Love in the time of climate change: Indian poets pen green verses

Poet Amandeep Singh poses for a picture, in Mumbai, India, May 5, 2023

Poet Amandeep Singh poses for a picture, in Mumbai, India, May 5, 2023. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Roli Srivastava

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Campaign simplifies climate discourse to make it accessible to a wider section of people - with a larger aim to drive action

  • Indian think tank asks poets to write climate-themed poems
  • Youth outreach initiative has been popular on social media
  • Arts seen as effective tool to mainstream climate debate

MUMBAI - Indian poet Amandeep Singh has turned for inspiration to the peace of the mountains in the past, but the idea for his latest poem was born at a workshop on climate change in busy Mumbai.

His poem - 'She Came Back' - which references a drying lake, solar panels, and the girl he loves riding an electric scooter - was the result of a unique collaboration between poets and researchers to create new works on love - and climate change.

The 'Love in the Times of Climate Change' campaign by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), a think tank, features videos of seven poets performing poems intended to make climate impacts easier to understand - and more relatable.

"If we only talk about how things have changed, or that there is climate change, people may not even notice it," said Singh, 28, whose climate-themed poem has garnered more than 30,000 views on YouTube in under two months.

"But if we talk about how we are experiencing this climate change and not just what is happening, people will register it better," added Singh.

He credited the workshop with helping him notice rising heat in April and May was keeping him homebound more, and how he no longer wore warm woollen clothes during the festival of Diwali, celebrated in October or November.

"Human emotion, love particularly, resonates more with people," Singh said.

Other poems in the campaign - performed in English and Hindi - feature a grandmother noticing the disappearance of sparrows from her courtyard as climate change affects nature, and lovers thanking untimely rains for allowing them a few more moments of intimacy.

India has in recent years recorded frequent heatwaves, rising sea levels and recurring droughts and cyclones that scientists say are fuelled by climate change.

Concern is growing that rising global temperatures will bring even more severe impacts, with scientists predicting this week that 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming - considered a guardrail limit - is likely to be passed within five years.

Efforts to communicate the urgent need for action have largely come from climate activists and scientists, with warnings about cities going underwater from worsening floods and sea level rise grabbing some headlines, for instance.

But such warnings have so far failed to move large numbers of people to demand adequate political action, which has led to a search for new, more effective, messages and messengers.

Climate change discourse needs to "break out of the clutches of academicians, researchers and policymakers", said Anjal Prakash of the Hyderabad-based Indian School of Business (ISB).

"Any mass medium simplifies the issue ... and the impact it has on people is far greater than a research paper," said the research director of ISB's Bharati Institute of Public Policy.

"The more informed the people, the more they will demand from the government in terms of climate action," Prakash added.

Raising climate awareness

In recent years, some Indian schools have introduced lessons on extreme weather and rising seas, while art festivals have showcased climate change to raise awareness and try to find solutions.

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Human emotion, love particularly, resonates more with people.

Amandeep Singh

But when Simar Singh, 23, created UnErase Poetry - an online platform for poets - six years ago, highlighting climate threats was not even remotely on his radar.

"I loved poetry and I wanted to talk about different causes. I was climate conscious, but I never consumed facts or research around climate change. Nor did I ever look for it," he said.

Yet with 1.5 million subscribers on YouTube and 1.1 million on Instagram, UnErase Poetry was a natural choice as CEEW's partner for its campaign. Singh said the climate poems will be performed at colleges, where the theme of love should resonate.

"People in that age group are falling in love, going through heartbreak. So if you can talk about love and give (another) message too, that's great," he said.

He said using social media was vital to start conversations, but inspiring action was the priority.

Nitin Bassi, a programme lead at CEEW, which also has a cartoon and a documentary series focused on climate change, said the poems could make people feel in a more visceral way the need to act on climate change "without making the conversation too heavy and guilt-driven".

"The idea was to showcase how our loved ones can be impacted due to adverse effects of climate change," he said.

Poet Helly Shah recites a poetry for the Love in the Times of Climate Change campaign in February 2023 in India

Poet Helly Shah recites a poetry for the Love in the Times of Climate Change campaign in February 2023 in India. CEEW and UnErase Poetry/Handout via Thomson Reuters Foundation

Poet Helly Shah recites a poetry for the Love in the Times of Climate Change campaign in February 2023 in India. CEEW and UnErase Poetry/Handout via Thomson Reuters Foundation

That was a fresh learning for another of the poets in the campaign, Helly Shah, who has in the past collaborated with non-profits to write about financial empowerment for women and the country's voiceless poor.

Shah's new poem - 'When Will You Come Home' - explores flash floods in a city that compound the growing distance in a relationship.

"We often use the imagery and the metaphors of nature to talk about love. But nature is changing now. The climate is not the same anymore," said the 24-year-old.

Climate change can too often feel like a distant threat "of glaciers melting somewhere far, far away," she said.

But the workshop helped her notice rising sea levels and flash floods in her own city, as climate impacts close to home.

"The workshop helped us look at it from the perspective of our own country," she said. "This is what's happening where I live."

(Reporting by Roli Srivastava; Editing by Kieran Guilbert and Laurie Goering)

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