Stories From the Youth Climate Movement in the Global South
By Inés M. Pousadela
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.
Across the Global South, activists have adapted their tactics to their local situations, all while shaking off delegitimization attempts that characterized 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 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.
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.
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.
Reposted with permission from YES! Magazine.
- 4 Ways to Be a Real Youth Activist - EcoWatch ›
- 'We Have So Much More to Do': Youth Climate Activists Declare as ... ›
- Portuguese Youth Activists Sue 33 Countries Over Climate Crisis - EcoWatch ›
- 5 Legal Tactics Environmentalists Are Using to Fight Climate Change - EcoWatch ›
- Youth Climate Movement Demands Immediate Action After 'Empty Promises,' Announces Next Global Strike - EcoWatch ›
New fossils uncovered in Argentina may belong to one of the largest animals to have walked on Earth.
- Groundbreaking Fossil Shows Prehistoric 15-Foot Reptile Tried to ... ›
- Skull of Smallest Known Dinosaur Found in 99-Million-Year Old Amber ›
- Giant 'Toothed' Birds Flew Over Antarctica 40 Million Years Ago ... ›
- World's Second-Largest Egg Found in Antarctica Probably Hatched ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
- Pruitt Guts the Clean Power Plan: How Weak Will the New EPA ... ›
- It's Official: Trump Administration to Repeal Clean Power Plan ... ›
- 'Deadly' Clean Power Plan Replacement ›
By Jonathan Runstadler and Kaitlin Sawatzki
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers have found coronavirus infections in pet cats and dogs and in multiple zoo animals, including big cats and gorillas. These infections have even happened when staff were using personal protective equipment.
- Gorillas in San Diego Test Positive for Coronavirus - EcoWatch ›
- Wildlife Rehabilitators Are Overwhelmed During the Pandemic. In ... ›
- Coronavirus Pandemic Linked to Destruction of Wildlife and World's ... ›
- Utah Mink Becomes First Wild Animal to Test Positive for Coronavirus ›
By Peter Giger
The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
By John R. Platt
The period of the 45th presidency will go down as dark days for the United States — not just for the violent insurgency and impeachment that capped off Donald Trump's four years in office, but for every regressive action that came before.
- Biden Announces $2 Trillion Climate and Green Recovery Plan ... ›
- How Biden and Kerry Can Rebuild America's Climate Leadership ... ›
- Biden's EPA Pick Michael Regan Urged to Address Environmental ... ›
- How Joe Biden's Climate Plan Compares to the Green New Deal ... ›