“A persistent teen green warrior, creating awareness about the impending water crisis.”
In conversation with Sankalp Mohan Sharma, India’s youngest climate reality leader.
Tell us your story from the beginning – how did it start?
I am in the 12th standard at Frank Anthony Public school. When I was rather younger in the 7th and 8th grade I always wanted to do something more than anybody else in my class was doing. The only opportunities that were available at that time in the 7th and 8th grade I joined a club that was focused on environmental science. We’d work on collecting the garbage and keeping our field clean and planting trees and having small drives which led to bigger drives like on the big shows we collected tetra packs and send them for recycling. So, we’d have teacher trainings where they would tell us about what’s happening in climate change and that used to worry me a lot and I wanted to know more and I reached a point where even teachers were not able to answer my questions. So, I started to find out even more.
“I volunteered myself at The Climate Reality Project founded and chaired by Al. Gore.”
In addition, I’m also a public speaker and I used to listen to a lot of TED talks, once I came across Mr. Gore’s TED talk which was about climate change. It moved me a lot as I got a lot of information. As I started reading more about the climate reality project, and registered as a volunteer. I started getting weekly emails, petitions to sign, things that I could do in my country. So, I got involved and also applied for the climate reality leadership training programme in Houston, Texas, in August 2016, without any expectation of getting selected because generally the people who get selected are more mature and have a better understanding of the environment. I was pleasantly surprised when, Mr. Gore was so impressed by my enrolment form and I became the youngest Indian to get selected for the program.
My parents were completely unaware of my application for this program. They were surprised when I told them, that I was selected. My father then said he was really proud of me and all that I had managed to do on my own. I was 15 at the time so I went on my own to get my visa, managed the booking and was all set to travel and attend the conference. At the conference, I was trained by some amazing people like Mr. Gore himself, Dr. Susan Pacheco who was the first woman recipient of the Green Ring Award. She has also won the Champions of Change award from the White House, which was conferred upon her by Barack Obama. Dr. Susan works on research and curing people who are affected with diseases that are caused by the environment.
I got a chance to meet with Dr. Robert Bullard, the father of environmental justice. He taught us about climate denial, for example, the coal mining companies who deny that their companies are causing problems and educated us about his fight against them. I also got to meet Peter Sargent the campaigns director who told us about the agreements the countries are signing, the countries that are actually working towards the environment. It was a great programme – it helped me understand climate reality better and go back enriched. At the end of the programme, I became a green ring holder and India’s youngest climate reality leader.
“Did you know that if every Indian, in India closed their taps while brushing every day for a year we can save approximately one billion litres of water?”
Tell me, what have your successes been along the way?
As I became a climate reality leader, I started giving presentations about climate change and the solutions that are there for this change in India at schools, colleges, and corporate organizations. That’s when the CEO of the SMART organization who’s also the founder of the “Walk for Water” organization approached me and he wanted me to head Karnataka state unit for Walk for water.
Walk for water organization is working on water conservation. It works on restoring bore wells and it’s restored around twelve thousand plus dried up bore wells across India. It was a really big position for a 16-year old and to lead an entire state towards something that I hadn’t imagined I would do in the near future. Every other state head like for example Assam, Mumbai, Delhi, is headed by more experienced in this field, have large networks and can lead their states better but the fact that he thought that I was capable of taking up such a position was a big achievement in itself.
As part of our mandate at “Walk for Water” was to enhance the awareness on water conservation. We used a twin approach of using celebrities (so that our initiative would gather more steam) and also worked with BWSSB, gardeners, school children and the Indian Army. To name a few – Milind Soman, Sunil Gavaskar, Leander Peas, Mahesh Bhupathi are among many who have taken the water pledge.
One of my best experiences was at Shishu Mandhir, which is a school for the underprivileged and orphans and I did a presentation there at a very basic level, asked them simple questions like who knows what is flooding, who knows what is global warming, these are the little changes that are happening, showed them videos and that complete school understood so well and a crowd of 300 students all took the pledge with me and they showed me massive response. I still get texts from some of those kids saying, “Today I closed my tap while brushing”. Even these little things can really create a huge impact. And then came one of my biggest successes in the walk for water which was doing a presentation for the Indian army. The CMP center of the Indian army has taken the water pledge as well.
On the 22nd of March 2017, on “World Water Day” we had a huge walk across India where people come down on the street to walk and talk about the water conservation. I felt to bring larger change I had to involve the youth, hence made the complete campaign in Karnataka youth based. I created, internship for college students to recruit a team of 15 individuals, who were really worried about the environment, and didn’t want to solely do the internship for a certificate. I partnered with a few NGOs and BWSSB for the walk. Our entire team worked towards getting about 800 people for the walk. The walk was to start at Vidhan Soudha and end at Cubbon Park. We also set high-target, we wanted to get the chief minister of Karnataka, Mr. Siddaramaiah to flag off our walk. On the day of the walk, we got 1500 people who took part in the walk, as well as we had 3 chief guests to flag off the walk – Shri Siddaramaiah our chief minister, the urban development minister Mr. George and the head of the Bharat scouts Mr. P.G.R Sindhia.
At the end of the walk for water, there was a board meeting that took place, where I was given the best state head of the complete campaign thanks to the popularity with save Bangalore, save water campaign. I also tried to use my climate reality network. When I went for my training, I made a network of some friends from every country around the world.
I emailed them about this campaign and made it global. I have friends in Pakistan who took the water pledge with me. They, in turn, made my campaign popular in their country. I had met Mr. Robert Swan. He is the first man to walk on the North Pole and the South Pole and he leads the 2041 expedition every year wherein in the first half of the year, he takes selected few people to the Arctic for an expedition and the second half of the year a selected few to the Antarctic, and from this year, every year from now. After our meeting, there is a water pledge that’s done at both the Poles. So that’s also helping in gathering momentum for our initiatives.
Also, I have also won the Aryan young achiever award for my work with climate reality and walk for water. A couple of months back, I won the award and I was awarded by Mr. Mazhar Nawaz who is the chairman of the Aryan Institutes and also Mr. N. A. Harris.
“Water is The New Religion”
What are your plans for the future?
I am also part of the world education leaders’ forum that recently took place in South Korea. I was selected as a delegate for that. We had about 3000 to 4000 students from across the globe and some great celebrities. 50 ministers from across the world were also present. I got to speak at this conference. This conference, helped learn about South Korea’s formats for climate change, how they stay and all of that. The main reason I went is to learn about the way they recycle and reuse water and a lot of other things. This will help me in adding best practices to our plan in Karnataka and India from all over world towards climate reality.
I have applied for the United Nations Youth Assembly which takes place in the UN headquarters in New York. At this youth assembly, there are a few students from across the globe are chosen. I had applied a couple of months back and just a few weeks back I got a confirmation that I have been selected to represent India at the UN headquarters and that’s the next big thing. If I get the outstanding delegate award, I’ll stand at the very place where Minister Modi has spoken and Mr. Barrack Obama and other such dignitaries have spoken. So that’s what I’m working towards right now, trying to be an outstanding delegate. This will help to enhance our movement to save water.
The walk for water campaign which I start working at again from December for the same aim. This year’s aim was to have a crowd of 25% of India’s population and 5% of the globe’s population for the walk for water on 22nd March 2018. My aim is that, as the Karnataka head, I want to have at least 30-40% of Karnataka’s population aware of this. So that’s my aim, for this year’s walk for water to have instead of 25%, from my end make it a 30% of India’s population. I’m going to start working at it a little earlier since December. The second is I’m working with a mentor Mr. C. B. Ramkumar who’s a climate reality leader and has the only resort which is 100% sustainable and environment-friendly in Asia. The resort is located in the outskirts of Bangalore.
If someone wants partner with you, how can they do so?
I look forward to connecting with organizations or individuals who would like to sponsor activities and also my participation in the global front.
We’re also looking for volunteers to help us with our various initiatives at “Walk for Water”. One can reach me through our website or through my Instagram (Sankalp Mohan Sharma) or Facebook account; else please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.