If you told Vinisha Umashankar that your teenage years pale in contrast to hers, she would quickly remind you that everyone’s life experience is unique.
However, the 14-year-old understands that if the world does not act to decrease global warming and the impacts of climate change, the future for her generation would be quite different. Nonetheless, she believes that “collective action” by people her age will help to turn the trend.
That’s most likely why Umashankar has already put in more than her good share of effort. She created a clever solar-powered solution for the thousands of the charcoal-burning ironing carts which ply streets of India’s cities, pressing garments for workers and families, in Tiruvannamalai, which is a small temple town. The temple is located in Tamil Nadu state.
Her invention is now well-known all across the world. Umashankar is so far the youngest finalist for the Prince William’s inaugural Earthshot Prize, valued at a $1.3 million prize established by the Duke of Cambridge. The program aims to award $68 million in rewards to persons working to address environmental problems during the next decade, with the goal of giving “at least 50 remedies to the world’s worst problems by 2030.”
Costa Rica for a program that helped restore rainforests, Italian city of Milan for reducing waste while attempting to solve hunger, and a Chinese software called The Blue Map App which enables residents to report environmental problems are among the 14 other contenders. On October 17, 5 winners will be announced.
According to research by IQAir, which is an air quality technology Swiss business, Umashankar’s invention is especially relevant in her native India, that is home to twenty two of the globe’s thirty most polluted cities. Toxic air was blamed for 1.6 million fatalities in India in 2019. Notwithstanding being among the most vulnerable nations to the effects of the human-induced climate change, the nation is also the world’s third-largest emitter of carbon dioxide, after the United States and China.
Umashankar hopes to alleviate these pressing issues by using her solar-powered ironing cart to reduce the use of charcoal. Ironing sellers, known as “press wallahs,” are popular in India, moving their carts from one community to the next. As per the science and technology department of the Indian government, there are approximately ten million ironing carts in this nation. They each consume roughly 11 pounds of charcoal every day, wreaking havoc on country’s air and forests.
It all started with an internet search for Umashankar during her summer vacation in 2018. Umashankar was curious regarding the environmental and health risks of ironing carts using charcoal all day after witnessing her neighborhood ironing vendor dispose of used charcoal. “It was then that I realized how harmful something as simple as an iron can be,” she recalls.