As you all know, action against climate change on a massive scale has suddenly taken off and is hitting the front pages in the form of the school strikes and student marches. But why now? For years we’ve known it’s a problem we need to fix, but it’s only recently that large scale action has taken place. Pinpointing a specific reason for the recent surge in youth activism is impossible. I’ve read dozens of articles about young people around the world protesting about climate change but nothing which really explains why our generation is the one to finally confront the problem.
Asking friends and fellow marchers, a common answer is the fear created around the 2018 IPPC “Global Warming of 1.5 ºC” report. The shock of hard facts have forced action. The complex report gave a simple, easy-to-understand headline – if temperatures rise beyond 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels, millions of people will be at risk of life-threatening heatwaves and poverty. Coral reefs will be all but wiped out and seas will swallow up many of our cities. We are the first generation to grow up with climate change permeating the school curriculum right from our first days at nursery. We were born at the turn of the millennium and at my primary school the millennium goals, including achieving environmental sustainability, caught my imagination as much as anything else I learnt.
In the UK, the first mass strike took place on the 15 th of February this year and about 15,000 students took part. This helped raise awareness. Social media made grass roots organising quick and easy. The movement dominated the mainstream media too and the following month over 1.6 million people in 133 countries took part in the global strike.
This is one of the few marches I have been on where the message was clear and every marcher seemed to have a common goal. The two main organisations in this country, extinction rebellion and school strikes for climate, may have some differences in their manifestos, but they both agree that we need to become a carbon neutral society. I have taken part in every school strike since February and I believe changes are being made but whether they are happening quick enough and with enough severity is a different matter. The UK government declared a climate emergency as a result of the marches. This was one of the demands of extinction rebellion and a huge achievement. Most UK cities understand this as the requirement to be carbon neutral by 2030 a vast improvement on the UK’s current official target to reduce carbon emissions by 80% (compared to 1990 levels) by 2050. BUT, there is a worry amongst activists that these are non-legally binding promises that will result in little action. With time running out, the world and our society can’t afford any more lies and inaction. In my opinion no matter how active some individuals are, the majority of people want luxury and aren’t prepared to make personal sacrifices to save the planet. So things can really only change if laws are put in place forcing people to change and setting an example for the rest of the world. I often think about how our society worked together during the world wars – consuming less, importing less and working together. If government forces and businesses make it easier and cheaper to be environmentally friendly then change will happen faster.
On the marches key messages such as “system change not climate change” have stood out making me realise we need to change the mindset of our society. This is happening but at the moment it’s too slow. It’s expensive to change systems and developing countries often don’t have the luxury of being able to afford investment in greener energy. We need to share money and resources with LICs rather than continuing to focus on money making and exploiting our only means of life. According to the IPPC report we have about 11 years left to limit greenhouse gas emissions. If we fail, and temperatures reach 1.5 degrees above preindustrial levels, there will be a global catastrophe. This would mean vital animal, insect and plant species would die causing a breakdown of food chains consequently making it impossible to sustain the current world population or even life as we know it.
How can we obtain this greener carbon neutral society? How can we stop using up our raw materials to create products which are used once and thrown away? I believe we need a radical change in our culture and way of life. At the moment the human race is not sustainable. We all demand big wardrobes, new phones and holidays to far flung places because technology has made it cheap. We constantly buy clothes we don’t need, stuff we don’t really want, and food we throw away. Although these things may seem cheap, this attitude has resulted in large costs to the environment. In the richer parts of the world we use up raw materials to feed our craving for materialism, creating toxic waste which is dumped in the poorer parts of the world. Habitats are polluted by things like mining for metals, and greenhouse gases are pumped out. This trashing of our environment will affect all of
us. But it disproportionately affects the poorest in society. While we buy luxuries, more and more people will be unable to afford basic things such as food and water.
70% of the world’s population living in poverty are women. Women in low income countries often don’t have the option to get paid work due to the lack of education and opportunities. This is a type of hidden poverty and makes women very vulnerable. If the breadwinner dies, e.g. the husband, this can leave their wife in desperate poverty. To reduce this equality of opportunity is needed. Both genders need access to education, leading to equal access to jobs. And both genders need to share in non-paid domestic work. After the Asian tsunami crisis in 2004 the International Labour Organisation stated that “women are more vulnerable during disasters because they have less access to resources, are victims of gendered division of labour, and are often the primary caregivers to children, the elderly and disabled. This results in women being less able to gain resources for recovery, leaving them more likely to be left unemployed and overburdened with domestic responsibilities stopping them from earning an income”. According to data from the Centre of Research for the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) released January 24, 2019, there were 10,733 deaths and over 60 million people affected and/or displaced by climate-related disasters globally in Eighty percent of those 60 million were women.
Equal rights and Feminism play an important part in making women less susceptible to suffering after climate change crises. But Feminism also plays an important part in the fight to reduce the suffering of everyone. Research has shown that feminist beliefs, including commitment to fairness and social justice, contribute to women being more focused on climate action than men. A 2018 study by Yale university found that women were more likely to promote climate action. The report says: “Out of 100 substantive climate solutions identified through rigorous empirical modelling, improving the education of girls represents one of the top solutions to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions—similar in ranking to restoring tropical forests and ranking above increased solar energy generation”. Across 130 countries, women in government positions were more likely to sign on to international treaties to reduce global warming than men. In other words, giving girls equal access to education is as effective as replanting all the world’s rainforests. Equal rights for women are a priority not just to make things fair but to make things better for everyone..
One of the biggest barriers to changing behavior in places like the UK is that we aren’t yet as
affected by climate change as much as some other countries. In London, the Thames barrier protects some of the world’s most expensive homes from the threat of a flood. The majority of the population can afford insurance so people are protected against environmental disaster. In places like the Philippines, the majority of the population already lives in poverty. When a tropical storm hits, there is no protection from their poorly built homes and the death rate is high. But the world is now so interconnected and countries are so reliant on each other, it’s no longer a case that we need to help LICs because it’s not ethical to have such inequality. If we don’t put a stop to climate change, the poorest countries may suffer most initially but ultimately, the whole world will pay the price for something we could put a stop to now.
Some argue climate change deniers prevent real change happening. I don’t agree. They are small in number and their influence is losing strength as the evidence against them becomes more and more conclusive. We shouldn’t even give a nod to their outdated and absurd views. From my reading about climate change, from everything I’ve seen on the marches, from my feed on Instagram and adverts on the tube, it’s clear that the surge of consciousness about living an environmentally friendly lifestyle can’t be stopped. Young people realise that change is a matter of life and death.
Change will happen.