Climate Hero Q&A: Kartiki Gonsalves

Kartiki Gonsalves

In World War Zero's Climate Hero Q&A series, our team goes one-on-one with some of the most influential voices of the climate movement.

Kartiki Gonsalves is an India-based nature & documentary photographer and filmmaker. She is currently working on a documentary about the threats posed by climate change to elephants in southern India. Her photographic work has focused on capturing the conservation practices and diversity of cultural groups across the world. Gonsalves is also the founder of Earth Spectrum, a platform which uses the power of storytelling to raise awareness about biodiversity and cultural life. Additionally, Gonsalves has been honored as a Sony Alpha Artisan of Imagery and a Swarovski Optik Nature Explorer 2021


WW0: Tell us about yourself and what you do outside the sphere of climate change.

KG: I am an Indian-born, full time director, documentary filmmaker, Sony Alpha Artisan of Imagery, Peak Design brand ambassador, Swarovski Optik Nature Explorer 2021, and photojournalist currently based out of the Nilgiri mountains in the Western Ghats of Southern India. I founded an organization called Earth Spectrum in late 2018 where I infuse my passion for adventure to bring new perspectives and a deeper public understanding to the environmental and humanitarian issues that define our times. I strive to document our natural world and to help others better understand the profound connection that we share with it. On the cultural side, I focus on capturing the diversity of cultures and tribes across the world. I seek to give a platform to women and indigenous tribes, especially those working to conserve nature. I focus on solutions and highlight projects that show success stories where conservation is working to give hope.

Image © Kartiki Gonsalves

National Geographic Society: The Campaign For Nature - A New Vision for Nature, November 4, 2020.

WW0: As a global village, what’s our biggest opportunity to reverse climate change?

KG: I think the pandemic has given us a chance to understand our mistakes and to actually see and breathe the improvements that are possible in our own communities. It's caused a turn away from our love affair with petrol fuel and individual cars. Here in India, people on the plains have been able to see the great Himalayas which have been obscured from view for decades by a pall of smog. PeopIe with asthma have been able to breathe freely; rivers have run clear with no industrial pollutants. Now that people have seen what can be achieved, we have a great opportunity to work together to make more change happen. To me, starting in one's own backyard is the key to bringing awareness and positive change to an ecological crisis.

WW0: What aspect of climate change do you think isn’t talked about enough?

KG: The fact that a healthy life is linked to preservation of forests and oceans is not emphasized enough. As humans, we are a species meant to coexist with the rest of life on this planet and recognize the many connections we have to nature. Killing off just one species upsets the balance of nature -- killing thousands of species will ultimately kill humans, too.

WW0: Are you working on a specific project that you’d like the world to know about?

KG: I am currently working on a documentary on Asian Elephants in Tamil Nadu of Southern India that focuses on the sacred bond between elephants and man. A prime focus of the film is on the direct effects climate change has on this particular species.

Image © Kartiki Gonsalves

Image © Kartiki Gonsalves

WW0: What inspires you the most behind the camera when it comes to spreading awareness on the ecological crisis?

KG: I hope to instill a deeper understanding of and connection to nature, to highlight a different perspective, and to inspire hope, of course. Hope, being the most vital and giving me the power to emotionally connect with viewers of my work.

WW0: Was there an event or cause that compelled you to fight climate change?

KG: Having grown up in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve -- the largest biosphere reserve in India -- transforming to city life in the world’s fastest growing tech hub as a young adult was difficult. I always got angry with decisions made by the government to cut down age-old beautiful trees for the expansion of roads. In turn, these actions wrecked the habitat of the creatures who lived in and on the trees. Public news of this on a larger scale -- of animals dying -- just brought more anger and helplessness. I cannot imagine a future without these very magnificent species that we live amongst and who have given me so much meaning, joy, and happiness in my life. This was the main driving force in my dedication to helping protect them and the spaces they live in. I feel that these animals are greatly misunderstood and want to help change that perception. I also want to help people develop a better understanding that we are all one -- that we are in this struggle for life together.

Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment: Extinction rate is accelerating, according to researchers, June 1, 2020.

WW0: How do we bring more people together around climate change?

KG: Engaging with people within your immediate space shows them they are connected to in the larger picture. It inspires them to care, understand, and protect the space they call home. It also allows them to see that there is beauty just outside their doorstep that needs to be protected so it can exist for the future generations. I do this by creating films that connect with a larger audience on an emotional and educational level through imagery so they can better understand the crises we face today.

WW0: Can you tell us a little bit about your experience while you are currently directing your documentary on elephants?

KG: In the reserve where we were filming in South India, many of the mahouts [elephant riders and keepers] belong to the Kattunayakan tribe. Working with them to produce the film, I had a unique opportunity to learn about their lives in the forest. They still practice many old traditions passed down by their ancestors. Their relationship with the forest is very symbiotic. They take what they need, but they always make sure to leave enough so that the forest will continue to thrive and provide for future generations.

One of their traditional pursuits is the harvesting of honey that is found on the sides of steep vertical cliffs at the edge of the Western Ghats. The tribal men make their way down the cliff face on a twine rope ladder made out of local forest vines that dangles about 500 feet from the ground. They make their way through swarming Apis Dorsata bees (the largest and most aggressive bee species known today) as they head for the hives. This indigenous bee species lives only in the wild and is harvested by tribal communities living close to forested areas. This dangerous, seasonal honey harvest was in the form of a pulsing mass made up of thousands of bees in hives found just below the crevices in ancient gigantic rocks. The men take the honey of Apis Dorsata directly from the combs found on the steepest cliffs or in the tallest trees of the forest. This honey is extremely tasty and is now commonly known as "liquid gold." The men mark hives that have already been taken from so as to not collect from the same hives too frequently. They are also careful to harvest only a portion of each hive and to leave enough for the bees to continue their lives in the forest there. They are careful not to destroy the natural course. It is a way of life that we can learn so much from. Indigenous communities possess the knowledge for a sustainable future.

National Geographic: The Last Honey Hunter (Behind the Scenes) ft. Renan Ozturk and Mark Synnott, June 28, 2017.

WW0: Do you think art plays a significant role in raising awareness about climate change?

Climate change art has massive potential for communication and is capable of reshaping people's opinions, building hope, and, giving people ideas for change. Art has the capacity to engage emotions and expand imaginations about the future, to inspire responsibility and care, as well as healing.

WW0: If you had an audience with leaders of the world’s most polluting nations, what would you say to them?

KG: I would hope to gain their attention and interest by putting forth some solutions that could work at the maximum level possible. It’s never too late and no one is too small to make a difference. It is conceivable that another world is possible by reimagining, recreating, and restoring.