Capitalism and colonialism underpin a large array of contemporary social issues, and now, as climate reformers and researchers are showing us, they are one of the leading systemic causes aggravating the challenges we face with climate change. At IKKIVI Zine, we had a conversation with climate justice activist Lauren MacDonald on our present failures and struggles in contributing to climate justice, what being hopeful in the midst of crisis can look like, and why she thinks we need to move from taking individual action to collective action to make a greater difference to the movement.
1. What were some of your early experiences in understanding climate injustice?
When I was 17, I encountered veganism for the first time. I quickly decided to go vegan after learning about animal, environmental and human rights abuses in the animal agriculture industry. From there, I began to develop a wider understanding of social justice issues and how they intersect with each other.
After developing this understanding for around a year I became an organizer for Glasgow’s Fridays For Future climate strikes in early 2019. I have been heavily involved in the climate justice movement since.
2. Could you tell us about some of the neighboring issues that climate (in)justice intersects with, and how?
All societal struggles are linked and have the same underlying causes: capitalism and colonialism. We need to abolish the systems of oppression that we currently exist under and create a fair world in which all life is cared for and protected equitably. To achieve climate justice, we must have justice for everyone. We need total liberation for humans, non-human animals and the planet.
3. What do you think are some of our most critical failures or challenges as a public in understanding the climate crisis?
Whilst the public, at least in the UK, generally care about climate change, most don’t understand the severity of the climate crisis and what we actually need to do to mitigate its effects. In my opinion, the climate justice movement should focus more on disseminating information about the climate crisis and social justice issues in an accessible way. There are so many people who are concerned about the climate crisis — they often just don’t have the resources and preparation they need to take collective action.
Generally, we need to focus so much more on onboarding people into social justice movements. As the climate crisis gets more and more out of control, we are seeing a substantial rise in the number of people willing to take action to safeguard the earth. Those who are experienced in climate justice organizing need to be ready to meet these people with the information and training they need to build confidence as an agent of change.
4. In the midst of so many tensions, how can we work for a sustainable and equitable future without losing hope?
Due to how unfathomably catastrophic and heartbreaking the climate crisis is, the default mindset in our campaigning is that we are going to lose. It certainly doesn’t come naturally to me to be hopeful; no wonder we struggle to imagine a better world when the society that we live in is so different from the one we want to see. I get out of bed every day having a deep understanding of the impending collapse of nature, and that can be really, really hard.
It affects every facet of my life.
But to feel hope, we don’t need to feel positive about the climate crisis and the situation we are in right now. I see hope as something I am actively building upon every day. I still struggle, but I actually find that by encouraging myself to feel hopeful about my own ability to create change, it took me out of a massive phase of burn out and gave me back my ability to act. This allowed me to actually envisage winning the Stop Cambo campaign and encourage others to do the same. Now, the Cambo oil field is paused indefinitely.
5. What can we say to someone who doesn’t believe in climate change?
The climate crisis is an indisputable truth. To say that the climate crisis does not exist is to deny the experiences of millions who are already suffering extremely severe impacts. Pollution, extreme heat, and weather-related disasters are already claiming so many lives.
6. What are some ideas or concepts that you see people often get wrong about climate activism?
People often think that to be a climate activist, you have to be willing to do a small selection of roles: in my experience, people think of public speaking and getting arrested. In reality, the climate justice movement needs everyone. We need researchers, mental health professionals, drivers, artists, photographers and videographers, lawyers, action planners, spokespeople, media liaisons, and the list goes on. The point is, there are so many roles that go towards change-making. Everyone has something to add to the table.
7. If there’s one thing that you think we can all start doing today to help protect the environment, what would that be?
In my opinion, the best thing someone can do to take action on climate change is get involved in climate campaigning.
Whilst individual change can be incredibly empowering, we need to go beyond this individualistic lens and consider collective action. We need to completely restructure society, and to do that, we need to work together on issues much more complex than just altering our daily consumption. Being in coalition with other people who care about the climate crisis and teaming up to fight for a specific aim is one of the most empowering things I have ever experienced!
8. What is something you’d like to communicate to our audience which you feel doesn’t get talked about enough?
I’d like to add a youth perspective to why the climate movement is dominated by young people. The youth are, I would say, inclined to be more ambitious about the fight for climate justice. I had a conversation with an MP during COP where they said to me and my friends that decarbonising the UK in time to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees was impossible. At first, hearing someone
who has been in the UK’s political system for decades tell us that decarbonisation was impossible made us feel extremely deflated. But in reflecting on this, I realized that as youth, we don’t have the privilege of believing that what we need to achieve is impossible. We are the ones who will live through that breakdown for the largest proportion of our lives. Our whole futures are at stake, compared to someone who has already lived over half their life in terms of life expectancy. Similarly, people in the most-affected areas do not have the privilege of believing that we do not have the power to achieve climate justice, because if that were the case, this means certain obliteration of their land and untold suffering for their people.
If you’d like to know more about Lauren’s work, you can visit her website.