When Sanchi Singh started her climate change-focused podcast, Amplify, in April 2020, she was sure of two things: she wanted to move the conversation around sustainability ‘beyond swaps’, as well as highlight voices from the Global South to uncover sustainability that is rooted in ancestral knowledge. And her esteemed podcast interviewees align with the vision she set out with: from Extinction Rebellion India founder Shikhar Agarwal and activist Dr. Vandana Shiva to the CEO of SELCO Foundation Harish Hande. Across three seasons, Amplify has interviewed entrepreneurs, beauty brands founders, chocolatiers, activists, policy experts, accelerator CEOs and more.
This conscious versatility of guests authentically steers the intersection of environmentalism with issues like racism, migration, food security, human rights, biodiversity, and mental health with ease. The podcast has now evolved to a multimedia platform – Amplify Media, and while Sanchi’s horizon has broadened, her roots remain the same.
Currently in Germany for her Masters, Sanchi Singh is on a meaningful, lifelong journey of unlearning and relearning. She talks to Ayushi Shah about the importance of placing the Global South on the climate conversation map, why intersectionality is the need of the hour and grappling with eco-anxiety, among other things. Excerpts from the conversation:
Ayushi Shah (AS): What inspired you to start Amplify Podcast? Can you take us back to what was happening in the world that made you want to start it?
Sanchi Singh (SS): I think it’s important to acknowledge my privilege straight off the bat. I completed my university education in the UK around 2016, when the conversation around sustainability started gaining traction. Back then, it was very much about individual behavior; like adopting a zero waste lifestyle, or the advantages of thrifting. While it was a good conversation, I felt that the nuance, depth and context were missing. Often, when I would share this with my family back home, I’d realise that it was something that they had grown up with. Like, my mom and her generation would not get new clothes for every festival, they would usually have some elder cousin who would pass on their special clothes to them. And so, thrifting was deeply entrenched in the average family unit in India. But it was gaining traction as a trend in the UK. I became aware of the duality that existed within this conversation.
At the end of 2019, when I moved back home to India, I realised that people I know in the UK could actually tap into the knowledge that is deeply embedded in Indian communities (and the Global South) and learn about sustainability – not as a trend but as a way of living and existing. So Amplify started off from the position of bridging the gap, and then soon became a process of learning and unlearning for me, and it still is to this point. And I want to deep dive into it more than the sustainable swaps you can make. It’s about recognizing sustainability as knowledge, culture and a way of life that has existed for India and many communities in the Global South for a long time. And is not something that’s just recently been discovered, or is like a cool, hip, trendy way of living.
AS: Climate change discourse is usually really visual – from videos of wildfires to icebergs melting. Why specifically a podcast?
SS: First of all, I was too shy to be a YouTube creator or an Instagram influencer, or put myself on a video format out there. But more importantly, the reason I chose to do a podcast was because a lot of the social media platforms were quite saturated already with influencers; including eco-influencers, which I think is great. However, social media as a platform lacks the space to have more nuanced conversations. If you have 30 seconds on a reel, you cannot communicate everything there is to know about climate justice. For me, it was important to have a space where I could include the option of a pause. And I mean, literally a pause. You can listen to some part of a podcast and you have the opportunity to just press the pause button and sit with the thought-provoking or new information. So you need to have that place where people can actually just sit, listen, pause and process. And that’s why I chose the podcast format.
AS: Can you tell me more about your thoughts on the intersectionality of environmentalism with issues like colonisation?
SS: When you look at the framing of this conversation, it’s important to recognize how Britain exported its understanding of conservation to all its ex-colonies. You can see that in a very recent example in India – almost 6000 Jenu Kuruba Adivasis (indigenous people) were displaced for Project Tiger. Of course, it’s important to protect our tigers – they are so crucial to our biodiversity. But this is a very colonial understanding of the issue – this disconnect between nature and people. And this export of conservation policy where nature has to be kept separate from people is something that’s not in our history.
At the same time, it’s important to recognize that just because the conversation around decolonization is now gaining momentum, it is not the only thing that needs to be scrutinized. Especially a country like India, you have to recognize the role that caste plays in perpetuating a brand of environmentalism that has historically excluded and oppressed dalits and other lower castes. And then you bring in other intersections like class and gender. And you’ve suddenly got a very complex problem that you cannot just not address. You need to sit with it and unpick it, and it’s not something that will just happen overnight. It’s something that’s going to require a commitment from people to consistently unlearn, including myself.
AS: How can we make the voices around the mainstream climate conversation more diverse?
SS: When I started out, there was definitely a lack of diversity, representation, and inclusivity in this space. But right now, we are in a place where we are suddenly more cognizant, or at least we’re trying to be more aware of who is on the table, who is not on the table, who built the table, etc. We’re asking ourselves these questions, which is a great start. But it still is not where it should be.
To truly change things, people with privilege need to stop thinking of ourselves as some kind of messiahs who are going to uplift the ‘oppressed’ or platform their voices. It’s about recognizing the role that you play with your privilege, unlearning that, and learning to sit with the discomfort of being challenged when presented with new information. It’s about understanding that you have a role to play as an individual in doing whatever you can in your capacity to dismantle systems of injustice and oppression. No one person has a solution. No one person is the perfect environmentalist – it’s just a matter of recognizing where you are situated in the wider landscape and how you can get through the process of unlearning and relearning. Do your bit to address systemic injustices.
AS: Do you think there needs to be more representation of the voices from the Global South when it come to climate conversations in the West?
SS: If you are interested in actually understanding and addressing the various intersections of climate justice, then you will understand the importance of having people from the Global South who are the first and worst affected by climate change on the table. It’s not a question of people in the global north platforming people in the global south. These communities, movements, and advocacy groups in the Global South have always existed. The question is – have you been listening to them?
AS: What have the key learnings from your journey so far been?
SS: My friends and family always say that I’ve become far more pessimistic. I don’t think that’s the case – I’ve not given up on hope. But I’ve become more critical of certain narratives, news pieces, and information. I have learned and grown so much through the process of creating and hosting, podcasting and researching that now whenever some new piece of information comes out, I’m able to consider it from a lot of different perspectives. For instance, I interviewed economist Mihir Sharma and I am like – ‘Ah,I guess this is what he would say about a certain issue’. I think I’m more meticulous about what is being said and more importantly, how is it going to be achieved? It is an important step for me because sometimes when we are desperate for good news, we can latch on to any piece of optimism. While I definitely don’t want to discourage that, it’s also important to not put on a pedestal any one person, any one entity or any one organization or any one solution. We need to constantly question and hold them to account. And while that may seem pessimistic to some people, I think it’s important because it’s through a culture of accountability that you help the world become better and more just. Even if a solution seems incredible, in order for it to stay incredible over a period of time, you have to have a community of engaged citizens and consumers who are willing to constantly question, hope and strive to make something better.
AS: Have you grappled with eco-anxiety?
SS: I have experienced eco-anxiety. It’s just more of an exacerbation of the anxiety that I already have, unfortunately.
AS: How do you deal with it?
SS: I’d say that if you are feeling overwhelmed, angry, or frustrated, just cry it out. I cannot stress this enough. Conversations around vulnerability have been negative or you’re considered too sensitive. And I want to dispel that, because I think it’s important to know that you can love something, enjoy it, and you can still be angry, frustrated, anxious. It’s perfectly okay for you to cry it out, to feel mopey, or to just do nothing for a couple of days and sulk. The second thing is finding a community. Because if I did not have a community of entrepreneurs, activists and other fantastic people that I have met through Amplify, I would feel far more isolated and lonely.
If you want to continue holding entities and people to account, it is important that you prioritise rest as well. Rest is an important part of your activism, advocacy and work.
AS: What are these stories of success or hope around the climate crisis that are on your radar right now?
SS: The people I’ve interviewed are doing some fantastic stuff. But I am always a little bit biased towards entrepreneurs. Like Sahar Mansoor’s zero-waste store Bare Necessities in Bangalore and David Belo’s Mysore-based Naviluna Chocolates. So people who are directly working with communities to build ethical supply chains or creating a different way of doing business. I was taught at university that a lot of the solutions were top down. And I think that that’s absolutely untrue. Because the best solutions are bottom up. And the biggest impact that you can make is always within your local community.
AS: What have been your favorite conversations from the podcast?
SS: This interview I had with food justice activist Lauren Ornella. Her nonprofit in LA is called the Food Empowerment Project. She has this warm, incredibly positive and infectious personality that I just absolutely loved. And I just came from that feeling nourished, pun intended (laughs).
Another amazing conversation was the one I had with journalist Sonali Prasad. What she said about imagination – that we must be willing to imagine a radically better world in order to ultimately reach that goal really stayed with me.
AS: Amplify has graduated from a podcast to a media company. What is next for the platform?
SS: I want to create a platform where through different mediums – audio, video, text – there is a way for people to engage with these topics. I want to create a place of content that is mindful and not just churn out content like a machine. A lot of research goes into creating quality content and highlighting the nuances and intersections.
I would love for it to become a full-fledged educational platform where activists, policy makers, entrepreneurs and more can have digital education classes, or workshops for people to learn from. Basically be a platform for solutions and for curiosity.
All images are courtesy of Sanchi Singh/ Amplify. Eco-Spotlight does not own any image copyrights. You can check out Amplify’s website and read Eco-Spotlight’s other interviews on our website.
Eco-Spotlight is a digital publication that focuses on different aspects of climate change solutions: projects and ideas focused on sustainable development, social entrepreneurship, environmental businesses, eco-friendly practices, and similar green initiatives. Through our solution-focused interviews and articles, we want to bring good news to the forefront and remind the world – without hope, there is no future. We also syndicate our content with White Print, India’s first English lifestyle magazine in Braille.