From the Fridays for Future school strikes to mass protests and civil disobedience staged by the likes of Extinction Rebellion Youth, young people are refusing to sit back when it comes to the climate crisis. Knowing that the burdens created by rising temperatures, shrinking landfill space and diminishing fossil fuels will one day fall on their shoulders, young people have continually been at the forefront of the fight for climate justice.
But can the same be said for older generations? A recent survey carried out by IPSOS, on behalf of vegan food brand Oatly, found that over half of young people aged 16-24 would consider changing their diet to help the environment, compared with just 31 per cent of older men (aged 45-75). Similarly, a 2019 YouGov poll found that almost half of 18-24s ranked the environment as one of the three most pressing issues facing the country, while just 27 per cent of the wider population did the same.
Yale University also found that, when it comes to policy change, younger generations are much more confident that they can influence decision-makers, like corporations, local businesses and government, than older generations are.
The disparity between the old and young is a narrative we’re now familiar with (Greta Thunberg never fails to remind older generations of the damage they’ve caused to the planet or the future they may have stolen) but how much can young activists influence their elders?
Harriet Taylor, 16, talks to dad Clive, 54
Harriet Taylor, a climate activist based in Wokingham, sits down for chat with her dad Clive about his beliefs around sustainability, and how her activism has impacted him. The teenager has attended multiple student climate strikes in London, and was also involved in setting up an eco-committee at her school in Berkshire.
Her father Clive has been inspired by his daughter’s activism and tries to make sustainable choices, though he wasn’t as concerned about environmental issues when he was Harriet’s age.
When Harriet asks her dad how he feels about the environment, he says, “It's become increasingly important to think about the environmental impact of everything I do”.
When Clive was younger, he tells his daughter, his decisions were more dictated by their financial than environmental cost. “The cost of flying on holiday, driving somewhere or buying something was more of a constraint than actually considering what the environmental impact was,” he says.
When Harriet asks her dad whether he tries to prioritise the environment, it’s clear that Clive does make an effort to factor sustainability into his day to day. “We’ve had solar panels for 10 years; we don’t fly to many places at all… and we switched to a green energy supplier.”
Perhaps most strikingly, though, Clive says he switched to a completely plant-based diet 18 months ago – something he says he wouldn’t have done if it wasn’t for Harriet and her siblings. “I was a confirmed meat eater, as was your mum,” he says.
When his daughter asks him whether he wishes he could do more for the environment, Clive says he “constantly wants to do more”, and reveals that he’d like to swap their diesel car for an electric one.
While he doesn’t want to “evangelise the message and put people off,” he says that he now feels much more confident telling his colleagues that he is eating a plant-based diet for environmental reasons, “without fear of ridicule”, than he once would have.
As well as being keen to make personal swaps, Clive believes that it is the government’s responsibility to legislate for environmental changes, and says that sustainable lifestyle changes are a “luxury” not everyone can afford.
Daze Aghaji, 20, talks to mum Agi, 53
Londoner Daze Aghaji is a 20-year-old climate justice activist who has worked with organisations like the Wellcome Trust and Extinction Rebellion. Her mother Agi is from Nigeria and owns an Afro-Caribbean restaurant in London. Agi feels very connected to nature, and has been inspired by Daze to make her business and her lifestyle more sustainable.
When the pair sit down to discuss sustainability, Daze notes that this is the first time they have had this conversation. Despite this, there is a strong sense of respect and admiration from both sides.
They dive right in: “What do you think of the environment?” Daze asks.
Recalling the loss of life due to flooding here in the UK in 2019 and 2020, as well as the environmental crises occurring “back home,” in Nigeria, Agi answers, “I think it’s an emergency.”
It was only when Agi looked a little further into the causes of the floods in Lagos, which forced Daze’s aunt to evacuate her home last year, that she realised it was not “just a flood,” but part of the wider environmental crisis.
Since Daze became an activist, Agi says she has tried hard to prioritise the environment: from ditching plastic at home and encouraging customers to use their own, reusable food containers in her Afro-Carribean restaurant to trying to make a compost bin. “It wasn’t the best compost bin,” Daze laughs, “but you tried, which I thought was really nice.” Agi laughs too.
Daze asks how it has felt for Agi raising children in a world where the future isn’t promised. “It’s scary,” Agi says. “Things are getting worse every year.”
“Do you think saving the environment is the responsibility of individuals or the government?” Daze asks, after confirming she firmly believes the latter. Agi answers that it’s down to both, but it’s up to the government to “raise awareness and show people the way”.
Daze confesses she was worried about how her mother felt about her work and activism, including her taking part in non-violent direct action and civil disobedience with Extinction Rebellion – something that has left other activists with extensive criminal records. She seems genuinely pleasantly surprised when Agi says that, although she wouldn’t want her child to go to prison or have a record, she agrees the direct action is warranted.
Agi goes on to say, in agreement with her daughter, that the most marginalised people in society (including Black and brown people, who are disproportionately affected by climate breakdown) should “rise up against the government through protests”.
Finally, Daze asks her mother if she feels empowered to do more for the environment. “I would say you have empowered me to do more,” Agi answers. “And I’m willing to do even more.”
Georgia Fulton, 22, talks to mum Joy, 55
Georgia Fulton is a climate activist who lives near Bath, and also volunteers as Editor-in-Chief of ClimaTalk, an online publication which aims to “demystify” climate policy. Her respect for the planet originates from her Catholicism, and her outdoorsy upbringing. Her mother Joy is part of a big Irish family and has always been a nature lover, especially the sea. Unlike Daze and Agi, Georgia and her mum have discussed sustainability before.
While Joy has learned a lot from Georgia’s activism, her interest in sustainability is rooted in her religious beliefs. Referencing Pope Francis’s second encyclical, Lauduto si’, Joy notes how important it is to be “stewards of the planet and of creation.”
The 55-year-old finds this a much more comforting approach to sustainability. When Georgia, who has been involved with radical climate justice movements like HS2 Rebellion (a network of groups campaigning against the UK’s planned high-speed railway), asks Joy how she feels about the “apocalyptic” language used by these groups, Joy says it can be overwhelming: “Scare tactics do nothing for me other than frighten me.”
Still, she recognises that, in some cases, this language is important when instigating change. And Georgia commends Joy for using the term ‘climate crisis,’ rather than the maybe less frightening, ‘climate change’.
Both Georgia and Joy reflect on how privileged they are to be able to easily make sustainable choices: there’s a zero-waste food shop and a farm shop nearby, the heating in their house is ground-sourced and they’re careful to only use their car as a last resort for transportation. (Though Joy is “very fond of classic sports cars”.)
Despite first learning the term ‘intersectional environmentalism’ from Georgia, Joy was already conscious of the fact that it may be easier for her to make choices that benefit the environment. “The poorest of the poor...don’t have the privilege to think about how they use energy or how they consume,” she says. For this reason, Joy thinks climate activism should prioritise making information about the crisis accessible to everyone.
“I think language is an area to really be focused on in terms of education without being patronising,” Joy says. “If you hadn’t told me things, I wouldn’t know - and I don’t feel patronised, I just feel grateful.”
“Do you wish you could do more?” asks Georgia.
“I think in terms of activism, I wish I could do something that would really have an impact,” Joy answers. “I just can’t see how I would achieve that.”
When Georgia asks her mum if, once the pandemic is over, she’d be interested in joining her to an Extinction Rebellion protest, without skipping a beat, Joy answers: “Yeah, I would.”
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