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‘I’m tired of the lies’: young activists at the forefront of climate action | Climate crisis


Sometimes capturing a moment requires the clarity of youth.

Issy Raj-Seppings had that clarity despite being ordered by riot police outside the Australian Prime Minister’s residence.

As the country endured unprecedented bushfires across the southeast, she was part of a small group protesting then-prime minister Scott Morrison’s inaction on the climate crisis.

A photo of 13-year-old Izzy, with tears streaming down her face as a police officer tells her to move, puts her at the forefront of a growing generation that has been failed by its leaders and public institutions.

It wasn’t planned this way – this is only the second time Izzy has come to a fight. But her moment of protest resonated with a growing global youth movement, much of it inspired by Greta Thunberg’s school strike 4 climate protests.

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As this movement, often led by articulate and empowered young women, has grown and expanded, the Guardian has provided a platform for these campaigners. In a piece written between school assignments, Izzy summed up the attitude toward the political class: “Their denial has been going on for a long time. I am tired, tired of lies and misdirection. I’m tired of watching my future, my friends and family’s future, our future burn before our eyes.

Miranda Whelan appeared on British morning television as a representative of activist group Just Stop Oil
‘We will not carry on like previous generations and allow our actions today to have disastrous consequences tomorrow’: Miranda Whelehan. Photo: ITV

Miranda Whelehan, a campaigner for the activist group Just Stop Oil, expressed similar sentiments in April when she was mocked by a presenter on British morning television in a scene that could have been straight out of the satirical film Don’t Look Up.

Whelan told the Guardian that he realized why people felt parallels between his experience and the film characters played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence. Both were struck by interviews with presenters who “think they know better than leading scientists or academics who have been studying the climate crisis for decades, and they refuse to hear otherwise.”

“This is willful blindness and it’s going to kill us,” Wheelahan wrote. “We will not continue like previous generations, allowing our actions today to have devastating consequences tomorrow. It is time to break that cycle and stand up for what is right.

Various aspirants are traveling on different paths to achieve this. For 19-year-old Bella Locke, a climate teacher-turned-campaigner, standing up for what’s right is about finding young people around the world to make changes in their communities that help improve the world and inspire others.

Youth climate activist Bella Lock addresses the protest against Japan's resumption of whaling.  She is wearing a blue puffer jacket
To try to get people emotionally involved in climate action, 19-year-old Bella Locke chose to collect a series of stories that became the book The Children of the Anthropocene. Photo: Stephen Bell/Alamy

Locke’s collected stories became the book The Children of the Anthropocene. These include a hunger strike by a pair of sisters who persuaded the governor of Bali to ban plastic bags, and a campaign by a young Mumbai lawyer who led a community campaign to clean up the thousands of tonnes of plastic washed up on beaches.

Locke told the Observer that, rather than telling abstract stories of destruction that were hard for people to relate to, the way to bring about change was to share stories that conformed to an old environmental campaign adage: think global, act local. The goal was to “try to get people emotionally involved in what’s going on.”

Vanessa Nagate’s struggle is to try to ensure that Africa gets its fair share of global attention. Africa is responsible for less than 4% of global emissions, but is disproportionately at risk from the climate crisis. In an interview with the Guardian last December, Negate, 25, discussed being cropped out of an Associated Press photo of young activists at the 2020 World Economic Forum in Davos.

Climate activist and writer Vanessa Nagate poses for a portrait outside the United Nations headquarters.  Nagate is standing in front of some trees, wearing a gray turtleneck underneath a dark blue dress with a colorful print on it.
‘It is important to recognize that the climate crisis is caused by the global north and that the global south is affected’: Vanessa Nagate. Photo: Evelyn Freija/The Guardian

As the only non-white propagandist in the film, it was his exclusion that illustrated his point. “To erase our voices is really to erase our histories and what people want in their lives,” he said in another recent interview.

Nagate’s argument is straightforward. If the discourse on the climate crisis does not include African activists, it will exacerbate existing injustices. “It is important to recognize that the climate crisis was caused by the Global North and that the Global South is affected. This creates a greater responsibility for the Global North to take action and deliver climate justice, especially for communities at the forefront,” he said.

The Guardian continues to follow youth activism as it moves to a new phase in which the crisis is no longer an issue of the future, but a real present phenomenon.

For Raj-Seppings, now 16, it marks eight young people taking legal action against the Australian government, which argued it had a legal responsibility to consider the climate impact on future generations before approving coal mine expansion. A landmark victory for the teenager was later overturned on appeal.

But Raj-Seppings still felt the campaign was worthwhile. It aims to work towards change by reframing the conversation about government’s legal responsibility to tackle the climate crisis. That debate has intensified since the election of a new Labor government in May.

“You can’t win it all at once,” he made clear in a recent interview with the Guardian. “You have to take the small wins and keep pushing.”

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