Wednesday 13 March 2019

“Badi aayi environment-waali!” Why our parents don’t give a damn about climate change

When I was growing up my parents would constantly nag me to switch off all the lights in house. No, they did not want to be green. They only wanted to save the other kind of “green”. Now when I ask them to conserve power because of environmental reasons, they simply scoff, writes Sehaj K Maini on Arre. Read on: 

When I was younger, my parents would always tell me to turn off the lights before I exited a room, or else I’d get one flying chappal. Because electricity bill and all. Now the tables have turned, and when my parents come over to my house, I have to run after them to switch off the lights. Now that we’ve risen a step on the social ladder, who cares about the power bill? And what about conserving electricity? Well that was never a part of our rulebook.

I’m glad my parents think I make enough to foot a bill for 24X7 electricity usage, but what bothers me today is that the reason they ever cared about switching off the lights had nothing to do with being green – it was the other kind of green that they wanted to save. This lack of concern for the environment is something that is intrinsic to everyone from my mum and dad’s generation, which leaves me a little flummoxed because I learnt the basics of recycling from them.

My aunts and uncles, my friends’ folks also don’t seem to give a fuck. At the risk of sounding like my mother, I must say that this is a generation-wide problem. (Obviously, I don’t mean to generalise, and if your family puts in the effort to reduce their waste that cannot decompose, kudos to them.) I am surrounded by an entire gang of educated, well-informed men and women mostly born in the ’60s and early ’70s who refuse to go the extra mile.

My parents live in a residency where people stay in bungalows, and most of our neighbours are retired. I’ve seen women sit in the park, eat samosas and throw the waste right there. The garbage bin, just five steps away, is half-empty, while the park is littered with wrappers and plastic bottles. My aunt refuses to turn off the taps even as buckets after buckets of water overflow while she is busy chatting on her phone. There’s a dejunking session in my house every couple of months and it usually ends in a pile of plastic being pulled out from every corner of the house and then disposed of, right in the bin. No recycling, or reusage, just chucked away, eventually to be swallowed by some sea turtle.

We seem to be telling the older generation to give global warming some thought. Maybe because we are here to stay and so are our children.

Somehow my generation, us infamous millennials, has not inherited this indifference. Despite everything we have “killed”, we still seem to be a little more environment-conscious, in our small, if ineffectual, ways. We try to save power, we are concerned about running taps, and we march to Save Aarey and the Aravali Biodiversity Park.

I’m not exactly sure how we got here. School books rarely taught us about doing the small things that aid conservation or prevent climate change, but we’ve grown up on a heavy dose of end-of-the-world movies like The Day After Tomorrow and 2012. Remember the latter’s opening scene, where it is snowing in Delhi? This February we saw the NCR being lashed with a hailstorm, the intensity of which has been hitherto unseen: It prompted scientists to say that it fit into the pattern of climate change and was only the beginning of more such extreme weather.

I’m no scientist, but it is evident to even me that climate change is happening faster than you can spell “apocalypse” – rising sea levels along the Mumbai coast, the deadly heatwave in Kolkata, the floods in Kerala. Environmentalists are losing their shit, people are trying to cut back on their use of plastic straws, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Instagram feed is filled with the saddest (but true) stories. And amid all this, my parents just continue to set their ACs at 16 degrees, unaffected by the heart-wrenching video of the starving Polar Bear in the Canadian Baffin Islands.

I’d be lying if I said my parents are not aware. They can likely talk your ears off at the dinner table with conversation about airstrikes, war, and the rival nation, but there seems to be no action as far as climate change is concerned. They scoff when I try to tell them about decreasing the use of plastic, or wearing organic cotton clothes, or even recycling. “Oh please, we have bigger problems to worry about. And so do you,” is a standard response. As if the end of the world is not a big enough problem.

There is a reason for this indifference? I saw a video the other day, where older people were talking about why they couldn’t care two hoots about the world ending. And I quote, “I’ll be dead by then.” We millennials might have killed love and relationships, conversations, handshakes, heck even breakfast cereal. But we are not responsible for killing the planet. That, good people of the ’70s, that is on you.

I don’t remember any grandmother telling her grandchild to not use plastic or a father encouraging his son to use public transport because it will help reduce carbon emissions. For the most part, it seems to be the other way around. We seem to be telling the older generation to give global warming some thought. Maybe because we are here to stay and so are our children.

A column in the Guardian titled “Don’t Ignore Young People – We’re Key to Fighting Climate Change” says, “While the world leaders signing accords in conference halls are important, the real change is going to come from us. Call us millennials or Gen Z or Net Gen, we’re the consumers, employees, employers and future leaders who will see the devastating effects of climate change. We are also the most connected generation in history, with the capacity to arrange coordinated global protests like the Women’s March in a matter of days, to create a $2.5m Love Army for the Somali drought in a few weeks.”

But we definitely cannot do it alone. There is enough research out there to tell us that we have only until 2030 to curb climate change. Time is running out and if each and every person in the world does not act now to reverse the change, we are doomed. This includes our parents, grandparents, and our families. And it’s time they listened to us.  

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