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Generation Change / Geographical

It was back in the summer of 2017 when I first heard about the US law suit “Juliana vs US” where 21 youths are suing their government over inaction on climate change.

Since I’ve been following the story, a lot has changed. Youth climate protest is now set to become a new civil rights movement, with a new wave of school strikes and protests drawing 1.4 million students onto the streets on March 15th.

For Geographical’s April cover story I talked to the named plaintiff Kelsey Juliana from the US law suit, and spoke also to some of the voices behind the informal but wildly influential protests that have taken dissent down to the streets.

Extract below. Cover and feature photos by Robin Loznak.

In November 2018 a 15 year old Swedish girl named Greta Thunberg announced she would not be attending the award ceremony for the Children’s Climate Prize because other nominees would be making the journey by aircraft. Three months earlier, in the build-up to national elections, she had gone truant from school, instead travelling daily to the Swedish parliament building with a black and white sign – “School Strike for Climate.” Greta is open about her Asperger syndrome. The protest of this solitary child, seated on the streets and protesting with laser-like-focus on an issue that seemed bigger than her years made for uncomfortable viewing.

 

News of her strike spread. Greta steered her social media followers though the mire of equity issues, year-on-year emission cuts and nationally determined contributions – providing an unflinching fresh voice on the radically challenging realities of climate science. But solidarity, as with any social outlier, was slow coming at first. Drawn perhaps by the international media interest, as much as identifying with her cause, a trickle of children and a school teacher joined in. In Castlemaine, Australia a sympathy strike was called for Friday November 30th. Attempting to limit disruption, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s  condescending rant demanding ‘more learning in schools, and less activism,’ spectacularly backfired, encouraging an estimated 15,000 children in 30 localities across Australia to skip school and join the protest. Meanwhile Thunberg had been invited to speak at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference in Poland, travelling overland to Katowice by train. ‘You are not mature enough to tell it how it is,’ she scolded world leaders at their 24th annual attempt to mitigate climate change. ‘Even that burden you leave to us children.’ Thunberg is too young to even be a millennial, belonging to Generation Z, born from the late 90’s onwards. Yet here she was making decision makers squirm. Their attempts at climate change mitigation up to that point dismissed as child’s play.

 

Whilst the US youth lawsuit relied on existing structures of the legal system to achieve climate action, these young people in Europe and Australia were acting outside it. In the closing months of 2018, the Juliana plaintiffs’ much anticipated trial was once again delayed by the government defendant following a decision from Trump’s restructured Supreme Court. Thunberg’s strike against the system continued. By January 2019, the teen who has a diagnosis of selective mutism had an outreach of 356,000 accounts across her social media channels. (UNFCCC Exec. and former Secretary of Foreign affairs to Mexico, Patricia Espinosa, reaches only 89,000). On January 24th Thunberg’s #climatestrike rally-cry called 35,000 students onto the streets of Brussels.

 

One of them was Maxime Michiels, President of the Francophone students of Belgium. Age 22 (the same as Kelsey Juliana), the Belgian labour science student brought university students out to join school children on their march. ‘It’s important you don’t credit me for the strike,’ he insists, ‘the organisation is anarchic and there is no leader.’  The meeting point, he explains, is arranged on social media. ‘Without Facebook, without Instagram they would not be able to mobilise.’ But – and this seems key to understanding a generation maligned for being glued to their phones – ‘young people have overcome social media,’ going beyond “re-tweet activism.” Now, Michiels explains ‘they actually come down to the streets.’ Placards that day varied from the witty: “Procrastinating is our jobs, not yours;”  to the accusatory: “We skipped school, but you skipped your care of our planet;” to the outraged, “Fuck the system, before it fucks us.”  

 

Any leader attempting to dismiss these youths as merely bunking off school, only needed to tune into the World Economic Forum. A 16 Swedish girl with Aspergers was addressing the owners of the world’s resources: ‘Some people, some companies, some decisions makers in particular have known exactly what priceless values they have been sacrificing to continue making unimaginable amounts of money. And I think many of you here today belong to that group of people.’  The climate youths were now on all channels.

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Power of the Dark Side / Outdoor Fitness

I wrote this fun story for Outdoor Fitness magazine about how to run at night with a headtorch. 

They must like me after quite a few years working together: they let me sneak in a whole lot of kooky Star Wars and Darth Vader references.

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Juliana vs US / Geographical

PH. Robin Loznak/Our Children’s Trust

For the last year I have been following the story of 21 youths who are suing the US government.

Despite 50 years of awareness about the dangerous effects of green house gas emissions, the plaintiffs claim the government have affirmatively supported the fossil fuel industry and compromised their Constitutional rights to life, liberty and property.

On Oct 29th they were finally due to have their day in court. The court spectacle of diverse youths including musicians, indigenous communities and climate ambassadors who have marched across the nation and spoke in the UN was billed to be the “trial of the century.” A last minute intervention from the recently restructured Supreme Court delayed the trial – but the plaintiffs, their pro bono lawyers and citizens concerned about the impending climate crisis rallied outside court houses across the country.

In this article for Geographical magazine I interviewed other youth climate activists involved in direct action and litigation. I discovered that young people have an uncompromising vision for the drastic action needed to ensure intergenerational climate justice. And not just not their own long remaining lives, but for future generations too.

Read the article here

 

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Electric Cool / Geographical

 

For the October issue of Geographical magazine I investigated the proclaimed environmental and climate mitigating benefits of the electric racing series Formula E. 

The article includes interviews and comment from Paul Day from Aquafuel Research, Stephen Skippon from the Transport Research Laboratory and Julia Palle the sport’s Senior Sustainability Consultant .

The electric revolution that Formula E are showcasing will ameliorate inner city air pollution. In tackling climate change, however, I discovered the series have pinned their hopes for now on unabated, albeit-greener consumption. Instead, I argue that deep cuts in carbon emissions will require a deeper societal shift-of-gear towards more sustainable consumer as well as industry behaviour.

 

Geographical subscribers can continue reading. If you would like more information, please reach out.

 

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Into the Wild, Chile / the Guardian

On January 11th 2011, I set off on a bicycle ride from the bottom of South America.

On Chilean Independence Day 2018, the The Guardian shared some of the marvellous things I have found so far.

It was a testing job to pick the pit-stops for a one month trip that stretches from the Atacama Desert to the Pacific Ocean. The diversity in between mountains and ocean; culture and cuisine and wildlife and wilderness can send you into a spin when taking it all in on a first trip.

I didn’t want anyone to feel though that they would miss out. And the final suggested route gives you enough time to poke into the curious corners of the country whilst carving out your own largely self-guided experience.

All the transport choices deliberately avoid air travel. Partly it was an attempt to keep visitors’ carbon footprint low once in the country. Also, (and this part didn’t make my final draft) by travelling slowly through the country – sharing a bunk room on a steamer through the fiords, or gliding overnight into the desert on the 180degree reclining bed bus – you meet the people. This is where the real stories begin.

If you do get to travel to Chile, I hope you return with a rucksack full of adventures to last you a lifetime.

I’m still packing mine…

Read at the Guardian here.