One of the most memorable scenes from Before the Flood, Leonardo DiCaprio’s compelling documentary on climate change, is when environmental activist Sunita Narain tells the actor how hypocritical the US’s stance on climate change is. “Coal is cheap, whether you and I like it or not. I hear this conversation all the time – “Oh the world’s poor should move to solar! Why do they have to make the mistakes we have made?” And I am like wow. If it was that easy, why hasn’t the US moved towards solar? But you haven’t. So, let’s put our money where our mouth is. “
But Sunita Narain achieved rockstar status long before that iconic scene. While she has come up with a host of strategies and solutions to combat air pollution in India, she also vehemently opposes elite conservationism that blames the poor for use of fossil fuels. Below is an excerpt from one of Narain’s articles on the audacity of developed countries to demand sustainable energy practices from the developing world at the Paris climate conference 2015 – “These countries (U.S., Japan, Australia etc.) forget that it is the very countries that ask for leftover crumbs that are the victims experiencing worst weather-related calamities. They have not contributed to the emissions that are causing the increase in temperature. But they are certainly worst impacted today. The stock of gases already in the atmosphere comes from the same countries that are on the high pedestal today. The fact is the Umbrella Group (U.S., Japan, Australia etc.) has spurned all efforts to control their own runaway emissions.They have not contributed money. They have not contributed technology. They have not done anything to pay for a transition to clean energy in the developing world. Ironically, they want the transition to happen only in the developing world.”
She is the director for the Delhi-based think tank Centre for Science and Environment, where she has been advocating air pollution control. Narain and her colleagues were responsible for the introduction of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) in Delhi, to reduce air pollution. The successful implementation of CNG in buses and autos in the capital lead to substantial reduction in air contaminants. She is a member of a watchdog body that monitors and implements strategies to reduce pollution in Delhi and in other Indian cities.