Climate change: Don’t be stupid!

Last Updated: Dec 11, 2009, 20:17 PM IST

Shekhar Kapur

The experience of beaming live to the UN summit (from the Himalayas) was a critical experience for me. Greenpeace provided a platform for me to speak on the issue of climate change from where its impact is being felt directly.

As far as issues of the environment are concerned, I have been actively working, thinking, and writing on these for about 10 years. I started making my film Paani. Paani is exactly the issue that we went to the UN with. When the waters dry up, there will be a great movement to the cities and social problems too will move there. Then, the cities themselves will go to war. That is exactly what it is about.

Paani is a tough movie to make. It is a future world, and it needs some kind of authenticity to create a future world.

My voice for the planet has certainly got stronger when I beamed a live message from the receding Rohtang pass above Manali. This is what I said at the glacier to a climate summit in New York attended by President Obama:

“Standing at the Rohtang glacier that’s melting away, and knowing that this means our rivers including the Ganges are slowly disappearing, I am humbled and inspired. The prospect of water wars frightens me. I fear for the future of my nine-year old daughter Kaveri. I am not stupid, and none of us can afford to be anymore.”

Indeed, I think it is time for the individual to raise his voice. If nothing works out in Copenhagen, then it would be clear that our leaders do not have the political will or the ability to make changes.

Sometimes, it is necessary to step outside politics. It has happened before: Gandhiji led the country to freedom outside the political system, against the political system. It is time for us to move against the political system and to save our planet. We as individuals must raise our voices. People like me and others like me have to become the leaders who say ‘no, this will not happen’.

It is not about a political issue or a trade issue between two countries. I don’t think we should get into that sort of a debate on this. The basics are that we have crossed the danger level. The basics are that somebody has to do something. Everybody has to do something. It is not about the problems between India and the US.

As an individual contributor to this fight, I’ve brought my electricity consumption down drastically. My electricity bill used to be between Rs13,000 and Rs14,000 a month. Now, it is Rs 2,000. I don’t use electricity unless I have to. I already use my cars only when I have to. I travel a lot, but I have cut down my international travel by 50 percent.

I go online and seek other platforms available to meet people. So, I have cut down personally and I think everybody must cut down on their carbon footprint. But the point is that the elite of this world, and I’m not just talking of the West, the elite in India also . .. we tend to consume almost 60 percent of the resources. However, now, reducing consumption is not going to be enough.

Agriculture consumes a lot of water. So the solution is about crop rotation. Industry consumes a lot of water. It is about changing the nature of the machines we use. There are a lot of changes that have to take place.

Consumers in the UK, for instance, are saying we may have to pay more because we care for the planet. That will happen all over the world. It is true though that people who cannot afford to pay are very large in numbers. These are not the people who have polluted the planet. Those who can afford to pay must pay more for the planet. We are all part of the planet. If a poor person is not able to pay for the planet, it doesn’t mean we allow it to be destroyed. We have to compensate for that.

The problem is that as human beings, we are adept at hiding behind drama or behind statistics. We easily turn 10 million deaths into a statistic. We have this ability to turn everything into a statistic. However, this is not something we can convert into an emotional story of someone we can identify with.

Climate change will affect Asia the most. Our populations are far larger here. We need more water from our rivers, more food from our land to sustain us. Our glaciers are in retreat, and so will be our rivers. Our forest cover is almost gone, as is our sustainable ground water. Uncertain monsoon patterns are/will wreak havoc with our crop growing patterns and bring down our overall growth.

Be realistic and think. We stand on the brink of social upheavals over water. This is something none of us can ignore, as it will be hitting faster than most people realize.

(Shekhar Kapur is an Oscar award nominated director of critically acclaimed films like the Cate Blanchett starrer ‘Elizabeth: The Golden Age’ and the commercially successful ones like ‘Mr India’.)