In Conversation with Prachi Shevgaonkar – Cool The Globe Creator
Continuing our celebration of women at the frontlines advocating for the environmental cause, Saevus speaks with Prachi Shevgaonkar, a 23-year-old girl from Pune who created Cool The Globe – an app to empower individuals to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and take climate action. “If we can count our calories, then why not our greenhouse gas emissions?” she tells us, and we can’t help but agree! Read on for glimpses into this inspiring young girl’s journey, motivations, and achievements.
“Climate change is real. It is not happening in some distant corner of the world. It is originating from various facets of our lives and our homes, and it is aggravating everything we care about – our health, our income, our family structure, and even our politics”, Prachi tells me, with a calm assertiveness that seeks to neither downplay, nor oversensationalize the urgency of the cause she has been working towards since she was 18 years old. Prachi Shevgaonkar, a 23-year girl old from Pune, is the creator of Cool The Globe – an app that enables common people to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. It has over 10,000 users with a presence in 55 countries across the world and is burgeoning into a citizen-led movement for climate action.
Prachi speaks passionately about her path to climate action, evocatively recollecting the various milestones in her journey that honed her environmental consciousness. “I used to think climate change is a faceless problem. But through my work in education, documentation, with waste-pickers and farmers, I found traces of it everywhere. I was once documenting the lives of children and asked a 12-year-old boy what he would wish for if he was granted one wish. He said he wished his house didn’t get flooded every year”, Prachi recounts. In the aftermath of these floods, she saw beleaguered communities, dead livestock, and destroyed property. It was moments like these that made her realize that they are real people and real stories behind climate change, and one doesn’t have to go very far to witness its impacts. Indeed, they are omnipresent, if only in disguise.
The maturity with which she explains the nuances of climate change in general and the app, in particular, reflects that climate change, in more ways than one, is a pressing existential concern for her generation. Her first year of college was rife with uncertainty, helplessness, and a sense of powerlessness about the behemoth and inevitable problem of climate change. This changed when she and her family, to start with, pledged to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent every year. Once they started taking action, Prachi noticed a definite shift in her attitude towards climate change – it went from being characterized by hopelessness and helplessness to a process that was happy and hopeful.
Before building Cool The Globe, Prachi tried to find out if there was anything like it already out there that could help individuals reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Surprisingly, there was nothing, and she took it upon herself to create something. This is how Cool The Globe was born. The ethos behind the app is to make climate action achievable, simple and quantifiable, and to empower individuals to take small but consistent measures to contribute to surmounting climate change.
“So far, climate action conversations have only revolved around pollution by countries and industries. There is not a lot of material about how individuals contribute to the problem, and what they can do to be part of the solution. What we’ve done with Cool The Globe is to make climate change as relatable as possible to individuals. There is a very direct insistence in the app on creating a parallel with our daily lives. As soon as you enter the app, you get a target for reducing your carbon footprint – a monthly and annual target. After this, you are offered an extensive list of many actions embedded into your life, and the app allows you to see the greenhouse gas emissions you saved from doing those simple actions”, says Prachi, when asked about the gap the app seeks to fill.
Below are a few snippets from our conversation, to lend our readers an insight into this incredible young girl’s journey, achievements, and ambitions.
Saevus: How did your journey begin?
Prachi: During my childhood, in school, we often heard the question whenever we were trying to make any kind of impact: what can individuals do? And that is something that we were always taught in school, that even if your contribution as an individual may be small, when many individuals are doing the same thing, it can be extraordinary. Whenever we were out on a school trip we would carry bags along with us to collect whatever plastic waste we might encounter. Whenever we left a place, it was better off than we had seen before us, which was a wonderful feeling. From a very young age, I knew that action induces happiness and is empowering. And as you can see, this was not something we were going out of our way to do – it was embedded into a fun activity in our everyday lives. We learned that just simple conscious decisions that you can make in your life make a difference. These ideas, especially that of taking individual actions with collective impact were instilled in me through my early education and have made a big contribution to my life.
Saevus: Could you tell us why the app focuses on the greenhouse gas emissions an individual has avoided as opposed to how much they have produced?
Prachi: There are two reasons for this: one is a technical reason, and the other pertains to the very idea behind the app.
The first reason is that to be able to calculate one’s carbon footprint accurately, one needs to answer a hundred questions. In the long-drawn process of answering those questions, you already lose interest want to move on to the next thing. We focused on emissions avoided to avoid this loss of interest because the emissions avoided calculator allows one to start acting immediately.
Secondly, and more importantly, it comes from the very idea behind the app. There are different ways of making people do something – one is through fear by letting them know the harm they are causing, and the second is through positivity, which lets them know the power they have. We chose to use the second route, which not only allows our users to know the problem but also enables them to know the potential they have to do make a difference. Calculating emissions saved is a lot more impactful and a lot more encouraging.
Saevus: There is a (re)surgence of climate denial across the world, with hordes of people convinced that climate change is a hoax. How would you respond to that?
Prachi: The issue with climate change is that we don’t humanize it. People just cannot relate to it, and hence the urgency of action doesn’t get communicated. People need to ask themselves why they need to care about climate change because while are there many climate deniers, there are also many people who have an inkling but lack direction. Those are the people we should focus on today. That is why I don’t call Cool The Globe a campaign about the environment, I don’t call it a technological solution – I call it a media campaign. Climate change today is not just an environmental problem, it is a communication challenge.
Also, I think that a more urgent problem, even more than people who deny climate change, is the perception that climate change is just another environmental issue – like pollution, for example. People forget that there is a very prominent urgency to climate change because we have very few years to account for irreversible tipping points. We must act now to avoid the worst effects of climate change.
Saevus: We’d love to hear about some of the personal challenges you have faced along the way.
Prachi: As a woman, and also as a woman who looks like me – a tiny, 23-year-old girl – it is sometimes difficult to get people to take you seriously. Very early on though, my mentor Nalini Shekhar taught me to flip the coin and to use this to my advantage. I now find that when people see a 20 something girl wanting to make a difference, they also want to help and be involved in the cause as a guide.
Also, in the old world, it probably would have been a lot more difficult for a woman to do something. But I think we’re now in a different world where not only the definition of how business works has changed but also the definition of leadership has changed. Leadership is not about command or authority anymore. Leadership is about taking people along. It’s about people being able to relate to you, and about people being able to relate to a dream.
Saevus: On a more personal level, do you suffer ecological grief? If yes, how do you cope with it?
Prachi: I believe that to be able to make a real impact, one needs an outsider’s perspective of sorts. You can’t get too attached or too impacted – certainly not to the extent that you feel completely hopeless because the driver behind any kind of change and transformation is always hope. Yes, there are many reasons to be hopeless, hope and optimism is always the first step.
I always tell people this – if you feel hopeless, just start doing, start taking small but consistent actions. Action is so powerful and empowering that it rids you of all negativity. The attitude shift from thinking to doing and the attitude shift of awareness to action is key overcoming to ecological grief. Just embrace action and everything else will fall into place.
Saevus: What’s next for Cool The Globe and Prachi?
Prachi: I think I’m going to be haunted by climate change for a while, and not just personally, but also because of so many wonderful people who have gotten connected to it. Something that I first thought was going to be an individual quest has turned into a collective quest. The app that we built, which we thought was just a tool, is now growing into a citizen-led movement for climate action. It is all happening so organically that it almost feels like it’s happening to us rather than something that we are doing consciously.
On the technological front, we plan to enhance the interface of the app, to inculcate more incentives to give people a sense of achievement, and also to bring it onto iOS. On the campaign front, I think it’s now time to get our hands dirty and go on the ground to talk to people from all walks of life. We want to get as much material on climate change out there as possible to enable people to create their own citizen chapters, develop their own versions of action, and foster their own communities. The onus is now on us to reach as many people as we can, to bring climate action into the life of every single person, and to show everybody that when we come together, we can make a difference.
Image credits (for all images): Prachi Shevgaonkar.