Teachers doing their bit towards climate change. Are we learning?

Nagraj Adve

By Shrey Ostwal*

With the teachers day around the corner, the schools in the country are getting ready to remember the second president of India, Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. I still vividly recall how I used to carry roses on this day to school to gift them to my favourite teachers as a token of thanks for instilling ethics, values and integrity within me apart from teaching the mandatory subjects. The teachers also accepted the same with a gentle smile. Some of my friends also got them fancy greeting cards or sweets (we usually teased them that this was a bait to get higher scores in respective subjects). I hope all of us can connect to this memory as it dictates the kind of influence teachers have on the students not only during the early childhood, but throughout their lives. One might end up forgetting their beatings but would always remember that class where they presented entirely new perspectives that kept all of us wondering even when we got home. The kids even start speaking their favourite teacher’s language and obey them to maximum possible extent. At sometimes, even more than their own parents. They do certain things just because the teacher said so. Such is the impression of the teachers. In this article, my agenda is to bring forward an initiative by a group of progressive teachers who gathered to make the most of this influence and discuss on why such initiatives are important. The incredible initiative I am mentioning here is — Teachers Against Climate Crisis. Before, we dive any deeper into this, let us briefly ponder on why climate change awareness is important.

Climate Change – an inevitable truth

“Ask yourself, what kind of city do you want yourself and/or your children to live in?”, asked Mr. Nagraj Adve, a climate change educator and activist, asked me. I must admit that I was stunned. Mr. Adve, does not have a science background but he is one of those figures who understands that if he is to stimulate this awareness among the youth, he must learn to express himself with the underpinning scientific facts and reasoning rather than merely blabbering on social media platforms. He tries not to gain much of media attention and that speaks a tonne about his humbleness and goal-oriented action. I understand that this humbleness stems from the thought of always “…thinking from an ordinary person’s perspective.”

Nagraj’s interest into social activism awakened during his days at JNU, where he was actively involved in the progressive social thought clubs and activities. He recalls that his initial days were filled with working for democratic rights of workers, displaced minorities, marginalized communities etc. Later, he shifted his attention towards climate change because he believes that this is a broader issue that defragments and encompasses the underlying issues of displacement of communities, rights of minorities, agrarian crisis, unpredictable natural calamities whose likelihood have increased in the recent past. His thoughts are backed by statistics from NASA, which show the atmospheric carbon dioxide levels approaching to 400 parts per million (ppm) currently, as opposed to nearly 300 ppm in 1950s, this has consequently led to an average rise of 1.18 degree Celsius in earth’s average surface temperature since late 19th century.

Mr. Adve is also regular speaker at various conferences, institutes, and colleges. His efforts are to raise awareness among the youth about the hazardous effects of climate change today and what it is going to bring tomorrow, when it might be difficult to even step out of our houses. During his journey in climate change activism, he got associated with the TACC and it sparked my interest immediately as this was the first time that I heard of an organization comprising of teachers from India and working for such progressive initiative.

TACC – Teachers inspire again

The website of TACC doesn’t provide any information about when did the organization first began working, who are their members and other such cliché publicity material. The website has a simple look and is hosted using WordPress (as the URL suggests). For a Gen Z individual, who is so inspired by attractive UIs, it might not seem very attractive, but the content on the website is worth noticing for everyone. TACC, a uses the “About us” section of the site to describes themselves as –

“We are a group of (non-funded, non-party collective) college and university teachers who believe that the climate crisis has become one of the most pressing concerns of our time… A key part of that interrogation needs to happen in a college or university, because, compared to the rest of the society, they are usually more privileged spaces where these issues can be discussed critically, especially with the younger generation, who are going to face the worst effects of this crisis if it is not addressed urgently.”

Their prominent work includes – holding more regular and frequent meetings on climate change, collecting, and distributing literature, short films and/or other media around the subject, developing campaign materials, exert pressure for climate-progressive policies and build an online corpus that is publicly accessible and provides reliable information about climate change.

TACC has conducted 23 sessions till date, as per Mr. Nagraj. And, one of the latest was by Prof. Robert Pillion, highly regarded American economist, professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and founding co-director of its Political Economy Research Institute. The website also has a link to teaching resources for faculty across the world. The subjects under these resources include agrarian problems, anthropology, biology, chemistry, climate justice, climate politics, earth system science, economics, law, psychology among others. So, it can be said that irrespective of what discipline you belong to, TACC helps you understand how you can do your bit in preventing climate change for worse.

We ask, why is TACC so important? Nagraj believes that it is so because firstly, teachers are a great source of influence not only in Indian education system but also in the society. Therefore, their words have a higher weightage when it comes to such sensitive matters. Secondly, because of their pedigree, they can effectively bring out the underlying structural causes and impact of climate change. And, finally, they can connect the ground level issues of inequality and lack of growth with the climate crisis without creating unnecessary anger, bias or anxiety among the youth. A behaviour which eventually results in productive actions and adoption of right choices by individuals rather than fuelling the social media trends and blame game.

Why is TACC important?

Most of us will agree that it is our responsibility to take care of our planet so that we keep it habitable for ourselves and for the upcoming generations. But, the important concern is that we do not have enough time. Who says so? The recent UN IPCC report highlights that we have twelve years to limit the effects of climate change. While, the analysis and the underlying reasoning is sound, but it is the headlines generated by certain media, including the Guardian, that have generated a wave of anxiety among the youth especially. The protests and campaigns by youth have used this 12-year tagline on their posters in a rather vague manner. Because of this, the chances of misinformation spreading rapidly might rise as rarely people would spare time to read the entire UN IPCC report to understand the matter in detail. There is no question on the intent of the protestors, but the aftereffects of the same might lead to unnecessary anxiety across the globe by giving rise to a wave of fear.

It is times like these, where we need an arm around our shoulders and who better than teachers for the same i.e. they can be our Master Shifu (from the movie Kungfu Panda) in this fight against climate change. Teachers have a sense of calmness and exhibit maturity in directing students in handling situations like these with care. They can make sure that along with protests and campaigns it is important to understand how we can motivate individuals to do their own bit as well. How we can spread awareness more effectively without scaring the common people is a huge challenge and conscious effort in this area is absolutely required. With almost everyone having access to social media, it has become ridiculously easy to throw words around without considering the effects of those for a broader audience. This is especially important for people with Millions of followers on these platforms. Therefore, a structured method of communication is what we need right now to strike the appropriate balance as we are at a crucial junction where we need the governments and apex bodies to be our allies and hence we need to persuade them effectively rather than standing absolutely against them. By, this I do not mean to say that we avoid criticism. All, I vouch for is constructive criticism. And, that can only be done if we educate the youth systematically, and with use of scientific facts and reasoning. Only then can we come up with effective solution to such problems.

Whether you are a teacher yourself or not, just like TACC, you have that power of creating a positive awareness among children and youth, who are going to be the global citizens of tomorrow. A small start is also enough i.e. holding regular 15 minutes talks in classrooms, housing societies about climate change and how can we promote sustainable habits among the communities we are part of, sourcing ideas on the same, taking field trips, inviting the youth who are making a difference to schools, colleges, community events, festival celebrations etc. could help the greater cause immensely.

*Second year PGP student, IIM Bangalore

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