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Why new coal? Cycling to rescue the environment

Two youngsters Vinay Jaju and Huub Dekkers embarked on a multi day Climate bicycle tour – Kolkata to Delhi – on January 17 to question the Government on its carbon intensive energy policy and our over reliance on fossil fuel and also to highlight existing solutions. Many young boys and girls took to the roads of Kolkata with their bicycles to promote cycling as the easiest solution to climate change.

“The future of life on earth today depends, more than ever, on our immediate actions. We face a security, ideology and climate crisis in a trust-constrained world, a development and economic crisis in a carbon-constrained world. It is time for some real action,” said Vinay Jaju, who has been spearheading the ride. Vinay, who had been a financial analyst in Australia relocated himself to India and co-founded Switch ON, a few months back to effectively communicate the urgency of climate change.

Huub Dekkers, a student, who came all the way from Netherlands to join the ride, said, “Coal is the biggest threat to our generation. We needed to do something crazy to bring attention to this fact. This ride that we are undertaking might fill in that gap.”

The focus of the Integrated Energy Policy by the Indian Planning Commission is to sustain a growth rate of 8%. This calls for an increase in installed capacity of electricity from 160,000MW to 800,000MW by 2031-32. The policy remains dependent on coal in ensuring this increase in capacity. According to Dr. James Hansen, director of NASA, phasing out the use of coal (except for where it is captured and sequestered) could solve 80% of the climate crisis we face today.

An estimate on global annual deaths by pollutants from coal based electricity generation is approximately around 170,000 people. “India accounts for the world’s greatest concentration of coal fires. Rising surface temperatures and toxic by-products in groundwater, soil and air have turned the densely-populated Raniganj, Singareni and Jharia coal fields into wastelands,” says Fires in the Hole, a 2005 report by Krajick K.

“The urgency of climate change and the growing gap of inaction on this issue were burning inside me for long. I suddenly realised I have been doing just lip service and got tired of not doing anything concrete about something I felt so strongly about. My mother is supporting me by funding the entire trip on an initial budget of 25,000,” said Vinay.

Dekkers, just graduated in governance and organisational management, wanted to recharge before he started his masters in something he is passionate about. Rainwater harvesting, composting and recycling have always been a part of his life. “We decided to start from Kolkata, because we did our workshops here. We could plan the route through the coal belt and Kolakata needs this wake-up call. A city that is supposed to be the cultural capital of India should lead when it comes to challenges like this,” added Dekkers.

These Climate Riders would cycle through different coal affected communities along the Coal Belt of India. On their way to Delhi, they would also be documenting the environmental and health hazard these communities face and the life on earth will have to deal with.

“To develop, India must choose its own path and not make the mistakes the western countries did,” said Huub. “The world faces a climate crisis and the biggest solution is solar. Solar is abundant in India,” Vinay added. “A few years back I’d have never thought I’d be cycling halfway across the country. “But in the face of the crisis we face today, if we did not challenge our complacency and get off our addiction to fossil fuels, we would be leaving a mess for future generations to deal with.”

What next? “The next couple of years are critical for humanity, as we decide what path we want to choose. There are only two. One, the less advocated is a fossil-free, clean and prosperous way of life to thrive. Two, the more convenient, is the fossil-driven growth path that will leave a mess for future generations to clean up, that is, if life on earth is to continue at all. There is just no middle ground. We must decide on our actions now, and that is what we will do at Switch ON,” summed up Vinay.

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