Young Indians Learn To Fight Pollution To Save Lives : Goats and Soda India's air pollution is so bad that it shortens many people's lives by about three years, a study found. This week Al Gore visited New Delhi to link bad air to climate change.
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Young Indians Learn To Fight Pollution To Save Lives

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Young Indians Learn To Fight Pollution To Save Lives

Young Indians Learn To Fight Pollution To Save Lives

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Some 660 million people in India are breathing air so unhealthy their lives are being shortened by more than three years. That's according to a new study. But now more Indians are taking on environmental activism. And this week, a familiar voice, Al Gore, was there to encourage them, linking bad air to climate change. From New Delhi, NPR's Julie McCarthy reports.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: The world's most recognizable climate change leader came to spread the word. From pollution shortening lives in India, to super typhoons leveling villages in the Philippines, to extreme weather events afflicting Americans, we are all vested in curbing global warming. He makes his reference point Earth and projects an image, taken from the space shuttle, of the narrow band that is the Earth's atmosphere. Gore says it's like varnish on the globe of the earth it's so thin. And with humankind pouring 110 million tons of pollution into that layer every day...

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AL GORE: It doesn't take very long to change the chemical composition of the atmosphere.

MCCARTHY: Gore is addressing the next batch of climate change advocates, the latest inductees into Gore's Climate Reality Leadership Corps. The attendees hope to become knowledgeable in the science of global warming and to counter the climate change denial campaign. A quarter of the audience is thought to be between the ages 25 and 35. Rajashree Agrawal, a 15-year-old, is among those in rapt attention. She says climate change is an opportunity to create a healthier, cleaner India.

RAJASHREE: Previously, people weren't concerned with, let's say, where do we find more resources? It was just about putting a factory anywhere and putting it any way. And now we're going to put it so that there is sustainable growth. And my generation will now develop more correctly.

MCCARTHY: And they will have to to meet the challenge that Gore says is already visible here. He said 2014 was India's hottest on record. And he explains that warmer air holds more water vapor, feeding ever bigger storms. He talks the audience through this video made about the flood that killed 5,700 people in the Indian state Uttarakhand in 2013.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

GORE: We were stuck in the bus. In the dead of night, at 1 a.m., a lady came rapping on all the windows. When she knocked, we woke up. And then, she screams, run, run, run.

MCCARTHY: In an interview with NPR, Gore says there are few climate change doubters in India. Drought is worsening as higher temperatures pull moisture from the soil. Farmer suicide is a complex phenomenon, but tens of thousands of Indian farmers have killed themselves since the year 2000. Desertification is rising as the icepack in the Himalayas is diminishing. Between a third and a half could be lost by the end of the century. Gore says the monsoons are changing, and India is susceptible to an increase in water diseases associated with global warming.

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GORE: So these and other phenomena don't really require much explanation from scientists because Mother Nature is communicating the message so powerfully. But there's another question. Can we change?

MCCARTHY: The 500 eager trainees in the audience believe it's possible. Aditya Pundir is the country manager for Gore's India Climate Reality Project. For one thing, Pundir says what was once invisible, the fine particulate pollution cutting short Indian lives, is now better understood.

ADITYA PUNDIR: Especially when people make that crucial link between pollution and disease, that they're suffering because of asthma because of this. I'm dying because of cancer because of this. Once I start making this association, that's the time the action will come.

MCCARTHY: Back at the hall, Gore adopts the fervor of a preacher when he says renewable energy makes more economic sense than dirty fossil fuels.

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GORE: This is the greatest new business opportunity in the history of the world - renewable energy, efficiency, sustainable agriculture. This is the transformation of the global economy.

MCCARTHY: 15-year-old Rajashree Agrawal quit school to teach herself economics and physics. She's spending next summer at MIT.

RAJASHREE: We're positioned so strategically, we could actually gain everything and even become a basket of these energy cells that we could sell.

MCCARTHY: Listening to Agrawal, it's difficult not to be an optimist about India. She calls her country a banyan tree and says for her generation, the main trunk is environmental protection. Julie McCarthy, NPR news, New Delhi.

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