My name is Shravan Bhat and I’m an Indian journalist based in New York. I want to start a youth-led conversation around climate change in South Asia by meeting once a month in cities around the world to eat biryani. Yes, you read that right. Read it again if you like.
Why? Two main reasons. First: climate changes poses the single greatest threat to our region since Ricky Ponting’s 1999 Australia team. But seriously: it will make all our problems (poverty, gender-based violence, religious persecution, etc.) much worse. I believe climate change will hit the subcontinent harder than most other parts of the world because our societies are comprised mainly of low-income farmers who are therefore hugely vulnerable to bad monsoons, volatile temperatures, unseasonable drought and so on. Second, it poses perhaps the last remaining opportunity for real intra-regional cooperation, since it is the only issue that basically everyone agrees on. Global warming does not care if you’re Hindu or Muslim or if you speak Bengali or Urdu; it will strike across man-made borders indiscriminately. Let’s not sit in silos and bicker, let’s use this common challenge to build peace and reach solutions through compromise. To summarize in cricket terms: climate change is Australia and I’m proposing we put together a combined subcontinent team.
Don’t take my word for it, just look at this recent article from The World Bank. Thankfully unlike the Americans, we don’t have to argue the science behind the threats climate change poses to our part of the world. There’s plenty of reading material out there if you’re curious. How can we help people living in low-lying coastal areas in Bangladesh and the Maldives prepare for rising sea-levels? What can we learn from the work that’s already been done? The melting Himalayan glaciers have worsened floods in Pakistan — what are we going to do about it? My country is either ghosted or ravaged by monsoons ever year — do we have a plan? The environmental damage will impact us across national, provincial and linguistic borders. We are in this together. Are we just going to accept that our governments like to make enemies out of one another? Are we OK with the status-quo? I am not.
I want to (try to) start a movement where instead of constantly fighting each other, South Asian countries work together to solve the challenges posed by the man-made climate emergencies we are already experiencing. If you’re from (or connected to) Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal, India, Pakistan or Sri Lanka and you’d like to be a part of this movement, please Like our page on Facebook.
Since our politicians care mainly about making money for themselves, we’ll have to do this from the grass-roots level. So how are we going to do this? That’s where biryani comes in. I am going to reach out to young people here in New York to meet once a month to just sit around a table, eat nice food together and talk about the impact climate change is having on our home countries and communities. I will share video clips or news reports about recent climate catastrophes on this page, which we can use as a discussion point to get the conversation going. I’d like you to try the same thing in your cities. Maybe we’ll fail and maybe we won’t be able to do a damn thing about the rising temperatures and their cataclysmic effects on our region — but then at least we’ll have made some new friends. Maybe I’ll fail and no one will show up to the meeting — but then at least I’ll get to eat biryani.
Why am I doing this? Is it because I don’t have any friends? (Kind of.) Do I need to get a girlfriend? (My god, yes.) Or is this just a desperate effort from a not-yet-cynical writer who wants to be able to look his kids in the eye when they ask him what he did about the preeminent existential threat to our species? You can decide for yourself.
I welcome your ideas for how we can start and sustain meaningful conversations around this issue. My hope is that everyone who comes to eat biryani, leaves thinking about how they can help those vulnerable populations who will be impacted by climate change. If you’re a lawyer, maybe you’ll think about getting into environmental litigation? If you’re a financier, maybe you’ll consider lending to sustainable infrastructure projects? If you work in the corporate world, maybe you’ll advise your company to view climate change as the single greatest wealth creation opportunity of the 21st century? If you work in the media, maybe you’ll convince your publication to dedicate regular coverage to how climate change effects ordinary people every day? If you work in I.T., can you help us design systems to monitor air pollution? If you are an accountant, please can you help me do my taxes? I am bad at maths.
Let’s give this a shot? Let’s give this our best shot. There is really nothing more important in the long term than climate change and nothing more rewarding in the short term than biryani.