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The Indian climate change heroes you should know about

A new children’s book on 10 Indian environment and climate heroes should also be read by adults

Herpetologist Romulus Whitaker is one of the 10 Indians celebrated in the book.
Herpetologist Romulus Whitaker is one of the 10 Indians celebrated in the book.

My contention is that our authorities are slow to respond because the magnitude of climate change is so large that it becomes invisible. Also, in the face of something so large, the natural response is paralysis," says Rohan Arthur, marine expert and head of the oceans and coast programme of the not-for- profit Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF). Arthur is one of 10 men and women featured in a sparkling little book called 10 Indian Champions Who Are Fighting To Change The Planet . Co-written by children’s book writer and publisher Bijal Vachharajani and photographer, writer and film-maker Radha Rangarajan, 10 Indian Champions is a children’s book that should be required reading for adults.

Reading what Arthur, who studies the effects of climate change on coral reefs, has to say about the way governments fail to grasp the seriousness of the crisis, made me think of a time when I too was unaware of climate change except as a distant irritant on the horizon. However, it doesn’t take much to educate yourself on the greatest existential crisis in human history. And a book like this is as good a place as any to begin. I would imagine that it’s aimed at teenagers, given the sophisticated way the writers treat their subjects. And it has loads of information that would be equally important for any adult.

The writers confess in the introduction just how difficult it is to choose just 10 “heroes". And that’s very true, given the sheer number of Indians who are quietly doing some great work away from the glare of social media and the daily news cycle. To that end, for every person that the writers choose to highlight, they give a list of at least three-four other people working in the same field. And barring Romulus Whitaker, the famous “snake man" of the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust, none of the other nine are household names.

The tragedy is that if India’s middle class were more ecologically aware, and if the environment were a mainstream concern, each of them would have been stars. The work that, say, Parineeta Dandekar, of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP), ecologist Vidya Athreya, scientist Aparajita Datta, scholar Minal Pathak and food security expert Kavitha Kuruganti do is vital to the way India should be looking at environmental and climate justice concerns. And it’s great to have their work written about in such an intelligent and accessible way. This book is a must-read.

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