Someone to Know: A Lawyer for Forests
Newsletter Democratic institutions are reeling in India. Meet the environmental lawyer who is still using them to protect nature. President Biden is welcoming Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India to the White House this week. They want to that the two largest democracies are strengthening their alliance. But concerns over the health of democracy are high . Thats why today I want to introduce you to Ritwick Dutta, an environmental lawyer who is using Indias democratic institutions to protect people and forests, running afoul of his government. Hes an advocate for change whose work has made him a target of the . More on that later. First, let me tell you about who he is. At 49, Dutta has worked on more than 1,300 environmental cases, he told me. Since he became a lawyer some two decades ago, his philosophy has been to bring as many cases as possible at once. It increases his chances of winning something, he said. People are suffering across the country, he told me in a call from his home on the outskirts of New Delhi. You dont have the luxury of choosing cases. He has lost quite a few. But there have been many victories, too, and they have shaped Indias environmental policies. Rulings in cases he led have helped to ensure communities are heard about projects that affect them, that there is public participation in and that the government has the tools to ensure biological resources are . Today, the Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment, also known as LIFE, which he founded, represents people from every state in India. But its work has recently become riskier. A couple of months ago, they were investigating Dutta on suspicion of taking money from American foundations to stall coal projects. Others who have stood up to coal in India are being investigated, too, as . This worrying trend isnt limited to India. A few weeks ago, the Vietnamese government arrested a leading environmental activist on charges of tax evasion. She was the fifth environmentalist to be arrested . Dutta has denied any wrongdoing. He has also argued that, to deal with climate change, the government will need to ensure that voices against environmental degradation and injustice are protected. Real change can happen when both voices in support as well as in opposition are considered, he told me. And India desperately needs to fight climate change and build resilience to it. Just in the past few days, dozens , and tens of thousands were . Dutta knows its impossible to turn back the clock to stop the extreme weather thats a direct consequence of global warming. But India can still build up its defenses. The main problem is that we continue to build on the coast and destroy the mangroves, he said. As a lawyer, my role has been to support and represent communities who are striving to protect the coasts. Though court victories show his words carry weight, Dutta is a soft-spoken man with an easy smile and wavy gray hair. His lifelong mission wasnt born of any desire to fight the establishment. Studying law was only meant to buy him time until he figured out how to make a living from a passion hes nurtured since childhood: Dutta has always been fascinated by wildlife. He grew up in a world of rhinoceroses and elephants. There are thousands of them in Assam, his home state in northeastern India. I would be a misfit in any other sector, he told me. His passions are visible on the walls of his home, where drawings of hummingbirds and sunbirds hang next to stacks of law books and court filings. Being an environmental lawyer has meant standing up to big corporations since the very beginning of his career. One of his first major victories was against a company called Vedanta that wanted to dig for bauxite in the pristine forests of the Niyamgiri Hills. Dutta represented local people who opposed the project. He was an easy choice for them, he said, since no one else had stepped forward. Dutta fought the case all the way to the Supreme Court, which if the affected communities were against it. India continues to that could help make it resilient to climate change. Assam has lost more trees since Dutta became a lawyer than any other state in India. Yet, he said, roughly 300 million Indians depend on the countrys forests for their livelihoods. Thats a point he likes to emphasize. Looking at forests from only the carbon perspective is not correct, he told me. His challenge is enormous and still growing, but he is optimistic. Just three weeks ago, a community he is representing got a positive ruling in its effort to protect thousands of . Ultimately its a fight for truth, he told me. Its a fight for future. Its a fight for the present. His victories, he said, only make him more vigilant. Maybe he managed to protect a forest today. But tomorrow, a new government order may cut it down anyway. Victories dont necessarily last in this line of work, Dutta said. But losses in the environment are permanent, yes. And thats the sad part. A huge power plant in Bangladesh keeps running out of coal. Its problems are an early warning for countries that are investing in coal even as The conventions that policymakers have relied on for decades might not hold true anymore, and that could have . Foreign firefighters combating Canadas worst wildfire season on record said that some of the blazes were 100 times as big as . According to a new study, a gas stove can raise the concentration of a chemical linked to cancer above whats found in . A new study has found that glaciers in the region melted faster between 2010 and 2019 than . A reporter talks about the lessons on optimism and climate change she learned after visiting an . An innovative E.V. ride-sharing program is bringing low-cost, clean transportation to an agricultural town in . From Reuters: After two decades of debates, the United Nations has adopted the first global treaty to protect the high seas and preserve marine biodiversity . Climate Home News explored how coal lobbyists have managed to delay the green transition South Africa committed to in an $8.5 billion . The New Yorker recounted the journey of a researcher based in Taiwan who is on a quest to protect . An investigation by High Country News and ProPublica showed how Arizona has used its leverage over tribes to delay their access to water from the . The Associated Press reported that Swiss voters, concerned about melting glaciers, have backed measures to . Most of the 1.4 billion tons of food people throw away each year around the world goes to landfills. As it rots, it pollutes water and soil and releases huge amounts of heat-trapping gasses. But South Korea manages to keep almost all discarded food out of landfills and incinerators. Instead, it turns waste into animal feed, fertilizer and . is a writer for the Climate Forward newsletter, currently based in Brazil. She was previously a fellow at the Rainforest Investigations Network, where she examined the forces that drive deforestation in the Amazon.