It wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that 33-year olds Varun Sivaram and Laxmi Parthasarathy make a good team as both life partners and sustainability crusaders in their respective domains of influence. This young, dynamic American-Indian couple is working to devise long-term, impactful solutions for local communities, which are crucial to the global climate change movement.
For better context, Dr Varun is a physicist and clean energy technology expert currently serving in U.S President Joe Biden’s administration as the Senior Director for Clean Energy and Innovation to Secretary John Kerry, the US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate. A Rhodes and Truman scholar, Varun has been chosen by MIT as one of the top 35 under 35 innovators for designing new public policies to promote clean energy. Forbes 30 under 30 and TIME100 Next most influential people of 2019 are some other prestigious lists he made a place in.
Laxmi Parthasarathy is the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Global Press—an international, women-led, non-profit news organisation that builds independent news bureaus staffed by local women reporters in under-covered parts of the world. She is a distinguished Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation Mentor, and has authored a chapter in the book, Kamala Harris and the Rise of Indian Americans, that released last year.
A PAIR WITH A PURPOSE
That two heads are better than one finds a whole new meaning in the relationship shared by the duo. Laxmi, who’s from Toronto, Canada first met Varun at the ballet at the Kennedy Center in Washington, and both felt a spark as they bonded over their unique experiences and vision for a better future. Their South Indian backgrounds, common traits of family-centeredness, kindness and empathy helped deepen their bond over the last six years, translating into a recent marriage.
For public figures with distinctive profiles and remarkable portfolios, the couple comes across as humble, candid and good-humoured. Despite juggling various roles in the areas of academia, policy advisory, entrepreneurship and publishing, Laxmi and Varun’s focus on the causes they believe in and share a passion for, has remained unwavering.
ON MAKING MOVES THAT MATTER
Varun, who has previously worked as Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at ReNew Power, India’s largest renewable energy company, is quick to point out the ambitiousness of India’s sustainability goals against climate change. Political action is indispensable to address climate crisis and the sustainability issue at an individual level, he believes.
Also, it may not be enough to only switch to clean energy but it also needs to become affordable and a reliable source of power. Clean energy distributed through the installation of solar panels on household rooftops and micro-grids to support communities could become a cheap, accessible and sustainable means to meet India’s energy needs. As a bonus, it will also drive the economy.
In Varun’s opinion, the India-US partnership is pivotal in bolstering climate action agendas and a clean energy revolution. He also plays a crucial role in the ‘First Movers Coalition,’ newly launched by the US State Department, in collaboration with 35 large corporations to commercialise emerging clean energy technologies and accelerate adoption in private sectors globally.
ON RESPONSIBLE REPORTING
Global Press, where Laxmi co-leads the show, is a 16-year old enterprise with a network of more than 250 reporters from 40 communities covering economy, human rights, and climate change and its impact on local communities. The organisation is committed to ethical, accurate, and inclusive journalism by building representative news bureaus worldwide. To probe the long-term consequences of climate change-induced natural disasters and catastrophic events on local communities in countries such as Mongolia, Puerto Rico, Zimbabwe, Zambia and others, local reporters track these stories relentlessly for months on end and even years after the event has taken place. Laxmi cites an example of a Global Press Journal story by Lilette Contreras, on innovation and damage control around climate change in Mexico’s Chihuahua, where corn cultivators collaborated with cattle farmers to sell corn stalks to feed livestock instead of burning them as they would traditionally do. This significantly lowered the carbon emissions in the region, reduced air pollution, aided in waste management, and saved cattle that would have otherwise starved during a drought. Over ‘parachute journalism’, Laxmi supports in-depth and responsible storytelling, which has reporters in areas facing earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, cyclones for a short period of time. “We need more local reporters tracking the prolonged impact of these natural disasters on communities who are equipped with the required resources to cover complex climate stories,” she explains.
ON AN INCLUSIVE NEWS CULTURE
Various studies have found a co-relation between the people reporting a piece of news and the ones being reported on. Unique source access, language efficiency and a balanced reporting style are some of the organisation’s key focuses while telling a story. For instance, the sex workers in Uganda have been a community disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic. It is only through building trust and meaningful equations with the affected parties that the reporter became a conduit for eye-opening, sensitive inside details on the lives and conflicts faced by the underrepresented, marginalised group.
WHERE DOES THE BUCK STOP?
Change in diet behaviourism in terms of plant-based protein intake, lab-engineered yet tasty food supplements, conscious and mindful lifestyle choices, recycling and conservation of resources and energy are few recommended ways to do one’s bit when it comes to climate action without making huge personal sacrifices, Varun suggests. Similarly, battery-operated, electric rides could go a long way in mitigating pollution troubles.
Finally, amassing a larger consciousness can be a headstart in gearing towards climate action. One may also choose alternative, intersectional career paths in media, science, innovation and technology and tap into a well of opportunities these streams have to offer.
Laxmi weighs in to say that representative global newsrooms with precise, consequence-driven reporting of innovation and sustainability around climate change can help set the benchmark for quality journalism in the future. To ensure the safety of reporters and mitigate risks while they are at work, Global Press has a dedicated ‘Duty of Care’ programme in place prioritising physical, emotional, digital and legal security for journalists operating in challenging areas.
Photo credits: Malie Osborn
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