Uniting Against the Climate Crisis
The following is the speech delivered by Erica Lees-Smith at the May climate strike.
Being part of this movement, seeing Leicester’s young people making a stand together against the climate crisis, is truly amazing. Each month we have started uniting at the Clock Tower to chant passionately that what we want is change and we want it now. It’s this aspect, the unity of the school strikes, which I l find so inspirational. Unity is absolutely crucial to overcoming the climate emergency, so I’d like to put forward three ways in which society, and we as individuals, need to encourage more solidarity in the world we live in.
First, we have to start uniting politically. Since the Brexit referendum in 2016, divisions between parties have created years of chaos and debating and we simply can’t afford to do the same with the climate crisis. When it comes to tackling this hellish situation, the issue is on such a huge scale that minor disagreements have to be disregarded. The global school strikes are fantastic in that there is a distinct lack of a certain political ideology. We always make a conscious effort to be open to anyone, irrespective of politics, because the one thing we’re all standing here to unite against is the climate crisis, and how little is being done about it. Greta Thunberg has inspired people across the world, whatever their background or identity, to come together. The sheer number of us combined, with 1.4 million skipping school on 15th March, is humiliating the adults into action, so this unity must be maintained. Life as we know it is under threat. Surely this lies far beyond the realms of party politics and self interest? Another essential thing we need to ensure is more international cooperation. Yes, public concern & awareness has significantly increased with the work of our movement and that of Extinction Rebellion, for instance, compare the number of MPs attending climate change debates now to just a few months ago. And yes, momentum has been building, but is it really enough? On 1st May, our government declared a state of climate emergency. So what are we actually going to do about it? In the Paris Agreement, we set out to reduce the planet’s carbon emissions. However, targets in developed countries are still too low and underestimate the severity of the situation; and Trump’s withdrawal of one of the biggest contributors, the US, simply highlights how we’re losing the international solidarity we had.
As Imran has written and spoken about countless times before, the impacts of climate change on those in the Global South is a harsh daily reality. It seems like we’re only starting to panic because it might impact how we live our lives, rather than out of panic for those requiring aid after the devastating effects of recent disasters. Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines in 2013 but its people are still recovering. It’s clear we need drastic change so our leaders will provide the support that should have been received from countries like the UK. We have a responsibility as a privileged nation to prevent equally destructive events continuing to ruin lives in any country, North or South. The richest 10% of the world’s population produces 50% of total carbon emissions but the poorest 50% only produces 10%. We’re all equally human and deserve an equally positive future, yet those least to blame are in the most vulnerable position. Decisions need to be made that factor in the impact on everyone, not just the impact on those making the decisions. We need unity on an international scale that completely revolutionises the modern world and our attitudes in order to enable global climate justice. This won’t come easily,
however, and we will all need to be able to fight for this when faced with disagreement, adversity, those seeking to divide us or protecting their own ways of life.
Now of course institutional change is crucial to reducing our impact on the ecosystem, however there are still changes we can all make to our lives to have an impact on the unity of the movement. We can individually promote awareness that will educate far more people about the problems surrounding the climate crisis. It’s imperative, though, that we respect alternative takes on different issues. I recently spoke to a friend who accepts the existence of climate change but believes it isn’t an imminent danger. Conversations like these are the perfect opportunity for us as strikers to put across our opinions, our explanations, our evidence, in a reasonable way. We can be a reliable source of information for our peers at school or college who can figure out their own views, and if they reach a slightly different conclusion on something, that is okay, however frustrating. Surely what’s more important is changing the attitudes of the climate deniers, those who blatantly reject the experts who say we are set to cause the sixth mass extinction? We are bound to have unique views as human beings but ensuring that young people remain united, despite disagreements, is key to making action happen.
Demonstrating, petitioning and striking has had a huge effect on how much we’re talking about the climate emergency, but we are still on a trajectory for up to 4℃ of global warming by 2100. Without further action, this will continue. Without unity with those from different cultures or views, it won’t be possible to implement change. But by striking from school, we are showing that we do stand together as young people across the globe saying enough is enough and climate justice for the whole world is required - we want change, and we want it now.