‘Real education is outside the classroom’: Climate activists speak

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'Real education is outside the classroom’: Climate activists speak

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Brianna Fruean is a Pacific Climate Warrior and Anna Taylor is from the UK school strikes movement. They talk about what inspires them and how to stay hopeful.

Hazel Healy led the conversation.

HH: Tell us about your journey into climate activism:

Brianna Fruean: I started quite young – at 11 years old, when I first heard about climate change. I was a young girl here in Samoa. I heard about the effects it had for my island in the Pacific and that scared me. Then I knew I must do something about it. I started my own environmental group in primary school. And it was a group of 11-, 12- and 13-year-olds. We made registers for doing car-pooling and recycling bins and tree planting – just anything we could do to send a message to the adults. Later we became 350 Samoa - part of the international environmental organization 350.org. That was the beginning of my journey and I am still doing it.

Anna Taylor: I grew up in London but I had a close connection with the environment. My parents always took me out walking in the countryside. I was always interested in activism. I went on a Greenpeace climate march many years ago. And I was disappointed because there wasn’t another one for four years. Then in 2018, everything really started with Extinction Rebellion. I went to their protest in October, when there was the UN science body IPCC’s report on the effects of global warming by 1.5°C. And there was the COP 24 climate summit in Poland. And Greta Thunberg started her ‘Fridays for Future’ school strikes.

When the Australian students walked out of school, it was in our news. It was really wonderful to see kids doing something about climate change. Then all these countries in Europe got involved – Germany, Belgium – but nothing in the UK. I didn’t think I would start a strike on my own. But I talked to some people at a march and they said, ‘Why don’t you just start, do your best and see?’ And then in six weeks, it started with me and a friend sitting in a coffee shop until 15,000 students went on strike across the UK on 15 February 2019. So, yes – it’s a real journey!

HH: What was it like, Brianna, when you saw activism grow among young people?

Brianna: It was amazing for me. I think young people in the Pacific are seeing right now what young people around the world will see tomorrow. We’re telling the rest of the world: this is not good. Right now, we’re having cyclones, floods, and droughts, with a lot of other vulnerable communities around the world. And it’s only going to be worse for our future generations. And so it’s great to see young people so active. They are not listening to older people saying, ‘You should be in school.’ Real education is sometimes outside of the classroom. I think the school climate strikes show that.

Anna: That’s very important for us too. I’m a Geography A-level student – that’s the last part of school in England. We had a lesson today on climate change and they don’t talk about it like it’s a crisis at all. They were just saying: ‘This is what America and China are doing to help reduce carbon emissions.’ They said nothing about what they should do about the crisis. And the books say nothing about what’s happening right now. Because this isn’t just about our future, it’s also about supporting people who are seeing it already. We’re trying to teach our student friends about that.

HH: What do you find adults say to young people when they are involved in politics?

Brianna: I think the biggest problem is the stereotyping. We hear: ‘they don’t know what they’re saying’, ‘they’re just there to get a day off school’, or this idea that millennials, or later generations only think about their mobile phones.

At the first UN climate talks at the Rio Summit in 1992, when young Canadian activist Severn Cullis-Suzuki spoke, there was almost no one there listening.

A lot of young people didn’t know about Severn, if they didn’t watch CNN or the BBC. I think it’s different for Greta Thunberg. She’s a young person on social media and technology where more people see her message. All my friends know Greta – and I’m from a small island in the South Pacific. I think that she is going to do great things for this generation.

HH: The Pacific Warriors have done some daring things. Were you involved in the Newcastle canoe blockade in 2014? When Pacific activists and their Australian friends went against very big coal ships?

Brianna: I wasn’t in the blockade because I was under age, but I was very close to everyone who was there. Someone in our Pacific Climate Warriors group had the idea - sail canoes out to Australia and blockade the canal where all the oil and coal ships come through, the busiest in the country. And that’s exactly what they did. All the police came and they were trying to move them. At one time the police boats hit the canoes and turned some over, and they just went back onto the land, fixed the canoes, and went back out into the water.

Anna: I’ve done person-blockades on roads before but never canoe blockades…

Brianna: I think it was one of those civil disobedience events where the world saw that the Pacific is not going to stay quiet about climate change. Our slogan is, ‘We’re not drowning. We are fighting.’

For the atolls – the Marshall Islands, Kiribati and Tuvalu – it’s just been a really hard time this past cyclone season. My island, Samoa, is volcanic, so we can move up the mountain. But the atolls don’t have higher ground. This month, our Pacific WhatsApp group was just full of photos of damage. The Marshall Islands’ airport was flooded with ocean water. Extreme weather is getting worse. It’s the biggest problem in the Pacific and we have to look at climate migration.

Anna: I didn’t’ hear about that in the UK. The Pacific should be in the media more. I’d love to share those photos on our social media and help more people see it.

HH: Effects from climate change are coming faster and faster. How do you stay positive?

Anna: Sometimes I stay positive and then sometimes I have to look at the real situation. I know that if students feel negative and scared, they might try to pretend it’s not happening and do nothing about it. So I try to stay hopeful. I spend time in nature – swim in lakes, climb mountains, go out into the woods. That’s what helps me.

Brianna: For the Pacific Islands, I really believe that it’s our religion. A lot of islands are strong faith communities. And often when there’s a cyclone, people will go to churches. Every village has a church – it is a safe place for us. Prayer helps.

When you have a team and you’re not alone, that helps. It helps a lot when we see people striking all around the world, and we see someone like Greta, because it gives us the feeling that we’re all in this together. It’s not just one person shouting from outside the UN building or our government. And where there are big numbers, there’s power.

HH: This is a question from my nine-year-old son. He joined the climate strike in February. He asks, ‘How do we stop our planet getting hotter?’

Anna: In the UK, the first thing we want is the most important: to say there is a climate emergency. Because that would then involve doing lots of policies. We’re discussing a Green New Deal in the UK, like the one they’re discussing in America. And we have important organizations and MPs involved.

Brianna: I want governments around the world to divest from fossil fuels. Accept the science: fossil fuels cannot be the future of this planet. Second, we need to change to 100-per-cent renewable energy, as soon as possible. And third, increase climate change news in the media and bring school subjects up to date. Young people in school now will take over from our political system and make all the changes that we’re discussing.

HH: What gives you hope that the world can stop climate breakdown?

Brianna: Maybe that Anna, across the world from me, has the same strong ideas. We are on the same journey. There must be so many of us and we just need to come together. That makes me hopeful because I can see true change coming from someone like Anna.

Anna: Thank you, that means a lot. Seeing the movement grow gives me hope. Since February, we’ve got a whole new continent involved. I started a Latin American WhatsApp group after students contacted me from Chile, Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil. Now they are all talking together. New countries are joining all the time – Estonia and Iceland had their first strike not long ago – and that brings us all together.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: https://newint.org/features/2019/04/09/real-education-happens-outside-classroom (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed)