By Lucy Robinson
Pre-coronavirus, climate activism had been in the midst of a seismic shift. The movement was developing momentum day by day and activists were taking over the world with their offline campaigning and protesting.
From over 13,000,000 people marching for Fridays For Future, to Extinction Rebellion shutting down Oxford Circus, climate activism had massively depended on street protests as a means of raising public awareness.
However, with lockdown restrictions and concerns for public health putting an end to mass gatherings, activists have had to adapt their approach. Rather than dispelling the climate movement, the pandemic has caused campaigners to turn to the most powerful tool: the Internet.
While critics have, in the past, negated the impact of so-called ‘clicktivism’ as being limited to passive clicking, our increased consumption of the online sphere is more impactful than ever.
Fridays for Future takes on lockdown
One collective that has made the most of our online habits has been Fridays For Future. Started by Greta Thunberg in August 2018, Fridays For Future encourages school children to protest against the lack of action on the climate crisis. While Fridays for the movement became synonymous with street protests, social media has become the key to galvanising action over recent months. Sharing pictures of their placards and messages related to the climate crisis, young activists have continued to demand action and draw attention to the risks posed to the younger generation. The community of this movement is hard to miss. On Instagram, the hashtag #ClimateStrikeOnline has 38,000 posts alone.
In order to capture the essence of street protests, Fridays For Future have also arranged some offline activities. For instance, to escape the echo chamber effect often conjured up online, the Berlin Fridays For Future group laid out placards outside of the German parliament. Accompanied by a digital strike comprised of 230,000 young people, the movement has held on their ability to make their presence felt in cities across the world.
Youth climate activism in China
Whilst the majority of these Fridays For Future protestors have made a smooth transition between offline and online activism, some have been confronted with obstacles. Ou Hongyi, from China, has been facing the repercussions for speaking out against China’s lack of collective action. A highly sensitive topic in the country, authorities have been keen to narrow her contribution to the discourse, with Ou Hongyi believing that they see her as a threat to their power. As a result, she has been banned from going to her school unless she gives up her activism.
However, reluctant to put an end to the fight for a better future, she has taken her activism into her own hands. Indeed, she has since created her own initiative called Plant For Survival. Through this, she is encouraging young people in China to plant trees to counteract the widespread industrialisation of the country. Her silencing, though detrimental for her education, has evidently not dampened her thirst for climate activism: between November and January, Plant For Survival planted more than 300 trees.
The online presence of Earthrise
There appears to be a trend in climate activism using this period to galvanise the younger, “digital native” generation. Youtubers Jack and Finn Harries as well as director Alice Aedy have launched a digital platform called Earthrise. Through this platform, the trio hopes to instil a sense of diversity and optimism into climate activism.
With eco-anxiety being an increasingly common phenomenon, it is rare to see positive approaches to environmental change. Using scientists, journalists and environmental storytellers, Earthrise is all about curating content that is concise, comprehensible and accurate.
Having amassed 40,000 followers since launching on 3 July, it is clear that there is demand for a more approachable conversation surrounding climate activism, away from the other anxieties plaguing our news feeds.
What can open letters achieve during a global pandemic?
Another method used to increase public awareness of the climate crisis has been the publishing of open letters. Indeed, whilst the pandemic has taught us the power of social media, it has also shown us that global leaders can act promptly and decisively. Governments across the globe have pushed research teams to find a vaccine, have passed through legislation in days and have exemplified what a crisis roadmap really looks like. As a letter written by Climate Emergency EU states, “it is now clearer than ever that the climate crisis has never once been treated as a crisis.”
This letter, which has been co-authored by Greta Thunberg and signed by the likes of Coldplay, Malala Yousafzai and Greenpeace, calls for immediate action. Noting how the EU has a vast amount of political and economic power, the letter states that it has a duty of care over its citizens to fight for a greener world. Within the letter, the group outline a series of demands that they would like the EU to uphold, including: halting fossil fuel exploration; making ecocide an international crime; and treating the “ecological emergency like an emergency.”
Moreover, the letter is clear to express the frustration towards politicians’ treatment of other social issues. Following the Black Lives Matter movement, the letter argues that the only way to address the climate crisis is by also combatting the “social and racial injustices and oppression that have laid the foundations of our modern world”. Where in the past, the environmentalist movement has been deemed as being absent of marginalised voices, Climate Emergency EU evidently want to use this pivotal time in history to create a united front.
What las lockdown taught us about our impact on the Earth?
Ultimately, with coronavirus likely to have an impact on our lives for years to come, environmentalist activists must continue to find new ways to amplify their voice. Although the UK’s carbon emissions saw a 36% reduction in the first four weeks of lockdown, the climate emergency is far from over.
As we all begin moving towards a ‘new normal’, the increase in vehicles on the road, manufacturing and food production has caused any progress made in the initial phase to unravel. As Greta Thunberg has been keen to emphasise, the impact that coronavirus has had in terms of reducing emissions has only been temporary and coincidental. If action is not taken, things will quickly return to their old ways.