It was quite the irony that her address was cancelled owing to all schools in Haryana being shut due to the state of hazardous air quality.
Four days later, while Delhi’s air quality measure may have moved up a few notches to ‘Very Unhealthy,’ Riddhima’s message remains unchanged: We need climate action, now.
Speaking at the school four days later, Riddhima highlighted how children her age may be the ones who can bring about change – forcing people at positions of legislative power to actually take action.
Labelled ‘India’s Greta Thunberg’ by media, Riddhima was part of the panel of children who signed a petition to the UN convention demanding immediate action to counter climate change.
On the ‘Greta’ nickname, soft-spoken Riddhima says that while she would like to be known by her own individual name, but is glad her work is compared to Greta’s and “by whichever name I can make people more aware, I would do that,” she responds.
The legal petition, however, isn’t something new to Riddhima. At just the age of 9, Riddhima had filed a petition against the National Green Tribunal of India demanding updated measures after witnessing the devastating flash floods in Uttarakhand in 2013. The petition was dismissed in January this year.
Her father, who helped her file the petition says the next step may be the Supreme Court. But Riddhima at this point just wants immediate action, and not lengthy legal action.
Her message for the students consist more of individual action, and the small steps one can take to effectively reduce their contribution to a larger problem. Speaking to students, she tells them about single-use plastics, how to reduce your carbon footprint and more importantly, how to spread awareness.
“You cannot completely ban plastics, but you can stop manufacturing single-use plastics. Production is easier to control than people using it,” says Riddhima on her solution to one of India’s pressing problems.
She added that the other kids who signed the UN petition from their respective countries feel the same. “I realized the problems for everyone are different – rising water levels or cold winters, but the root cause is the same – climate change,” the young environmental activist said.
The solution other than legal framework? Awareness.
“I’m not in a place to change the legislature, but if enough of us speak up, maybe we can convince those in power to do so,” says Riddhima. Students listening to her certainly seem to be taking the cue.
“I think we realized that how much individual accountability holds going forward, if I can take a small step and educate enough people to do the same, it counts more than inaction,” said one student.
The school itself, which runs on sustainable energy and promotes environmental-friendly options, also believes in the same. The principal of the school, Anju Wal, said, “We’re very open to ideas the children come up with and are looking to implement as many of them as we possibly can.”
While awareness comes at the cost of missing her classes, Riddhima still thinks it’s worth it. “If I miss some classes, that’s okay, because I can study on my own and catch up. If the climate is further damaged, it can’t be fixed again.”
While she spoke, the crowd remained transfixed. At the end of her conversation, kids aged 8 to 15 came to her for solutions, as if she was a young scientist. The environmental activist offered solutions in the simplest way she could, sometimes elaborating how the problem was a much bigger one and individual accountability didn’t always solve it. But Riddhima had achieved what she had come for – she had managed to start a dialogue.
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