Environmental influencers: Intersectionality and COP26

Sustainable Leaders | Europe

By Isabel Rowbotham, Co-Editor in Chief

Published October 26th, 2021

More and more young people are demonstrating their talents in communication, research and leadership through social media, utilising the power of activism to educate the public about climate change.

This article explores the activism of young people in a series called ‘Environmental influencers’. Leah Thomas, for example, is educating young social media users about intersectional environmentalism, while Jack Harries is releasing a documentary about people around the UK facing the effects of climate change, and Lauren MacDonald is standing up against Shell executives while the whole world watches.

Leah is raising awareness of intersectional environmentalism, a concept which sees the same factors destroying the environment as those which affect people of colour and vulnerable communities. | Chez Martin / Hypebae

Leah Thomas (@greengirlleah) @intersectionalenvironmentalist

Leah is also known as Green Girl and she is using her platform to raise awareness of environmental injustice and inclusivity. She focuses on advocating for people of colour through the concept of intersectionality. As the name suggests, it intersects two aspects; the person’s social and political identities, ultimately creating different forms of discrimination and priviledge. In Leah’s platform @intersectionalenvironmentalist (IE), she talks about the systems of oppression affecting people of color are the same system’s that endanger our planet. In fact, these injustices are interconnected.

Historically, when we talked about environmental activism, we excluded the most vulnerable communities, which are those who are the most impacted by climate change. For example, the indigenous communities of the Americas used to live in peace and reciprocity with their land. During the brutal process of colonization, we learned that in efforts to destroy and take control of native populations, their lands suffered heavily. Another consequence of further deterioration of the land was the displacement of native americans.

‘‘…the systems of oppression affecting people of color are the same system’s that endanger our planet. In fact, these injustices are interconnected.’

Many suggest that The Great Fire of 1910, a wildfire in the Inland Northwest region of the United States, was a consequence of racism and the forced displacement of natives. Having practiced cultural burning for more than 8,000 years, the land had become unprotected without the presence of the natives.

On Intersectional Environmentalist, Leah and her team provide educational material and resources for the public to get involved in climate activism. Among many other services provided, they offer consulting for those who aim to further commit their brand or company into an intersectional organization, alongside promoting opportunities and visibility to BIPOC (black, indigenous, and other people of color) & LGBTQ+ artists and leaders.

One of the communicators IE has partnered with is the Dismantled podcast, which discusses how the climate crisis is affecting black, indigenous and BIPOC communities. In this podcast, young eco-activists discuss colorism within social justice and the power of social media to educate and descentrize resources to fight back.

Jack Harries, seen above, at Forsinard Flows Nature Reserve. Jack talked with those restoring natural peatlands which are crucial in holding carbon from the atmosphere. Jack and his team will be releasing a series of episodes on Youtube called Seat at the Table this October 25th 2021. | Jack Harries / Instagram

Jack Harries @jackharries

If his name sounds familiar, it is probably because you watched the Harries twins’ Youtube channel before. Nowadays, Jack has devoted himself to eco-activism and filmmaking. Jack has co-founded a studio called Earthrise, a platform to communicate climate and justice, and is now planning to release a Youtube Originals documentary called Seat at the Table. In which, Jack will talk to the people being hit the hardest, those who don’t have a seat at the table. Jack promises to show decision makers at COP26 this video and encourage them to push for action.

What can you expect from Seat at the Table? Jack and his team, Silverback Films, began their journey to COP26 by sailing from the Isles of Scilly to the mainland of the UK. For one of the episodes they visited an underground World War II bunker now used for vertical farming growing microgreens for local restaurants, customers and supermarkets.

‘Jack will talk to the people being hit the hardest, those who don’t have a seat at the table.’

In another episode they visit Lunaz designs, a vehicle re-engineering enterprise based in Silverstone, where they electrify a wide variety of vehicles including Aston Martin cars. Lunaz is another endeavour to transform fossil fuel-using cars, a main source of air pollution, into electric ones. Additionally, they interviewed Mayor of London, Mr Sadiq Khan, about his plans to clean up the city's dirty air; this and more will be released on episode four.

Jack and many others are showing us that it is time for a new generation of young people to lead the way in eco-activism. He was inspired by Sir David Attenborough growing up, and now he is being inspired by fresh faces such as Leah Thomas (Green Girl) and individuals who are making their mark, such as Nemonte Nenquimo, a brave activist from the Amazonian Waorani Nation.

Lauren Macdonald @laurenthesunflower

Lauren recently made headlines as a young climate activist who confronted Shell leaders at the TED countdown conference (#TEDcountdown) leading up to COP26 discussions. Lauren has been passionate about activism for quite some time. She participated in 2019 on a Global Climate Strike, she practices veganism and more recently supported Black Lives Matter protests.

Lauren (on the far right) confronting Shell executives during the TED countdown in October 2021. Addressing concerns with Shell is crucial in the eve of COP26, as they are looking to strike a deal with the UK government to extract oil at the Cambo project. | Bret Hartman & Ryan Lash / TED

Like many, she has taken to social media to call for a stop to the Cambo field oil project, a deal between the UK Government and Shell, as well as Siccar Point Energy. She also expressed disappointment in the Government for not committing to the Paris Climate agreement (an act to remain under the 1.5°C global temperature threshold), especially now that the UK is hosting this year's global climate conference, COP26. The Cambo project is expected to extract 150 million barrels of oil in the next few years, and cause yet more destruction to our planet.

‘Lauren recently made headlines as a young climate activist who confronted Shell leaders at the TED countdown conference (#TEDcountdown) leading up to COP26 discussions.’

The latest reports show that the project has been pushed back to 2022 and Siccar Point has communicated they are delaying their work at the Cambo oil field. The North Sea project has received heated protest, both online and in the streets. Greenpeace activists have joined the fight and argue that tapping into the oil field is inconsistent with the UK's commitment to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

Lauren decided to speak up to Royal Dutch Shell CEO, Ben van Beurden, and executives, at a TED conference, in front of cameras and thousands of people. Shell is the largest Europe-based oil and gas company and the seventh most polluting company in the world. More importantly, it is imperative that big polluters start to invest in cleaner energy sources and fast. But Lauren is not alone, behind these courageous young activists there is an incredible coalition of organisations, such as @stopcambo, @gndrising, @intersectionalenvironmentalist, @theslowfactory and many others.

What is wrong with this photo? She Changes Climate is calling on leaders to address the lack of women representation in the discussion for climate change at COP26 #5050Vision. | She Changes Climate / G7 Summit / Instagram

She Changes Climate @sheclimate

As COP26 approaches, it's important to ensure the participation of women in climate change discussions. She Changes Climates fights to ensure equal and fair representation of women at the top table. Founded by Antoinette Vermilye, Bianca Pitt and, Elise Buckle She Changes Climate aims to bring diversity and inclusiveness to environmental discussions.

This October 2021, COP26, also known as the United Nations Climate Change Conference, will take place in Glasgow, UK. She Changes Climate calls for the COP26 President Alok Sharma to address the gender disparity in the representatives and leaders selected to participate. They also ask for a 50:50 split, meaning half of Directors, Lead Negotiators, Champions, Ambassadors should be women.

‘It is incomprehensible that half the planet is not represented in the senior leadership team where the framing, narrative, issues and content for COP26 will be decided - She Changes Climate’

They are not alone, The Financial Times reported last December 2020, that more than 400 women from the UN Climate Summit also called on the UK Government to address the gender imbalance in the coming COP26 talks.

While we wait for COP26 and the Government to take action, it is important to remember our power as the people to push for change. Join Leah and Lauren in stopping the Cambo Oil development by joining the #STOPCAMBO movement on social media and taking to the streets of London through the Fossil Free London group. So many other young activists have taken to Twitter and Instagram to promote this campaign, and ask the government to cease this proposal, which everyone can achieve by writing to their MP (https://www.writetothem.com) and joining the campaign.

‘There is more to climate activism than Greta Thunberg (even if she is great) - Tori Tsui’

Featured Image: Chez Martin | GreenGirlLeah.com / Jack Harries | Instagram / Bret Hartman & Ryan Lash | TED staff

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Hodgson, C. (2020) Climate leaders protest against lack of women at high levels in UN summit. Climate Capital, Climate Change. Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/ae1f6fba-641e-46c1-a6ba-3d960d0bc9f6 [Accessed September 12th 2021]

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Wiggins, T. (2021) YouTuber Jack Harries calls for ‘collective awakening’ on climate change ahead of COP26. Metro. Available at: https://metro.co.uk/2021/09/20/youtuber-jack-harries-calls-for-collective-awakening-on-climate-change-15283757/ [Accessed October 19th 2021]

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