One project to generate knowledge reconnected Sharma with Yale. The Shakti Foundation joined with the Rice Family Foundation to fund a $100,000 study by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication
on how Indians perceive climate change. The 2011 survey
of more than 4,000 adults in India found that 80 percent of those responding believed that the amount of rainfall where they lived had altered, and three out of four had noticed changes in the number of hot days.
Only 7 percent said they knew “a lot” about global warming, and 41 percent had not heard of it or knew nothing about it. But when given a definition of global warming, three out of four people surveyed said they believed that changes were occurring; slightly more than half said that India should make a moderate to large effort to reduce climate change; and 38 percent said India should reduce its emissions without waiting for other countries to do so.
Indians have a lot to lose as the climate changes, says Sharma. “India has a huge coastline. It relies on the monsoon for a lot in terms of agriculture. So that’s one of the motivators that makes people say we need to have a plan — not only for mitigation, but for adaptation.”
harma’s interest in the environment dates to the six years he spent as a teenager at boarding school in northern India. Few Indian schools offered extracurricular activities, but the Doon School was modeled on elite English public schools, and among its non-academic offerings were all-school backpacking trips during midterm breaks. Hiking in the Himalayan foothills, Sharma discovered a world he had not known growing up in Delhi. At Delhi University’s Hindu College, Sharma studied economics. “Most of my friends either became chartered accountants or did an MBA,” he says. But Sharma wanted to apply his knowledge of economics to environmental issues. He came to Yale to earn degrees in both environmental studies and international and development economics. When he arrived at F&ES, he had little academic grounding in environmental studies. “My first year, I had to learn about ecology and aquatic systems and hydrology and organic chemistry. I spent that year widening my horizons and learning as much as I could about environmental ecosystems.”
After Yale, Sharma spent three years working on environmental topics at Abt Associates, a consulting firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and then studied more economics at the University of Michigan. Returning to India meant adapting to a culture in which it’s not always clear who holds the power. When policies are proposed, he says, “even when everything aligns, sometimes it still doesn’t happen, and you may not understand why. It can be a very uncertain space.” But Sharma feels optimistic that although Shakti is less than six years old, “in a short span of time, our contributions have come to be recognized.” Furthermore, he says, “There is growing recognition that a paradigm shift is needed in India’s energy policy, and that makes the work that Shakti does all the more relevant.”