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Climate justice, Books and Power

Updated: Jun 14, 2023

Meet the Climate Justice Library in New Delhi making climate accessible and fair.

 Climate justice, Books and Power illustration
Climate Library by Shifa Petiwala
“Books are a form of political action. Books are knowledge. Books are a reflection. Books change your mind.” -Toni Morrison

On the 15th of March, 2022, Youth For Climate India established its first climate justice library in South Ex, New Delhi. March 15th signifies the completion of three years of global climate strikes. On the 15th of March 2019, I attended the first global climate strike at Connaught Place in Delhi. There were about 200-300 school students, activists, journalists, and parents who joined on that day. I made sure to read up more on the environmental issues in my city before the strike, and found, even in my preliminary reading, that every environmental issue we faced was deeply embedded in a social context. Some major issues in Delhi were sewage and the severely polluted state of the Yamuna, the low air quality, the piling waste problem as evident in the ever-increasing height of our landfills, land-use problems including diminishing tree cover, etc.

From the very beginning, there were several questions and problems I had with the kind of climate strikes we used to have back then. The lack of clarity in terms of our demands and campaigning strategies was quite evident from the very beginning. Further, the climate strikes were dominated and represented by the elite population of Delhi. This was happening for a variety of reasons I believe. One, young people beyond a few private universities and schools did not have access to quality climate education in their institutions or even in other forms, such as seminars, books, and other resources. Second, there was a definite bias against English-speaking kids in the press and in the strikes in general. Third, other than the strikes there were no spaces created for young people to come forward, discuss and raise their concerns about environmental issues. Thus, we were not able to attract a new or more diverse population to the climate movement. Many other young people in the climate movement also agree with these points, and that is how we recognised the need for a library particularly dedicated to climate issues. Not only did we want a library with important resources to facilitate climate education, but also a space which can be used for discourse and interaction between various civil society members.

Over the last three years of researching and campaigning on various environmental issues, I have realised that all of the competing interests boil down to the question of power: power over the governance of our own natural resources. There are several ways of conceptualising power. In his book, ‘Power: A radical view’, Steven Lukes talks about three views. The pluralist view believes that in order to identify who has more power in social life we need to determine who prevails in decision-making. This view determines for each decision which participants had initiated alternatives that were finally adopted, which participants had vetoed alternatives by others and who had proposed alternatives that were turned down. In discussions and debates around environmental issues, this is quite evident. For example, in the 1970-the 80s, and even now, there are several policy suggestions given by student groups and NGOs to the Delhi government regarding the management of the Delhi ridge. Mostly, only a few suggestions are accepted, and even these accepted policy measures end up being diluted.

However, there is also a two-dimensional view of power which says that while we need to consider who prevails in decision-making as a measure of power, we also need to identify who has the power to set the agenda for political discourse. An exercises power over B by limiting the scope of the political process to issues which are relatively unharmful to A itself. Continuing with the example of the ridge, several environmentalists or even our courts raise concerns only regarding slums or labourers’ unauthorised colonies over forest land in Delhi NCR. Whereas the colonies, farmhouses, or hotels owned by elites are also made on forest land. However, seldom do they come under the radar of the authorities.

The third view of power (three-dimensional view) is the most interesting to me, especially when I think about why this climate library matters to me. In this view, it is believed that power is also very much exercised by A over B when A has the ability to influence, shape or determine the wants of B. Shapes the “interests” of B, or secures the compliance of B on certain possibly contentious issues by controlling B’s thoughts and desires. Thought control is done through the control of information, the mass media, and the process of socialization. For example, in Delhi’s air pollution crisis, the media has set the narrative that stubble burning by farmers outside of Delhi’s borders is the main source of pollution. However, several studies have proved that the larger sources of pollution are our city’s vehicular pollution, waste burning, industrial emissions and other similar factors. It is definitely against the interests of car manufacturing companies when people recognize the need for fewer cars on the road and more efficient and cheap public transport. It would also require more systematic changes to reduce waste burning, and enforce stricter regulations on industries. Instead, in the past two years, smog towers have been installed and inaugurated in Delhi which has been shown by the media as a huge step forward in battling the air pollution crisis. Whereas, many researchers and activists have pointed out that there is no proof of the efficiency or functionality of such towers.

This is why access to scientifically backed research is essential for young people, to be able to form their own opinions about the various climate solutions which are presented to them. Access to climate research and usage of related jargon has for far too long been used as a way to gatekeep environmental decision-making. A library with important novels and publications by several environmental lawyers, researchers and think tanks helps us prevent the kind of thought control that was previously discussed. It is a way to reclaim our say in decision-making.

Such books are important as they tell us the truth about the impact of the climate crisis on ourselves, our health, education, livelihoods and homes. It helps us make the right political choices, and to think about what issues to raise. Moreover, it helps us define our own interests, instead of a larger age-old corporatised and exploitative system telling us what is good for us. Maybe it could help young people in Delhi think about our transport system, our rights over our commons such as the Yamuna and the Ridge, how we envision these spaces, and many other issues which make up the socio-political and environmental landscape of our city and nation.

The library currently has about 200 books on the intersections of ecology, power, biodiversity, social justice, air pollution, social movements, agriculture and others. The library is now open for public use on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 10 am-5 pm. The address is R-21, South Extension 2, New Delhi 110049. More information can be found here.


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