Youth, Action and Climate Change: Exuberant and Sometimes – Not Quite

On Friday, September 20, I was at the studios of Radio Jamaica, talking about this, that and the other – and at the same time, thinking about the vastness of what was happening beyond our island, during the Global Climate Strike. I was thinking about the Save Cockpit Country gathering in Stewart Town, Trelawny. I was also thinking about our young Jamaican representatives on their way to the Youth Climate Summit (slightly nervous, but excited).

Germans, as one would expect, turned out in their hundreds of thousands for the Global Climate Strike. Here, a group gathered at the Jungfernstieg, a main boulevard in Hamburg, Germany. (CreditAxel Heimken/DPA, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)

While I was talking about the 500 endemic species of land snail in the Cockpit Country (see the Natural History Museum of Jamaica’s Biodiversity Manual here) an area of stunning biodiversity, at the back of my mind was a thought: Is this really a watershed, or is it just a moment when we humans woke up for a while, then turned over and dozed off again? Is this effort to “raise awareness” a watershed for Jamaica, or just one for the news cycle?

Jhannel Tomlinson, Jamaican representative at the Youth Climate Summit on Saturday is at 2nd right, with other Caribbean delegates. (Photo: Twitter)

What did the day really mean, not so much for me personally, but for Jamaica, the Caribbean, the world – and our place in it?

It was a very enjoyable talk with Paula-Anne Porter- Jones, a woman with a generous spirit and a great love of nature (she’s also a birder). I wore my bright red Save Cockpit Country T shirt, which helped me feel less guilty about not being able to make the journey to Trelawny to support that event.

Students from Brown’s Town High School talking (and listening) to activist and radio host Mutabaruka on Irie FM on Friday in Stewart Town, Trelawny. (Photo: Irie FM/Twitter)

Stewart Town is outside the Government’s proposed Cockpit Country Protected Area and therefore under threat from bauxite mining. The event was supported by two well-known reggae artists, Queen Ifrica and Tony Rebel, who have been quite effective activists on the issue; by the reggae station Irie FM, which consistently advocates on grassroots issues; and by several environmental advocates, who live outside the area but have continuously kept the complex concerns of Cockpit Country, its ecosystems and importantly its residents in the public eye. Jamaica Environment Trust has spearheaded these efforts throughout and continues to do so.

A great demonstration in the Cayman Islands, which was also calling for a halt to plans for cruise piers in George Town harbor. (Photo: Cayman Compass)

While the Stewart Town event was linked with the Global Climate Strike, by all accounts it was quite laid-back compared to simultaneous happenings around the world. But the young people were there, and I was glad to see the articulate students on TV last night speaking up for the planet.

However, demonstrations and protests require a certain energy, as was displayed by Cockpit Country residents recently, when they came to Kingston. On that day, around 200 protesters walked down Duke Street from National Heroes Park, with well-crafted placards and strong messages. The “counter-demonstration” organized by Noranda Bauxite, with nicely printed placards, was a misplaced one outside the offices of Jamaica Environment Trust. The workers needed to be where the decision-makers were, and they went there the following days. The “issue of jobs” is always one that opponents of sustainable development see as the deciding factor – “argument done.” As if there is no alternative (and in our hearts we all know there are).

Women protest in Lahore, Pakistan on Friday. (Credit Arif Ali/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)

Young people! You need placards with smart, biting messages. You need megaphones. You need to raise your voices. You need to make punchy, rousing speeches (no bad words or divisive language – make them punchy without all that). Making a lot of noise is essential. If you really care, show it!

Otherwise, those who don’t want to listen to your messages will happily ignore you, and those who might support you will miss you altogether.

My brother, who lives in Brisbane, Australia, joined the big demonstrations there as an “adult supporter.” The short video he posted of a group of young people walking through an underpass, whooping and chanting, and emerging in the sunlight to join a huge mass of people, young and older, brought tears to my eyes.

Some hard-hitting messages in Brisbane, Australia.

And then there is action. Get out there. Do a beach clean-up. Write to the Prime Minister and/or relevant ministers about climate change and our environment. Form a group in your neighborhood. No need to “go it alone” as an activist. Activism is not just about protesting, it’s also about doing (although a protest is an action, too). And there’s strength in numbers, as young Greta Thunberg has found out. A year ago, hers was a “one-girl” protest – look at it now.

Greta Thunberg started off all alone. (Photo: Anders Hellberg)

There is always hope, and there is always positivity. As Dainalyn Swaby, one of Jamaica’s youth delegates in New York noted on Twitter this morning, only 13 percent of climate change messages focus on solutions – although those messages can stir people to action more than “gloom and doom” scenarios. In an article for Gleaner Blogs in July, I quoted a comment from a conversation between U.S. Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and teen activist Greta Thunberg:

Hope is not something that you have. Hope is something that you create, with your actions. Hope is something you have to manifest into the world, and once one person has hope, it can be contagious. Other people start acting in a way that has more hope…

I know so many people who feel hopeless, and they ask me, “What should I do?” And I say: “Act. Do something.” Because that is the best medicine against sadness and depression.

I see things this way. We are “for” the environment, and the survival of Planet Earth, and ourselves. If we are talking about “causes” – what could be a greater one? Is mankind – and Jamaica – missing this critical moment to act?

For all our sakes, I hope not.

Greta Thunberg tweeted this image last night from New York.




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