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Exclusive – In conversation with Disha Ravi

We went to the Natural History Museum’s Generation Hope: Act for the Planet event to speak with the climate justice activist and founder of FFF India about how young people can use their influence and actions to drive positive change for the Earth’s future.

Disha Ravi is a climate justice activist, storyteller, and one of the founders of Fridays For Future India. Part of the organisation’s MAPA (Most Affected Peoples and Areas) wing, her work centres on amplifying the voices of those bearing the brunt of the crisis’ impacts. This, and making the topic of our environmental emergency a household discussion because, as she asserts, only when we know the truth can we act on it and consequently ensure that communities in need are receiving the aid they deserve. In her words: ‘we are not just fighting for our future; we are fighting for our present. We, the people from the most affected are going to change the conversation in climate negotiations and lead a just recovery plan that benefits people and not the pockets of our government.’


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Thred: When did you decide to dedicate your time to safeguarding the future of our planet? What made you want to take it to a global height, from project to mission to life’s work?

Disha: When I first started out I wasn’t really aware that the climate crisis was impacting us even though it already was. This is because there was little to no education in public schools. The little we did have was restricted to private schools which the majority of India’s population cannot access. I realised much later in my life – around 18-years-old – that we were indeed being impacted by the climate crisis. That’s when I started trying to understand why people have to live this way because no one else was appearing to question it. My grandparents are farmers and they lived through the water crisis. In Bangalore where I live today, there is still a constant shortage of water. This felt weird to me because I’ve moved around and this isn’t the case in other cities. So I began asking why this was happening which led me to realise that water shortages are linked to very bad underground water management which is, in extension, linked to the climate crisis. No one was talking about it. That’s when I initially started to understand more about the crisis, connect with other local groups, and realise that there weren’t enough young voices discussing the climate. And even though India has a very rich history of environmental activism, the country isn’t focusing on climate necessarily. It’s still taking a back seat. That’s when me and a bunch of others got together and founded FFF India. I posted on Instagram, said ‘hey, I want to get involved but don’t know the first thing about doing this, does anyone else want to join?’ A mutual friend connected me to someone else in my city and we began to mobilise. From there we could connect with all of the movements on the ground.

We made a lot of mistakes but we’ve learned so much along the way and it’s been very fulfilling to have a community that supports you and understands why we’re doing this. I’m very grateful for that.

Thred: Yesterday was Water Day and the UN released a report saying that we’re heading into a global water crisis. What specific action do you deem necessary to tackle this issue?

Disha: No matter how much we use individually, it’s not our fault. Whether we limit ourselves or not, our consumption isn’t the problem. There needs to be a systematic change to conserve water because, in my own city for example, we don’t even have measures in place to collect rainwater and reuse that. We don’t have sustainable methods of storing and reusing water. We think that dams are the solution and continue to build them, but time and time again we’re shown they aren’t enough. In my country, we are focused on development which I understand, but the issue is that we’re not focusing on long-term development while taking into account sustainability and regeneration. We’re focusing on short-term solutions which are proving to be very harmful for people in just a couple of years. This is an extension of how we treat water and sanitation so, while it may help in the short-term, it comes with a lot of immediate environmental degradation because eco-sensitive areas have to be cleared to build these infrastructures. Even though they might work for a while, it’s proven ineffective over a five to ten year timespan. It actually consumes more resources and requires a lot of land to keep it running.

I strongly believe we need a systemic change where we take into account how things are going to look in the next decade or so and how we are going to be able to create a place where we can co-exist with nature where we actually give regeneration a fighting chance.

Thred: What are the biggest issues in your country right now? How can we fix them?

Disha: One issue that’s very personal to me is the fact that the current government doesn’t take criticism very well. The lack of political will to listen to the people and take action based on what they’re demanding is becoming very concerning because they’re using very aggressive means of essentially stopping us from giving feedback, or expressing an interest in finding solutions, or taking a seat at the decision making table. This is detrimental because it means we can’t even take action on how we shape our own homes. Not to mention that they’re continually amending environmental laws which means they’re reducing protection and we even can’t speak against it. They’re not just doing this with the environment either, but with other laws, so our right to express interest in policy at large has reduced drastically. Carrying out activism and demanding change has become heavily problematic for us. It’s scary because there are far too many problems that need to be addressed and silencing us – preventing us from getting involved – means things are only going to get worse.


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Thred: Too often, young people are excluded from decision making spaces. How can we ensure there is greater youth involvement in the conversations aiming to instigate change?

Disha: It’s about them being okay with being uncomfortable. You aren’t supposed to like what young people are saying, but you have to sit down and listen to us and understand that even if you don’t agree with it your job is to listen to the people and work with them to implement suggestions from the larger public. I want them to create a space where we can sit down with them and not face repercussions for the things we say. For us to have safety for voicing our opinions and thoughts and be taken seriously for it. Additionally, when we do have the opportunity to sit down with them, they’re very condescending and patronising towards us because of our age. Especially towards women. There’s a gender aspect at play here as well.

We need people to respect young voices, have these conversations with us, and be uncomfortable if that’s what it takes to influence change.

Thred: How can we be amplifying the voices of frontline communities and marginalised groups – those most impacted by the crisis – without resorting to tokenism? And, more pressingly, how can we be pushing for better representation and inclusion from a top-down level?

Disha: The first thing that people need to understand is that we’re not just here to talk about our pain and trauma, we’re here to talk about our joy, our culture because these are important parts of solutions. We have community-led solutions that are defined by action, but they don’t make it to these discussions because most often they just want us to attend and trauma-dump which is not going to make a difference besides raising awareness. We don’t want to be part of a diversity checklist. This is not the result we want. When we’re talking about problems we want to be there at the table creating solutions because we have them to offer. To use the IPCC report as an example, there are so many brilliant scientists from the Global South who don’t get the opportunities to be spotlighted the same way that those from the Global North do. Even though they’re co-authors they don’t get equal international recognition for their work. We need to be recognised as more than a quota. We’re experts in particular fields. Invite us for this expertise, not to tick a box. There is a problem and co-creation – dreaming together – is what’s important. We need more of this.

Thred: Gen Z is suffering with a debilitating fear of our climate emergency known as eco-anxiety. How can we go about dealing with this universal – and often overwhelming – feeling of powerlessness in the face of climate change so that our mental health is protected?

Disha: As a climate activist, you’re expected to only talk about the crisis, to focus solely on the doom and gloom. This isn’t our reality. We’re serious, yes, but we have a lot of fun too, and it’s important to also highlight that. Audre Lorde said, ‘If I can’t dance it’s not my revolution’ and that is integral – to dance and sing and hug your friends and be part of a community where you feel supported and loved. Community is so important, it’s what I always lean back on when I am anxious and feeling disheartened by the situation. I always have the climate community to lift me up. We need to create joy in the movement to sustain ourselves for our own sanity. It’s so important for us to be able to still appreciate each other while we channel our love into the planet. Everyone we’ve ever loved – and will ever love – is here. We need to be remembering this during the fight for a better future.

I truly believe that this love we have for each other, our communities, and the Earth will save the planet.

Thred: How do you believe the media should be approaching the topic of climate change?

Disha: While it’s important to highlight facts, it’s also very important to ensure that we don’t use language such as ‘we’re running out of time,’ or ‘this is it,’ or ‘it’s too late now.’ This narrative is so ignorant of all the efforts being taken by people around the world to constantly fight this. It’s damaging for those on the frontlines who’ve been striving to combat this for a really long time. It dismisses the time and energy they’ve put into fighting. It’s a Global North phenomenon, too. In the Global South – despite the fact that we’re the ones being disproportionately affected – we’re still working to instil hope and push for our planet’s protection.

We need radical solutions that stem from our understanding that giving up is not an option because our home is worth fighting for.