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5 Climate Activists Demanding Immediate Action and Motivating Their Generation

A feeling of discordance hung heavy in the air as the first week of COP26 came to a close. Whilst world leaders finalised pledges – 40 countries to end coal use, promises of deforestation, reductions to the emissions of greenhouse gases – young climate activists marched the streets of Glasgow demanding an end to greenwashing by governments. Greta Thunberg, a pioneer on climate issues for her generation, published on her social media: “Time is running out. Change is not going to come from inside these conferences unless there is big public pressure from the outside.”

aware_ presents 5 climate activists who took to the stage during COP26, each determined to disentangle the inflated language surrounding serious climate issues, demand immediate action from leaders, and motivate the rest of their generation to take action.

Mikaela Loach 

 “The only people who can save us are ourselves”

Mikaela Loach, the activist, podcast, writer and medical student at Edinburgh University, is a force of nature with a rapidly increasing presence on social media. Born in Jamaica – a country becoming increasingly vulnerable to drought, flooding and extreme heat –  Mikaela’s work addresses issues such as climate justice, refugee rights and environmental racism. At just 23 years old she has been featured in publications such as Vogue, featured on BBC Woman’s Hour Power List and received a nomination for the Global Citizen Prize: UK’s Hero Award in 2020. Despite this noteworthy list of accolades, Mikaela, keen to address the “disproportionate amount of attention” for her work, believes fundamentally in the power of community to dismantle current systems and magnify other climate activists working in her field. 

As a key member of the #StopCambo campaign (a bid to stop the UK proposal to drill 1.7 billion barrels of oil from the sea by 2050), Mikaela arrived in Glasgow for COP26 with a clear focus: “Holding the UK government accountable for still pushing to approve 40 new oil & gas projects”.

climate activists

Elizabeth Wathuti 

“Open your hearts and act.” 

The Kenyan climate activist Elizabeth Wathuti spent her childhood surrounded by trees, exposed to the power of mother nature from a young age. But growing up in Nyeri County, an area in Kenya known for its expanses of woodland, the 26-year-old has increasingly become witness to climate devastation. In recent years drought (leading to crop failure) and flooding (resulting in the displacement of populations) has compromised “the livelihoods of thousands of Kenyan people” (KCSAP). In a bid to bring awareness to these devastating issues, the climate activist founded the Green Generation Initiative which works to nurture environmental enthusiasts, environmental education, and address food insecurity by planting trees.  

In a speech during COP26 Elizabeth laid bare the disparity between the global north and south: “the decisions you make here will determine: Whether the rains will return to our land; Whether the fruit trees we plant will live or perish; Whether children will have fruit and water”. Elizabeth implored her audience “To do what is right, if we let ourselves feel it in our hearts”.

Alice Aedy

“We must tell stories that harness hope, and move people beyond despair – to engage with their hearts, not just their minds. And while the stories we choose to tell is important – just as important is WHO gets the chance to tells them.” 

Alice Aedy was first alerted to the climate crisis through her work as a photographer capturing the impact of forced migration. Employing the camera lens as a tool to humanise issues such as climate justice, Alice documents moments of suffering and displacement, often ignored in the speeches of policymakers. As a cofounder of earthrise studio – a platform using film, design, and storytelling to communicate the climate crisis – Alice and her team work to reframe the human relationship with the natural world. At the forefront of the fight for climate justice, Alice’s work has been featured by global institutions such as The Guardian, The Atlantic, Stella McCartney and the New York Times.

Emma Watson

“Emma’s official Instagram has been taken over by an anonymous Feminist Collective for Cop26.” 

Emma Watson needs little introduction. After gaining global recognition as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter franchise, Emma has become a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, been a leading voice in the fight for gender equality, joined the luxury brand group Kering as an advocate for sustainability, and most recently gave a feminist collective autonomy of her Instagram for the duration of COP26. Featured activists include Mya-Rose Craig, an activist campaigning “to prioritise the rights of indigenous peoples in the climate justice movement”, and Tori Tsui, “a climate justice organiser, and (environ)mental health advocate from Hong Kong”. Emma’s work amongst climate activists is an acknowledgement of her immense privilege she experiences on the global stage, leading as a necessary example for her contemporaries.

climate activists
Craig Gibson for The New York Times

Whitney Richardson for the New York Times Climate Hub

“Something about being amongst the trees this week, has created an energy of optimism, hope, and courage, which is what is needed to plan for a better future, which can only come from dialogue and collaboration.”

As world leaders and delegates wrapped up their first week of COP26 talks, thought leaders, climate activists, and the public, were gathered in the New York Times Climate Hub – an oasis of green set apart from the conference rooms of COP26 – to have their say. A breath-taking installation of 197 trees (each representing a country taking part in the conference) was conceptualised and designed by the artist Es Devlin, who together with the forest architect Phillip Jaffa, and landscape specialist Scotscape, created an mesmeric experience in which to encourage collective thinking on climate issues. Whitney Richardson, the international events manager for the New York Times, has been instrumental in providing an intriguing, dynamic platform upon which “to discuss how we can create tangible solutions for a more sustainable future for our planet”. Sitting down with the likes of filmmaker Jack Harries (co-founder of earthrise studio) – who spent the last months developing a film series “travelling around the U.K. to document stories of people on the frontline confronting the real impacts of a warming planet” – Whitney’s personable manner with which she interviews her guests allows her followers to engage with hard-hitting subject matter traditionally inaccessible for the general public. Jack was one of over 70 speakers to take a place amongst the trees for this year’s COP; the roster of speakers included designer Stella McCartney, the activist Malala Yousafzai, politician David Lammy and former Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon. 

The work of each of these climate activists surpasses the traditional form of speech-making, instead encouraging people to get involved under the fundamental belief that activism and organising is incremental in igniting change. But this selection of voices are by no means the only ones, the last few years have witnessed waves of indignation emerge from schools, universities, groups; a generation of climate activists determined to instil empathy and humanise the climate crisis.

by Eliza Edwards