Ridhima Pandey: The Planet Prodigy
The young climate activist has over 7,500 followers on Instagram, many of whom express solidarity with, say, her criticism of poor air quality in Indian cities and cheer her on when she's recognised by international platforms such as the BBC and Vogue India for raising environmental awareness
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In 2019, 11-year-old Ridhima Pandey was looking to exchange contact information with fellow young climate activists, who had all congregated in New York City to protest governmental inaction against climate change at the UN Climate Action Summit.
"I saw all my co-petitioners exchanging their Instagram accounts instead of emails and phone numbers. That's when I decided to create my own account, mainly just for fun. I never thought I would end up using it for a cause," says Pandey.
Between 2019 and 2022, the young climate crusader underwent a natural evolution in her ideas, vocabulary and sense of purpose. From simple snapshots of speech deliveries to carefully-crafted policy critiques and campaigns for urgent action, her Instagram account documents this evolution. Today, she has over 7,500 followers on the social media platform, many of whom express solidarity with, say, her criticism of poor air quality in Indian cities and cheer her on when she's recognised by international platforms such as the BBC and Vogue India for raising environmental awareness.
But there are naysayers as well: Much like her Swedish counterpart, Greta Thunberg, Pandey is questioned on her motives, maturity, intellectual capacity and credibility owing to her young age. "In the beginning when I was a rookie on social media, I used to feel very frustrated whenever I saw hate comments, but now they never really bother me as I know I am doing my best and whenever I feel a bit down I just take a break from my work and social media and instead focus on my studies or just taking care of myself," she explains.
Pandey's academic commitments are both a respite from and a constraint in her virtual life. After all, being a school student doesn't leave her much time to post content regularly and she likes it that way: "I think social media can be a great tool to create awareness about different problems and things but it can be very overwhelming as well so we should be careful of how much social media we are using."
Perhaps her sagacious approach to social media is rooted in the fact that she never sought to become an influencer or have a large following for its own sake: "I never really intended to create content or even have a social media account. After seeing the Kedarnath flash floods in 2013, I started having nightmares that I died because of a flash flood or a cloud burst and lost my parents as a result. Mum and dad then explained the causes behind such environmental disasters across the world: climate change and global warming. That's when I decided to raise my voice and take action to secure my and coming generations' future."