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Greening Up — The Past is Not Prologue

This is the second in a series of columns detailing the growing determination of women and young people to influence climate change policy around the world.

“I am relentlessly practical when it comes to climate change. Scientists have said we have three years to peak global greenhouse gas emissions or we risk climate catastrophe. I carry that timeline in my head and in my heart every day, and I think about what I can do to make it better.” – Grace Nosek

A famous line from William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, “What’s past is prologue”, is often used to imply that the past determines the future.

Antonio uses the phrase in Act II, Scene I, as he is trying to convince Sebastian to murder his sleeping father so that Sebastian can be king. He means that all of their lives up to this point will serve as an introduction to what happens if they go ahead with this deed.

Antonio’s next words emphasize that point: “What to comein yours and my discharge”.

“To me, this quote effectively defines the state of the current global climate crisis,” says climate scientist Reed Scherer. “It’s the actions we take right now that will determine the state of our children’s world.”

What follows are profiles of some of the women and young people who represent a generation that has a completely different world view than the leaders negotiating their future.

Grace Nosek is taking action right now to model hope for the planet’s future, feeling that she owes it to both children and adults.

The quote from Nosek at the beginning of this article signifies how seriously she takes her “discharge” on the climate issue. She is among the many young people who are radically reshaping the cultural and political landscape around climate change.

A graduate of both Rice University and Harvard, she was a Fulbright Fellow with the Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria. Nosek is the 2018 Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar and is currently pursuing a PhD in Law at the University of British Columbia. She is interested in how law can be used to protect climate change science, particularly in an environment of doubt created by companies focused on protecting profit.

At UBC, she helped found the UBC Climate Hub, an initiative conceived of, lobbied for, and implemented by students that is working to pilot a program connecting university and secondary students across Vancouver on empowering climate dialogue and action to multiply that hope tenfold.

“The present is not a potential past; it is the moment of choice and action.” – Simone de Beauvoir

Last October, the UBC Climate Hub hosted the first student-driven, university-wide Climate Solutions Showcase on campus. The Climate Hub aims to empower students, faculty, and staff to take bold action on climate solutions and justice on campus and in our communities. Engaging the UBC community through the Climate Solutions Showcase provided the opportunity for people to come together for dialogue, to present research and solutions, and make meaningful connections to further climate action. 

As an author, Nosek has written a Law Review article on climate change litigation and a trilogy of young adult eco-fantasy books, the Ava of the Gaia Series that incorporates important issues like climate change into compelling storytelling. While at Harvard, she co-authored, The Dating Game: How Confusing Food Date Labels Lead to Food Waste in America.

Nosek also created her own podcast, Planet Potluck, which combines personal storytelling and interviews to explore stories of hope, joy, and community in the climate movement.

Her ideas on tackling climate change were part of a recent episode of CBC's Degrees of Changepodcast. Together with David Suzuki and Simon Donner, she discusses solutions and changes in response to climate change. 

In an opinion piece published by CBC, Nosek argues that one way of finding hope is making climate action feel local and grounded in community. “Hope is contagious and by working together in our local communities, we can all play a role in inspiring more action to help turn the tide in the climate fight”. 

“It’s amazing to see a new generation of activists, who understand that we can no longer compartmentalise issues or pander to governments or industry to create the change we need. They are brave enough to confront the roots of environmental destruction, capitalism and colonialism.” – Suzanne Dhaliwal

Suzanne Dhaliwal is a woman of colour living in the United Kingdom.  An activist and campaigner, she is the director and co-founder of the UK Tar Sands Network, a pressure group working on indigenous rights, oil and mining issues in the Arctic, Canada, and Nigeria.

The UK Tar Sands Network and the Indigenous Environmental Network have been calling on financial institutions to end investments in the tar sands projects and pipelines since 2009, and who have most recently taken their campaigning efforts to the insurance industry.

In 2018, Dhaliwal was named one of London’s most influential environmental activists on the Progressive 1000, a list of 1,000 people published annually by tabloid newspaper The London Evening Standard.

“We need to ensure that the people most impacted by climate change are also at the forefront and are involved in developing climate solutions,” says Dhaliwal.

“Without wholehearted, brave, feminist leadership, we will only continue to circle the drain of the culture and the crisis of climate change. Without a reorganization of power, such that women of color, indigenous women, and queer women hold real public power, we will only repeat the same systemic erasure of lives, stories, and pain.” – Sarah Myhre

Eriel Tchekwie Derangeris a founding member and current Executive Director of Indigenous Climate Action, an Indigenous-led organization formed in 2015 that believes the leadership of Indigenous peoples, as stewards, caretakers and protectors of the Earth, is crucial to achieving a climate stable future for all.

A member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN), Deranger has a far reaching reputation for challenging fossil fuel development and championing the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. 

“Indigenous people aren’t just the first to be impacted [by climate change], but can be the first people that can provide solutions that are grounded in more than just economic solutions,” says Deranger.

“We can’t just be addressing climate from a science perspective, we have to be addressing it from a human rights perspective and an Indigenous rights perspective,” she adds.

“Climate change is a manmade problem that requires a feminist solution.” – Mary Robinson

The former president of Ireland and UN high commissioner for human rights, Mary Robinson hopes to build a new global movement that will create “a feminist solution for climate change”.

Paired with Irish-born comedian Maeve Higgins, Robinson last year launched a series of podcasts– entitled Mothers of Invention– highlighting the women around the world who are leading the fight against climate change. 

They jointly introduce their female guests through a series of informal conversations interspersed with banter and jokes – an unusual way of presenting the often gloomy subject of climate damage, Higgins admits, but one she hopes will reach people more effectively than the standard models of climate communication and male-dominated discourse.

“What we are hoping to do is create a movement,” Robinson said in an interview with The Guardian. “Climate change is not gender-neutral – it affects women far more. So this is not about climate change, it is about climate justice.”

Robinson said the podcast – now in its second season – will deal with issues of colonialism, racism, poverty, migration and social justice and how these are bound up with feminism and the effects of climate change.  The podcasts feature scientists, lawyers, and politicians alongside farmers and indigenous community leaders from Europe, the US and Australia to India, Kenya, South Africa and Peru.

“There is a lot of doom and gloom – this is not like that,” said Higgins, who is now based in New York. “This is for people like myself who feel stuck, knowing there are actions they should be taking but paralyzed by despondency. The capitalist patriarchy is not going to solve this. We need to.”

Although the podcasts focus on women’s voices, Robinson says men’s voices will not be excluded.

“We will include men in the future,” she said, “but we have started with women, who have found it hard to be heard. A feminist solution to climate change involves everyone.”

“At age 16, through an ineffable alchemy of living and learning in the woods, I fell in love with this world and dedicated myself to being part of earth's healing.” – Katharine Wilkinson

When Katharine Wilkinson was interviewed on Episode 3 in Series 1 of Mothers of Invention, she was billed as the lead writer of “the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming”, Project Drawdown.

The project is a nonprofit organization and global coalition of scholars, scientists, entrepreneurs and advocates working to research, communicate, and advance solutions to climate change. Wilkinson was lead writer for the New York Times bestseller Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming– the #1 environmental book of 2017 which ranked the top 100 substantive ways to combat climate change.

Two lesser-known solutions that made this most practical of lists: the education of girls (number 6) and family planning (number 7) were not a surprise to Wilkinson.

“Gender and climate are inextricably linked,” the environmentalist and author told an audience at TedWomen last November.

“To address climate change, we must make gender equity a reality,” says Wilkinson. “And in the face of a seemingly impossible challenge, women and girls are a fierce source of possibility.”

Project Drawdown calculated that taking steps toward universal education and investing in family planning in developing nations would keep world population from rising too rapidly and  thereby eliminate 120 billion tons of emissions by 2050 – roughly 10 years’ worth of China’s annual emissions as of 2014.

"Gender equity is on par with wind turbines and solar panels and forests," says Wilkinson, recently chosen one of the 25 badass women shaking up the corporate climate movement. "This does not mean women and girls are responsible for fixing everything. But we probably will."

“People say that young people are naive or too inexperienced but every time we get something done, we prove that we aren’t that stereotype. We may be young, but we are not naive. We understand the real-life consequences of climate change on our present and future, and we’ve decided to do something about it.”                 – Saya Ameli, age 17

Saya Ameli is just one of thousands of students who are continuing to strike from school seeking action on climate change.

An open letter to world leaders written by some of the students and published in The Guardian bluntly states: “We demand justice for all past, current and future victims of the climate crisis, and so we are rising up.”

Demanding that world decision-makers take responsibility to solve the climate crisis, the students say “We are going to change the fate of humanity, whether you like it or not.”

On March 15 students will protest in at least 82 countries and in almost 1,000 cities and towns on every continent. Canadian students will hold a national school strike on May 3.

The #FridaysForFuture school strikes started in August 2018 when Greta Thunberg, a then15-year-old Swedish girl, rode her bicycle to the Swedish Parliament and sat with a handmade sign that read “School strike for climate.”

In February, she told the Financial Times, “People tell me that they are so hopeful when they see me, and other children ‘school-striking,’ and they say, ‘Oh the children are going to save us.’ But no, we aren’t. We are too young to be able to do that. The people who are in power now need to do this now.”

“Anyone who thinks [the strikes] will fizzle out any time soon has forgotten what it is to be young.” – Michael Liebreich

The women and young people I have profiled above are true revolutionaries and reformers. They recognize the gravity and danger of the human/climate predicament and have asked us to hear their voices.

These women and young people are fed up with indecision and waiting. They are telling us to put in the work and take action because that is how we will prevent the past from becoming their future.

And that means enough of us have to believe the past can be transformed and discharge our duty.

Michael Jessen is an ecowriter living at Longbeach near Nelson, BC. The former journalist, Nelson city councillor, recycling coordinator, and restaurant owner can be reached at zerowaste@shaw.ca This is the second in a series of columns detailing the growing determination of women and young people to influence climate change policy around the world.