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Academic Elites and their Climate Indifference…

Academic Elites and their Climate Indifference…

Unforgivable sloth of Indian academia towards impact of Climate Change on rural India and its practices that could contribute towards the knowledge to save the planet…


How many academics in India are working on Climate Change (CC) and its impact? – there is no single repository of such institutions or their studies in the Indian context. If the IPCC projects were to come true, what will be the impact on the food security of Indians by 2030? Do we have mitigation and adaptation techniques for every zone? What is our knowledge pathway to achieve our global commitment (NDC) towards net zero by 2070? Can we afford to prolong addressing CC that long? Who is studying the IPCC and other projections to visualize scenarios and arrive at strategies or solutions, where are these scientists and scholars?

Last year it was reported that our wheat production was reduced in parts due to the CC impact, other crops will follow as well, if not already there. Meanwhile we are also under pressure to reduce emission GHG gasses, but we haven’t studied or monitor real time how much of these are emitted from diverse agro-ecological conditions. As we don’t have reliable Indian sources, we need to rely upon global portals even for simple data with indicators and measuring mechanisms not developed for Indian conditions.  We do not have any Indian academic institution that studies even the basics of our CC data on real time basis except in a few urban centric issues. The knowledge portal of the Government of India on Climate Change lists 23 publications and 15 reports between 2004 until date. These are not academic either, rather an archive of their own tabulated malcounts. 

According to global reports India is 7th among the global countries in facing extreme weather conditions due to CC, both in terms of fatalities and in terms of economic losses. We have the largest fatalities due to few extreme weather events in the world and it is increasing. We also have unaccounted fatalities due to other intersectional areas, such as Covid, farmers suicide, climate migrants, etc., Worst impacted are the rural marginalized communities that are pincered with global market forces. With more than 800 million people living in villages, we have the largest population in the world that faces the most diverse kinds of negative impact due to CC.

Ecologically, the decrease in forest cover, diversity, and species loss, loss of animal life due to the human-animal conflict is a daily norm. We do not have any academic studies published on for instance what happens to the elephant population if we continue to electrocute and murder them at the rate of 5 a month as has been happening consistently in Tamil Nadu.  Meanwhile, government has managed to reduce the regulations on access to forests for large corporations to enhance ‘’ease of doing business’’! We have even perversely incentivised systemic malfeasance by ranking the states based on speed of environmental clearance. Our finance minister recently listed in her budget speech, achievement including ‘’decriminalization’’ of 30 plus economic offences. While the global economic advisory last year recorded, CC, breakdown of social norms and fracture of relationship between the federal government and states as amongst the top risks of doing business in India.

In the past few months working with academics in one of the premium engineering institute in the country,  to define the knowledge pathway for achieving net zero emission in the villages, we have encountered several gaps in information, knowledge and data – from agriculture, crop studies, soil studies, animal husbandry to communities and their coping mechanisms against climate change, there are many areas in which hardly any Indian studies exist.  Repeated assertion from about 40 academics across more than 10 domains of expertise indicate both the non-availability of data as well as non-reliability of the available data. Empirical studies are extrapolated across diverse landscapes distorting their validity and reliability. If this was the case with engineering data, one can imagine its poor cousin humanities and their focus on CC impacted communities in India. Most of these are either disaster studies or post facto impact of an extreme weather event.

A recent interesting analysis on the IPCC physical sciences report of 2500 pages and 13500 citations, found that about 3/4th of these were from either from US or UK and 99.95% was written in English. A ten-year analysis of the IPCC reports finds that we have about 300+ co-authors of cited papers of Indian origin. Today I had a chat with an academician who is hosting a national seminar on sustainability, and she says she received about 20 papers out of which 2 maybe worth publishing. Earlier this year I glanced through the 200 odd papers that were presented in the Social Science Congress (I delivered a keynote address) and found that there were hardly any papers among them on CC impact on society.

Greendex was an interesting consumption-based study that rated the greenest consumer base in the world. This annual rating was by the National Geographic magazine and strangely (or not) discontinued some years ago. This study ranked India as the No#1 country in the world as green consumers. We as a consumer base adopted green building techniques, food production practices, transportation, and materials more than any other in the world. We, as in the majority of India that continues to live in the villages, not the urban population that irresponsibly consumes at par with Europeans or Americans.  Something must be right and sustainable among the village people of this land. Who has studied these and why is it that we do not get to hear on these in the mainstream academic discourse or even among the popular opinion generating media?

Academia in India is an elite that continues to look up to the western universities to generate knowledge, even if it is knowledge about the CC resilience of communities in India. We do not have the courage to theorize our own people’s customs, practices, or systems in place. Some recent observations I will share in the next article.