A climate crisis manifesto for hope and action in 2021
16-year-old climate activist Scarlett Westbrook on overcoming the despair we're feeling, and what needs to come next.
Collage of photography by Ivan Ruberto
For most students, 2020 was the year that everything went online and everyone was mostly confined to their homes. But for me, it was the second time I was shut off from the outside world.
When I was 13, my social life was traded for being cooped up in my room, studying for upcoming A level exams. In 2018 I became the youngest person in the world to have an A level in Government and Politics, for which I self-taught over a period of seven months.
For this qualification, I specialised in climate and education policy, which was the perfect base for the work I have gone on to do as a climate activist. While my friends have only recently needed to rely on Zoom, I've spent the last two years in what seemed like endless meetings, planning everything from school strikes to policy.
Now, at 16, I'm once again left with the inability to see my friends in person, and my room has returned to being doubled up as a classroom for A levels; only this time it's because of a global pandemic.
While many aspects of my life seem like they've become parodies of their pre-pandemic versions (online dance lessons are an experience, to say the least!), one thing that has remained pretty consistent is climate activism. Although we may not be able to strike in the hundreds of thousands, or speak at in-person rallies, the youth climate movement has always been connected through the internet. For years, climate organising has been haunted by the intricacies of Slack, countless group chats, poor signal and dodgy mics on Zoom — things that have now become a present reality for students across the country.
Being stuck in a world of exam uncertainty, constant bereavement and isolation makes it easy to succumb to the palpable overwhelming sense of hopelessness that seems to be draped across the country. Except, it doesn't have to be this way.
Government incompetence has gotten us into this mess, and while it might be the status quo, it's not an inevitability. The scale of the present-day pandemic and all of the miseries tethered to it come from the same extractive and exploitative systems and governments driving the climate crisis.
You see, both the coronavirus pandemic and the climate emergency share a common denominator. They're driven by corporate greed and government ineptitude, exacerbated by inequality deliberately manufactured to oppress. Coupled with the fact that we're denied the opportunity to learn about the humanitarian impacts of the climate crisis at school, it's no surprise that so many of us feel helpless; the knowledge needed to combat this feeling is hidden away from us.
As our futures are being traded for short term financial gain by the government, we need to remember that power doesn't lie solely in parliament — it lies in communities and people.
Young people in particular hold so much power that comes from resilience and strength. We're the generation that has lived through economic recessions, austerity, a global pandemic and disastrous exam reforms — all before adulthood. We have mobilised hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, and this is only the beginning. We can, and will, grow and fight harder than ever before — and utilise even the power that we haven't yet discovered.
It's time to incorporate climate justice education into every aspect of the system, liberating it from optional subjects like triple science or geography and entrenching it into every subject in every stream of education from GCSEs to A levels, BTECs to apprenticeships.
Fighting the climate crisis isn't just about combating global warming — it's about tearing down the capitalist systems perpetuating it, meaning that every fight against inequality is a step toward climate justice.
We need to call for an international Green Industrial Revolution, also known as a Green New Deal, to cohesively address these issues. The Green Industrial Revolution is a 10-year, government-led mobilisation to rapidly phase out fossil fuels while also solving the enormous inequality divide present in society. It would also involve protecting and restoring vital threatened habitats, creating millions of green, well-paid and secure jobs, and fundamentally achieving climate justice. Currently, the Green New Deal has existed in some form in the UK, most notably in Labour’s 2019 Green Industrial Revolution manifesto point, but it is still not a legislated policy anywhere in the world. While world leaders — especially Biden — have made use of GND phrasing in an attempt to greenwash, we’re still far from from attaining it; which is why we have got to fight harder than ever.
Not only this, but it's time for education reform. I've experienced every aspect of the education system, from nursery to the completion of A levels. My GCSE Geography lessons forced me to list the 'benefits' of climate change, but I've not once been taught about the humanitarian implications of the crisis, nor the political systems driving it. We deserve an education system that equips us with all of the knowledge, skills and resources necessary to deal with the now inevitable impacts of the climate crisis, and fight to mitigate the effects that we can, so that we can build a resilient society.
It's time to incorporate climate justice education into every aspect of the system, liberating it from optional subjects like triple science or geography and entrenching it into every subject in every stream of education: from GCSEs to A levels, BTECs to apprenticeships. Not only this, but we must overturn the access restrictions that disproportionately impact people of colour and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, and create an education system that works for everyone; not just those who have enough privilege to thrive.
That's why the Teach the Future campaign was set up, which you can get involved with by doing things like emailing your MP, signing our petition and so much more. Online activism has always been around, and it's not going to go anywhere. True power lies in communities and mutual aid and hope, and by resisting neoliberalism through care, there is resistance against the climate crisis.
You can do countless things to make your voice heard and fight back against injustice. Whether it's learning more about the things that the education system denies us when it comes to the climate crisis, attending a digital rally or workshop, or lobbying MPs and Ministers, there are many possibilities. While online work may be new for some, young climate activists have been doing this for years, and we will continue exerting our influence via organising online.
As neoliberalism continues to attempt to force us into hopelessness, there's no greater act of resistance than hoping.