Q&A: 16 Year Old Aman Sharma Talks About Teenage Climate Activism In India
By: Siya Bhatia
16-year-old Aman Sharma who is a climate activist has been selected as a speaker for the Climate and Peace Summit “Oslo Pax”. He is an avid birder, nature enthusiast and wildlife photographer. A pair of red vented bulbuls built a nest in his balcony and thus ignited the passion he has for wildlife today. He is the co-founder of a Birding club for children called ‘Cuckoo About Nature club’ which aims to create environmental awareness among the younger generation through a unique concept – kids leading bird walks for other kids.
Two of his bird photographs have been featured on National Geographic’s website. He has been organising climate strikes in Delhi. He has started a petition on change.org for India to declare a National Climate Emergency which has gained over 220,000 signatures and has been supported by Hollywood and Bollywood actors. His love for birds & wildlife got him to join Climate Strikes that he follows religiously.
He talks to us about climate change and how climate emergency is a serious issue and also, what’s next for young people in India, when it comes to climate strikes.
Q1. How does it feel to be selected as a speaker for the Climate and Peace Summit “Oslo Pax”?
I think it’s really nice that I’m getting access to such a big forum, that I can raise my concerns and spread the movement that we’ve been leading in India to around the world. I think it’s a really good platform where so many young speakers are getting an opportunity to showcase their perspective and their ideas. It’s really great – integrating forces from around the world and connecting with other people.
Q2. What are you looking forward to in the summit?
I think just listening to people and listening to the stories that they bring from highly varied geographical and topographical conditions and just seeing the extent of climate change affecting each and every country is going to be interesting for me. It will also make me realize a lot more about what is happening around the world.
Q3. How did you develop an interest in wildlife photography?
So, this Bulbul actually built a nest in my balcony and I had a camera at that time. I sat and I started taking pictures from a safe distance of course and in that one morning, I saw 15 to 20 different birds in my balcony itself which I had never seen before. Other than pigeons, crows and sparrows, I had no idea about what birds we really had in Delhi and seeing such colourful birds, I just got into birding and that led to bird photography and wildlife photography. I wanted to share it with the people who have no idea about the natural heritage that their own city has. It’s so important because when you tell people that we need to save this habitat because it has birds. It’s really distant to them and they’re always just thinking about pigeons and crows. When you show them the kind of birdlife that their own city has it helps them piece it together. How these amazing birds are alive just because of that one habitat.
Q4. What is the story behind the Birding club? Who inspired you to start it?
So, I was introduced to an author called Nikhil Devasar who used to write about a lot of birds and mammals and he also founded this organization called ‘The Delhi Bird Foundation’. And one day while birding together, I realized at the same time that we don’t have a lot of kids who come to these Sunday morning walks or any bird walks for that matter in Delhi. And that’s when we realized that children are the next generation and looking at the current crisis in hand, I don’t think we can wait for them to be adults and then get them interested in nature.
We decided to do something and get them interested at the right age so that they can take steps toward a better tomorrow and hence we started this club called the Cuckoo about Nature Club. We have more than 400 kids. We’ve done around 30 to 40 walks with a lot of different organizations and institutions. We recently did a community art project with 120 participants. We’ve diversified ourselves to make birding and nature fun for kids and not just the old tradition where 60-year-old senior bird watchers will give you lectures on bird watching. We tried to diverge from that and it’s a unique concept because instead of older people we have children who are my age and in school giving bird walks and talks. That’s what our vision and aim were when we were starting this.
Q5. Who are some of the other wildlife and climate activists that you admire?
Greta Thunberg who makes us believe anyone can make a difference from any part of the world with any small action. I think that was something that’s really important and has stayed with me. I have Bhavreen (Aunty) here in Delhi who sort of got me involved with the climate movement and she’s been such a big pillar of enforcement and support and I think she’s also inspired me to really go out there and take more action to prevent this at a larger scale. Dia Mirza also helped me be more aware of all the different facets of plastic pollution through her awareness campaign. I think now people are getting aware and starting all these different campaigns and initiatives and I get inspired by each and every person.
Q6. What are the most effective tactics in gaining attention for the environmental movement? Tell us some examples from your activities and petition?
So, I started this petition in May on the declaration of the climate emergency in India and it’s got around 2.5 lakhs signatures till now. And I tried a few different approaches to getting more people to come and find it. I realized that Bollywood and now even other forums like Tik Tok are becoming a religion in India. I think Bollywood is a full-fledged religion. I started contacting Hollywood and Bollywood celebrities through my social media accounts and I was able to get them to post my petition on their account and because of that we were able to get a lot of people signing it and people messaging me and because of that connection that we made a lot of people from that account came onto my account and asked me how they could have said it in their own countries. And the other thing I realized is if you’re doing a campaign on your own, it’s not really a campaign because the entire point of a campaign is to get different people involved. So I took a few friends, I told them to message it to their contacts and family and because of that working together as a team we were able to get so many people out and of course I had to supervise and I had to tell them and I had to help them out but because we used to as a community I think other people got interested and started coming forward. So, I think it’s all about the book. It’s all about reaching out to people who can influence the public. And it’s also a lot about the hard work because out of the many people I approach I think only a few of them actually helped out.
Q7. Who are the Bollywood actors you got support from?
Daisy Shah, Elle Aviram and Dia Mirza. In fact, Dia Mirza had put out quite a few posts on the petition and I think we got a lot of support because of that and then we had a few Hollywood celebrities and a few organisations like Greenpeace support us. I think it was successful because we were doing climate marches in Delhi. So it’s how we are connecting our social media campaigns and advocacy to other groundwork that I think works for any sort of movement.
Q8. What are your suggestions for UN COP 2019?
I hope it’s not just a conference where delegates from several countries come together and discuss something and tell others the need for action on climate change for the environment but don’t actually do anything. I hope this is a summit where they can come up with a proper plan and all the summits that are happening right now, they come up with a big nationwide action plan that can be implemented in all the cities that include things like compulsory waste management, single-use plastic ban and action on deforestation. I hope it’s just not based on advocacy and it actually brings out some real change.
Q9. As a young climate leader, have you faced any situation where people didn’t listen to you because of your age? How did you push back against hat and kept raising your voice?
I have faced this situation and I think it’s not just in climate change. I have been told that you know you should go and study in school, you are wasting your time in all of these things. My ideology has always been that after a certain point I don’t interact with the people who do not believe in environmental destruction that is happening around us and all of that because you know you have to realize it’s science. It’s not my opinion, it’s science.
And this person has the ability and capacity to deny scientific knowledge and scientific data. What can you say that can actually make him trust you. Nothing because there is no other avenue. So I would rather focus my time on connecting with people who knew about this problem and who want to make a difference in their community. Then the two people who have tried and tried but have completely refuted my claim and are just not ready to listen and the thing that I feel about this issue is let’s say for a second like how many people say that climate change is a hoax but acting on climate change. We will save all species from extinction and forests from being cut off the green cover. And is it too bad a claim to ask for? Do we need a reason for climate change to save our own ecosystems and our own environment? I don’t have to. I don’t think we need a problem that is around us. I think that should be imbibed enough from within that the environment is as important as our cities and our buildings and I usually try and tell the people about what is happening around us.
Q10. You’ve been very active for the climate strikes in the city. With the global climate strike coming up on 20th September, what is your plan of action this time?
So, this time we want more children to be part of it. We want to reach out to every section of society and all of the schools in Delhi to come and participate and help us out. And I think we want to do something different. We don’t want it to be just another protest with people doing some sort of a demonstration that all that you have to deal with. And we want as many people and as many participants that can come. So the entire idea of this strike is not to just tell people that this is a disaster because it is and people should know it by now because of the countless strikes and the reports that have come out you know what we really want to do is get all different kinds of people together and present a united front for a common cause.
Q11. Why do you think young students all over the world are fighting for climate change? Why have they been the most persuasive on this issue?
You know I don’t think kids have really spoken out in such big numbers, walked out of their facilities to protest about any such issues before, adults have always been involved in some sort of social rebellion. We can see what can happen to us because my parents and my grandparents may not be around by that time but I read and I am the person who is going to be facing the repercussions of everything that is going to be happening around. So, that’s why I think people have started to listen and that’s why we’ve been able to persuade people. Also, we don’t have any agenda, we’re just fighting for our future. A child cannot have any altered motive in demanding his or her right to clean air and clean water and a clean environment.
Q12. Small impacts manifest into bigger ones. What do you do in your daily life to create a small impact on the environment?
I think citizens should boycott plastic as much as they can. Boycott plastic bottles, plastic bags, take their reusable bags to grocery shopping and don’t accept the plastic bag each time you buy food. Switch to paper straw, you know the small differences are what will add up together and make a big impact later on. Also, maybe there are some you know plastic packaging materials that we have not been able to find an alternative source at the present. For example maybe some sort of medicines that come in plastic packaging or gum items. If you do not have a local market or a community or an avenue from where you can sustainably purchase. Get your company to switch to recycling and tell them to keep themselves accountable for any kind of waste that they produce. The other thing I think is that schools should include environmental education in their curriculum and should regularly conduct plastics recycling and tree plantations drives in their own cities and neighbourhoods.
Q13. What steps according to you the government should take for the environment?
Ban single-use plastics, make one-third of the country green, stop cutting trees in the name of development, we want to be a developing country but the place where we can go wrong is that we can kill our environment and even go to the extent of displacing and killing livelihood just for economic growth.
We have to realize at that point, we may be at the peak of industrialization in 2050. But what if the middle class does not exist then because of the big gap between the poor and the rich. And what if there is a health crisis among older citizens who don’t have access to clean air or clean water. There are five lakh kids dying in Delhi every year because of pollution. Will you be a developed nation then?
And what if we don’t have enough oxygen because there are no trees left? And then the amount of money that we will probably have to spend to make India or any other developing country habitable for its citizens will probably crash the economy once again. So I think that’s something that we need to realize, it’s high time we know that you cannot have development without environment. Your environment is one of the most important aspects and should be a priority in any development.
Q14. Your message to the young people, how can they bring change?
Just because you don’t have the right connections or the right opportunities to make a difference that doesn’t mean you say that I can’t do anything because I don’t think I have that potential. We don’t need heroes. We just need people who don’t wait for heroes. And I think that’s really important. We don’t need to wait for them to see us come around to say that we need to save our world. It’s basic common sense that if you want to keep your home clean, then, the earth is your home as well. Then keep that clean keep your trash out of the roads, out of the river, and keep your forests green.
I think all the children out there, they just need to realize that no amount of education is going to help them unless they realize that the world is on the brink of collapse. According to the reports that have been coming out, how the ozone layer has been damaged, how the glaciers are melting and how rising sea levels back these people in the coastal areas. I think it’s high time that we do something and I think it’s the generation of the youth that should step up and is definitely going to step up and ask for it’s right to a healthier environment.
I don’t think we need to make a killing just to make a living. It’s just not right for us to exploit the environment, basically, use it for our every need and then, in the end, we justify murdering our planet for financial rewards. If you’re a company, you have to be responsible for the waste you produce. If you’re the government, you have to be responsible to the people and see that they’re healthy. If you’re a citizen, you have to be responsible enough to tell your companies and your government and your fellow citizens to stop unsustainable ways of living and adopt a better lifestyle.
Let Me Breathe (LMB) and Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation (KSCF) India in cooperation with Nobel Peace Center brings the youngest voices from India at OSLO PAX 2019.