#4: Arati Kumar-Rao, Storyteller & Nat Geo Explorer

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Arati has always wanted to tell stories. She realised that writing and storytelling was her passion. A childhood listening to family arguments about the benefits of dams ensured that her focus lies on freshwater issues. Her heart lies in slow journalism - following a story over seasons and years becomes important in shaping the narrative. The National Geographic grant awarded to her opened a lot of doors in terms of reaching out to people.

Whilst long-form journalism is important, social media is extremely important for outreach. Climate change and the environment is a nuanced and scientific topic. There are so many tools available to storytellers like photography & video to showcase the story's significance. Her goal is to combine different kinds of media to reach as many people as possible.

Slow journalism is important - for eg - floods are a symptom of the problem. A quick social media post doesn't give us context. Arati’s form of journalism tries to delve deeper. Patterns are changing across the planet. Climate change is so much more than the ice caps melting or even trees flowering earlier. Getting to the crux of what is important with diverse voices speaking up is essential in the climate change narrative.

India has varied ecosystems. Planting of trees in grasslands is something that disturbs the ecosystem. A desert is not a ‘wasteland’ - adding solar panels can potentially destroy livelihoods on grazing lands. The climate change narrative in India needs to change drastically.

#RiversAreNotPipes is pan India. Water cannot be just put into canals and fed across the plains. For eg: Arati calls the Indira Gandhi Canal a large pipe - the Himalayan waters are being fed into Jaisalmer. The desert was never meant for that kind of agriculture. We need to understand the function of a river. It behoves us to know how our land works.

Slow walking with Paul Salopek was a fun yet challenging experience. Paul is a National Geographic Fellow & spending time with him was an enriching experience. Walking 700 km through a landscape forges a bond. Going to places that weren’t even on Google Maps was a fabulous adventure; seeing the country through Paul’s lens and even just absorbing the landscape gave Arati perspective.

The Peepli Project was all about communities and ecosystems negotiating with each other within the frame of a large topic. There were natural intersections of issues. For example, freshwater intersected with women’s issues or health. The idea behind the Peepli Project was to follow a story to try to effect change. There are very few outlets that funded this kind of work and the project eventually ran out of funding, unfortunately. This kind of long-form journalism is imperative in Arati’s opinion.

What is maybe right for the West may not be right for India. Growing paddy in Punjab is an example of this. The Indian audience needs to keep asking questions. Listening to scientists is extremely important. It's necessary to sift the propaganda from the truth. We should always try to maintain a scientific temper. Arati’s last piece of advice is not to lose our connection with the earth.

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