Actor, producer, champion for nature, Dia Mirza recently discussed her own initiation into environmental issues and the importance of raising climate sensitive citizens. She recalled how her love for nature was born from the engagement she had with it right through her childhood and said, "I had a beautiful school, we did a lot of our classes under big trees and spent a lot of time in neighbouring villages working with grass root communities. I also had the privilege of growing up in a home that had a front-yard, back-yard and many fruit bearing trees. A lot of my time was spent watching sparrows and squirrels building their nests."
When the first scientific reports about climate change were published, her school discussed them and initiated conversations about consumerism, the way people were producing and how that impacted the planet. Said Dia, "My attention was drawn consistently to our own choices and patterns of consumptions so much so that we would feel almost virtuous about saving a pencil right till the end. I became increasingly aware of the fact that everything that we use and throw comes from the earth and goes back to the earth or should, in a manner that doesn’t harm it. I learnt that human activity is changing the temperatures of the planet. That was the beginning of learning about the planet and our place in it. A very big shift was also created in my consciousness when I watched the documentary, 'The inconvenient truth'."
In a chat with environmentalist Abhiir Bhalla in the acclaimed podcast 'Candid Climate Conversations,' she also shared how visiting a tiger forest in Madhya Pradesh made her understand the challenges of ecology conservation. Says Dia, "I learnt about the compulsions of the forest rangers, how dangerous it is for them to face the threats of the wild, poachers and encroachers. Associating with people like Bittu Sehgal who runs Sanctuary Nature Foundation and Vivek Menon who is the CEO of the Wildlife Trust Of India made me realize the huge gap that exists between what climate scientists were talking about and what children were learning in schools. Such issues are also completely disconnected and ignored by mainstream media and it is around this time that I decided that I could be a bridge between science, policy and the general public. This is how, over 15 years ago, I started working for the environment."
Five years ago, while shooting the series 'Ganga, The Soul Of India', Dia saw how polluted some of the most eco-sensitive environments are with plastic waste. She recalls, "I was using this great opportunity to not just highlight the cultural or the environmental aspect of the river but also the fact that it supports the lives and livelihood of over 4 million people. And then I saw millions of pieces of plastic in the most pristine environments and I wondered where all this was going to go because these areas had no waste management systems, and when the locals burn the waste, it ends up contaminating the air, the soil and also entering our food chain. That was a huge trigger and I felt a deeper sense of urgency about doing something about this. I remember when I had my first meeting with UNEP (UN Environment Programme) in South Africa just after I was appointed the National Goodwill Ambassador, I suggested a really strong powerful global campaign addressing plastic pollution and I was told that this was exactly what we were going to be working on next!"
Dia believes her education played a big part in shaping her as an empathetic and sensitive individual and feels it is very important that the youth are sensitised early to climate change. As she says, " We are consumed by capitalism and material success because we are trained to think that way. But all of that adds up to nothing, because what transcends everything is our identity as the citizens of this planet. Everything that we have or claim to own comes from the planet. And we must respect that."
She also believes that the synergy between individuals, civil society, policy makers and grassroots organisations is critical to create a ground swell of change. She says, "Kids for Tiger programme was launched after a giant push was made to include and involve young people. Today we have the power of social media and there are people who are willing to invest in the environment and wildlife campaigns. I think PETA has also played a very big part in helping people understand how bad testing on animals is. There's a very big part that organizations play in increasing people’s awareness about issues. For instance, just the gesture of carrying my own water bottle all over the world has spread the message of sustainability and I feel so grateful that so many people have followed suit. I also don't think we would have had the win with Aarey in Mumbai if it wasn't for the participation and incredibly consistent efforts of the local NGOs, civil society and also celebrity supporters."
Dia has also been looking at data and statistics and is encouraged by the level of participation by young people who are in turn mounting more pressure on governments, policymakers and industry then perhaps ever before. She however adds, "Still, our gains are so few in contrast to the larger picture. We have a very long way to go. Climate change is still not an electoral issue and only those platforms that are independent have been asking the right questions and have been linking the natural disasters with climate change. Climate change needs to become a political issue. Then only people at large, politicians, and the media would start talking about it. The media also needs to mainstream this conversation. There is enough data to show how much we would gain if we work with nature rather than against it."