My five-year old niece and I were reading about Polar Bears during her last visit to India in February-March 2020. It was learning hour and we were serious about it. Everyone needed to ‘be quiet!’ (as instructed by my niece in her most assertive voice) while we huddled in front of the laptop reading on Nat Geo Kids and watching short documentaries and videos. She would pick the animal, I would do the browsing and reading, and then we would have a discussion.
Polar Bears, we learned have black skin under their thick coat of fur, and their fur is not white, as we commonly assume, it’s actually transparent and hollow, and it reflects light: This natural camouflage helps them hunt while blending with their snowy, white surroundings.
We also learned that they are classified as vulnerable, and my niece asked, ‘what does vul-(ne)-rable mean?’ I said, ‘It means they need protection and we need to help them stay safe.’
Her next question was: ‘Why are they not safe?’ ‘Because the ice is melting, Isabel.’ ‘Why is the ice melting?’ she asked.
I was ready for this exchange. Isabel loves asking questions, and for good reason I don’t tire of them: I am fascinated by her curiosity, which teaches me as much as it does her.
Me: The ice is melting because the climate is changing too fast.
Me: Well, because of the way we do things.
Isabel: Who is we?
Me: All of us!
Isabel: All the people in the world?
Me: Umm, well, almost all. Everyone who drives cars a lot, takes too many trips on the plane, and buys too many things is changing the climate.
Isabel: (Pause). Why do Polar Bears need ice?
Me: (Thankful to Nat Geo Kids for all the answers). To hunt. They are not very good swimmers; (in a hushed tone with my finger on my lip) they stand quietly on the ice and quickly grab a seal when it pops out of the sea.
Isabel: (in the same hushed tone) Ohh. How can we keep them safe?
Me: We need to buy less things, use what we have carefully, and try and not use cars and planes as much.
Isabel: Ok-ayy. Can we play now?
Next morning, my cousin sister conveyed a message that read, Thank you, Neha. It was from Isabel’s dad. I looked at her confused. Isabel while speaking to her father on FaceTime proclaimed that she was going to ride the bicycle to school when she returned (to California). When her father asked her why she’d be doing that, she said, ‘To save the polar bears, daddy.’
The cause, the effect, and the solution were so clear in Isabel’s mind: Our overuse of fossil fuel has accelerated changes in climate and extreme weather events, and the way out is to stop the use of fossil fuel and choose alternative, renewable sources that are available.
I learned quickly from Isabel, and shortly after she left in March 2020, I began defunding gradually: I pulled my money out of most fixed deposits and funds, with a request to my bank and investment manager to send me details about clean energy options.
At institutions and organisations, defunding and divestment requires planning and consensus, and it requires pressure from stakeholders: investors, consumers, student bodies, and every individual involved. If we pull out our funds where possible, pressure builds up. We can’t not pay taxes but we can choose our investments.
This may not put an end to world leaders using our money to fund guns and discrimination, but it can cut funding for deforestation, coal, and oil.
Pledging to ride the bicycle to school is essential, and the combined effect of our pledges will help, certainly. I have been taking my pledges on Count Us In. But collective pressure through defunding is imperative. All of us have a little money invested somewhere. If we don’t know where the money is going, assume it’s not going to the right place, in the context of climate change.
I am requesting campaigners and climate activists to help more of us to take the step to redirect our investments. The campaign Fossil Free is slowly becoming a force in the US and Europe, but it still needs support to come into common consciousness there and across the world.
Campaigners can use Fossil Free’s comprehensive training and resource pack to start local groups that can give the movement strength. Resource pack to start a campaign group.
If it seems like a lot of effort in addition to all else that we need to do, let’s maybe reprioritise and ask ourselves: Why is it worth the effort? And like Isabel, we too may have our own rendition or translation of ’To save the Polar Bears, daddy!’