March 24th, 2020
Coronavirus pandemic shutters public strikes and demonstrations, teenage
climate strikers are labouring to find a powerful way to raise public awareness
online about climate breakdown.
Saoi O’Connor, one of Ireland’s most
prominent teenage strikers, says that the seriousness of the health emergency
also makes highlighting the climate crisis doubly difficult.
Online harassment of climate strikers, she
tells The Green News, has ramped up
since the onset of the pandemic as some in self-isolation decide to spend their
time shaming teenage activists.
“A lot of my Twitter mentions now are people saying, ‘there is a real crisis right now’, or ‘you just need to shut up,’” she says. Saoi says that she feels restless on Fridays now as her puts a pause to her weekly ritual of travelling from her hometown Skibbereen to Cork city to hold a climate vigil outside the Council offices.
“I feel like I’m still waiting for Friday, and I have been for the last three weeks, but we’ll make it work,” she says, as young Irish advocates for the planet’s health join their peers across the world to amplify their voices through digital strikes.
Bonding through crisis
Theresa Rose Sebastian, also from Cork,
describes the online strikes as a way to pull together global members of
Fridays for Future to draw attention to the climate crisis by naming and
shaming politicians and fossil fuel companies.
“The theme for last week’s digital
strike was ‘polluters out’ so were tagging big polluting companies like Shell,
Chevron and Exxon Mobil, who are present at climate policy meetings and trying
to tell them that they have no place there,” she explains.
Unlike public strikes, Theresa says, a
digital protest is a powerful tool for capturing the attention of politicians
and giant corporations. “I think for me, digital strikers have been useful
in the sense that it allows me to directly call out people online.”
Many school strikers are buoyed by the
intergenerational rapport building during this pandemic and hope that it will
play a big role in tackling both the corona and climate crises
Saoi also points to another overlap
between the current health crisis and the planetary one: a persistent blame
game that only divides and hampers group efforts in every movement.
“It’s very easy for my generation to
say that the older generations caused the climate crisis, and it’s very easy
for the older generations to say that young people are spreading the
Covid-19,” she says.
“I think it shows the human capacity to just blame the other and I hope this would lead to an understanding that solidarity is the way to go.”
In an international race to stop the
spread of COVID-19, world leaders have imposed a series of restrictions on
daily life that have largely halted industrial activities. This has led to a
drastic short-term decline in emissions and air pollution in many countries,
including China and Italy.
Both Saoi and Theresa believe that this
shows that the world can returns closer to its natural state “if we
stepped back from the system. Theresa is
hoping that “this would register in our minds that the climate crisis
might reach an irreversible stage that we need to take action now.”
Theresa, who has lived in India as a small
child, believes that western Governments are scrambling to contain the new
health emergency merely because it has impacted their turf – an approach that applies to their attitude to
the climate crisis, she reasons.
A proud advocate of climate justice for
the Global South, Theresa worries that eastern woes never trouble the west. “I
was stuck through one of the worst floods in India, and no one reported it
because it was happening in a developing country. I think now that the [virus]
has impacted the Northern hemisphere, we hear about it,” she says.
“For western countries, psychologically, developing countries don’t matter as long as their crises won’t directly impact them.”
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