Climate Privilege: Vulnerable communities, where we stand

Have you felt how you could be potentially better off when it comes to facing the climate crisis? Rich people in general have an edge over things, because they can just buy anything that makes their life ‘better’. But think of the basic resources — water, air, food — when there is a civil unrest at our doorstep, how is that going to pan out?

Before we proceed, here’s a quick look at Article 21 under the Indian Constitution from past verdicts to give a context to what our Constitution says about basic natural commodities and how the politics is played out.

Right to get Pollution Free Water and Air

In Subhas Kumar v. State of Bihar[lxi], it has held that a Public Interest Litigation is maintainable for ensuring enjoyment of pollution-free water and air which is included in ‘right to live’ under Article 21 of the constitution. The court observed:

Right to live is a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution and it includes the right of enjoyment of pollution free water and air for full enjoyment of life. If anything endangers or impairs that quality of life in derogation of laws, a citizen has right to have recourse to Article 32 of the Constitution for removing the pollution of water or air which may be detrimental to the quality of life.


via Lawctopus

Coming back to Climate Privilege

Exhibit A

Air purifiers, masks etc: Yeah yeah, technology is great, because it helps us to protect us from a looking public health crisis. Especially, when people are living in the most polluted cities in India. But — are what we don’t realize is that it quickly becomes a ploy from tech and pharma companies which want you to ‘buy’ your way out of a problem. These ‘ad hoc buying out the problem’, supposed helps in short term, but I would like to say it makes the problem worst, often the underprivileged suffer the most, it’s almost impossible for them to buy ‘N95/ 99 masks’, or an air purifier. It quickly becomes an elite commodity, and rightly so. If the cost of these preventative gear and technology has to come down, it will not happen without a policy and public intervention. Clean air is already becoming a billion dollar industry in South Asia, South East Asia.

The advertising industry is — as always playing into it — using the same terms as ‘children’ ‘family’ ‘your future’ , ‘did you know that India is home to 11 most polluted cities in the world?’ No shit Sherlock, it’s something NGOs, activists and campaigners have been pushing for a good decade. Now they behave as if that fact is introduced by them and they have a solution — by buying their product.

Exhibit B

The water industry is already quite privatized with big names like PepsiCo, Coke in the game. You can take up any soft drink, water is the basic ingredient. But where is the water coming from? And who is not getting that water because it has been packed, sealed and sold across the country? Where is the ground water table which is emptied for all this so called demand for bottled water. And with bottled water comes the biggest monster — plastic pollution. Who is responsible for all the plastic disposed off in sea, rivers, oceans, ponds, dump yards, fields, hills, mountains, reefs? Isn’t it the polluters responsibility to collect the left overs of what they produced?

Coming back to the politics of water — India is facing a huge water crisis. Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, and parts of Maharashtra are some of the areas we’ve now all seen in the news, but the crisis goes beyond the urban spaces. But when it gets scarce with every passing day — how does one find water — ? The poor will not be able to buy their way, while the rich will create more and more exclusive spaces and cordon off supply to accessible water. It’s probably going to be more expensive to be able to afford supply to clean continuous supply of water than buying jewels, in the coming decade.
Instead of fixing our systems — from rain harvesting to replenishing our existing water tables, we’re looking at consumerism to save us.

Exhibit C
Safe and healthy food is everyone’s right in India. But with the advent of GMOs in large scale, and in the bid to push industrial farming, we are losing our soil diversity, we are losing the ecosystem which created the right conditions for healthy and non chemical food. The environment has been damaged from decades of usage of chemical fertilizer and pesticide, with serious impact on human health and flora-fauna. Yet, the companies are selling the farmers GMOs — who hope each harvesting season, that their yields might increase, and their profits might increase, pulling them out of the debt cycle which is socially debilitating. But that’s not the case, the climate crisis — erratic rain patterns, extreme weather events, forest fires will only increase as we continue to pump in GHGs (Green House Gases).

So when the ‘Climate Crisis’ is escalating how are we going to check our privilege and use our resources in a better way? How are we going to use our knowledge? Are we going to exacerbate the climate crisis or stall it, reverse it, leapfrog into a better world?

(Ruhie Kumar is an independent communication strategist & climate activist.)


Feature Picture credit: Greenpeace