In the last five years, Indian middle-class environmentalism has been amplified significantly. You’ll see this trend on social media and in many mainstream news reports. The question I ask is this : how do these campaigns shift the needle to reduce climate change and leverage social justice?
Research by Jemyung Lee and others, and the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, Japan, published, in the Journal for Environmental Change suggests middle class environmentalism will serve the planet best by reducing its own carbon footprint. The paper examines 203,313 households in 623 districts of India. Consider this finding : “Almost a tenfold difference is observed between the highest carbon footprint district, Gurgaon (2.04 ton CO2/capita), and the lowest carbon footprint district, Baudh (0.21 ton CO2/capita)”
Today, Gurgaon’s most privileged residents are fighting for protecting the Aravallis and preventing a waste-to-energy plant. Both are important campaigns. Yet, this demographics likely causes untold harm elsewhere to maintain lifestyles. This is likely harming the poor whose access to clean water, open lands for grazing and other resources are often compromised by projects to service the wealthy.
Gurgaon is not unique in its over-consumption. “Residents in Mumbai (1.76 ton CO2/ capita), New Delhi (0.98 ton CO2/capita), Bangalore (1.13 ton CO2/ capita), Chennai (1.11 ton CO2/capita), or Kolkata (1.56 ton CO2/capita) have a carbon footprint above the national average (0.56 ton CO2/ capita),” underscores the research.
Charity begins at home, they say. Contradictions of middle class green action must be addressed by consuming much less, to scale, quickly.
The writer is the founder and director of Chintan Envronmental Research and Action Group