The Tipping Points: One Woman’s Inspiring Exploration Of India’s Water Crisis

Liz Courtney

Environmental Expert

14/04/2014

Sydney mum Liz Courtney traded in her corporate life to direct documentary films. Here, Liz shares her exclusive behind-the-scenes story of her six part eco TV series The Tipping Points. Here’s part six of Liz’s journey, Water Crisis India. Be inspired…  

Liz Courtney, director of The Tipping Points, and her crew venture to some of the most fragile regions in the world – all ecological tipping points, where the slightest environmental change could impact the entire globe and life as we know it. In the first five episodes, Liz and her team explore Greenland, the Amazon rainforest risks, the droughts and floods occurring in Africa, the consequences of Methane and CO2 being released in the Arctic and the environmental impacts of rising sea-levels in Oceans – The Last Frontier. Here’s part six of Liz’s incredible journey around the globe, in her bid to help save the planet. Follow Liz’s behind-the-scenes journey as she filmed and directed The Tipping Points each week on www.thecarousel.com and tune in to watch the show on Sunday nights at 8:30pm from on Channel 34 (NITV/SBS).

Episode 6: India Water Crisis

In this episode, our expedition took us from the top of the world, The Himalayas, all the way down and across the plains of India. We followed one of the most famous river systems in the world – The Ganges. The fresh water sources from the Himalayas provide water to over 1 billion people and are under threat. We needed to film and document exactly what was happening there and how fast it was occurring.

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Director Liz Courtney gears up to shoot at the headwaters of the Ganges in the far north of India. 

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Director Liz Courtney travels to the old city of Lucknow to interview local doctors concerned about rising heatwaves. It’s close to 44C, everyone feels the extreme heat.

How did you feel about traveling across India?

It was with some reservation that I boarded the plane, after a series of booster shots for medical conditions commonly contracted while travelling India, and a full medical kit for the crew, which took up a large part of my suitcase! India had never been on my bucket list of places to go to, and yet I found myself sitting on the tarmac at Sydney airport bound for Delhi, via Singapore. My memories of Delhi were hazy… hot, smelly, plenty of fumes, from a transit stop when I was 13 years old!

However, I was totally surprised when I landed at the new Delhi airport – I thought I was still in Singapore! It was amazing – brand new, stylish and very cosmopolitan, so we were off to a good start. This expedition was bittersweet, as it was the last shoot in The Tipping Points series and what has been an amazing life experience for me. I have had the incredible opportunity to direct a global climate series and travel to some of the most remote places in the world. And many firsts – camping in -15°C, learning to pee without a toilet on the ice sheets in Greenland surrounded by 12 packs of Huskies, dogsleds and Inuit hunters, hiking deep into the Amazon Rainforest and going to Antarctica, my most favourite place in the world!

The shoot took us from the Himalayas all the way across India. 

Where did you film?

We had two crews – high altitude team started in the Himalayas at close to 5,000 metres and a low altitude team for the remainder of the shoot. This was my team and we headed to the low foothills of the Himalayas, where our adventure started. Rishekash, a city in northern India located in the foothills of the Himalayas, was full of colour, extremely hard to film in, bustling with people and cows! Holy shit was everywhere and we needed to keep a watchful eye for the path of the cows – they ruled the walkway!

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The high altitude camp site in The Himalayas. 

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Kathmandu, where we met with ICIMOD scientists.

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Kathmandu, a chance to explore the local culture and ring a pray bell!

In Rishekash, we attended a special candle ceremony on the holy Ganges river, and then had an audience with a holy swami – this was the beginning of many unexpected highlights across India. Each day I began to understand this place of great diversity, colour and culture. We travelled further south to Hardiwar, an ancient city in India, where we explored the lack of water and the impacts of the changing Asian Summer Monsoon – which is arriving later and delivering more extreme weather patterns, destroying crops, bringing flash floods and hardship to the rural people.

Did you travel out to meet the local people?

We travelled across the Ganges Plateau with Prof Ramanathan and Prof Rehman, both distinguished scientists from India. Together, we documented issues of water security, rising temperatures affecting the local communities basic group production and how the great Basmati rice has lost its’ smell due to climate change.

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What was the storyline you were following here on climate change?

It is a complicated story in India. Their growing population is putting enormous stress on their energy consumption and production, which increases their use and output of greenhouse gases. Their growing population requires greater food crops and this requires constant water supply. Water shortage is becoming a major issue and there are some concerns about water wars in the future, as the Himalayan glaciers continue to melt at rates much faster than current climate models.

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Learn why India is an ecological tipping point. 

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Climate Journalist Bernice interviewing Prof Ramanathan in a rural village in central India.

We travelled for hours to arrive at a local village in rural central India. Here Professor Ramanathan is pioneering a new cook stove, which has the ability to greatly reduce the amount of brown soot produced into the atmosphere and improve the health of millions of women and children. Cooking over old open stoves is equivalent to inhaling 20 packets of cigarettes a day – this really was a sobering fact that women today in India in rural areas suffer from the lack these modern facilities, which we all take for granted. His project – Surya is really worth checking out.

From here we travelled far south to Varanasi, a city on the banks of the Ganges in India. This was the most challenging place we went to – both personally and from a film production perspective. It is a place where most Indian people go to die or to hold funerals along the river’s edge. Over 51,000 funerals are held along the great Ganges river each year. So out of respect, we filmed early at 5am, before the processions began. Our ground co-ordinators were amazing. In fact, everyone we met or filmed were so passionate to tell the world about the tipping points of the India climate system, and how concerned they were for their future and the future of India. Adaptation is something being taken very seriously by many of the Indian scientists and government. They are already trialling solar energy in rural villages, which will make a huge difference for cooking and lighting at night time.

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The crew filming at 5am on the Ganges.

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The Ganges at Hardiwar night-time ceremony.

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Bernice at dawn on the river Ganges in Varanassi.

Was there a major highlight of the series?

One of the highlights of the expedition was meeting Dr Prachuri, head of the IPCC (United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report in Delhi. He reiterated that we have the technology and the aptitude to change, but we only have two years left to cap our CO2 emissions. That means 2015 is the D-day for our earth destiny. We are hurtling towards what many scientists we met called the ‘Big turn in the Bend’, where we have to make a turn in the river. However, the rate and speed in which we are overshooting our emissions for this century means that we are committing the planet to irreversible and devastating change – and this affect our future generations, our children and their families.

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The Tipping Points Director Liz Courtney with Dr Prachuri, head of the IPCC (United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).

It’s been pretty sobering to have spent the last 16 months travelling to all the tipping points of our climate system – to personally witness the tremendous changes taking place and how close we are to really tipping the balance. I believe it’s up to each and every one of us to do something – to make the big changes we need to. To influence change in a small or big way is all about the collective consciousness of change for the earth’s future and for ours. I am constantly reminded that we live in a planet in the middle of a void, empty lifeless galaxy. Our planet, Earth, is only habitable because of our complex climate system, and yet we choose to destroy the one thing that keeps our planet stable and has done for the last 55 million years. In no period over the last 55 million years has the planet warmed up at such an accelerated rate.

In the last 55 million years, we have experienced a 4 degree Celsius rise in just over 5,000 years. Now, in this century alone, we will see a temperate rise of 3-4 degrees Celsius. Much of our biodiversity in our tropical rainforests will not be able to adapt, and we stand to lose up to 60% of all biodiversity on the planet.

What can we do to help save the planet and prevent further climate change?

If we could work to reduce our personal carbon footprint by just 5% then collectively we could make a huge difference and start to turn the tide around. It takes a combination of a collective way of thinking and living that can become a new carbon footprint for all of us to aspire to, achieve and then live. Changing a carbon footprint could include:

  • shopping locally, buying produce that’s grown locally.
  • turning off all power plugs overnight.
  • not leaving lights on during the day
  • using low wattage globes
  • walking to the shops when possible
  • taking public transport where possible
  • purchasing bikes and using them before a car to travel around the local area
  • working on reducing your electricity bill  by 5%
  • recycling clothes with friends rather than always buying something new ( how many of us have things in our wardrobe we have not worn, impulse purchase, or been given and it’s the wrong size or colour)
  • read the labels on clothes and avoid chemicals -synthetics that are full of chemicals take up to 30 years to breakdown in landfill
  • wear clothes more often before you wash them
  • explore solar power panels on your roof and start making your own power
  • explore recycling grey water  for the garden
  • start a community Carbon Zero group and meet quarterly to explore ways you can reduce the carbon footprint in your area.

Take a leadership role in your family, with friends open the dialogue and explore new ideas and ways you can reduce your footprint by 5% and make a pledge to try for the next three months to make a difference. Put out the pledge on Facebook and see how many of your friends will join you on this quest.

Get involved

Tell us how you have tried to reduce your carbon footprint. It could be as simple as turning lights off at night, or limiting your tumble dryer use. Every little bit helps, so let’s start the discussion here and make a difference together.

For more information visit:

The Tipping Points or read about Liz’s behind-the-scenes journey with the film crew on the links below:

1. GREENLAND ICE MELT 
2. AMAZON RAINFOREST RISKS 
3. AFRICA ALARMED – DROUGHTS AND FLOODS
4. ARCTIC PERMAFROST PERIL 
5. OCEANS DANGEROUS RISE 
6. INDIA WATER CRISIS