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Silence holds hands with Violence

The silencing of marginalised voices at COP25 should not shock us – it’s merely a glimpse into an ugly reality

Wednesday 11th December 2019 started brightly for many young activists – Fridays for Future occupied the main stage at COP25, the UN sponsored climate talks in Madrid, in an action mainly engaging white youth, and Greta Thunberg was awarded Time’s Person of the Year. However, the picture quickly shifted to become much darker when a group of Indigenous youth staged a peaceful protest in one of the halls. They were calling out richer nations for trying to avoid taking responsibility for the climate and ecological crisis. This protest was quickly and aggressively disbanded by security, with reports of children being separated from parents, women being individually surrounded, and those filming being threatened. Youth were forced out of the venue and into the winter with no coats, and badges were taken to prevent them from re-entering the building. Unlike earlier in the day, these Indigenous protesters were not treated with respect, and their message was certainly not tolerated.

Anger is an appropriate response for onlookers. Fear is also a reasonable reaction. But shock that this has happened is not, because this happens every day.

Violence is sadly a common injustice suffered by Indigenous communities. Protectors are literally murdered – shot and burned – by those looking to stop their voices from being heard. Governments like Brazil’s are complicit in the targeted persecution of Indigenous activists, silencing them so that there is less chance of their regimes being criticised. It’s not as though Indigenous communities don’t try to tell the world about their plight, but the world tends to look the other way. Perhaps it’s because we don’t want to believe that these things are happening, or perhaps we just don’t want to have to deal with it, but the abuse of humanity quickly became more than a footnote when the Amazon, burning out-of-control earlier this year, made global news. This was certainly the first time I was confronted with the truth of the fate of many Indigenous communities and individuals, and the danger and fear that so many more lived in. Using violence to silence is a common phenomenon, but it is allowed to continue due to the apparent indifference, or even complacency, displayed by our media and leaders. This should very much be everyone’s business; murdering people and destroying the planet very much go hand-in-hand, and demanding justice for Indigenous protectors is as crucial to the air we breathe, the food we eat, the land we walk on, as it is to the human compassion we should feel for oppressed minorities. Separating mothers and children, isolating individual women, and shutting people out in the cold are actions not unfamiliar, or even that extreme, to those being targeted by them. Perhaps we should be surprised that security were bold enough to carry out this silencing in front of the world and the cameras, but then again, perhaps we shouldn’t be.

This COP has been a failure from the offset – held in Europe yet agian, fossil fuel sponsorship, youth voices being pushed to the side-lines – but the most concerning feature didn’t come from the organising; it came from the reporting. For example, when Luisa Neubauer and Greta Thunberg hosted a press conference in which they gave their platform to marginalised and Indigenous voices, the press chose to report on this action and not on the vital messages being delivered by Angela Valenzuela, Arshak Makichyan, Carlon Zackhras, Hilda Flavia Nakabuye, Kisha Erah Muana, or Rose Whipple.

Nor did they choose to report on any other activists who spoke at the COP alongside Greta, such as Vanessa Nakate, who has been trying desperately to get attention for the Congo Rainforest by striking for well over 50 consecutive days. It is as if the media is happy to humour the youth, provided they don’t have to recount any of what is actually being said. This wilful neglect of reporting on Indigenous voices, voices from the Global South, and marginalised and minority voices from other areas perpetrates the issue that these knowledgeable, essential messages are not being heard by the global population as a whole. Whether it is intentional or not, this failure in journalism is allowing further destruction of our planet, and the first sign of this is the boldness through which security silenced Indigenous voices on 11th December, at a global event, right under the noses of a dispassionate press.

When the media fails to report the words of those already suffering the most due to the climate and ecological crisis, they are silencing these voices. When these voices are silenced, they are more vulnerable to abuse. Did the organisers feel no fear of backlash when they shut down a protest aimed at the inaction of wealthy countries? If they took a gamble, it almost certainly paid off. Creating silence is violence of a more insidious kind.

The events of today also make me question whether the youth had any hope of shaping the agenda at COP25. It is almost as though the organisers were happy to allow the children to speak, provided the children didn’t misbehave. The global leaders have no interest in listening to Fridays for Future or anyone else calling for systems change, because they’d rather condemn every child and young person they are supposed to protect than they would break with the planet-destroying status quo. As soon as that status quo was threatened, they shut down the protest, and the fact of the matter is that those being shut down were a portion of humanity that the powerful can get away with silencing. We must stand in solidarity with them, stand up for their rights, and demand that their vital message is reported by the world media, so that it can’t continue to be ignored.

Like a twisted version of the von Trapp children singing “goodbye” at a dinner party, the youth speaking of extinction at COP25 are just the entertainment. The contempt with which Indigenous youth were treated today is the same sentiment they would extend to all of us if they could. Allowing silence on the treatment of Indigenous and marginalised people is a tool for violence, as without attention, they are treated as vermin. We cannot continue to be silent on these issues. These voices hold the answers to the climate and ecological crisis. They are literally our hope for the future.

Listen to the science. Listen to Indigenous voices. Then, act.

The Bus (that is actually a metaphor, of course)

The best seats on a double decker bus are, I am sure you’ll agree, on the upper level, right at the front. Those seats have the best views, unobscured by any driver’s seat or other passengers’ heads, above virtually every other vehicle on the road. If one boards the bus and finds them unoccupied, I am sure they would not remain that way for long.

Sometimes, even if you have been sat in the best seats for a while, you might find yourself bullied out of those seats by someone bigger or stronger than you. You’d be pushed further down down the bus, and these new people would sit in the best seats. Now, imagine that the staircase is accessed from the front of the bus, meaning that the bullies not only have the best seats, but also control who can use the stairs. Suddenly, you’re not a passenger on the bus anymore, you’re a prisoner.

Quickly, the people sitting in the best seats become obsessed with keeping them. They start forgetting that the purpose of a bus is to move people from one place to another. They start enjoying the power that they have over the bus, and they love the fact that they have the best seats on the bus. Being by the stairs gives them control over what food and water comes up the stairs, meaning that they can get more than their fair share of rations. Over time, the other passengers start to get fed up. The people in the best seats toss their rubbish down the bus, meaning that the rest of the bus is getting filled up with waste. The people in the best seats don’t care, though, because they can just look out the windscreen at the unspoiled view, pleased at how well their position on the bus is suiting them. In fact, they don’t even seem to notice how they are affecting their fellow passengers.

Over time, the bus becomes old and rickety. People talk about getting off, but the people in the best seats, the ones who control who can and can’t leave the bus, don’t like that idea. They’ve been riding the bus for so long now that it would be ridiculous to get off. “The bus protects us!” They shout. “And if we let you off, the engine won’t start again.”

The windows at the front start leaking, so the people in the best seats tell the people at the back of the bus that they have to take their windows to replace the ones at the front. The back of the bus refuses, but they are much weaker than the front of the bus because the people in the best seats get to control who gets what rations. By the time that the rations reach the people in the back of the bus, there is very little left at all. The people in the best seats march down the bus and punch and kick their fellow passengers, and take their windows.

“Hey! You can’t do that!” Shout the people at the back of the bus.

“Shut up, or we’ll punch you again.” Reply the people in the best seats.

More time passes. It rains frequently, and the back of the bus starts to get damp and cold and mouldy.

“Please, let us off the bus!” Beg the people at the back of the bus.

“NO!” Yell the people at the front of the bus. “If the bus stops to let you off, it won’t start again. It’s raining outside. Do you want us to all get wet?”

“But we’re already wet!”

“Well then, you should have taken better care of your windows.” The front of the bus says.

“But YOU took our windows. Could we not move to the front of the bus with you?” The people at the back of the bus ask.

The people in the best seats look uncomfortable.

“No, there’s no space here.” One says.

“We do things differently at the front of the bus, so you wouldn’t fit in.” Chimes in another.

“The back of the bus is very dirty. We don’t want you people to bring that here.” Adds a third.

“You should stay down your end and make it better.” They all decide.

“Well, could we at least have more food?” Asks the back of the bus.

“It’s not OUR responsibility to fix your problems.” Sneers one person.

“You should have thought about that before you sat at the back of the bus!” Smirks another.

“You should get your own staircase and not rely on us!” Decrees a third.

“You should be grateful we give you anything at all.” The people in the best seats say haughtily, and turn around.

Soon, the bus is in a very bad way indeed. The people at the front of the bus start to realise that they can’t keep taking from the people behind them on the bus, because the roof is about to collapse. Instead, they start taking things from downstairs on the bus.

“Are you sure this is okay?” One of the people in the best seats asks the person next to them.

“Oh yes,” The person replies. They are lying.

As the downstairs on the bus is getting more and more unsafe, some people at the front of the bus start getting worried too, but the people closest to the stairs, in the very best seats, are adamant that they continue their mission to keep the bus moving. Very quickly, the only thing left to be taken are the brakes of the bus.

“This is madness!” The back of the bus shouts. “Once we take the brakes, there is nothing left to fix this bus with! We’ll never be able to slow the bus down!”

“Nonsense!” Scorn the people nearest the stairs in the best seats. “We are very clever on this bus. We’ll find a way to keep fixing the bus once we use the brakes.”

“Life is very hard when there are no windows and not enough rations.” The back of the bus argues. “We’ve stripped this bus almost bare and there is nothing to protect us from being shaken apart if we go over a rough patch.”

“But if we stop the bus, we’ll never get it started again.” The people in the very best seats say, knowing that this line always works. However, this time, there are no mumbles of agreement.

“Yeah? Maybe that’s a good thing.” Reply the people on the bus, even some of the people at the front.

“But we’ll lose our seats!” Shout the people closest to the stairs. “You can’t stop this bus.”

“Then we’re all going to die!” Shout the rest of the people on the bus.

“The front of the bus will end up just like the back of the bus!” The people at the front of the bus scream at the people closest to the stairs, terrified of the reality they see behind them.

“Why wasn’t that enough for you to do something earlier?” Demand the people at the back of the bus. “Why is it okay for us to suffer but not for you to endure the risk of potentially suffering like us?”

“We’re sorry.” The front of the bus say, “We were so distracted by the beautiful views out of the window. We were happy on the bus. We didn’t think there was anything we could do to help you because if we had done something, then we might have lost the best seats. But now we are going to lose them anyway. Now it’s an emergency, and we don’t know what to do.”

“We have to get off this bus.” Everyone onboard agrees, aside from the people that are sat beside the staircase. There are a lot more people who want to get off than who want to stay on. The people on the bus realise that the people in the very best seats only have control because they have first access to the rations that come up the stairs. However, the stairs don’t matter when there’s no-one on the bus, and even the very best seats on the bus aren’t worth everyone’s lives.

The people on the bus push past the people in the very best seats and rush down the stairs. They stop the bus, and slowly, very slowly, step off. Everything feels strange because it is still. There is no motion on the ground they stand on like there had been on the floors of the bus, no hum of an engine, no windows or walls, and no-one controlling who could have access to what.

Maybe life off of the bus wouldn’t be so bad after all.

Water Scarcity in the Era of the Pandemic

#WaterForGoma

Image: A queue of people wait for Water in Goma, from Remy Zahiga, used with permission.

The inhabitants of the city of Goma face daily hardship in accessing drinking water. This struggle has become a terrifying reality when the region was hit by not one, but two, deadly viral outbreaks.

In 1998, the year I was born, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) became a theatre for what is often referred to as “Africa’s First World War”, a conflict fought over minerals, water, and food. By 2010, 5.4 million people had died, making it the most deadly conflict the planet had seen since the Second World War. However, most deaths were the result of malaria, malnutrition, or diarrhoea, and not directly as a result of violence. This is because the DRC saw a collapse of its infrastructure as a result of the conflict.

The DRC is an area that is incredibly resource-rich, and the conflict itself was funded by the exploitation of natural resources, including, but not limited to, water, coltan, and timber. This, in turn, has opened a huge window of opportunity for multinational companies to take advantage of these natural resources by catching them in a complex, elite web of key political, military, and business personnel – all at the cost of Congolese citizens, especially children. Some examples of the results of this have been: mining operations to extract coltan used in mobile phones, often utilising child labour; and the deforestation of the Congo Rainforest – which has lost an area larger than Bangladesh in the last 14 years. The complex and sensitive political situation in the DRC (and arguably the lucrative conditions for foreign, developed countries who benefit from these conditions) has made it challenging to allocate international aid funding to ameliorate these circumstances.

The State Water Utility is unable to improve its water pumping facilities due to a lack of funds, meaning that the only way for water to be distributed is through rusty, decaying pipes. In urban areas, only 69% people receive water from a state utility. In rural areas, this figure is much, much lower. The IRC state that the illnesses that have claimed the majority of Congolese lives as a result of the conflict are diseases and conditions caused by and exacerbated by a lack of clean water. This is a cruel irony, as the DRC was once one of the wettest regions in Africa, and yet today, people often must resort to collecting water from ponds or streams due to the dearth of state water pipes. This water is frequently tainted by chemicals, waste, and bacteria – but humans cannot survive without water, and so many have no choice but to drink it. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 88 out of every 1000 children in the DRC die before the age of 5.

Nadine is a 20-year-old Congolese woman from Goma, the capital of the North Kivu region, near the border with Rwanda, in the Albertine Rift. The young mother must walk 10km every day to access drinking water. She told UNICEF that she spends virtually all day travelling to and from this water source, in order to transport the 20 litres of water that her household requires. The journey is a daily toil that many of her female neighbours are also familiar with. Bottled water in the DRC costs around $1 a unit; as many Congolese rely on less than $2 a day, this is an impossible luxury.

However; drinking is not the only necessity that requires safe water. As the world is rocked by COVID-19, the situation in Africa is one that is often overlooked. Distressingly, COVID-19 is actually the second virus to threaten Congolese families, because in 2018, Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) returned. Nadine says she has become increasingly afraid for her family as the disease spread through the DRC. As of the 26th March 2020, the WHO reported that the total number of confirmed cases of EVD in North Kivu was 3453. Between the 4th-26th March, there had been 2273 deaths, with 2130 being confirmed cases at the time of death. Thankfully, the WHO reported no new cases since 17th February 2020, but have also stated that, due to funding for their EVD response ceasing in December 2019, they are in danger of running out of funds by May 2020. In fact, they report needing $20 million to ensure that their response teams have the capacity to fight the outbreak until its end.

Of course, EVD is not the only virus that Congolese families face. As Coronavirus sees all but the essential workers in Western countries go into lockdown, the same is an unrealistic prospect for women like Nadine. Staying at home is impossible when you must carry 20 litres of water every day. On top of this, extra water must be utilised to wash the hands more frequently. Goma is now experiencing a very alarming water shortage, despite being located in close proximity to lake Kivu. The water shortage in Goma means that social distancing is simply not possible, as people must congregate to access what little water there is. Thirst does not stop in a pandemic. A virus has no capacity for compassion for those in the most dire of situations.

Image, showing citizens of Goma during the water shortage, from Remy Zahiga, used with permission (https://twitter.com/Remy_Zahiga/status/1250475706997444612?s=20)

This should be an international scandal. Nations who have previously benefitted from the unstable situation in the DRC must realise that further complacency is no longer acceptable. Goma needs water, and it needs it now. Inaction is dangerous for everyone; if the virus is able to survive anywhere on earth, then we all risk further, devastating, outbreaks. Our lack of compassion will be our own undoing, and so we must start treating this crisis as seriously as we would treat any crisis. Women like Nadine and their families are not a virus to be eradicated, but it is people just like them all over the world who will suffer the most due to this pandemic, just as they suffer already under an international system that has failed them for as long as I have been alive.

Once this virus has passed, there can be no return to “normal” for people like Nadine. Congolese women, men and children deserve justice and dignity.

And Goma needs water, right now.

Further reading:

https://www.globalissues.org/article/87/the-democratic-republic-of-congo

https://thewaterproject.org/water-crisis/water-in-crisis-congo

https://www.who.int/csr/don/26-March-2020-ebola-drc/en/

https://www.who.int/countries/cod/en/

(Interview with Nadine, in French) https://www.unicef.org/drcongo/recits/eau-vivre-survivre

On Hope

14th February 2020, Glasgow.

Image: Leda Bartolucci

In September, I spoke about mental health and the climate crisis, and today I’m going to do the same – but this time, it isn’t aimed at us. It’s aimed at our leaders, our politicians. I was hopeful in September, but now I’m angry.

“Hope” is a word that I’ve come to grow wary of. Too often, I’m told that “you give us hope”, that “you’re going to save the world”, but we aren’t. Our emissions are still nowhere near the levels they need to be to stay in line with the 1.5 degree limit set out at the Paris Agreement.  Temperatures have reached over 20 degrees c in the artic. The artic. Everything we have done so far has been a failure. And yet, we’re still here.

We’re here, not because we have hope, but because we’re desperate. We’ve listened, we’ve understood, and we’re terrified. Nothing about this is a joke. We’re giving up our educations and our health to try to save our future. Among you today are many young people, children, who are literally sick because of the climate and ecological emergency. 

Every day, I wake up and I worry about my friends in other countries. Right now, locusts that have devastated Kenya have moved into Uganda and its neighbours. Children are working in coltan mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Australia has only just contained the fires that have burned since September, and Indonesian children risk their lives every day just to breathe toxic air full of chemicals from burning plastic that countries like ours were too lazy to deal with.

In Scotland, children as young as eight are having nightmares about the climate crisis. Fifteen year olds are having breakdowns because of the stress of organising events like these. Two of my friends here today have dropped out of university, not because they couldn’t do their degrees, but because they wouldn’t sit by and watch our window to stop the worst destruction of our planet be slammed shut by idle politicians. 

Where the hell is the hope in any of that?

It is a slap in the face to be told that I’m offering people hope. How can I offer hope to other people when I have none to offer myself? 

I don’t want comforting words. Your words promised us, for years and years, a glittering future that was ours if we worked for it. You lied. Our futures right now hold nothing to be excited for. We’ve learned not to trust your words.

So, what can we offer you, if not hope? 

I can offer you my anger. My terror at realising what is to come. My fury whenever I realise what little is being done. 

We can offer our passion. Our love for this planet and the people on it. We can offer the beauty we see in the cracks between the rules and order of the existence that the current system makes us think we will never escape. 

We can tell you about our dreams, dreams of another world where our future is even brighter than the one that we were promised. 

And, my god, we can offer you our support when you act in accordance with the best United science to achieve that future. 

But we will not offer you hope. 

Because, it’s for your actions to give us hope. 

If you care about us at all, please, do something about this emergency 

Thank you 

Flooding and Adaptation in Scotland

This is an attempt at the transcript from a live Twitter broadcast

I know I said I would do this broadcast at the weekend, and it’s now almost exactly the opposite of that, but never mind!

We often hear about how the Western world is responsible for something we don’t suffer from – but the Climate Crisis will get to us too. It’s just that we can sit and pretend it won’t for a bit longer. Unsurprisingly, the poorest in our society, both individuals and communities, will bare the brunt of the impact once the crisis hits us.

The problem isn’t population, it’s colonialism and an unjust system. Releasing CO2 into the atmosphere is destroying our planet, but it’s also important to understand how this will affect us, and this broadcast will explore how this will effect Scottish communities specifically.

It’s also important to note that Scotland is one small piece of a tiny island off one continent, and every community on it will have a different experience of how it will be affected by the climate and ecological emergency, and how it mitigates and tries to adapt to it. What I’ll talk about today is just flood risk management, so a tiny component of an overall picture.

That means that, all over the world, communities will have their own complex and individual narratives that are replicated millions of times. Basically; we can’t forget local communities, especially more rural ones. wherever they are.

The scientific predictions we have right now are probably not dramatic enough, which is pretty scary, but also true. The current science, particularly the IPCC report, doesn’t tend to factor in things like tipping points, and runaway warming. Every time we get more evidence, the predictions become bleaker and bleaker. Most importantly to Western Europe is the fact that the jet stream, which controls our weather, is proving difficult to map. This means that, really, we’re probably underestimating just how much “freak weather” we are going to experience, and this dramatically impacts the risk of pluvial flooding (pluvial flooding is flooding caused by rainfall).

At Scotland’s Flood Risk Management Conference, there was generally an understanding that the crisis was underway, and this means that we have slammed shut the window of opportunity for mitigation alone; we now have to face the reality that we will be adapting for as long as our societies exist – but this doesn’t mean that we need to be treating mitigation as anything other than essential.

This also does not mean that adaptation can’t be hopeful, or even act as mitigation in some way as well.

I’m going to talk about Natural Flood Management, known as NFM.

It’s important to note two things:

– I am by far, in no way, anything close to an expert in flood risk management – I just think that, for the situation that we are facing, it is good for even daft people like me to have some understanding of what we’re probably facing.

– Secondly, NFM is not a universal solution; we shouldn’t expect it to, say, prevent flooding in natural flood planes. It certainly has scope for further implementation, however.

Flooding is natural, but some flooding problems come from us trying to fight nature, particularly when we straighten rivers. Rivers are straightened for many reasons, often to build roads, railways, or to drain the land for other reasons. It’s quite cool; you can look back on maps to see when a river has been straightened, and this process has occured for 100s of years.

This has become an increased threat in recent years; warm air holds more moisture, and more moisture means more rain. More rain, unsurprisingly, means more flooding, but it’s important to understand how this works in practice as it means that it can allow communities to protect their homes before a flood hits, and so understanding helps to create more resilient communities.

We can be fairly confident in the correlation between rainfall and river flow, due in part to a phenomenon called “hydrological lag” – the time between rainfall and subsequent rise in water level.

Crucially, the lag is quicker – or the time between rainfall and water level rise is shorter – if the ground is already saturated – something that will become more frequent if there is more freak weather as a result of the climate crisis.

Part of adapting to the climate emergency is finding ways to increase hydrological lag, as this can give communities more time to prepare for floods after heavy rainfall.

NFM can help with this; research has shown NFM can increase lag time. In a catchment area near Peebles, lag time was about an hour longer than before woody flow restrictors were introduced upstream. The Peebles catchment area was relatively small; about 10sq-km, which was previously thought to be the upper limit of effectiveness for woody flow restrictors, but recently have been shown to work on areas up to 32sq-km.

The Allan Water Improvement Project saw quite a large catchment benefit from nature in flood prevention.

48.2ha of bog was rewetted, and 790 peat dams created, with revegetation to recover the peat. This takes up a huge amount of water, and so is NFM as it stops this water from building up in rivers, but it also plays a role in carbon capture as well as biodiversity.

Peat plays a very important role in carbon capture and retention, which is why it is so important that it remains intact everywhere, but particularly in places like the Congo Basin. I could talk for a long time about peat, but this broadcast is getting long enough as it is, so maybe one for another day!

On the peatlands, there is also the issue of invasive, or non-indigenous, species – removing them can lead to soil degradation and run-off (heightening flood risk), but left alone they are damaging to biodiversity as they can devastate local species.

In the Allan Water Improvement Project, there has been an effort to remove barriers to fish migration as well. All this shows how NFM can be so beneficial to biodiversity, as well as playing a role in mitigation – alongside its primary purpose of reducing flood risk.

In Aviemore and Hawick, NFM has shown how a strong community link has to be established between organisations and residents in order for dialogue and implementation to be successful. All our lives are going to change because of the climate and ecological crisis, so it is vitally important that we shake up our perceptions about society; ones that have been forced upon us by an unjust system.

– You are never “done” with learning – anyone can understand the basics of flood risk management if they believe they can, for instance.

– We can’t fight nature – in many cases, the best things to do is undo the mistakes we’ve made in the past, whether that be to remeander (make rivers wiggly again), rewet, or rewild, or something else

– Adaptation doesn’t have to be hopeless; done well, it can offer us more engaged, connected local communities.

However, it is MOST important to note that we can never adapt enough to make the climate crisis a non-problem. Our lives will change, for the worse, and on many places elsewhere on the globe, that is already happening. That isn’t fair, and we should all start caring about it. We have to fight for every fraction of a degree.

Flooding is natural and happens and will happen, but, as I said at the conference, it is better the devil we know and can prepare for, than a devil of our own making that we haven’t a hope of controlling.

Climate justice is the only solution to the climate crisis, and there is no solution for Scottish communities if there is no justice for Ugandan children, Guatemalan farmers, or Inuit artists.

I was so so so lucky to get to go the conference last Thursday, and I learned an awful lot about so many things I’ve not mentioned here. I don’t want to give out any wrong information; as I said, I am absolutely not an expert! As if we’re all not busy enough, I would highly recommend doing some of your own research into this fascinating topic. Don’t just take my word for it – I’m an idiot.

(Then I faffed around a bit and then ended the broadcast)

Stand With Vanessa

The Associated Press scandal accidentally provided the perfect visual metaphor for the anti-Global South bias, but this fight is long from over.

It’s 2020, and racism is alive and well – and it’s killing people.

Let me preface this by saying that none of what I am writing is new or revolutionary; marginalised voices have been saying this with far more knowledge and eloquence for far longer than I’ve been alive. However; more people saying it makes it more likely that people will hear about it. The issue of racism in Western society has caused suffering far beyond that mentioned in this post, and although this is a post about the climate crisis and racism, the impacts of racism on the climate crisis also run far more deeply than anything I have touched upon here

On Friday 24th January, Vanessa Nakate had, for three nights, been camping at Artic Basecamp in order to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos. Subjecting herself to uncomfortably and unfamiliarly cold conditions in order to bring the plight of an entire continent to the attention of leaders was something that Vanessa was prepared to do, especially as she was aware that she would have to go to great lengths to bring attention to the crisis in Africa, as it is systematically overlooked on the world stage. However; Vanessa was not expecting her fight to be so cruelly erased from history by media that did not think twice about cropping her from a photo with her fellow activists. The actions of the Associated Press caused outrage, but this incident serves as a fitting representation of the fight that marginalised activists and communities have had to put up for generations. Vanessa said it perfectly; removing her from the photo was more than just removing one person; it was removing an entire continent of those most affected by the climate and ecological crisis.

If we give AP the benefit of the doubt, and fully believe their excuse that the photograph was published without Vanessa because of an unsightly building, we expose a deeper problem. The fact that no-one had any issues with removing Vanessa, who is a vocal advocate for the Congo Basin and about the climate crisis in Africa, from the photo shows that the media still does not understand the true scale of the climate crisis.

The reality is that the Climate Emergency is hitting the hardest in the places we in the west hear the least from. If the media cared about the survival of civilisation, then they would know this, and they would be doing more to platform the voices that have experienced the crisis first-hand. The reason that we do not hear about this is because the global system is one that is inherently racist, and, more concerningly, is one that gets away with being racist.

Racism is more than racial prejudice; it relies on power imbalance and results in systems of oppression against the discriminated group. When I hear “racist”, I automatically picture an overweight, middle aged white (well, ruddy) man or woman of below-average intelligence, who openly uses the N-word, and who says “white power” a lot; the sort of person one would sarcastically scoff “behold, the master race” at. We are used to racism being defined along these terms, and the majority of people openly condemn it. This makes those at the top of the power dynamic feel like we have “beaten” racism in some way, and lures us into a false sense of security that challenging outwardly racist people is all that needs to be done.

However, racism is alive and well, hiding in hard-to-see places, pulling the strings of global proceedings. We see it in Trump’s regime, we see it in the response to the Brexit vote, we see it in the reaction to the Coronavirus. More concerning, though, are the places that we do not normally see it in, because this makes it much harder to challenge.

The massive attention that Vanessa garnered when she bravely challenged the press for cropping her out of the photo was an example of a time where this more subversive racism tugged too hard on a string and was exposed. The media were quick to call out this overt racism, but their relative silence on the climate crisis in Africa is proof of another kind of “slow-burning” racism that has existed for so long. The continued failure to report on the realities of the climate crisis in the Global South displays the systematic silencing of the suffering of marginalised communities, which leads to trauma and despair.

“Vanessas” of all kinds have been erased for generations; any activist or community that has spoken up about the direct effects of the climate crisis in their lives has been largely ignored until very, very recently.

If the powerful countries in the West did not operate with systems that had racism woven into them, then we would have been listening when Lake Chad began to dry up, or when the Indigenous communities in North America had their drinking water contaminated, or when the logging industries began murdering Indigenous protectors in the Amazon. Perhaps if our societies valued all human life equally, we would have cared when the climate crisis began to bite into Africa. We would have known, if we had been listening. But instead, the voices that were speaking out, trying to inform us, trying to warn us, were silenced and erased, just like Vanessa almost was. And while Vanessa Nakate was supported by so many people after her story broke, countless other Vanessas have been silenced irreversibly by the slow-burning racism that still ravages our societies.

The fact of the matter is that, if the West valued all lives above exponential economic growth, then the climate crisis would never have worsened to the point it has. In fact, it probably would never have happened at all. If the global power imbalance was balanced, if people in governments and corporations with economics degrees didn’t equate black and brown lives as worth less than black and brown solid fuel, then we would have acted meaningfully on the science long ago.

As it stands, people offering Vanessa support during this horrible ordeal is not enough to expose the racism that we often do not see so overtly. When we see that a Ugandan activist was cropped out of a photo, we see a visual representation of the system that has cut Africa out of the conversation for as long as there has been a conversation, but we do not see all the other activists from all marginalised communities who have been so systematically silenced for so long. We do not hear their stories

Marginalised voices must be front and centre in the climate conversation, but it is not for activists to put themselves there; if we want to survive this crisis, then it is our responsibility. An activist with such an important message should not be cut out for standing at the end of a line.

Stand with Vanessa Nakate, and stand up for Vanessas everywhere.

Climate Anxiety & Me (and maybe you)

Climate Anxiety might be expected, but please don’t tell me that the way I feel is reasonable.

Content Warning: This post talks about ableism, mental health issues, and the death of a family member

We’re hurtling down the tracks to existential climate horror, and the only people able to do anything don’t seem to care. People are dying because of the climate crisis. Whole species are ceasing to exist because of human actions. Fires rage out-of-control all across the planet. And yet, we hear virtually nothing about it. I’m terrified, and I’m right to be. However; Climate Anxiety began to inhibit my abilities to reason, and blinded me to my privilege. Constantly hearing that “climate anxiety is reasonable in these conditions” strengthened these feelings – but, spoiler alert, it can be highly unreasonable. Mine was (and still is).

If, like me, the thought of the state of our climate, and global ecology, keeps you up at night, puts you off your food, or makes you feel immense guilt for flying, then you are probably experiencing some degree of Climate Anxiety, or “eco-anxiety”. Many of the youth strikers I know personally, or have connected with online, have personal experiences with Climate Anxiety; once you become aware of the power-coupling sent straight from nightmares (the United Science and Lack of Meaningful Government Action), it is hard not to feel totally terrified. Feeling this terror is quite natural. Anxiety manifests itself as fear, one of our most primal triggers, and so it is not surprising that Climate Anxiety quickly becomes so toxic in daily life. When one moves in circles where the climate and ecological crisis is discussed regularly, there is rarely good news. And when one leaves one’s house, there is no shortage of contributions to the crisis; a lorry’s exhaust here, single-use-plastic litter there. The very air we breathe simultaneously becomes the thing we fear most, yet the thing we swear to protect. It’s exhausting.

However; while anxieties about the massive threat to the future are expected, once these anxieties become debilitating, your anxiety becomes unreasonable. Let me be clear; no mentally ill person is, in any way, responsible for their illness. You are not unreasonable for having Climate Anxiety – rather, your Climate Anxiety begins to alter your thoughts and behaviours in ways that are beyond your own sense of reason, and out of your control. For instance, I have missed a train because I felt unable to stop picking up empty crisp packets and wrappers along the platform. While this might seem reasonable, in reality, it affected my ability to exist normally that day. More than that, however, it is a good example of how Climate Anxiety threatens to place the blame on ourselves rather than the system. Did disrupting my day to pick up four or five extra bits of rubbish make sense when the companies that produce them show no interest in changing their packaging? Perhaps. But the overwhelming sense of guilt I felt, when, as the train I eventually boarded pulled away from the station, I saw a bottle I had missed near the end of the platform, was nonsensical. And hearing people say that it is reasonable to feel this way also made me feel guilty, because it vindicated the idea that I was contributing to the climate and ecological emergency by not picking up that one bottle.

Activism is such a crucial tool, probably the most crucial, in managing Climate Anxiety, and I would encourage anyone struggling to try to find an outlet in some form of climate action. However, it is very important to remind ourselves that individual actions are the junior partner in the solution to the climate crisis. It is virtually impossible for anyone to live totally zero-waste, emission-free existences until the system changes, and you are never a terrible person for buying plastic-bottled water if you need to, nor for driving a car when you live somewhere with terrible public transport links. There was a moment where I did feel like a terrible person, and it is something that I will probably never forget. To be quite honest, I hope I never do, because it is a cutting reminder to me just how much my Climate Anxiety caused me to be blind to my privilege.

My darling Gran, whom we lost at the beginning of this month, was very sick in hospital for the month leading up to her death. As she was so ill, she could only drink through a plastic straw. Rather than being grateful for the fact this item facilitated my Gran’s ability to take in liquid, my brain would scream “Why not a metal straw? What about a paper one? Isn’t there something else?”, although thankfully, I never said anything out loud. If any part of me reasoned that “Gran needs this plastic straw”, it would be quickly silenced with thoughts of how plastic straws were totally unacceptable. Hadn’t I watched the video of the turtle with the straw in its nose?

The sad fact of the matter is that not only did Climate Anxiety insidiously wind its way into the last few memories of my Gran, but it also made a part of me want to deprive her, and countless other people, of something that is very much essential. You see, thousands of disabled people rely on plastic straws as they fulfil criteria that no other type of straw matches. My knee-jerk reaction was actually ableist and based on my own privilege as an able-bodied person. This reaction, I now realise, was straying into the territory of eco-fascism, something that I thought I strongly opposed.

Blindly believing the flight-or-fight instincts presented to us by climate anxiety because we’re constantly reminded that it’s “reasonable given the circumstances” threatens our ability to adhere to our values. No sort of chronic anxiety is something that should be reasonable to us. As someone who has struggled with GAD, social anxiety, and panic attacks for a considerable portion of my life, I can attest to the fact that Climate Anxiety is very similar in nature to its equally as slimy cousins. It is, however, less clear how to tackle it, as the fears are not irrational. In a rare occurrence, however, the most common coping mechanism also appears to be the most likely to lead to a solution: joining, or starting, a climate strike to demand climate justice and meaningful action in line with the best united science. You won’t suddenly be cured. You probably won’t stop feeling that knot of fear and sadness when you hear about the latest causalities of the climate crisis. You almost certainly will still have sleepless nights and a terse relationship with single-use plastics. But, by joining the movement, you will be doing more to achieve a solution than you ever could while being completely isolated by your anxiety. Since joining SYCS, and particularly since I started striking daily for the Congo Rainforest, I have been able to challenge my Climate Anxiety more effectively. When Climate Anxiety tells me that I am personally and solely responsible for the current state of the planet, I can remind myself that, no, actually, the system that allows the extractive industries to remove the carbon from the soil is far more to blame than I could ever be. And, once I am feeling less in crisis and more able to apply my rational perspective, I can ask “does this reaction take into account the experience of others?” I am far from perfect. I still have to challenge a plethora of my initial reactions, and doubtless many slip through when they should not. However; I have, through a rather unpleasant exposing of my own flawed reaction, gradually begun to come to terms with the fact that Climate Anxiety, like all types of anxiety, can quickly evolve from understandable concern into isolating, debilitating, unreasonable thought patterns that undermine the very values that make us who we are.

Perhaps you are experiencing Climate, or eco, Anxiety too. If so, I would whole-heartedly recommend engaging in some sort of climate action, or at least connecting with the community of people, young and old, of all nations. You are not alone, and you are not personally responsible for the climate crisis. We are all facing a great, and very real, threat, but the people most affected by climate and ecological collapse right now are also the people most at risk from decisions made by a well-intentioned, but panic-blinded majority. There is no climate justice without justice for marginalised communities, and that is why I challenge the assertation that my Climate Anxiety is “reasonable given the circumstances”. Perhaps you feel the same way?

Solidarity, strikers!

I’m Helen, I’m 21, and I’m fucking terrified.

I strike in Glasgow with SYCS, and more widely with the global Fridays for Future movement, but my first love is history. I hope one day that I can devote my energy towards it again, but that is very much dependent on whether we still need to be taking emergency action or not. I chose to start this blog so I could keep track of my thoughts and observations about both my activism, and that of the world in general.

I was always a well-behaved child, but activism has helped me to find my voice and trust my convictions. If a broken system is making the rules, then we must break the rules to fix the system. We must also be aware that we, in the west, have no idea of the scale of destruction and suffering that will be brought as the climate and ecological crisis worsens. Indigenous and marginalised communities from the Global South hold the knowledge that is the greatest hope to solving this emergency. As I am from a place of privilege, I am aware that my opinions and writing will always be slanted by the fact that I have never suffered from the injustices that many have. For this reason, if you feel I am wrong or have misinterpreted something, please let me know. I’d rather be educated than comfortable!

I can’t promise that my upload schedule will be regular, nor can I promise that what I write will be particularly good, but one of the things I have learnt since I started connecting with other activists is how many of our sentiments are shared. Perhaps some of the nonsense I produce will ring true with someone else.

I hope you enjoy this blog, but more than that, I hope that you take something away from it. Solidarity!

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