On Oct. 22, Lewis & Clark commenced its 22nd annual ENVX Symposium. This year, the speaker was Sunita Narain, the leader of the Delhi-based Center for Science and Environment. For the past two decades, the ENVX Symposium has sought to promote discussion of pressing environmental issues across borders. These discussions and talks are open to the LC community and the greater public, and are meant to create dialogues to find collaborative solutions to environmental issues.
Narain is an extremely passionate environmentalist and was named one of the “100 most influential people” in 2016 by TIME Magazine. Narain has received the Padam Shri, the third highest civilian honor the Indian government can grant for her groundbreaking work regarding water and air pollution Narain has also appeared in Leonardo Di Caprio’s documentary on climate change, “Before the Flood.”
Both ENVS staff and students were involved in the planning of this year’s symposium. Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Jessica Kleiss spoke on her takeaways from Narain’s presentation.
“I was deeply moved by Sunita’s words and her perspective,” Kleiss said via email. “She argued persuasively that the needs of the poor must be met in order to solve the problems of pollution and climate change. For example: cooking fuel, transportation systems, and a way to process human waste. I was also struck with the vast differences between the perception of climate change in India and the U.S.”
Overall, Narain’s presentation focused on climate, environment and uneven development. Uneven development is a form of discrimination which harms the progress of developing nations, such as the burden of reducing carbon dioxide emissions for people who do not even have electricity.
Citing Delhi as a place of both progress and questionable practices, she first spoke on the issue of air pollution, which plagues not only India but the rest of the world. With initiatives in the past few years, air pollution in Delhi has dropped by 25%. Although, air pollution will need to be decreased by another 65% in order for Delhi to have what they consider clean air.
However, Narain did not want the audience to focus on air pollution alone, but rather on how it affects all people. She referred to air pollution as “a great equalizer,” as not only does it connect the rich and poor of India, but the rich and poor of every place on Earth.
“Air must be breathed by all … there is no wall or dome which can be built that will stop this,” Narain said.
Narain also spoke on the topic of inclusivity as it relates to fighting climate change. Her work has been critical of elitist environmentalism for decades, highlighting the fact that many climate change policies cater to large corporations and the world’s wealthiest occupants. Thus, her work combats the notion that poor and rural people are at fault for environmental degradation.
For Narain, it is critical that we lift up the developing nations of the world and lend our help, rather than constantly blaming them for our problems and hindering their progress.
Cameron Sylla ’22, who attended the symposium, also responded positively to the event.
“I’m inspired by her emphasis on an ‘Environmentalism for the Poor,’” Sylla said via email. “Overall, the symposium was an excellent platform to engage students, faculty, and other attendees.”
Frances Schlageter ’23 also went to the symposium and found her foreign perspective to be refreshing.
“I liked how it presented a different perspective, one that was disruptive to the kind of environmentalism we’re exposed to in the west,” Schlageter said via email.