Memories of recent Kerala floods push students to ask for climate action

Students asking for climate action in Thrissur. Photo by Megha Varier.

  • On January 1, students of Kerala organised a demonstration to raise awareness about climate change and global warming, in Thrissur. Young climate activist Ridhima Pandey spoke at the event.
  • This event highlighted the growing trend of smaller cities in India also seeing a strong student movement demanding action on climate change.
  • The students from Kerala were spurred into action by the memories of the 2018 and 2019 floods.

On a warm January afternoon, as the world stepped into a new decade, several hundred students in Kerala took a pledge to protect the environment.

“For the sake of the future of children of this earth, generations that are yet to come, and for the existence of life on this planet, we pledge to stand for conserving the environment,” they read out in unison, from a note distributed to them by the organisers of Climate Circle event held in Kerala’s cultural capital Thrissur on January 1.

The event was part of efforts by Students for Climate Resilience and South Asian People’s Action on Climate Crisis (SAPACC) to raise awareness on climate change and global warming among the students across Kerala.

Ridhima Pandey, India’s young climate activist from Uttarakhand attended the event and encouraged the students to take up the cause of protecting the environment. When the 12-year-old began her address by speaking about the Uttarakhand floods of 2013 that killed several hundreds, the anecdote heavily resonated with the students of Kerala. To an attentive audience packed with school and college students, Ridhima spoke about how, at the age of 6, she questioned and educated herself about global warming, climate change and realised that individuals can bring about change.

Ridhima Pandey speaks at the Thrissur meeting. Photo by Megha Varier.

Read more: The 11-year-old who’s holding governments accountable for inaction on climate change

Feedback from two consecutive floods

Having reeled under not one, but two consecutive years of devastating floods in Kerala, this cause was personal to many of the students in Kerala. They hardly needed much convincing to pledge themselves to work towards reviving the environment.

“We saw how our homes were flooded even to the rooftops in many places and what it did to the people of this state. We don’t want that to be repeated again and that’s exactly why students taking up this cause right now is important,” said 17-year-old Muhsin.

She was one of the several passionate volunteers of the collective. Sharath, another volunteer and also a school student, added: “As part of National Service Scheme (NSS) work, we have been to Malappuram where there was a huge landslide last year. We saw what happened there, we saw what it did to people. It’s hard to not do anything after seeing the reality of climate change.”

While for several students, it was their first time taking part in a public demonstration on climate crisis, it was also the culmination of months of uneasiness they felt at not being able to contribute to the cause. During her address, Ridhima – who leads many such demonstrations under the FridaysForFuture campaign – emphasised that it was the right of her generation to live in a healthy and safe environment. She reiterated that it was high time students of the country pledged their loyalty to the cause.

She did not mince her words in criticising the older generation for depleting the earth’s resources and polluting the environment, some others seem to pardon the older generation. “To be fair, things weren’t this bad when our parents and grandparents were growing up. They had clean air, clean water and led a pollution-free life. It is only when the floods hit, that they realised their actions have somehow contributed to all of this. If there had been more open conversations about climate crisis, I believe they would have tried to prevent it too,” said another student.

While they do not completely excuse the older generation from their responsibility to make the situation better for the future generations, they believe that it is a cause for the current generation to lead. Many students reiterated that since it is their generation that’s bearing the brunt of climate change, it should be them educating others about the aftereffects of global warming; that it should be them bringing about change.

At the Climate Circle event in Thrissur that aimed to raise awareness on climate change and global warming among students. Photo by Megha Varier.

Mobilising children and youth

For 17-year-old Ardra, attending the event is a way of exerting her right to participate in issues that concern her and her generation. While reading in a Malayalam newspaper about the Swedish student activist Greta Thunberg and her FridaysforFuture movement a few months ago, Ardra was inspired by a student like her speaking out about the effects of climate change and demanding action.

“It was so inspiring to see her speak her mind and demand change. That has sent a message to students like me that it is our right to participate in these movements,” she said.

While several students like Ardra knew about the FridaysForFuture global movement, identified with its objectives and followed news about the movement on a regular basis, most of them did not know how they could mobilise themselves locally and so something similar. This gap was filled when the collective came together under the leadership of Sahadevan K., a Payyannur-born environmental activist.

Ardra, who was present at the venue along with her parents, said: “It was extremely beneficial that such a collective was formed and they organised students. When I read about Greta, I too wanted to do something, but I didn’t know how to. It is not so common here, that school students represent a cause and hold demonstrations. But with the formation of this collective, we now have the means to reach more people.”

Muhsin agreed but commented on the timely, but short-lived nature of people’s determination during a time of crisis. Despite the people of Kerala promising to protect the environment in all possible ways in the aftermath of the floods, she was upset that such enthusiasm was short-lived.

“When floods hit the first time, everyone said that they would now change their ways and be more careful about their actions. But not much changed. Then there was yet another flood the following year and we heard the same promises and sentiments. I just hope at least my generation will sustain their efforts,” she added.

Some other students only vaguely remember hearing Greta’s name and the movement she spearheaded. But they had an example closer home in the form of Kerala floods, of what neglecting the climate crisis could bring upon themselves and their future.

As far as the organisers including K Sahadevan are concerned, they are content to let the students lead the event. He says, “All of us are spokespersons of this event. There’s no one person who is responsible for conducting the event, we all are.” The collective has been carrying out awareness campaigns in schools and colleges since November last year, and hope to continue doing so in the months to come.

“There is no Planet B.” Youth in Thrissur spread awareness about climate change. Photo by Megha Varier.


Banner image: Students in Thrissur hold placards demanding climate action. Photo by Megha Varier.

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