Bibliography

Branch, John and Plumer, Brad (22 Sept 2020), “Climate Disruption Is Now Locked In. The Next Moves Will Be Crucial,” The New York Times,
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/22/climate/climate-change-future.html?searchResultPosition=1
Cal Fire, (Updated 22 Sept 2020) “El Dorado Fire,” Incidents, https://www.fire.ca.gov/incidents/2020/9/5/el-dorado-fire/
DeMarche, Edmund, (21 Sept 2020), “Firefighter Who Died in El Dorado Fire is ID’d as Crew Boss,” Fox News,
https://www.foxnews.com/us/firefighter-who-died-in-el-dorado-fire-is-idd-as-crew-boss
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, (2018), “Summary for Policymakers of IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C approved by governments,” https://www.ipcc.ch/2018/10/08/summary-for-policymakers-of-ipcc-special-report-on-global-warming-of-1-5c-approved-by-governments/
Krishnakumar, Priya and Kannan Swetha, (15 Sept 2020) “The Worst Fires Season Ever. Again.” The Los Angeles Times,
https://www.latimes.com/projects/california-fires-damage-climate-change-analysis/
McGrath, Matt (25 Sept 2020), “California wildfire trend ‘driven by climate’”, BBC News: https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-54278988
Newberger, Emma and Rattner, Nate (18 Sept 2020), “These charts show how wildfires are getting larger, more severe in the U.S.” CNBC,
https://www.cnbc.com/2020/09/18/fires-in-california-oregon-and-washington-data-shows-blazes-getting-worse-.html
Pierre-Louise, Kendra and Schwartz, John (22 Sept 2020) “Why Does California Have So Many Wildfires?”, New York Times, Climate and Environment section, https://www.nytimes.com/article/why-does-california-have-wildfires.html
Shepherd, Katie (8 Sept 2020), “A Gender-Reveal Stunt Sparked a California wildfire that has forced 21,000 People to Evacuate”, Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/09/08/california-gender-reveal-fire/
Tucker, Liza (09 Feb 2020), “Permits to Drill New Oil and Gas Wells Zoom Up 190% In The First Six Months of 2020Under Gov. Newsome Worrisome Trend,” Consmer Watchdog,
https://www.consumerwatchdog.org/energy/permits-drill-new-oil-and-gas-wells-zoom-190-first-six-months-2020-under-gov-newsom
Union of Concerned Scientists, (8 Sept 2020) “Infographic: Wildfires and Climate Change,” Union of Concerned Scientists. https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/infographic-wildfires-and-climate-change?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=fbads&fbclid=PAAaYSNg_EYXMMP_3h0vRf0b7Y8uVhtVVhivEQr1V31SLp4iR5V_KwHCnQrfs
Williams, A. P., Abatzoglou, J. T., Gershunov, A., Guzman‐Morales, J., Bishop, D. A., Balch, J. K., & Lettenmaier, D. P. (2019). Observed impacts of anthropogenic climate change on wildfire in California. Earth’s Future, 7, 892– 910. https://doi.org/10.1029/2019EF001210 

 

Sundown or Sunrise, Climate Change Waits for No One

As we look back on this past decade of rapid and polarizing social change in the USA, its end has been defined by political upheaval, the #MeToo reckoning, and climate change controversies. In spite of climate change deniers and the defanged EPA, we saw progress with respect to the climate crisis. Names like Greta Thunberg and Naomi Klein are recognizable but have you wondered why a Green New Deal is suddenly in demand?  

The Great Climate Awakening has been planned, organized, and executed by a diverse coalition that includes but is not limited to Extinction Rebellion, Sierra Club, 350, Mothers Out Front, and Greenpeace. But it has been the fastest growing and youngest group within this nonprofit network – Sunrise Movement — that has made the biggest impact in the shortest amount of time.  A relatively decentralized army of high-schoolers, college students, and folks under 35 have undeniably transformed today’s political discourse by publicly demanding ambitious climate justice and environmental protection policy from elected officials and those running for office.

Sunrise created and championed the most recent iteration of the Green New Deal. GND has become part of the Democratic party platform and has been hotly debated during the primaries. Although the Green New Deal concept has been around since 2006, it was not until right after the 2018 midterms that the GND attained public awareness in its entirety. A large cohort of Sunrise volunteers organized a sit-in in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office to demand a detailed ‘national, industrial, economic mobilization plan’ capable of making the U.S. economy carbon neutral. 

GND become a litmus test for Democrats and Republicans; the candidates and their supporters must reexamine their own convictions about the climate crisis and environmental devastation as they relate to corporate accountability, worker justice, racial justice, and a livable future for all. Nearly every single Democratic presidential candidate has pledged to it, and many dozens of governors, senators, and Congressmen have heeded the call to pledge their support or co-sponsorship.

This has been only one of many acts of rebellion that is attributed to the Sunrisers. In August of 2019, San Francisco Sunrisers interrupted a DNC Resolutions Committee meeting with songs and chants of protest; they had learned that the DNC had decided not to have any of their presidential debates focus on the climate crisis. In December, that same hub also shut down PG&E’s Spear Tower office. In collaboration with disability justice and utility justice activists, Sunrisers demanded that: PG&E return shareholder profits to the people, invest in protecting the most vulnerable, and give up ownership of utilities to the public since the company’s own approach proved reckless. The company’s negligence resulted in 1500 fires that PG&E’s equipment sparked over a 6-year period. These actions have been followed by more rallies, strikes, and sit-ins all over the country.

Significantly, the call to action comes from Sunrise CoFounder and Executive Director, 26 year old, Indian-American Varshini Prakash. It was shaped by a shared dream that Prakash had with a handful of like minded friends in 2017 and has since evolved into a grassroots behemoth made up of over 300 hubs across the United States. Her message resonates with young Indian-Americans, as hundreds have joined the Sunrise Movement – fighting for clean air, clean water, clean energy, sustainable agriculture & development, and good jobs.

Maya and Mahesh, young Indian-Americans at the forefront of this movement, were interviewed to provide insight into the diverse backgrounds of those within the movement; varied interests didn’t limit the contribution they could make to Sunrise. You can get involved too!

…………………………………

Hey Maya! Which school do you go to and how did you first come to know about Sunrise?

I am a Biology and Political Science major at Northeastern University. I was taking this class called Intro to Global Health, and for my final paper, I decided to research the potential public health effects of the Green New Deal. I heard about Sunrise through a professor during that research process and I really admired the work they were doing. 

And then you joined in?

Yeah, in April I started volunteering consistently, doing campaign work for local candidates through the Electoral team, which is part of the Action team.

What else are you excited about?

The Boston City Council had an amazing victory; 7 out of 8 of our candidates won. I want to see the outcomes of that – how they’re going to use their new power. I’m also looking forward to seeing what happens with the State House and Congressional elections. 

And who are your favorite Presidential candidates?

I’m a big fan of both Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. 

Me too. Now tell me more about you – who is Maya Mudgal?

Well, I grew up in Lexington with my parents & two brothers. My parents immigrated to the US in ‘93, and we’ve been in Boston since 2001.I got involved in college radio as DJ, my show was called Trail Mix. I also joined a global health organization. My friends would describe me as independent, driven, detail oriented, and someone who tends to jump into too many projects. I enjoy long walks and I love to make playlists – everything except country music & EDM. 

…………………………………

Hey Mahesh! Where did you go to school, and how did you first come to know about Sunrise?

I graduated in May from Washington University in St. Louis, where I majored in biochemistry (I’m studying to be a doctor). I first heard about the Sunrise Movement on ABC News and I was encouraged to join by my sister. 

And then what? 

I recently joined the Fundraising team and just became the new Treasurer. I volunteered for Beyond Schools for two and a half years; this is my first time volunteering for climate justice and environmental protection in my community. 

Tell me about yourself. Who is Mahesh Challapalli?

In my free time I like to cook and read novels. I was on the tennis team in college. I’m okay at guitar, still learning. My friends would describe me as ‘lost and clueless’. My mom would describe me as loving. I’m a good friend and brother. I prefer talking to people in small groups because I feel more introverted than extroverted.

Who are your favorite presidential candidates?

I like Warren and Sanders. Definitely not Pete Buttigieg. 

…………………………………

Get engaged. As the new year rolls in, we need to reflect on our civic duty. NYC, Chicago, DC, LA, San Francisco, San Jose, Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Boston have the highest density of Indians; all of these cities face major environmental risks in this decade. For some, this means rising sea levels, increasingly frequent hurricanes, and loss of wildlife and wildlife habitats. For others, the risks can mean air pollution, wildfires, extreme heat, coal & fracking-related illnesses, deforestation, and clean water scarcity. 

The youth of the Sunrise Movement see it as their dharma – their duty – to mitigate these risks through activism. That is why we ask YOU to contribute in whatever way fits your interests and abilities: volunteering at your local hub, small monthly donations, or starting the dialogue about Sunrise. We need the support and participation of the Indian-American community at large; we can’t do it without you.

Sara Singh is a Revenue Operations Analyst and recent US citizen who became politically activated after the Sunrise Northeast Regional Summit. Having witnessed air pollution, water pollution, deforestation, and trash proliferation — in India, Chile, and many parts of the US – she’s switching careers to focus on environmental justice. 

Edited by Srishti Prabha