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Environment

Sep 08, 2018

The Remarkable Motorsport Team Who Swam to Save Lives During the Kerala Floods

Despite endless setbacks, this group persevered and risked their own lives by swimming up to 12km at a time, to convince people to climb into their rafts and abandon homes to the rising water.

WRITTEN BY

Jahnvi Pananchikal

A pregnant woman sent out an emergency call during Kerala floods and AT Rovers, a motorsport and adventure team, were on their way – Swimming 12km at a time. AT Rovers got the call when no one else was able to reach such an isolated location. Snakes and debris were in the flood water, as they traversed submerged paddy fields and roads. The final leg of the rescue was the hardest, as the water got deeper in darker surroundings. Not knowing what they were swimming towards, unaware of the creatures that might be in the water, the team finally reached the remote village they were targeting, near Thiruvala.

“We couldn’t get on the raft since it had to be kept dry. Instead, we carried the rafts with us while swimming 12 km to reach the place. It was so scary out there,” recalls Abraham, the founder of AT Rovers, who had to keep the raft dry for the pregnant woman.

Once the team reached the location, the pregnant woman refused to be rescued, telling them that she had only called because of a high fever. Instead, she wanted to stay, hoping that the water levels would go down, but she had no idea that the water was rising and extended up to a radius of 12 km. Despite informing her of this, she still didn’t want to leave her home and the team had to give up. On their return, they did manage to rescue a few other people on their way.

Photo: Abraham Tharakkan

“The biggest challenge we faced is that people were reluctant to get into the vehicles because they were scared.”

AT Rovers were founded as motor sports company, with a focus on rallying. However, when help was needed, they stepped up and played a significant role in rescue operations during the Chennai Floods and the recent Kerala Floods. When the Chennai floods happened in 2015, they were called in for the relief operations to supply food materials. “Once we reached Chennai, we understood that our role is not in carrying relief materials. Our vehicles were more capable, so we started rescue operations there,” says Abraham.

During the recent Kerala floods, AT Rovers didn’t give it a second thought and again jumped back into their search and rescue role.

“We had 14 vehicles, and we lost a few on the way. But spirits were way too high and our entire team of 30 people (15 on the ground) were really passionate,” says Abraham.

These were not the only setbacks, and rescue operations were on the verge of closing due to logistical difficulties, but their cause was soon saved via social media. The team had started the mission with a few four-wheelers and two rafts but within a couple of days, they lost both the rafts.  The only option was to abandon the mission, since rafts became essential for the rescue operation. Their social media page was updated with the same information.

Photo: Abraham Tharakkan

“That was a positive sight, in a way. Families rarely sit together in these times of Internet, TV and cell phones.”

That’s when the Navy reached out to them and offered life rafts. The only catch was that it was in Kochi, at a time when all airports and roads were closed and the only transport option was the cargo railways. With social media support, an individual picked up the raft from the naval base, delivered it to the railway official, who then handed it over to AT Rovers in Trivandrum. Kayak Adventures also offered help through the social media page and sent one of their rafts.

With a lot of support, now they were equipped and ready to get back in the field, convincing the pregnant woman to leave her home.

“The biggest challenge we faced is that people were reluctant to get into the vehicles because they were scared. They didn’t want to leave their homes abandoned. They wanted to stay back,” says Abraham.

Photo: Abraham Tharakkan

Perhaps, it’s hard for human beings to let go even while facing severe calamity. Maybe, they thought of the future and the challenges they would face after the floods, without a home.

“Until 7 pm, the situation was still manageable. Then they opened the dams on the night of 16th August, and the water came in like the ocean.”

AT Rovers ended up saving 43 people including a 6-month old infant. They were on the mission for almost 2 weeks, and returned to Trivandrum daily from the worst affected areas, to service their vehicles. There were some other people that they weren’t able to find, but fortunately managed to survive none the less.

When rescuers from AT Rovers were driving and rafting around the flooded regions in Kerala, Abraham, the founder, noticed a family. They didn’t seem to be in any immediate danger. With a candle light, they sat on the balcony talking to each other.

“That was a positive sight, in a way. Families rarely sit together in these times of Internet, TV and cell phones,” remarks Abraham.

In a flooded home, Ramanan waited for four days on the first floor balcony, along with his wife, a 6-month old infant, and two relatives. He built it after working in UAE and saving money for over 30 years.  Living in the remote area of Thiruvala, he noticed rescuers at a distance. They were too far to hear him, and he didn’t know how to get to them, with the little baby in hand.

“Until 7 pm, the situation was still manageable. Then they opened the dams on the night of 16th August, and the water came in like the ocean. The government says that they will give us money, but we haven’t heard anything from them. The roads are all clean now and no one has come to help or enquire about us yet. I feel so happy that you called us to ask how we are,” Ramanan says.

”But who knows if they will give us anything? I wish those well who might receive some money from the government.”

Ramanan is 56 years old. He suffered losses of over 50 lakhs, and reckons that it will take at least 3 years to rebuild everything. To claim any support, he has been running around with his identity card and filling forms.”But who knows if they will give us anything? I wish those well who might receive some money from the government,” he says. As for the damage of basic amenities, the entire well, the family’s main source of drinking water, is filled with flood water. They have been buying bottled drinking water and relentlessly cleaning the house. He is trying to do everything possible to protect his family from possible diseases. Currently, there are almost 200 confirmed and suspected cases of rat fever after the floods.

Ramanan’s family was the kind of family that Abraham noticed while rafting back from the village. It’s hard to judge from a distance. Having survived the flood, Ramanan seemed more worried about rebuilding his home than feeling thankful for living. He is retired. Since he lost most things that he built from his savings, including two cars, he is counting on his children to help him live peacefully for his remaining years. His perspective shows that survival after a natural disaster isn’t always a sign of hope.

AT Rovers is now involved in assisting families in cleaning and providing relief supplies after the floods.

AT Rovers asked to say a special thanks to all who helped out during the rescue operations:

The crew: Abraham George Tharakan, Sanooj Sadanandan, Jithin Ignatius, Philip Mathew ,Harikrishnan Ns, Ajeesh Surendran, Uday Thampi, Manu Muraleedharan, Akhil Faisal, Sidharth Radhakrishnan, Bhadraj Ramachandran, Ejaz Salim, Abhilash Gopalakrishnan,
Midhun John U, Rahul Krishnankutty

Kayak AdventureWIT — Where In Trivandrum, Indian oil corporation, PTC fuels and Govind and Co, Patoor, The Indian Navy, @at_carmodz, Kerala Police, and Fire force.

Most importantly, everyone who shared information and locations which helped them reach out to people on time.

Follow AT Rovers: www.facebook.com/ATRovers/

Help Rebuild Kerala:

www.ketto.org/fundraiser/KeralaFloods

www.keralarescue.in/

 

 

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Environment

Dec 21, 2018

Youth v. USA: Carbon Capitalism on Trial

As a nation's leaders shrink from imminent global catastrophe, its youth rise to the challenge. In the US, a lawsuit against the federal government could galvanize climate change policy.

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WRITTEN BY

Kela Fetters

Aji Piper was just 15 years old when he and 20 other adolescents sued the federal government. Their contention: due to decades of misconduct, the country’s highest bureaucracy is responsible for deleterious climate change. Three years later, their lawsuit, Juliana vs. USA, awaits a trial date. As citizens poised to inherit a volatile climate and its incumbent challenges, the youth plaintiffs have turned to the courts as the last bulwark against an administration devoted to business-as-usual. As children and young adults, Piper and the other prosecutors have the activist mentality and tech-savvy to promote their case online and in the streets. “We are agency in action; we have to win in the court of law and the court of public opinion,” Piper says.

Youth rally for climate justice

They’ve already got climate science on their side. Consensus from this month’s UN “Conference of the Parties” (COP) climate summit is that urgent remedial action is required of world leaders to address anthropogenic climate change. At the conference, heavyweight investors warned of $23 trillion annual economic losses should global leaders fail to slash carbon emissions and phase out coal burning. October’s International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report called for a 45% reduction in global carbon dioxide emission to avoid irrevocable climate-related dangers including sea level rise, mass crop loss, and extreme weather events. Forecasts predict a global temperature increase of 3°C since pre-industrial numbers by the end of the century—well above the 1.5°C target most experts champion. Climate-related hazards unfold on a visceral level as anomalous wildfire events, coastal inundations, and exacerbated respiratory ailments such as asthma. The sirens of the climate change newsroom have reached fever pitch, but they’ve fallen on deaf ears at the federal level.

Oil well at sunrise. Image via Pixabay.

Federal subsidy of the fossil fuel industry has resulted in human suffering due to climate change, and they are liable for the damage.

The prosecutors of Juliana vs. USA first brought their qualms to the judicial realm under the Obama administration in 2015. Their bid for trial puttered through a series of bureaucratic postponements that bled into the 2016 presidential election. Trump’s administration poses an additional hurdle for the lawsuit. The president, an outspoken climate change denier, has called global warming “a total, and very expensive hoax”, and has pursued pro-fossil-fuel policy since taking office. Just last week, his administration released plans to retract protection of the greater sage grouse on some nine million acres of public lands in the West to pursue oil and gas drilling. According to policy experts, the action would open up more land to drilling than any previous move the administration has made.

Youth rally for climate justice

Ironically, the defendants won’t be denying the climate science, which Juliana lawyer Philip Gregory knows is airtight. Instead, they will obfuscate the link between climate change and bodily harms and contest federal responsibility for rising carbon emissions. But Gregory says that the government has known since the 1950s that burning fossil fuels could affect the climate. “They put a foot on the accelerator and ramped up fossil fuel extraction through federal leasing and opening up the Gulf and the Arctic for drilling, despite knowledge that carbon dioxide emissions could have devastating negative health effects,” he informs. According to Gregory, the global crises is the result of more than political paralysis; affirmative government action fueled the catastrophe.

Youth rally for climate justice

The case raises some imposing questions. How will federal policies address the uncertain boundaries of climate change? What responsibility does a government bear to its citizens with respect to the climate? Gregory and the prosecutors have an answer. “The government does not have a duty to directly protect anyone; however, if it creates a danger or is a substantial factor in creating the danger, then it is obligated to protect citizens from harm,” Gregory explains. He analogizes fossil fuel to foster care. “A classic example would be the state-run foster care system. If they have reason to suspect that a licensed foster-care provider is not helping children but continue to license that provider, they would be liable for the suffering of children under the care of the negligent provider.” Essentially, federal subsidy of the fossil fuel industry has resulted in human suffering due to climate change, and they are liable for the damage.

Piper claims that Washington’s culpability is incontrovertible because “livable climate is essential to a free and ordered society.” He wants to test the clout of the public trust doctrine, which holds that the government is responsible for good stewardship of critical natural resources. The plaintiffs reason that healthy climate, a natural resource comparable to clean air or safe drinking water, is entitled to legal protection. But the potency of the public trust doctrine is already under siege; on Tuesday the EPA released proposed changes to the Clean Water Act that would truncate federal protection of vast tracts of seasonal wetlands and waterways. The plan is the latest effort by the Trump administration to rescind “regulatory overreaching” Obama-era environmental policy they claim stifles development. As the proposal demonstrates, even an established protection like the Clean Water Act is subject to the agenda of the sitting government. Federal curbing by the GOP can limit the efficacy of a “public trust” designation.

Youth rally for climate justice

It’s unclear whether victory in court will impact global carbon emissions in the critical time-frame prescribed by the IPCC report.

Should Juliana triumph in court, the US government would be bound by law to develop a climate recovery plan. According to Piper, the plan’s content is outside the jurisdiction of the courts but will necessitate unprecedented commitment to reforestation and other carbon sequestration efforts, renewable energy subsidies, and an aggressive dismantling of fossil-fuel infrastructure. That’s a tall order of a government whose President said in October: “I don’t know that it’s [climate change] manmade…I don’t want to give trillions and trillions of dollars. I don’t want to lose millions and millions of jobs. I don’t want to be put at a disadvantage.” An adequate climate plan would entail a complete overhaul of US carbon capitalism, a radical reconfiguration that the present administration will resist with every political roadblock at their disposal. Stall tactics might include an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court, or even to the Supreme Court and its conservative-leaning bench. Due to the ambiguity of a “climate recovery plan” and the legislatorial challenges of a polarized government, it’s unclear whether victory in court will impact global carbon emissions in the critical time-frame prescribed by the IPCC report. But every month counts on a destabilizing planet, and the lawsuit’s prompt success could mean the difference between 1.5°C of warming and 3°C. “Even if we do pass a ‘tipping point’, I won’t stop being an activist,” Piper concluded. “Even helping one community or one family is making a positive impact, and that’s enough for me.”

Youth rally for climate justice. Photos provided by Marlow Baines.
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