Youth Climate Campaigners Show Empathy, Ingenuity in Face of Pandemic Crisis
As COVID-19 explodes around the world, youth climate activists are responding with empathy and ingenuity, moving en masse from the streets to the web, determined that the necessity of social distancing will not impede the equally urgent fight for carbon reductions.
#FridaysforFuture, the climate strike movement that began in August 2018 after Greta Thunberg staged her initial sit-in outside the Swedish parliament, is going entirely virtual in response to the pandemic, postponing public gatherings and delivering its passionate plea for climate action via weekly webinars and roundtable discussions with activists, journalists, scientists, and policy-makers. Guests at this week’s inaugural #TalksforFuture webinar will be author-activist Naomi Klein and World Health Organization climate and health team leader Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum.
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Ariadne Papatheodorou, a 16-year-old climate activist from Greece, told 350.org that she and her fellow youth protesters “have been drawing attention [with] weekly strikes for over a year now, [but] education on the causes of, and solutions to, the climate crisis remains highly insufficient.” In response, they are using the #TalksforFuture webinars to take that education into their own hands, “so that even in these coming weeks, where we are flooded with news about the coronavirus, we won’t forget about the climate crisis,” she said.
True to their ethos of compassion, the activists aren’t forgetting about COVID-19. #FridaysforFuture, with four million online followers and counting, is “organizing ways to help, and…calling for support of risk groups,” notes 350.org.
The initial webinar, planned for Friday, March 27, will be streamed live on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube at 2 p.m. GMT. Links will be made available before the event at GlobalClimateStrike.net.
Thunberg’s call to “change our behaviour and adapt to the new circumstances for the greater good of society” during a time of (even) wider crisis is being taken up elsewhere around the world, as well. “Activists in countries from India to Sierra Leone and Russia” have heeded the rallying cry, reports Reuters, with many teen activists “posting images of themselves holding protest signs on social media, with their posts sometimes coordinated to appear at the same hour.” In Asia, climate activists are replacing street-level civil disobedience with lawsuits and sophisticated online campaigns, writes Bloomberg Green. Case in point: South Korean high school senior Kim Yujin, along with 29 other young campaigners, has taken her government to court, suing national leaders in an effort “to push for more aggressive emission-reduction targets.”
After cancelled plans for a March 13 protest in Seoul to respect the need for social distancing during the pandemic, Bloomberg reports that Kim and her group are devoting themselves instead to collecting signatures online and asking supporters to amplify the movement via social media. And the effort seems to be having an effect: Eco-Business reports that South Korea has “announced its ambition for the nation to adopt a Green New Deal and deliver net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.”
Adult climate campaigners around the world are likewise moving their operations online. Extinction Rebellion (XR), which grabbed headlines in 2019 for its mass street protests, is reconfiguring itself in response to the pandemic.
“We are in XR because we are compassionate individuals who have seen the harm coming to everything we love,” former emergency room physician Vishal Chauhan, a 30-year-old London-based member of Doctors for XR, told Reuters. “We act on imminent threats—and that’s what coronavirus is right now.”
Many XR members are “redirecting their energies to aiding communities and vulnerable neighbours,” he added, producing a marked shift in the emotional tenor of XR’s work: while in the past, the group had urged “negative disruption,” the pandemic has members working to strengthen community ties.
“We can start talking to people about the climate crisis as friends,” Chauhan said. “It’s a much more beautiful way of getting the message across.”