Climate Change Solutions Draft for
“Climate Girls Change Our Future,” for your additions and critique
Calculate your household’s energy and food consumption impacts.
See Rob Hopkin’s From What Is to What If: Unleashing the Power of Imagination to Create the Future We Want, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2019.
Reduce consumption of beef (cows release more methane than countries like Brazil and Germany and forests are cut down to create pasture for livestock.) University of Chicago researchers estimate that each meat-eating American produces 1.5 tons more greenhouse gases through their food choice than do their vegetarian peers. End the billions of dollars of US government subsidies of the beef and dairy industries and develop climate-smart agriculture. Project Drawdown reports this is the most important contribution an individual can make.
A study of Blue Zone areas with the most long-lived people found the majority of their food is plants—including legumes (as well as social connection and physical activity).
Buy Rainforest Alliance Certified products such as coffee, tea, chocolate, and bananas.
Grow vegetables, perhaps in pots on rooftops or window ledges.
Fridays for Future Europe proposed 10 measures to change the Common Agricultural Policy to capture carbon in the soil; reduce meat consumption; reduce pollution from farming chemicals, antibiotics and GMOs–in alignment with the Biodiversity Strategy and Farm to Fork Strategy.
Compost food scraps (this can include egg shells, tea bags, paper, wool rags, yard clippings, leaves, etc.). About 40% of US food ends up in landfills and release gases. Worldwide, food waste cause around 8% of greenhouse gas emissions. Love Food Hate Waste
South Korean banned dumping food in landfill and requires food waste is recycled in biodegradable bags or in home composting, leading to 95% recycling of food waste.
Buy food in bulk to reduce packaging.
Avoid palm oil, grown in deforested areas.
Shop at farmers’ markets, buy local. See Eric Holt-Gimenez’ A Foodie’s Guide to Capitalism
Consume less: Read The Story of Stuff The Impact of Overconsumption on the Planet, Our Communities, and Our Health—And How We Can Make it Better by Annie Leonard.
Avoid products with tiny plastic pellets call nurdles.
Recycle clothes (the average American throws away about 81 pounds of clothes a year.) Follow “slow fashion” and make old clothes into new ones, called upcycling and repurposing. Make a mask from an old T-shirt. Shop in thrift stores.
Recycle toys in a toy library (usatla.org)
Recycle, Reuse, Repurpose
Ride a bike, walk, use public transportation rather than personal vehicles, ride-share.
Reuse glass or metal water bottles, bring your own straws, bamboo utensils, and take-out food containers.
Recycle cut hair to make into boons to absorb oil spills (greencirclesalons.com) or for wigs.
Recyclable menstrual products, such as those made out of banana leaves.
Recycle paper, buy used wood furniture, or wood certified sustainably harvested. Avoid palm oil grown where rainforest were cut down.
Plant trees in your community (aborday.org) like Shahzad Qureshi started Urban Forest to plant native trees in Pakistani cities such as in Karachi.
Plant flowers for bees and other pollinators (pollinator-pathway.org).
Reduce Energy and Fuel Use
Turn off lights and unplug appliances when not in use since “idle load” uses energy even when not charging—or plug them into power strips. Americans spend more on electricity to power devices when they’re off than when on.
Buy Energy Star label appliances and products, which have kept tons of carbon dioxide out of the air since 1987. Use electric rather than gas stoves. Use WaterSense label fixtures and appliances to sav water and electricity. LED lightbulbs use less energy than incandescent bulbs and save money. Get an energy audit to see how your home can become more energy efficient.
The Drawdown campaign reduced the use of chemicals used in refrigerators and air conditioners, much more warming than CO2.
Shower for 5 minutes or less to save water.
Ride a bike or walk.
Wash clothes on cold and dry them on racks outdoor when sunny or indoor when not.
Use organic cleaning products such as vinegar and baking soda or buy products labeled Safer choice, Green Seal Certified, Ecologo or Cradle to Cradle.
Inform your network and government officials (Environmental Voter.org).
Educate others: the David Suzuki Foundation offers a chatbot to teach how to talk about the climate.
Vote for politicians with climate plans. As Barack Obama says, “Don’t boo—vote.” For example, the Sunrise Movement pressured candidate Joe Biden to commit to a $2 trillion climate plan, including creating green jobs, renewable energy by 2035, weatherizing and upgrading homes and buildings, and “climate smart” agriculture. The Frontlines Climate Justice Executive Action Platform also outlined climate policies.
The Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy includes about 170 cities in the US, such as Minneapolis. They agreed to transition to renewable energy and develop an action plan. The global Green Economy index of greenest cities. See the report on green cities around the world. Mayors announced their support of the Global Green New Deal in 2019, along with youth climate activists, labor unions, etc.
Michael Bloomberg Philanthropies is giving technical assistance funding to 25 cities with plans for innovative green building and transportation systems.
Charged Up assists Canadian cities to develop renewable energy.
The greenest cities are Vienna, Munich, Berlin, Madrid, and Sao Paulo.
Vancouver, Canada was one of the first North American cities to develop the Clouds of Change climate crisis report in 1990 and in 2011 committed to the Greenest City Action Plan including green jobs, green buildings, additional bike lanes, recycling cigarette bins, tree planting, ban on Styrofoam containers, increase the amount of locally grown food, and 100% renewable energy by 2050. (See my photographs.) it has the lowest greenhouse gas emissions per person of any major North American city.
Minneapolis is developing clusters of solar panels to reduce nearby energy bills and has electric vehicles.
Boston is first in the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s ranking of cities.
People United for Sustainable Housing Buffalo turned abandoned school buildings into apartments for low-income seniors, created green spaces, etc.
New York City banned and plastic on city property.
California’s 2017 program requires the Air Resources Board to focus its clean-air efforts on communities with the most air pollution and consult environmental justice groups. (See the Indigenous Principles of a Just Transition). In 2018, it committed $35 million to creating high quality new clean-energy jobs.
New York, 2019: the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act committed to reach net zero emissions by 2050. More than one-third of the program focuses on disadvantaged communities as by reducing pollution and developing jobs. The state also developed offshore wind projects.
Washington’s 2019 legislation committed the state to be carbon free by 2045, including incentives for businesses.
Colorado’s 2019 bills created an Office of Just Transition, such as to assist former miners and compensate cities for tax revenues lost to coal plant closures.
Virginia Clean Economy Act of 2020 mandated shutting down most coal plants by 2030 and fossil fuel electric and gas plants by 2045.
The five greenest economics are in the Nordic counties and Switzerland. 
21 youth sued the government in Juliana vs. United States in 2015, represented by Our Children’s Trust. Youth in Quebec filed a class action lawsuit led by ENvironnement Jeunesse.
Petition your government to reduce carbon pollution and a just recovery after the pandemic, such as in Canada’s #BuildBackBetter petition to Ottawa. Green New Deal for Canada was proposed by MP in December 2019. Lobby for an effective climate plan.
Carbon pricing is practiced by over 43 countries, which results in lower emissions. Ban fracking.
15 youth sued 5 countries (Germany, France, Brazil, Argentina, Turkey) through UNESCO in 2019.
Green New Deal is proposed in Europe, the US (the bill was introduced in February 2019 by Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Markey) and Canada.
School walkouts, strikes demanding declaration of the climate emergency.
Demonstrations like Jane Fonda’s Fire Drill Fridays in multiple cities later led by Greenpeace.
The COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns reduced carbon emissions globally, including about 25% in China.
End subsidies and tax breaks for fossil fuel companies. Alternatives include ethanol derived from camps and hydrogen derived from water, but they take energy to produce.
Carbon regulations require polluters to pay for their emissions.
The Global Green New Deal launched in 2020 (@GlobalGNDeal, globalgnd.org). Naomi Klein explained it grew out their critique of Green New Deals in the UK and US and of the capitalist system. Arundhati Roy said, “If people think coronavirus is a problem, it’s a stuffed toy compared to the climate crisis that’s coming. The main thing is to change our imagination. Once you understand that you just can’t extract everything, that things are fine,” to shape a new, more just vision.
The European Green Deal commits to zero emissions by 2050. Greta Thunberg said the target should be 2030, otherwise it gives up on the Paris Agreement to limit emissions.
UN Paris Accord 2015 agreed on pledges to reduce emissions; they need to be cut almost in half.
COP UN climate meetings, with the 26th scheduled in Scotland in 2020. Finland’s goal is to make the country carbon-neutral by 2035.
Make ecocide an international crime at the International Criminal Court.
Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy includes over 9,000 cities in 138 countries.
Build on the Covid-19 pandemic to not return to “normal” and create a “just recovery,” and #BuildBackBetter. Global emissions dropped by 17% in April, 2020, due to pandemic shutdowns, with an average peak of 26% reduction. Over 150 international groups called for a new and improved normal in summer of 2020 in “Open Letter on Covid-19 and Humanitarian Disarmament,” including international humanitarian cooperation.
Infrastructure with green jobs providing employment
Project Drawdown lists the major sources of heat-trapping greenhouse gases:
25%: electricity production
24%: food, agriculture, and land use
Over half of the emissions stay in the atmosphere, 24% are absorbed by plants, and 17% by the oceans.
Buildings worldwide contribute around one third of all greenhouse gas emissions (43% in the U.S., compared to 32% industry, and 28% transportation), even though using better insulation and other temperature-regulating steps can save money. Buildings (see my photos of the building in Seattle) use alternates to concrete such as strawbale and adobe. Bacteria and other “engineered living materials” can grow building bricks instead of burning limestone to make cement for concrete. The goal is Zero Energy Building.
Villages within a city are created in “communitarian” buildings with shared spaces including a rooftop farm and big kitchen and meeting space. In a Seattle five-story building, the families in nine units cook for each other every other day. Hundreds of cohousing communities around the world are listed by the Foundation for Intentional Community.
About half of home energy use comes from heating and cooling buildings, so weatherize: insulate and seal drafts. The US government gives tax credits for energy-efficient home improvements. Cement is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions as it requires heating limestone and other ingredients to 1,450 degrees Celsius (2,642 degrees Fahrenheit). Mining copper and other elements needed for electrical wiring and transmission also cause globe-warming pollution. District heating is used in Europe and some US colleges with a central plant that burns natural gas to heat water, circulated to nearby buildings. An ambient temperature loop efficiently heats and cools the buildings, as in Whistler Olympic Village in British Columbia. A pump circulates water through pipes buried below the frost line.
Use a heat pump rather than a furnace; it extracts heat from one area and moves it to another. Use a programmable thermostat. Keep heaters and boilers clean in order to be more efficient.
Use composting toilets.
Green public housing and public gardens, including urban rooftop gardens in urban areas.
Environmental justice projects such as cleaning up toxic waste sites and lead in pipelines.
Renewable energy sources (solar, wind, biomass).
Community owned energy companies or Green-e Energy certifies North American utility companies that get at least half their power from wind or solar.
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative joined 12 northeastern states in a cap-and-trade market
Install solar panels in schools.
University model green programs
Burning a gallon of gasoline produces 20 pounds of CO2, the second leading source of emissions in the US. Check out the smog level in US cities.
Light rail, electric and hybrid vehicles. Check their fuel use. Proper tire inflation and clean air filters save gas, as do good roads.
Public bikes to rent or no charge.
Build bike lanes: Copenhagen is a model with “super cycle highways.”
Hybrid-electric buses and light rail, as in San Francisco.
Reduce airplane travel (about 2.5% of global emissions). Buy carbon offsets if you do fly.
Greta Thunberg aid in July, 2020, “Our current system is not ‘broken’–the system is doing exactly what its designed to be doing. It can no longer be ‘fixed.’ We need a new system.” Models are provided by: Green circular economies, Green Growth Knowledge Platform, Global Green Economy Index (Nordic counties and Switzerland), and UN Partnership for Action on Green Economy.
Devest pension, central bank, and university funds from fossil fuel corporations.
Climate Action 100+ includes hundreds of global investors committed to the goals of the 2016 Paris Climate Accord.
UN’s Business and Investor Working Group on Carbon Pricing
Amazon’s sustainability plan includes 100% renewable energy by 2025, 100,000 electric delivery vehicles, net zero carbon by 2040, $2 billion in research to new technologies, $100 million in climate fund such as reforestation, and ecological packaging.
Telecommute, reduce work week. Twitter allowed employees to work from home after the pandemic.
Green Tree Plastics makes plastic lids and caps into benches, picnic tables, and trash bins.
Climate Bonds Initiative-certified bonds issued worldwide, including municipal bonds
Scientists proposed a “Global Deal for Nature” in April, 2019, a plan to save biodiversity. Carbon sinks include forests, grasslands, peatlands, and mangrove trees; they pull the most carbon from the air so they need to be enlarged. Every year, 33 million acres of forests are cut down. Timber harvesting in the tropics alone contributes 1.5 billion metric tons of carbon to the atmosphere, 20% of human-made greenhouse gas emissions.
Reforestation—plant trees, and preserve wetlands that remove CO2.
Organic farming keeps carbon in the soil and avoids plowing (the 2018 US Farm Bill includes incentives), grown diverse crops including high-nitrogen legumes. The New Deal of the 1930s paid farmers to adopt conservation policies and set price floors for crops.
Develop local farmers’ markets.
Bioremediation uses microorganisms (microbes, bacteria, fungi, protozoa, algae) to repair toxic wastes such as oil spills or repair burn areas.
Replace lawns with native (see the National Wildlife Foundation native plant finder and ChooseNatives.org) or water-saving plants, called Xeriscaping, or plants that capture rain. Food Not Lawns by Heather Jo Flores is a free book and organization. 
Put “seed bombs” on abandoned properties.
Ban single-use plastics, use plant-derived plastics.
Engineering to reduce carbon, such as inject C02 into cooled volcanic rocks under the ocean to form solid minerals like limestone. Bioengineering ideas include partially deflecting sun rays, sequestering CO2 in the ocean, large scale reforestation, releasing sulfate particles in the air to mimic the cooling effects of a massive volcanic eruption; placing millions of small mirrors or lenses in space to deflect sunlight; covering portions of the planet with reflective films to bounce sunlight back into space; fertilizing the oceans with iron or other nutrients to enable plankton to absorb more carbon; and increasing cloud cover or the reflectivity of clouds that already form. All may have unintended consequences, making the solution worse than the original problem.
Rocks cycle CO2; rock weathering removes CO2 and transforms it into minerals, which can be accelerated by grinding up volcanic silicate rocks, such ad basalt, and adding the dust to the soil. This also increased cereal grain crop yields.
Bio-char from biomass in soil.
Climate Advocacy Groups
Climate Justice Alliance
Indigenous Environmental Network
Natural Resources Defense Council
Progressive International (includes Naomi Klein, Arundhati Roy, Yanis Varoufakis, etc.)
Rainforest Action Network
Youth-led Climate Advocacy Groups
Fridays for Future International
Climate Strike, Canada
Our Time, Canada
Sunrise Movement, US
Youth Climate Network in various countries
Zero Hour, US
Jonathan Safran Foer, “The End of Meat I Here,” New York Times, May 21, 2020.
 Paul Burke, Frank Jotzo, Rohan Best, “Carbon Pricing Works,” The Conversation, July 13, 2020.
 Meehan Crist, “What the Coronavirus Means for Climate Change,” New York Times, March 27, 2020.
 “After Coronavirus Triggers 17% Emissions Drop,” Common Dreams, May 20, 2020.
 “The World’s Leading Resource for Climate Solutions,” Drawdown Framework
 Wil Srubar, “Buildings Grown by Bacteria,” The Conversation, March 23, 2020.
 Charles Kutscher, “Buildings Consume Lots of Energy—Here’s How to Design Whole Communities that Give Back as Much as they Take,” The Conversation, May 26, 2020.
 Nikhil Swaminathan, “If Cutting Carbon Isn’t Enough, Can Climate Intervention Turn Down the Heat,” Scientific American, June 5, 2007.
 Benjamin Houlton, “An Effective Climate Change Solution May Lie in Rocks Beneath Our Feet,” The Conversation, July 16, 2020.
The school strike movement Fridays For Future calls for a global climate action day. On September 25th, demonstrations and manifestations will take place all across the globe, all adjusted according to Covid-19 circumstances.
Excerpt from NY Times:
- Published July 22, 2020Updated July 23, 2020, 8:48 a.m. ET
- PORTLAND, Ore. — Shields were made of pool noodles, umbrellas and sleds. The body armor was pieced together with bicycle helmets and football pads. The weapons included water bottles and cigarette lighters.
Facing federal forces who came to Portland to subdue them, many of the https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/22/us/portland-protest-tactics.html?campaign_id=2&emc=edit_th_20200723&instance_id=20509&nl=todaysheadlines®i_id=68143430&segment_id=34108&user_id=fcbddfb183a7f759d0917ae1b154dc63city’s protesters have taken to the streets this week with items scrounged from home. Then they have assembled at the federal courthouse each night with sometimes starkly different visions of how to put their tools to use.
In 55 consecutive nights of protest in Portland, no two have been alike. The protests began on May 29, after the killing of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis. They have continued ever since, night after night, and they show no signs of letting up.
“It’s really organic and non-centralized,” said Luke Meyer, who walked through the streets overnight with a plywood shield. “You almost vote with your actions.”
For weeks, city officials who have been the target of much of the ire have been unable to find a way to bring the demonstrations to an end. Now those protesters are giving grief to federal agents who were assigned to maintain calm in the city but have instead watched the number of protesters outside the federal courthouse swell into the thousands.
“Whose streets?” they shout, in one of their signature chants. “Our streets. Whose lives matter? Black lives matter.”
Facing volleys of tear gas that left many coughing, the protesters retreated up Main Street. But they soon regrouped and returned as the authorities backed off. In an echo of the “umbrella revolution” in Hong Kong, protesters with shields and umbrellas took the front of the line to protect themselves and others from the weaponry of federal forces in tactical gear.
A Girl’s Heroic Battle Against the Taliban Was Also a Family Feud
A teenage Afghan girl was celebrated for killing Taliban who attacked her home. But the story of her heroism is steeped in pain, and reveals the complicated crosscurrents of the Afghan War.
By Asadullah Timory, Najim Rahim and Mujib Mashal
- July 22, 2020
The teenage girl was the hero of a night of carnage that left her family’s hillside home in western Afghanistan strewn with bodies. Qamar Gul, 15, fought to her last bullet, gunning down Taliban attackers who raided the house and killed her father and mother.
In the days after the attack last week, Afghan social media was full of slick posters celebrating her as “My Hero.” Some users compared her to the Kurdish women of Kobani, Syria, who fought the Islamic State. Local officials put out pictures of Qamar Gul posing with her rifle. Afghanistan’s vice president praised her for defending against “the enemies of the nation.”
But the story of her heroism is steeped in pain, in a culture that often treats women as property, and in the confusion of an Afghan war that has twisted families into knots of complex loyalties and feuds.
One of the attackers she killed was her own husband, who was fighting on the Taliban’s side and apparently seeking her forcible return after a falling out with Ms. Gul’s family, according to relatives and local officials.
Ou Hongyi, who took part in the #FridaysforFuture protest, says she has been told she cannot return to school unless she stops her activism
As the first young person in China to engage in Greta Thunberg-inspired Fridays For Future climate strikes, Ou, 17, has become a target for the authorities who see that activism as a challenge to their control.
Ou claims she has been told by authorities to ditch her climate activism as a condition for her restarting studies at Guangxi Normal University affiliated high school in Guilin, where she studied until late 2018.
Ou, who also goes by the English name Howey, suspended her studies in December 2018 after being told she was “not suitable” for the international programme there and decided to study for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and US college admissions SAT test on her own.
But, following the wishes of her parents, and with dreams of pursuing higher education, she has been attempting in recent months to re-enter the school.
Her parents have been called several times by provincial education authorities, Ou told the Guardian, urging them to stop her climate activism and not to conduct interviews with foreign media.
Ou said her principal, Li Linbo, also told her in a meeting on 29 May that she must promise to end her climate activism before being readmitted, a claim corroborated by her father.
Several attempts to reach her principal, including calls to his office and personal number, as well as faxed questions, were not responded to.
“I don’t want to stop,” Ou said of her climate activism. “I want more people to know.”
Authorities also required Howey to have a psychological test before applying for readmission. “The only negative thing it said was I’m stubborn,” she said.
Ou Jun, her father, told the Guardian that her parents would not force her to give up her beliefs, but added that they were worried about her obsession and how it could derail her future. “She has anxiety about the climate,” he said. “We hope that she can graduate from high school, enter university, and hope that she can pay less attention to climate change issues.”
While currently the top global carbon dioxide emitter, China is expected to meet its Paris Agreement pledge of peaking carbon emissions at or before 2030. China’s leader, Xi Jinping, has also put the development of an “ecological civilisation” at the core of his policies, which would appear to be a natural fit with Ou’s own obsessions.
It is not necessarily her concerns for the climate that have sparked a pressure campaign from authorities, Kecheng Fang, an assistant professor at the school of journalism at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told the Guardian.
“Most importantly, because it is about collective action,” he said. “No matter what kind of collective action it is, it’s considered highly sensitive.”
While expressing concern about climate change is not forbidden, there has been a narrowing of discourse on the subject, particularly if it calls into question the ambition of authorities, Fang said. “The underlying logic is that basically you can talk about those topics that are considered less sensitive, but it matters how you talk about it.”
While she waits to return to school, Ou has started her own initiative called Plant for Survival, whereby she is encouraging young people in China to plant more trees. From last November through to this January, the group planted more than 300 trees in and around Guilin.
I’m finishing up Climate Girls Saving Our World, which includes Gen Z girls from every inhabited continent. Readers learn about regional issues, Gen Z, and activism. To see an exam copy email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brave: Young Women’s Global Revolution. Vol. 1 reports on young women’s global issues and Vol. 2 on regional issues, based on surveys of 4,000 young people from 88 countries. It’s a Nautilus Book Award winner.
Also see Resist: Goals and Tactics for Changemakers
Stories from the Youth Climate Movement in the Global South
Jul 17, 2020
In early 2020, as millions went into lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the environment experienced temporary relief from the impacts of human activity. As skies cleared and birds and animals claimed city spaces, it became apparent that the young people who had mobilized for the climate across the world in 2019 were right: Much environmental damage is the result of human action, and as such, can also be reversed through human initiative.
The experience of 2020 has made clear that whether the threat is climate change or a pandemic, humanity won’t survive its challenges unless people act collectively on the basis of scientific consensus.
Before the pandemic hit, the climate emergency had made headlines and had become part of everyday conversation. It all started when one determined young girl, then 15 years old, walked out of school and staged a solo protest outside her country’s parliament. But it wasn’t a solo protest for long, because hundreds of thousands of young people quickly took up the initiative.
Driven by inspiration rather than imitation, young people throughout the Global South organized their own local climate actions, feeding into the global climate movement. They used this global platform to draw attention to—and infuse new energy into—long-standing, under-acknowledged Indigenous movements defending land, water, and air against extractive industries and agribusiness.
In Ghana, Perk Pomeyie of the Ghana Youth Environmental Movement used graphic design and social media to mobilize young people around #FridaysforFuture and #SchoolClimateStrike. He also collaborated with the International Youth Climate Movement in the region to mobilize during the United Nations’ Africa Climate Week in Accra in March 2019. “As a grassroots activist in Ghana, this was the first time I gained a strong personal conviction that my work in the little corner of my community has a potential to cause change at the top, if supported with the right tools, capacity, and resources,” he explained.
Perk Pomeyie leads chants at a climate march in central Accra, Ghana. Photo from Perk Pomeyie.
Climate activists protest against mining in central Accra, Ghana. Photo from Perk Pomeyie.
Junior high school students in Ghana participate in an awareness-raising and tree planting session. Photo from Perk Pomeyie.
Across the Global South, activists have adapted their tactics to their local situations, all while shaking off delegitimization attempts that characterised the climate movement as driven by privileged people from the Global North.
“Although it is a very progressive thing to hold strikes in Global North countries, in a country like Sudan, going to school is a privilege for a lot of students. It doesn’t make any sense for people to strike from a school they got into after a huge struggle,” said Nisreen Al Sayeem, of the Sudan Youth Organization on Climate Change and Youth and Environment. “Young people in Sudan are taking three different paths for climate action: policy, activism—including advocacy, campaigning, and work in civil society organizations—and community-based work.”
The latest State of Civil Society Report from CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, puts the spotlight on this rising generation of young climate leaders, who are giving fresh impetus to persistent struggles in countries including Colombia, Ghana, and Sudan. They may not have received the same media attention as Greta Thunberg, but these youth activists are every bit as committed, engaged, and important.
In their collective undertaking, these climate leaders have cast aside stereotypes of young people as impulsive and immature. They have come to embody the voice of reason by embracing science, encouraging evidence-based decision-making, and challenging disinformation. They are offering a lesson to their governments on what it means to act responsibly.
Young people like Nisreen Al Sayeem are forging their own local forms of action. Photo from Nisreen Al Sayeem. Nisreen Al Sayeem, a junior negotiator at UN Climate Talks for the African Group of Negotiators, speaks at a climate event. Photo from Nisreen Al Sayeem.
Young people face considerable risks when they take action in countries where civic and democratic freedoms aren’t widely respected, and where environmental, Indigenous, and land rights activists have long experienced violent and even lethal repression. One young environmental activist from Colombia vividly described the dangers he faces daily in a country where “people live in a state of incredible anxiety due to the systematic murders of social and environmental leaders,” leaving them “afraid to speak, organize, and protest.” Demonstrating how dangerous climate activism can be, he asked not to be named for security reasons.
One way in which young climate leaders try to mitigate such dangers is by building alliances that may offer safety in numbers, and by connecting their domestic struggles to global climate concerns. In Colombia, major domestic issues are deforestation and population displacement, linked to the troubled implementation of the 2016 peace agreement with the FARC guerrillas, which sought to put an end to a half-century-long armed conflict.
Young Colombian climate activists organize local communities against deforestation. Photo from Fridays for Future Colombia.
Climate activism in Colombia received a boost during the mass anti-government protests that erupted in November 2019, as climate activists encouraged protesters to embrace environmental demands. “In a country where people are afraid to speak,” said the Colombian activist, the fact that millions took to the streets in what was considered the largest mobilization in several decades was “a unique opportunity” for the climate movement to push its agenda. “We may not be able to mobilize people specifically around climate, but we can take advantage of these mass mobilizations and put our issues out there … so that they understand that our issues also concern them and they start mobilizing for them as well.”
In this activist’s experience, global inspiration led to local action, which in turn led to participation in regional processes to build a Latin American climate network. These regional efforts then led to the creation of a national environmental network, bringing together young people from all over the country to work for climate action. Still a work in progress, the national environmental network succeeded in getting the protest movement to include among its demands the declaration of a national climate emergency. Coming full circle, Colombia’s national environmental network now also views global policy-making arenas as a battleground for future struggles.
Climate activism happens simultaneously at all levels, connecting the local to the global—from the streets of Bogotá and Manila to the sites of environmental damage in Bangladesh and Nepal, to high-level international forums such as the United Nations. In country after country, climate activists operate within institutional systems, and employ disruption tactics when necessary and possible, to communicate their message: The climate is in crisis, and going back to business as usual after the pandemic is not acceptable.
Filipino activists prepare banners for their anti-coal campaign. Photo from Young Bataeños Environmental Advocacy Network.
The climate movement has suspended street action because of COVID-19, but activism continues online. The movement has already succeeded in turning a political nonissue into an urgent agenda item. Now the pressure is on to promote a green recovery from the pandemic, countering the existing inertia to pursue a carbon-fueled dash for growth.
When it comes to the key decisions that will shape human lives in the post-pandemic world, this new generation of activists will continue to pressure decision-makers into giving them a future worth fighting for.
|Inés M. Pousadela is a Senior Research Specialist at CIVICUS and co-author of the State of Civil Society Report 2020. She has written several books and articles on political representation, social mobilization, participation and accountability, and civil society.|