My body is beginning to re-adjust to the appropriate time zone after returning to our 350.org office here in Burlington, Vermont, USA from India just 2 days ago. It is overwhelming to reflect on all that I did and learned in India for August while meeting with partners and allies across the country. The movement to fight climate change is now growing to new levels in India with exciting potential for changing the course of local, national, and international action on this crisis. This new growth is only just in the nick of time.
It’s incredibly sad to read reports of the floods in Eastern Nepal and the state of Bihar in northeastern India. As a result of unforgiving monsoon rains, a dam burst in Nepal 11 days ago, and now the Kosi river flowing from Nepal into Bihar breached its banks and changed course, pouring into hundreds of villages and towns. The death toll from floods as well as water-borne disease is rising day by day, and ultimately millions of people are being affected.
What’s worse is that India is no stranger to such disasters. While in India this month I heard numerous personal tales of floods that are hard to comprehend. Most memorable perhaps are the 2006 floods in Mumbai where nearly a meter (37.1 inches) of rain feel in a 24-hour period. While I was fortunate not to get caught up in anything on that scale, the stories became all that more real for me as I wintessed streets of Hyderabad turned into rivers in some sections of the city earlier in the month. All these floods are compounded by imperfect human development — urbanization without appropriate drainage, dams unable to contain the monsoon rains. Yet, the severity and frequency of these floods is being linked by many to the changing climate of South Asia as a result of global warming — it’s hard to build cities capable of withstanding a meter of rain in 24 hours.
And it’s not just floods. In meetings with groups all around India I heard news of countless environmental changes and problems facing communities and the country right now. Even beyond the many local pollution and environmental degradation issues, they spoke of floods, droughts, rising sea levels, unpredictable seasonal changes making farming both difficult and stressful, and much more.
All in all, it makes sense to people in India that climate change is real and happening now. Even if they are learning about the concept of global warming for the first time, their experience often tells people that something is going seriously wrong.
The reality that Indians — and we could easily use the example of any number of countries around the world — are now facing the impacts of climate change while the planet heats up with 387 ppm co2 in the atmosphere makes it quite clear that we’re above the carbon level where we want to be with respect to climate change. The news that we’re beyond the safe upper limit of co2 in the atmosphere makes perfect sense in this context. And thus, just about everyone I met in India agreed, setting 350 as the benchmark for international action is a must.
If the world is going to reach 350, then India needs not only to demand action and support from the main global warming culprits, the US and European nations, but they too will have to take a leadership role in modeling how to improve the lives of millions without endangering the planet. India will certainly have increasing energy demands as it attempts to provide electricity and improved standards of living to millions of people now living in poverty. The same vision now carrying forward the green jobs movement in the US is now rising at the grassroots level in India. Echoing the words of Van Jones, the movement to reach 350 is also a movement to create a “green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty.”
And so, it’s not only the flood waters of Bihar which are changing course. The movement to fight climate change and set the world on course to 350 is now strengthening in India as well. The Climate Project India, the Indian Youth Climate Network, the Centre for Social Markets, the Center for Environmental Education India, Sanctuary Asia, and many many more are all increasing their efforts to rally the Indian people to take on climate change, including spreading 350. Much of their energy is starting with the need for basic education on the subject of global warming, but they are swiftly moving folks from education to action as well. It’s inspiring and a real renewal of hope to see the new course taking shape in the Indian climate movement, with 350 now among the unifying themes.
In the end, this movement is never about any one country — not India, not China, not the US. It’s about uniting all countries and catalyzing global cooperation to achieve the common goal of 350 through the most fair means possible.