Readers like you keep news free for everyone.

More than 5,000 readers have already pitched in to keep free access to The Journal.

For the price of one cup of coffee each week you can help keep paywalls away.

Support us today
Not now
Saturday 23 September 2023 Dublin: 15°C
Opinion The youth climate movement has learned and grown - now is the time to be heard
Irish climate activist Jessica Dunne says she has learned a lot since the massive global protest three years ago today.

ON THIS DAY in 2019, 15,000 students took to the streets around the world to shine a light on the climate crisis.

At the age of 14, I was keenly aware of the climate crisis but at a loss as to what I, as a young person, could do. Standing with my peers chanting on the streets that day, I felt a sense of empowerment like nothing before.

Three years later, we can clearly see the impact that this school strike and the subsequent actions have had on the way we view this crisis.

Since that first big protest, we’ve seen a greater cultural awareness of climate change. While in the past the discussions of our climate were somewhat relegated to counter cultures, we now see conversations in the mainstream about it quite frequently, which means the average person has at least a base knowledge of the impact of the crisis and the proposed solutions.

Understanding the crisis

As the discussion has become more mainstream, our understanding of different aspects of the crisis has evolved greatly. Within the youth climate movement in Ireland, our initial mantra was about our futures, but with reflection and education, we’ve realised the importance of uplifting the voices of people from around the world who are already facing the impacts of the climate crisis.

The climate crisis becoming a mainstream topic of debate has allowed us to develop and improve our understanding of it but there is also the need for healthy scepticism when faced with that mainstream conversation. One way we can see the evolution of the “popularity” of climate consciousness is through advertising.

There’s no doubt there’s the pressure felt by companies to reduce the impact they have on the environment, and that’s generally positive, but the climate is all too often used by corporations in a cynical manner known as greenwashing.

Greenwashing is a process by which a corporation, individual, organisation or government will claim to be environmentally conscious while still impacting it negatively; One pervasive example of this is the clothing made from recycled materials by fast fashion companies while they still exploit both people and planet.

Fast fashion usually has 52 micro-seasons a year. This is only made possible through the poor treatment and pay of workers and the approach of quantity over quality, meaning much of the clothes are discarded after several wears leading to high levels of waste and overconsumption.

Saying one thing, doing another

This is the paradoxical nature of much of climate-conscious advertising, touting a label as eco-friendly while directly harming the planet in the process. Sadly, these mixed messages often harm the public understanding of the climate crisis.

For example, when given a greenwashed ‘easy solution’ like buying a recycled range of clothing, many won’t do the research to learn the true impacts on the planet or how to support the existing solutions to the crisis.

Greenwashing can be seen as a net-positive by some due to its platforming of conversations about the environment. However, when corporations use the language of climate consciousness to avoid accountability and continue with “business-as-usual” the harms to the environment are only compounded.

Another harm in the mainstream platforming of discussions on the climate is whose voices get heard. The people on the front lines combating climate change are indigenous peoples who have protected the environment for generations, those most impacted by this crisis are from island nations and overexploited countries in the global south.

Marginalised communities are also likely to feel the impact of climate change to a greater extent. However, our conversations often centre on the voices of white, European activists.

All voices are valuable in this discussion, and everyone should be highlighting the impacts of the crisis, but when the voices of white European activists are disproportionately platformed and valued we end up with a very homogenous view of climate activists and a very Eurocentric, western view of how the climate crisis will impact the world. The intent can be to make the discussion more palatable and therefore more engaging, but it only serves to discount the lived experiences of those most impacted and further silence marginalised communities.

Political efforts

Last November I went to COP26 in Glasgow, and I was able to see first-hand the way we have grown since March 2019. The major protests were helmed by incredible activists from all corners of the globe. Marginalised voices and those from the most affected areas by climate change were being platformed at events all around Glasgow. However, this was all the result of community organising.

Within the walls of COP26, billionaires and polluters were platformed while the voices being uplifted outside were being dismissed and silenced.

When I arrived in Glasgow, I was immediately greeted by signs celebrating the UK’s commitment to net-zero in 2030. Net-zero is a non-commitment relying on carbon offsetting and technologies that don’t yet exist while doing little to invest in renewable energies and still using fossil fuels.

The idea of carbon offsets and Net Zero puts the focus on mitigating the continued damage to the environment rather than cutting out the damage itself. It aims to merely cut the head of the weed off, rather than pulling out the roots.

In a world where the climate crisis is constantly being discussed yet, people feel powerless to affect real change, we can feel anxious and scared. The sense of disempowerment I felt before 15 March 2019, caused great climate anxiety and the feeling comes back to me when I see the misinformation being platformed in some media and by our leaders.

The platforming of issues is decided by who has the power to spread information and too often these are bad-faith actors or at least actors not willing to face the facts. This has made me feel powerless and almost apathetic, not thinking my voice would make an impact. But I found the best way to combat climate anxiety was to get involved in fighting for climate justice.

Standing on the streets protesting, shouting facts through the megaphone, challenging the misinformation and chanting together, we take back control of the information and we are able to uplift and platform all the inconvenient truths that go unheard. At a time when these companies are encouraging people to avert their eyes from this crisis, we are forcing people to look straight at it.

On 25 March a global strike will happen again. The theme of the protest was conceptualised and organised by activists from the most affected areas by climate change and marginalised communities, showing how far we’ve come since that first protest in 2019.

While it was a great start to the movement, we have now developed a better understanding of how to frame these issues and who to platform. This is best exemplified in the international hashtag for this protest, #peoplenotprofit, which directly challenges the way commodities and fossil fuels are prioritised over marginalised people.

You can see strike information on the Fridays for Future Ireland Twitter and Instagram. See you on the streets.

Jessica Dunne is an activist and songwriter from Dublin Ireland. She began activism in the climate movement but now also engages in more general activism, realising the connected nature of all social issues.

voices logo

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel