My Biggest Question to You

14-year-old climate activist and member of the BBC’s 100 Most Influential and Powerful Women, Ridhima Pandey, on her hometown and what inspires her to work every day for a better and greener future for all.

I started my activism out of fear of dying from a natural disaster – or losing my parents and home to the impacts of climate change. Unfortunately, I have seen this become a reality for many children throughout India.

My home state has been affected heavily by climate change. We are facing heatwaves, flash floods, cloudbursts, and drastic changes in temperature and weather. Many landslides have occurred due to the monsoon season and heavy rain. Many people have lost their homes and lives due to all these natural disasters.

What I can observe is that poorer people in India and their communities are the ones most impacted by climate change. Two-thirds of India’s population is considered to be living in poverty and over 30 per cent is considered extremely poor. These are the people on the front line, those who are suffering because of the polluters and destroyers of our ecosystem. These are the people who live from hand-to-mouth, who contribute very little to this crisis yet they are hurting the most.

My biggest question to our stakeholders is this: Why do you not think about this large part of our country when making decisions that you know are harmful to biodiversity right now and in the near future? Why are we building highways, airports, and other buildings by destroying our forest lands when only a few people and mainly you would benefit from them?

Heat, Floods, and Plastic: My Hometown Haridwar

Now if I start talking about my hometown, Haridwar, then the main problems that we are facing are increasing deforestation, pollution in the Holy River Ganga, biodiversity loss, increasing human-animal conflict, the increasing number of tourists visiting Haridwar, heatwaves and other change in the weather. All these problems are either due to the climate or contribute even more to climate change.

We all know that Ganga is one of the most polluted rivers in the world that carries tons of plastic waste to our oceans every year, over 0.12 million tonnes of plastic to be exact. Many tourists come to Haridwar on a daily basis and generate a lot of waste that goes into the Ganga. The increasing amount of deforestation and development near our forests has increased the amount of human-animal conflict and has endangered many species living there. The government is permitting a lot of deforestation in the name of development and does not really care about biodiversity conservation.

As for the Indian government, I have always seen them making promises on international platforms and they make it seem like they care a lot about the biodiversity and solving this crisis – but actions speak louder! In our country, the government is not even listening to the Supreme court’s order and is cutting the Array Forest illegally and those who are protesting and raising their voices are being detained! I can say with certainty that lack of awareness as well as ignorance and negligence are great problems that further exacerbate our dire situation in India.

Let’s Get to Work!

After realising these problems, I started working to solve them. I started my awareness programme where I focus on empowering and educating youths in India by going to their schools and colleges and having live sessions with them. I started attending seminars in India and out of India as well where I talked about my journey, climate change, child rights and the situation in India. I started working on different campaigns to solve different problems like air pollution, the ban of plastic, reducing the pollution in Ganga, protecting the forests and protesting against destructive projects by the government. I usually work on all the problems that I feel need to be addressed asap. Yes, I truly believe that YOU CAN BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE IN THE WORLD. So, what are YOU waiting for?!

Ridhima Pandey
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