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Opinion: Youth climate movement has grown and learned.

Opinion: Youth climate movement has grown and learned.

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THIS DAY In 201915,000 students marched in the streets to raise awareness about the climate crisis.

At 14 years old, I was acutely aware of the climate crisis, but I was unsure of what I could do as a young person. I felt empowered that day as I stood with my peers, chanting on the streets.

Three years later, it is clear to see the impact of the school strike and subsequent actions on our view of this crisis.

Since that first big protest, we’ve seen a greater cultural awareness of climate change. While discussions about climate change were once confined to counter cultures in the past, there are now more conversations about it in mainstream culture. This means that the average person is at least familiar with the effects of the crisis and possible solutions.

Understanding the crisis

As the crisis has become more mainstream, our understanding has improved greatly. Within the youth climate movement in Ireland, our initial mantra was about our futures, but with reflection and education, we’ve realised the importance of uplifting the voices of people from around the world who are already facing the impacts of the climate crisis.

Although the climate crisis has become a popular topic of debate, it has allowed us to understand and improve our understanding. However, there is still a need for healthy scepticism in dealing with such a mainstream conversation. One way we can see the evolution of the “popularity” of climate consciousness is through advertising.

There’s no doubt there’s the pressure felt by companies to reduce the impact they have on the environment, and that’s generally positive, but the climate is all too often used by corporations in a cynical manner known as greenwashing.

Greenwashing is when a corporation, an individual, an organisation, or government will claim to care about the environment but still have an adverse impact on it. A common example is clothing made with recycled materials by fast fashion businesses, while still exploiting people and the planet.

52 micro-seasons in fast fashion are typical. This is due to the low treatment and pay of workers, and the emphasis on quantity over quality. Many clothes are thrown away after only a few uses leading to high levels and excessive waste.

Saying one thing is not the same as doing another

This is the paradoxical nature climate-conscious advertising. It touts eco-friendly, while actually causing harm to the planet. Unfortunately, these mixed messages often make it difficult for the public to understand the climate crisis.

For example, when given a greenwashed ‘easy solution’ like buying a recycled range of clothing, many won’t do the research to learn the true impacts on the planet or how to support the existing solutions to the crisis.

Some people see greenwashing as a net-positive because it promotes conversations about the environment. However, when corporations use the language of climate consciousness to avoid accountability and continue with “business-as-usual” the harms to the environment are only compounded.

Another problem in mainstream climate discussion is the lack of voice. Indigenous peoples are the people who are fighting climate change. They have protected the environment for generations. The most affected by this crisis are those from the global south and island nations.

People from marginalized communities will feel the effects of climate change more. Our conversations often focus on the voices and actions of European-white activists.

All voices are important in this discussion. However, when white European activists are not valued and platformed disproportionately, we end up with a homogeneous view of climate activists as well as a Eurocentric, western view on how the climate crisis will affect the world. While the intention may be to make the discussion more accessible and more engaging, it can also serve to ignore the lived experiences of those most affected and further silence marginalised communities.

Political efforts

I was able see first-hand the changes in our society since March 2019 when I attended COP26 in Glasgow. Amazing activists from all parts of the world helmed the major protests. Events were held all over Glasgow to promote marginalized voices and those living in the most affected areas of climate change. But, all this was possible due to community organizing.

COP26 was a place where billionaires and polluters were able to be seen, while voices from the outside were ignored and silenced.

When I arrived in Glasgow, I was immediately greeted by signs celebrating the UK’s commitment to net-zero in 2030. Net-zero is a non-commitment relying on carbon offsetting and technologies that don’t yet exist while doing little to invest in renewable energies and still using fossil fuels.

The concept of net zero and carbon offsets focuses more on mitigating ongoing environmental damage than cutting out the source. It is not about removing the roots, but merely cutting off the head of the weed.

We can feel anxious or scared in a world that constantly discusses the climate crisis, yet people feel powerless and incapable of making real changes. The feeling of disempowerment I felt prior to 15 March 2019 caused me extreme climate anxiety. I feel the same feeling when I see the misinformation being spread in the media and by our leaders.

Platforming of issues is determined by who can spread information. Unfortunately, too often these are bad actors or actors unwilling to face the facts. This has made it feel almost powerless and almost apathetic. I did not think my voice would make a difference. I discovered that the best way to combat climate anxiety is to get involved in fighting to ensure climate justice.

Protesters chant, shout facts from the megaphone, challenge misinformation, and chant together. This allows us to regain control of the information, and is able to raise and promote all the unheard truths. We are forcing people not to turn their backs on this crisis at a time when companies are encouraging people to ignore it.

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On 25 March, a A global strike will again occur. The theme of the protest was conceptualised and organised by activists from the most affected areas by climate change and marginalised communities, showing how far we’ve come since that first protest in 2019.

Although it was a great start to this movement, we now have a better understanding of how these issues should be framed and who to support. This is best illustrated by the international hashtag #peoplenotprofit which challenges the way that commodities and fossil fuels are prioritized over marginalised people.

Strike information can be viewed on Fridays for Future Ireland Twitter Instagram. See you out on the streets.

Jessica Dunne, a Dublin-based activist and songwriter, is from Ireland. She started her activism in the climate movement, but now she is also involved in general activism, realising that all social issues are interconnected.

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