Stay-home activists make climate noise from home

LONDON • For much of last year, youth-led climate protest movements dominated public conversation, with teenager Greta Thunberg, Fridays for Future, and Extinction Rebellion on the world's front pages.

With 2020, however, came the coronavirus and the sweeping quarantine orders that forced activists back into their homes.

Some worried the movements would fall apart. They have not, but that does not mean it has been a simple task to keep them going.

As celebrations of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day were coming to a close this week, Bloomberg Green asked young climate activists from around the world about their changed realities: What kind of difficulties have you faced? What do you think will happen after the pandemic is brought under control? Will you be able to keep going?

The simplest and most obvious way to conduct any large gathering in the age of the coronavirus is to move it online.

That has not been a problem so far for Canadian activist Emma-Jane Burian, 18, who said the most recent rally she conducted over the video-conferencing platform Zoom involved more than 900 people.

With many people stuck at home for the foreseeable future, activists are hoping they will take some time to reflect on the state of humanity.

"People have enough time to absorb information and in the pandemic they have something to relate to in the potential climate calamities that may befall humanity," said Cameroonian activist Nche Tala, 25.

The biggest climate protests of last year took place in developed countries, where public concern about climate change was on the rise.

Those in developing countries have to struggle with double the challenge: lower awareness of the effects of climate change and governments that are less open to protests.

The pandemic has added a third.

 
 
 
 

While in-person protests are also on hold in the landlocked country of Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), activist Rodney Carval, 30, has struggled to keep going online. The "majority of our stakeholders do not have access to affordable and reliable Internet", he said.

Only 60 per cent of the people in the 47 least developed countries - a group that includes Eswatini and comprises a total population of more than 800 million - are covered by mobile networks that can provide access to 3G Internet or higher bandwidth, according a 2018 United Nations report.

These countries are also some of the most vulnerable to harmful environmental shifts.

Economic hardship may also injure public support for climate-conscious policies, said Seychelles activist Jeremy Raguain, 25.

"I worry that the need for economic stability and development might lead to government deprioritising environmental protection and climate action."

In Eswatini, Mr Carval said the same thing: with the economy suffering, so will climate action in the long term.

 
 
 

Panamanian activist Karel Miranda Mendoza, 27, said all her family members have lost their jobs. "This pandemic has taught us a lot, especially that we still have a long way to go to learn how to face a crisis," she said.

But that is also something climate protesters can use. Countries that spent on preparing for testing, tracing and isolating cases of an epidemic have succeeded at controlling the spread and thus avoiding the economic damage that comes with severe lockdowns.

When the pandemic comes under control, countries will have to focus on economic recovery. If they choose a path that does not aid the lowering of emissions, "we'll face another crisis soon enough", said 18-year-old British activist Laura Lock.

That is why, she said, "climate activism will persist".

"Because unless significant changes are made, we are still on a very destructive path."

BLOOMBERG

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 25, 2020, with the headline 'Stay-home activists make climate noise from home'. Print Edition | Subscribe