Since 1974, our planet has marked World Environment Day on June 5 to focus the efforts of youth organizations, governments, businesses, celebrities and citizens on a pressing environmental issue. This year, while millions around the world face the global pandemic of COVID-19, the need for climate action is even more urgent and existential.
While many schools around the world are closed, children and young people are still making their voices heard through the #ClimateStrikeOnline, and the youth climate movement is showing solidarity with their older relatives by staying inside to help keep everyone safe.
This group of young climate advocates shared their thoughts on the importance of the interdependence of humans and the webs of life in which we live, and how climate change and COVID-19 is impacting their countries:
Kevin Mtai, Kenya (Earth Uprising Africa Continental Co-ordinator)
When we started hearing about the Covid19, first it was an alien notion, something that was in lands far away and places that were literally at the other side of the world, we never could have imagined that in a few weeks time, literally everything would come to a standstill. The close down of the economy has seen people on the brink of desperation as they try to struggle past this, not only that, we've had locusts invasions, flooding which has only exacerbated the situation.
Poaching, loss of habitats and illegal wildlife trade are also issues that we are constantly fighting for here in Kenya. We need to raise awareness and see that there is a total stop in the trade of wildlife whilst empowering communities that live alongside wildlife. Also, as the effects of climate change hit us, we need to be prepared and more aware.
For a country that's already struggling with the healthcare system, prevention seems the only way to deal with the monstrosity of the COVID situation, this on the other hand has left a lot of people without food to go by. As the future remains uncertain, the covid situation has revealed the cracks in our systems, it is therefore pertinent as we follow up on the climate crisis issues, we enforce the importance of justice in our societies. A justice for better educational and entrepreneurial opportunities, a justice for a zero tolerance to corruption and justice so that our cracks don't make us vulnerable anymore.
Mitzi Jonelle Tan, Philippines (Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines)
The Philippines, that went into lockdown sometime mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, a typhoon ravaged eastern Philippines, destroying houses and claiming lives. The typhoon also destroyed some COVID-19 testing equipment, further crippling the country's testing capacity. It's easy to see how the effects of the COVID-19 crisis is compounded by that of the climate crisis, and vice versa; in this way it's important that the national government find ways to address both these issues.
I have always been an environmentalist at heart, but when I was younger it was limited to individualistic actions. However, after integrating with and talking to a Lumad datu (leader of an indigenous group in the Philippines) and seeing how they risk their lives to fight for the environment and their ancestral lands, I realized that in order to solve the systemic problem we are experiencing, we need a systemic solution.
During this COVID-19 pandemic, I will admit that it has been a bit difficult to continue our activism because of feelings of despair and hopelessness. However, seeing how the climate crisis adds a burden to the already difficult lives of the Filipino people due to our socio-economic problems, that pushes me forward. I always remind myself that we are not fighting this fight alone, we are doing it with the masses. When you remember that the reason you’re doing all this is for the people, it replenishes your fighting spirit like no other.
Disha A Ravi, India (FRIDAYS FOR FUTURE india)
India was not prepared to handle the spread of the virus. With a population of over 1 billion, curbing the virus and testing everyone was a challenge. The lockdown has highlighted the socio-economic inequalities in India.
About 100 million rural Indians who had moved to the cities for work were stranded with no work and food. Many migrant workers were forced to walk thousands of kilometers back home as they had no means to survive in the city and no transportation to get them back home. Many of them died on the way due to exhaustion, dehydration, hunger or were killed by freight trains when they tried to sleep on railway tracks. To add to all these challenges, a cyclone hit the eastern part of India and displaced millions. Many organisations, including Fridays For Future, along with the government, worked together to immediately address this.
Coronavirus and climate change are in part, a problem caused by our economic structure. Although both appear to be natural, they are socially driven. If we want to tackle this, we need to address the socio-economic inequalities and increase education on the rights promised to marginalised communities, as well as improve documentation processes so that governmental benefits are accessible to them. The government must also work to implement policies that will support the marginalised communities financially when struck by crises.
Amália Buchweitz Garcez, Brazil (Fridays for Future Brazil)
We went into lockdown in the middle of March. In the beginning, I thought it would last two weeks at most, but it’s already extended over two months. Brazil is an extremely unequal country, and there are 13 million Brazilians living in favelas, most unable to afford to stay home as they share small living spaces with several other people. Physical distancing and proper hygiene are nearly impossible when people are cramped and have little to no access to clean water.
As if that weren’t enough, we have a serious threat to the environment caused by this pandemic, and we are going through a social and political and institutional crisis in our country. It is hard to stay fighting when there are so many factors discouraging our actions, but we have to if we want any hope of having a better future.
From this that is happening now, we can learn to improve and be better prepared. We saw how deficient and inequitable health systems all over the world are, and this is the first change that has to be made. It is also evident how hard any crisis can hit us, so when we leave quarantine, we can hopefully move to a green recovery, already in prevention of the climate changes. We also have to keep in mind the need for social justice, since climate justice is impossible without it.
Valentina Ruas, Brazil (Fridays for Future Brazil)
The pandemic showed us that the issues of democracy, science and sense of community can not be separated and must be treated with the same validation. To talk about a future after the pandemic, the starting point must be these ones.
Of course this crisis leads us to discussions about environmental exploration, social justice and others, but these questions do not exist if we do not have a democracy where people can freely express their will, if we do not listen to science and prioritize facts upon opinions, and if we do not unite as one whole community and assist the most vulnerable ones.
Some fights are deeply connected. We can not consider changing attitudes without advocating for climate justice, because it is what keeps us all alive.
It needs to be a collective effort, as the consequences of climate change will fall upon everyone. Personally, I have decided to take climate action because I want our generation and the next ones to have the same privilege of sharing a safe and life friendly environment as the older generation had. This will to change the current system we live in started four years ago, because a common consciousness within the society I live rose, so I was lucky to have grown around people with a deep sense of civil responsibility regarding it, and they have all inspired me to do the same.
I have a dream of one day seeing the global society awake and notice that we shall not prosper or live on a dead planet, blinded with greed. For that, we need to start somewhere, and that’s why the youth has been uniting itself each day more. We have said enough is enough.