South Asians Demand Climate Justice at People’s Climate March in New York

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New York, September 21 — One hundred fifty members of eleven South Asian community groups came together in New York City Sunday morning to participate in the People’s Climate March, the largest such event in history. Participants in the joint South Asians for Climate Justice group came from as far away as California and the UK, carrying signs like “when fossil fuels burn, Kashmir floods” and “we are armed only with peer-reviewed science.” A South Asians for Climate Justice contingent also met at a parallel Sunday afternoon event in the San Francisco Bay Area, in addition to large climate marches and gatherings in in major cities throughout South Asia over the weekend, including New Delhi, Islamabad, Dhaka, Kathmandu, Colombo, and Malé.

The New York event saw three generations of South Asian environmental activists coming together to learn and march. It started with members of the Bangladeshi community sharing their hopes for the talks. According to Sayed Rahman from the Bangladesh Environmental Network, “while world leaders are dithering, climate refugees in Bangladesh are living with the consequences of catastrophic climate change created by major greenhouse gas polluters like the United States and Europe. We call on world leaders, particularly President Obama and the U.S. Congress, to work toward ambitious international emissions reduction targets.”

The large Sikhs for Climate Justice group began the morning with a prayer before the march, linking their environmental activism with their faith. According to Bandana Kaur, environmental researcher and Program Ambassador of EcoSikh, “we march because this understanding of the universe is embedded within the Khalsa ideal for Sikhs—a word that also signifies the sovereign body of Sikhs who make a commitment to protecting the most marginalized among us, a strong call to environmental justice.” Sonny Singh of Red Baraat and a small army of musicians marched with the group, providing an energetic soundtrack to a charged and emotional day.

New York-based organizing groups emphasized the links between local and global. Padma Seemangal of the Indo-Caribbean Alliance said her group was participating because “As a community we have witnessed first-hand the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy both in our neighborhood and across New York City.” Rasel Rahman, a senior community organizer at Chhaya CDC sees deep links between the global climate justice movement and his agency’s housing rights work in New York. “From Hurricane Sandy in New York to mega-floods in Kashmir, climate change robs communities around the world of their support systems. We demand equitable reinvestment in all our communities, and call for UN Climate Summit participants to fully fund the Green Climate Fund.”

“Desis can play a critical role in the American climate movement,” described Barnali Ghosh of the San Francisco Bay Area-based group Brown and Green: South Asian Americans for Climate Justice. “South Asia is climate ground zero, and our actions in the United States can either reduce the risk or further endanger 1.7 billion people. That means every time we take action in the US to vote for climate leaders, shut down another dirty energy facility, divest from mega-polluters, or reinvest in real solutions, we achieve a double victory—not only helping communities in the US, but simultaneously also in our homelands. We call on President Obama to show world leadership in ending public funding of the dirty energy economy.”

Devika Ghai of the Alliance of South Asians Taking Action was one of twenty community members participating in a parallel climate rally taking place in Oakland, California. She worried about her grandmother, whose community had been affected by the 2013 Uttarakhand floods in India. Ghai compared the climate crisis to colonialism, where much of the atmosphere’s ability to absorb carbon has been monopolized by a small group of industrialized nations, while residents of the most vulnerable communities around the world pay the price.

Linked events were held in every South Asian country Saturday and Sunday. “Even though we bear the least responsibility for causing global greenhouse gas emissions, we are being hit the hardest,” writes Nepalese Youth for Climate Action and other organizers of the People’s Climate March Kathmandu. “Climate change is an extreme global injustice as well as a contributor to inequality. Urgent action is needed to reduce emissions and support the poorest to adapt to climate change. The UN climate summit provides a historic opportunity.”

After the New York event, writer and performer Alok Vaid-Menon, known for their work with South Asian spoken word group DARKMATTER, blogged about the day, referencing those most impacted by climate injustice, including “the Global South, indigenous peoples, gender minorities, poor people, small farmers, fisherfolk, and nomadic peoples. We regard climate change not as a phenomenon that is created by ‘humans’ but by the continuation of colonial systems into the atmosphere. The division of ‘humans’ and ‘environment’ is itself a colonial one. ‘Climate change’ is not a failure of Western capitalism, but actually the total success and realization of it. The same poverty-generating systems that built the West are the ones wreaking havoc on the water, air, and land. The ‘solution’ then, is not to get down to 350 parts per million, or to institute a carbon tax, or create more solar panel startups, or fund another wind farm, or screw in better light bulbs. The goal is to continue to fight state violence, colonialism, and capitalism at their roots.”


List of organizations participating in the South Asians for Climate Justice contingent at the People’s Climate March:


For the press: Representatives of each of these groups are available for interview, and additional photos are available. Please call +1 510-859-7531 or email presscontact@brownandgreen.org.

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South Asians for Climate Justice at People’s Climate March, Sept 21, NYC

We invite you to join the South Asians for Climate Justice contingent at the People’s Climate March in New York City on Sunday, September 21 — the largest climate march in history.


Why march?
Here’s how to get involved:
The emerging South Asians for Climate Justice group met in Berkeley, California to discuss our unique role in this issue:
  • we all live in one of the most climate-destructive countries in the world
  • yet our home countries, our friends, and families are the ones who are most impacted by climate change
  • collectively, we have the power and the opportunity to demand climate justice
  • equitable, just, and environmentally sustainable solutions have local benefits here in the US and positive impacts globally


We invite you to march with us, for us and in solidarity with people both here and in South Asia who are going to be impacted by this and demand climate justice now! We want to be visible as a community that demands real action on climate change — the most critical political issue of the 21st century.


Have questions? Can’t come but want to learn more? Email us at rsvp@brownandgreen.org.

South Asians Take On California’s #1 Climate Polluter, Linking it to Floods in India and Pakistan

South Asian American environmentalists march to the Chevron refinery (photo by Barnali Ghosh)
Garla and Chatterjee, in front of the Chevron refinery (photo by Barnali Ghosh)Group photo before the event (photo by Barnali Ghosh)

Richmond, California, August 3, 2013 - Over two dozen members of Brown and Green: South Asians for Climate Justice marched through the streets of Richmond, California today to the gates of the Chevron refinery, the most climate-polluting facility in the state of California, demanding that Chevron stop refining dirty Canadian tar sands oil, and reduce its impact on the climate—a factor in disasters like the 2010 Pakistan flood and the 2013 floods in Uttarakhand, India. The group was working with Summer Heat, a national project to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for its actions.

Explained organizer Barnali Ghosh, “South Asia is ground zero for climate change. Major climate polluters like Chevron are responsible for sending the planet past a CO2 concentration of 400 ppm, the highest levels found on earth in millions of years. The deadly effects of climate change are already visible in the form of accelerated flooding and crop failures in Pakistan, cyclones in Bangladesh, extreme heat in Sri Lanka, and more.”

While most participants held a safe and legal rally outside the refinery, others, including labor organizer Sanjay Garla, were arrested for symbolically planting seeds inside the Chevron property. Garla, who chose to risk arrest due to moral obligation in the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi, explained that “the effects of climate change are not felt equally everywhere, but in our own countries, in places like India and Bangladesh, people are living with climate impacts every day. It’s important for South Asians to take action, no matter where we live in the world.”

Student Madhvi Pathak said “We’re fighting for our future. Chevron CEO John Watson may not be alive in 2050, but I will. What kind of world will we inherit?” Added tech entrepreneur Anirvan Chatterjee, “in 1947 and 1971, millions of South Asians were forced to trudge across the subcontinent, fleeing for their lives. If we organize today, we can help prevent a new climate refugee crisis on the scale of Partition.”

Delhi native Devika Ghai was worried about her grandmother, whose community had been affected by the recent Uttarakhand floods in India. Ghai carried a sign saying “we are armed only with peer-reviewed science.” New research by Stanford scientists published in the latest issue of Science indicates that the earth might become 9 degrees F warmer by the year 2100—but the rise could be limited to 4 degrees F if emissions are cut significantly.

Saturday’s event was scheduled to mark the anniversary of the August 6, 2012 explosion and fire at the Richmond Chevron refinery that generated a huge plume of black smoke and sent 15,000 people to hospitals complaining of breathing problems. The 2012 incident had worried Ghai and many others, reminding them of the deadly gas release in Bhopal, India.

Contact: Barnali Ghosh, presscontact(@)brownandgreen.org