In December of 2004, Ganesh Dileep was woken up in the dead of the night and forced to flee his home in Kerala, India, with nothing but the clothes on his back to escape the notorious Indian Ocean Tsunami. In the days following the tsunami, the effects and destruction on his hometown were palpable. Not only did Ganesh suffer massive losses to his home but also several of his friends, neighbors, and relatives did not survive the tsunami. Years later, he once again saw the effects of climate change first hand when he moved to Chennai for his education, another Indian city that is constantly seeing cataclysmic events.
“Just last year Chennai ran out of groundwater. The drought reached a level of emergency where lower and lower-middle-class struggled to buy or get access to drinking water.”
It is these events that Ganesh says have continued to “haunt him” and became his reason to build climate resilience in India.
"I know how it feels to be woken up from sleep one night and spend days unsure of whether your home exists or not. I know how it feels to lose it; to watch others lose their homes, belongings, and lives. I know that it is too late now to entirely right the wrongs of those we have inherited this world from. The least I can do is help the world be better prepared.”
In order to mitigate the disastrous effects of climate change, Ganesh and his team of student leaders have joined forces to work on their project, Campus Climate Collective. These students at IIT Madras are trying to create India’s first university-based integrated Climate Study Center on their campus. According to Ganesh, his university already has a lot of people working in climate action technology and invention. Despite the abundance of innovation, a lot of work needs to be done to create lasting impact . He had to ask himself why the best engineering school in India had been unable to achieve large-scale impact in this area and he soon realized that the key challenge was that there was no overarching framework that facilitates interdisciplinary research, collaboration, or funding in the field of climate action.
“There is no one channel for climate action research and innovation; it is all spread out between professors and disciplines and it is very confusing for people to collaborate or work with each other. Right now, it is a messy situation.”
When structuring the Climate Study center, Ganesh drew inspiration from the climate centers that he had seen during his exchange semester at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. He and his team used cluster mapping to look at the research domains that are prioritized by his university and came up with core research areas for the study center: fuel cells/battery capabilities, air quality, electric vehicles and clean fuel, sustainable cities and built environment, clean water, and green enterprise marketing. This will allow the study center to become a nodal point where professors and scholars can come with their ideas, projects, and research on all projects that have overlap with climate action. This would allow for research where climate action overlaps with other areas such as poverty, education, or gender equality to thrive and would foster broader learning and cooperation.
Currently, Ganesh and his team are working on their Statement of Purpose and developing an operating procedure for what the center will entail. They also need to approach the student legislator as they are the ones who determine funding. Although they fully expect that some of their funding for the center will come through the university, fundraising and networking events, they also hope that the center can get sponsored research projects.
Despite being extremely organized and passionate about this project, Ganesh expects that implementing the first Climate Study Center will be an uphill battle. This is because study centers are usually set up by university deans, alumni batches or a group of professors. Because this is a student-led movement, they are contacting professors in the domain along with students and research scholars who are enthusiastic about climate change to support their initiative.
However, even though this project is an unprecedented move, Ganesh feels it is one that is needed due to extreme changes that are taking place in his region right now.
“The extent of climate change is extreme. Right now as we speak parts of my state Kerala, up north, just a few kilometers away from my place, are experiencing landslides and huge floods taking place. Additionally, I research the Himalayas. And the people who live there, they tell me that it hasn’t snowed there in the last 8 years and that’s the main watershed region for 8 countries from Afghanistan all the way to Bangladesh so it’s really scary right now.”
Because Ganesh’s project relies heavily on the approval of his university’s administration he feels that being part of a prestigious fellowship, such as the Millennium Fellowship gives his project more legitimacy.
“I feel I am better equipped and in a position of relative advantage when you compare it to other students and the gen student body. There is a lot more of a sense of being official and being part of something as prestigious as the Millennium Fellowship.”
He also hopes that being part of the Fellowship will allow him to network with other like-minded colleagues in the climate action discipline and let him reach his larger goal of replicating Climate Change Centers in universities all across India and potentially in other global locations where the concept has not yet taken hold.
“The Millennium Fellowship provides me with a large amount of connections and networks. In the long run, my project is one that I want to replicate not only in my university but across several universities that currently lack the infrastructure or capacity to have dedicated climate study centers. I really want this climate center on my campus and I want it to be similarly modeled across other universities. I want this to be my legacy when I leave this institution and I feel that the Fellowship gives me a platform to engage with my university administration as more than just a student to get it done.”
*Campus Climate Collective is a project that was founded by Ganesh and is being worked on by several Millennium Fellows (Sadhana Nadathur, Sathya Priya Ganeshkumar, and Anand Krishna Unni) along with other student leaders at IIT Madras.