Meet the Young Activists Fighting For their Future

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Led by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, youth climate strikes have brought the world’s attention not only to the issues facing our planet but also to the new voices fighting for a future. For London Climate Week, we invited four youth activists (all under 23-years-old) working to tackle climate change to The Conduit, to share their missions, methods and challenges. Here, they reflect on why they first became involved with environmental activism and share their calls to action for the wider community.

Clover Hogan, Founder & Director, Force of Nature

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What inspired you to fight for climate solutions?

Growing up in Australia’s tropical North Queensland, my childhood was spent dodging snakes that hung from the ceiling, fishing frogs out of the toilet bowl, and rescuing sea turtles on the foreshore. Surrounded by the wild and wonderful, I developed a deep connection to the natural world. Yet I soon discovered that it was under siege. I started watching documentaries like The Cove, An Inconvenient Truth, and Food INC. I felt heartbroken at what we were capable of doing to our planet. However, in the darkness, there were activists shining light on the problems. I wanted to be one. So it was then that I declared myself an environmentalist, and vowed to be a voice for the voiceless.

At 13, I coerced my family into moving to Indonesia, so I could attend Bali’s Green School – where students learn-by-doing in wall-less bamboo classrooms. In the jungle, I was right at home – but it was also my launchpad into the world. From lobbying at COP21 in Paris among stuffy dudes in suits, to later designing national youth strategy for Silicon Valley’s Impossible Foods; I honed my skill at persuading others to take action.

On March 28, 2017, my hometown was struck by a cyclone. Not unusual, for the time of year – yet the coastal waters were uncharacteristically warm. So instead of unmooring a few boats, “Debbie” – as meteorologists innocuously named her – battered my hometown for over 24 hours. Friends later described the noise like a ‘never-ending freight train’; some were forced to take refuge in bathtubs as their houses were razed to the ground. I didn’t recognise photos of my own home. The gardens my dad had nurtured for 10+ years had been pulverised into green sludge, trees strewn like matchsticks in the wind. It was at this moment, after six years of lobbying on climate, that I realised this crisis was no longer our future – but our present.

What shape does your activism currently take?

On March 15, 1.4 million young people took to the streets across 100 countries to protest climate inaction. Yet on March 16, 1.4 million young people were left asking, “What now?”

Often in the wake of protest comes helplessness, when demands aren’t met by those in positions of power. I believe that this is a greater threat even than climate change. We all must step up, rather than shut down, in the face of our planet’s messiest problems. And we all must become custodians of a future by our own design.

For the past 14 months, I’ve been working in classrooms and lecture halls to research the psychology of agency: what young people know, think and feel around climate crisis, as well as the perceived and real barriers to their proactive engagement. I launched Force of Nature to further this mission. By developing an algorithm-based tool, our aim is to help young people realise their change-making potential. To disrupt self-limiting beliefs, and in their place, cultivate the confidence and clarity of cause to take action.

How can The Conduit community best support your work?

Young people around the world want to make a difference but don’t always know where, or how, to start. We must give them the permission to do so. We must create space in the canopy to let them shoot up, and give real voice to those from a diversity of backgrounds and experiences. Because no one is born a leader. You learn to become one through courage, imagination, and opportunity.

The Conduit community is made up of lots of influential leaders. Folks who have overcome their own feelings of powerlessness to positively impact the world. However, true leadership is the ability to rally those around you. I encourage each of you to rally the emerging generation of leaders. To ask the opinion of someone half your age – to mentor them, and invite them into your organisations. Because when we bring together the energy of youth, with the knowledge of experience, we can achieve the impossible.

What’s one thing you’d ask everyone to do in the fight against climate change?

Climate crisis is not the problem, but the symptom of broken systems. From how we grow our food, clothe ourselves, and connect with one another – to who we put in power to govern these systems, and why we put them there. Before us lies the opportunity to forge our world anew. And where we must start is with mindset.

Tokenistic activism is no longer enough. Turning off the lights when you leave a room, buying a reusable coffee cup, even going to the polls to vote between a climate change denier and seasoned procrastinator – these are mere mosquito bites on the bum of a monster that gets stronger by the day. We know that our window for action is closing. The good news? Since we’ve so royally screwed the planet, there are any number of ways to help it.

I used to think that to be an environmentalist, I’d have to chain myself to trees or ride zodiacs into the path of whaling ships. But I’m a bit too word-nerdy for that. My potential to create ripples lay elsewhere – and yours probably does, too. Ask yourself this: if you could solve any problem in the world today, what would it be? Think of a problem that makes you angry, riles you up. Once you’ve identified that pain point, consider how you use your passion to find purpose. Pain is what triggers you to action. Passion is what sustains it. How can you, and all of the gifts you have to offer, be wielded for good?

We learn to fear our own potential, and fall victim to thoughts that we aren’t smart enough, or experienced enough. But to solve our beautiful, bright planet’s dark problems, we must refuse to be ruled by fear. Be brash enough to assume that you will realise your goals, and expend your energy not on pessimism, but experimentation. Motivation follows action. Take a small step today, and the giant leap will follow.

Learn more about Clover’s work with Force of Nature via her website.

Tom Maidment, Founder/Technical Director, E.Mission

What inspired you to fight for climate solutions?

I grew up on the Somerset Levels. We have always had floods but in the last few years, they have become more severe and more erratic. Climate change is changing our lives in real time, and not for the better. I don’t think anyone can live through that and not want to do something about it.

What shape does your activism currently take?

I am an activist engineer, so I use my skills to save as much carbon as possible in the most equitable way. As well as my day job working as a Sustainability Engineer, I have founded a company called E.Mission, which works to help people understand the carbon emissions associated with their diet. Food accounts for around 25% of global emissions and is so easy to reduce, particularly for those with minimal agency, but there is a knowledge deficit on what choices make effective reductions. We are working on getting carbon emissions labelling on restaurant menus, in a similar way to calories, and on an education programme for adults and young people to improve their understanding of carbon emissions in their daily lives.

In addition, I am involved in developing Gras, an innovative approach to implementing and scaling biogas which has scope to save up to 400 Mt CO2 annually in the UK and France and prevents the writing off of 10 Gt CO2.

I also work with Fossil Free Coventry, with whom I have completed an analysis of the West Midlands’ emissions and am working with councillors across the region to ensure they can make informed decisions on climate change and mitigation policies.

How can The Conduit community best support your work?

From a personal point of view, E.Mission are currently looking for restaurants to partner with, so if any members are able to help us that would be fantastic. I am also always looking to expand the circle of people I can work with so if anyone is interested in anything I’m working on I would love to have a chat with them.

What’s one thing you’d ask everyone to do in the fight against climate change?

I get asked this question a lot, and I think it is symptomatic of the problem. If we are serious about tackling climate change, we have to recognise that we all have to do more than one thing. You don’t have to become a full-time climate activist but we can all make changes to our life without it really impacting our quality of life and in many case enriching it; eat less meat, fly less, holiday in the UK (or at least Western Europe), eat seasonally, switch to a renewable energy supplier and just buy less stuff.

That being said, there is one thing you can do. To keep warming below 1.5°C we all have to live within an annual carbon budget of 2.5 tonnes of CO2 per person, so work out your current carbon footprint (likely to be between 5 and 20 tonnes of CO2 per year, but potentially much higher if you’re a frequent flyer) and work out how you can reduce that to 2.5.

Learn more about Tom’s work by visiting the E.Mission website.

Zunaira Malik, Programme Coordinator, Action for Conservation

What inspired you to fight for climate solutions?

What inspires me to campaign and raise awareness about climate justice is the belief that everyone deserves the same chance in life. If we pursue business as usual, then whether we are talking about young people living here or communities around the world that are on the frontline of climate change, people are not getting the same chance in life.

What shape does your activism currently take?

I have been involved in reframing environmental issues and climate change in my community, finding common values and approaching the topic in a more holistic way. Most of my activist energy is now channelled into the work I do at Action for Conservation where we work on inspiring and empowering young people to be the next generation of environmentalists and take action to protect the natural world. Education is a really important tool to tackle some of the misconceptions about climate change and to better understand how it affects every part of our lives.

How can The Conduit community best support your work?

The Conduit community can support our work through resources and fundraising as student-led environmental action projects often require a level of time and resource unavailable at school. We would love to connect with anyone who could contribute to our existing programmes or new project ideas, such as our pioneering youth-led nature restoration initiative, through tools, skill-sharing, knowledge-sharing and fundraising to make it easier for young people to be able to turn their plans into action and create positive impacts for our world. We are also usually looking for venue space for workshops and events as well as volunteers who have relevant skills they can share with our young people!

What’s one thing you’d ask everyone to do in the fight against climate change?

I would ask everyone to scrutinise any proposed “climate solution” and ask, is this truly a solution that encompasses both environmental and social justice? If it’s not then we need to rethink the solution. We cannot exclude human costs from climate solutions and therefore we should be including people from those communities and young people, as those who will inherit the outcomes, when making any decisions.

Learn more about Zunaira’s work by visiting the Action for Conservation website.

Cloud McDowell, Extinction Rebellion

Cloud is a volunteer working with Extinction Rebellion Youth. Learn more about her below.

My name is Cloud McDowell, I’m a 21 year old actress and climate activist. I’ve been aware of climate change for more than half my life, but only became aware of the true extent of the climate crisis this last year. The immense fear that knowing that the climate crisis will come at the great expense of every living being on this planet and what little time we have left to reduce its devastating impact, is what motivates me to use my voice and whatever privilege my life has brought me to fight for a just and liveable planet for all.

Learn more about Cloud’s work by visiting the XR Youth website.