One of my earliest childhood memories is of standing in front of a tree outside my mum’s house. A tree surgeon was going to cut it down and I couldn’t bear the pain. I cried until he left and the tree still stands to this day.
When I was a bit older, I developed difficulties with breathing and became aware of air pollution in inner-city London. The more I read about it, the more I found out it’s worse in areas where people of colour or low-income live. That was another climate injustice I felt first-hand.
Then I went to university and developed depression, anxiety, and meningitis. I wasn’t adjusting to university life and the more I found out about climate change, the more helpless I became.
For a long time, I did nothing. One day, a friend told me about the climate action group Extinction Rebellion (XR). Although I suspected it would be a bunch of people preaching that meat-free Mondays would save us from impending disaster, I agreed to go along to a meeting. It was a Monday night in January 2019 and we nearly went to the pub instead, but a friendly woman invited us in and made us a cup of tea. That was the first time I felt I could talk about the grief I felt about the impact climate change was having on nature and people. I had finally found people who understood and felt the same. A week later, I joined XR full-time and helped develop their youth branch.
In a lot of ways, that community saved me. My poor mental health improved, my physical pain lessened, I started therapy and made new friends. It gave me a renewed sense of purpose and hope.
Technology plus community action
Innovation and partnerships can help us avert climate catastrophe. It’s so important to learn from the past and each other to shape the future. But tech won’t solve everything; we also need to speak to people and hear their experiences to create resilient communities. As a judge of the Climate Challenge Cup – a new international competition, delivered by The Young Foundation, that celebrates partnerships between universities, research bodies, civic organisations and local communities to combat climate change – I’ve been really impressed by the finalists and the way completely different organisations have worked together to develop innovative solutions.
We can all get involved in climate activism; ‘movement ecology’ is the idea that everyone has something to contribute, a way to serve. Behind the scenes, there are people organising the logistics of the protests, holding wellbeing spaces, lawyers ready to help people who’ve been arrested or get through court. But you don’t have to take to the streets to take action. Taking part in park or beach cleanups, training as a ‘citizen scientist’ to measure air or soil quality or water levels, rewilding your garden, switching to a renewable energy supplier, volunteering in a local nature group or on a community farm…there are so many actions we can take that, collectively, will help avert the climate crisis.
No one can fight climate change alone, which is why initiatives such as the Climate Challenge Cup are so important. They prove that people with different skills and knowledge can solve complex issues, when they work together.
The Young Foundation is hosting the the Climate Challenge Cup finalists’ showcase at COP26, 6-9pm on 10 November. Register here for virtual tickets.