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The climate crisis is an intersectional crisis

Clover Hogan is a 22-year-old climate activist, researcher on eco-anxiety, and the founding Executive Director of Force of Nature, a youth nonprofit mobilising mindsets for climate action. Clover has worked alongside the world’s leading authorities on sustainability, consulted within the boardrooms of Fortune 500 companies, and supported students in over 50 countries to realise their power as change-makers. Clover has taken the stage with corporate giants including the CEOs of P&G, Twitter and YouTube; alongside global change-makers such as Jane Goodall, Vandana Shiva and Paul Hawken; and interviewed the 14th Dalai Lama. Her TED talk, What to do when climate change feels unstoppable, has been viewed over one million times. Clover is also director and host of the Force of Nature podcast. Season 2, We need to talk about eco-anxiety, explores the intersection of youth mental health and the climate crisis: from food, to fashion, and the role of media in driving climate doomism.

 

The latest IPCC report showed us that we have about a 50/50 chance of avoiding the worst of climate tipping points. What that tells me is that we have two paths in front of us.


We have one path of incrementalism and tokenism, a path of inaction, which will lead us to the apocalyptic climate images that have become front and centre. Particularly over the past summer, as we saw the fires in Turkey through Greece, we saw increased hurricanes around the world, we saw food system collapse in places like East Africa due to drought and locust swarms, we saw ocean acidification off the coast of Australia with coral bleaching events. We can see what that path has in store.


And yet we also have another path in front of us, a path of transformation, a path where we throw everything in our power at solving the climate crisis. And that path requires that we rethink our economic systems, our food systems, how we produce our clothes, how we communicate with one another, how we transport ourselves. It's rethinking so much of how we live, breathe and exist in the 21st century. For me, COP26 is about leaders from all walks of life treating the climate emergency like a true emergency and like the emergency that it is currently, based on the commitments that have been set out.


According to the Paris Agreement, over the next ten years we're looking at about a 16% increase in greenhouse gas emissions, whereas the climate science tells us that we need to have a 45% decrease in emissions. So not only are commitments not lining up with action, but the commitments themselves aren't nearly as ambitious as the climate science tells us they must be.


We need to take a transformative approach. We need to start with incrementalism, we need to stop with the greenwash, we need to stop allowing big polluters – giant fossil fuel companies and industry which have a vested interest in the status quo – maintaining the same, staying the same. We need to disallow them from engaging in these spaces, having a voice in these spaces. Nothing short of transformation is going to deliver under 1.5 degrees of warming, which we recognise is a critical climate tipping point.


Who's responsible for making COP26 a success?


Is it the low-lying countries, the small countries that are being disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis today, largely countries in the Global South, those countries that have contributed the least to the climate crisis? Or is it the countries that have already gone through their industrialization, such as Australia, United States of America, the United Kingdom, who are disproportionately contributing to the climate crisis. These are the countries that have already benefited from their industrialization, yet continue to consistently contribute the most to climate, and they have a major responsibility. It’s not just a responsibility to ensure that countries being affected are able to adapt to the climate crisis, but that there is compensation and a just transition for communities who are already being affected. When communities and families are losing their homes due to flooding or rising sea levels or fire, that is not climate adaptation, which is much of the attitude in the spaces that COP26, that is forced migration and there needs to be reparations, there needs to be support in place. And that support again needs to come from the countries that have disproportionately benefited from the fossil fuel industry and continue to do so.


At the same time, I think is there is a responsibility among all of us to be able to step up in the face of this issue. The climate crisis doesn't have a silver bullet solution. It doesn't have a silver bullet stakeholder. It takes movement from every level and part of society, not one company changing or one industry or one leader stepping forward. We have an opportunity to catalyse change at all levels and for people who have historically been excluded from these spaces to have a seat at the table and to be part of the decisions that are ultimately governing our future.


How can you change the narrative on climate change?


Lots of parts of the climate crisis narrative are really broken and no longer fit for purpose. A huge one is that we continue to talk about the climate crisis as if it's about polar bears and solar panels, which are elements, but the climate crisis is a humanitarian crisis. We will not solve this issue if we do not deliver fair and equitable societies. A changing climate has very direct human impacts. We've even seen communities in parts of Africa whose livelihoods have been disrupted by a changing climate. For example, families who have lost their farms due to droughts, who are then forced into positions where they have to sell their children, their daughters into child marriage, because they don't have access to income, they don't have any ability to support themselves. Girls don't have access to clean sanitation, don't have access to clean drinking water, or are having to miss out on their education or having to drop out of school, even when we know that educating girls and giving women access to reproductive rights is one of the most long-term, important climate solutions that we have today. We need to understand that the climate crisis is fundamentally an intersectional one. We can't separate social justice from climate justice, we can't separate out any of these problems, they all have a relationship among one another, and they're all interconnected, and so too are their solutions.


We also can't afford to keep talking about the climate crisis as a long-term, distant threat. If you have the privilege of learning about climate change in school, obviously not the reality for a lot of young people today, even then you still learn about it as largely a long-term, complex problems to do with weather systems, which are not only the tip of the iceberg but also incredibly misleading, because the climate crisis is already very much here. There are already communities that are suffering, there are Arctic communities being severely impacted. The climate crisis isn't some long-term issue. It's right on our doorsteps. And it's only going to get worse.


Rewilding and the recovery of nature


As much as techno-utopianism would like to argue otherwise, nature-based solutions are the most effective climate solutions that we have. Elon Musk earlier this year tweeted that he'd be donating $100 million to the most effective carbon capture technology, as if trees didn't exist.


The climate crisis is a symptom of broken systems, and one symptom of those broken systems is being divorced from nature. We live in a capitalist economic model that commodifies nature, that values a tree more when it's dead than when it's alive, that puts a cost on human lives and bargains with them. Nature and its restoration is absolutely at the heart of climate recovery and a just transition. This isn’t only about the abundance of life on this planet, but of our relationship to nature, our ability to flourish alongside it and with it, because nature around us is healthy.


We can't separate out the climate and ecological crises either. We're facing a sixth mass extinction, we're losing species every day that have weathered time for millions of years, and whose lives and lineages have come to an end because of human impacts. We absolutely need to place nature restoration and nature regeneration at the heart of every climate conversation. This affects how we see ourselves in nature as well. We're really good at thinking and framing nature as an ‘other’. And yet we humans are an expression of nature.


There are countless examples of where humans not only don't have a negative impact on the nature around them, but are really critical to its survival. There are a number of indigenous communities around the world who have been counted as keystone species. Their presence in those environments is critical to their flourishing. Today, 80% of the world's biodiversity is protected and governed by indigenous communities. Nature connection has to be at the heart of what we do. It's a critical climate solution and fostering that ecophilia within people, that connectedness and love for nature, will ensure that people feel that they can be guardians and champions of the nature that we're losing.


What do governments and multinationals need to do?


We need to treat the climate emergency like an emergency. It’s not an inconvenience. It's not something we can put off. It's not something that will be fixed with token solutions that simply posture over an existing model, of the commodification of nature and the exploitation of people. Fundamentally our systems need to change. It's not about a single government changing. It's not about a single business. If we look at politics, for example, it is innately geared towards short-term interests.


For example, in America, you have a political leader who spends two years campaigning to get into power and then spends the next few years trying to accommodate vested interests to support the people who funded and bought their way into power, and then the next few years of their term campaigning for the next election cycle. Politics is fundamentally geared toward short-term interests, short-term emergencies. It's not geared towards a long-term existential threat that requires our immediate attention. Politics fundamentally needs to change. Government needs to change. Democracy is at the heart of climate action, being able to vote people into power who are willing to fight for and protect our future collectively and think of not just the next generation, but future generations in continuum.


Currently, when I vote in the UK, my choice is between a climate change denier and a seasoned procrastinator. We need to fundamentally change the system that they're a part of. With multinationals, it's the same. Their entire business model is about short-term profits. They're beholden largely to their shareholders and to the interests of people who profit from them not disrupting the status quo. Sustainability and climate are still largely seen as market opportunity: ‘here's a way for us to sell more greenwash, marketed to a new consumer base’. It's not premised on fundamentally rethinking the way that we do business, why we create value in society and how we create that value. Again, a huge shift is needed in the way that these institutions see themselves, in the size of these institutions, and where that responsibility is perceived to be. In my experience, working with politicians and decision makers and business alike. there's a lot of finger-pointing, companies saying ‘it's up to politicians to regulate us’. And politicians say ‘we're in the pockets of business, we have no choice’. We need to own our responsibility and we can't allow the conversation to exist at the superficial level. It has to be at the level of the institutions and the systems that govern these bodies.


Individuals and communities


Institutions and organisations are made up of individuals. These corporations, these governments, we play a part in all of them. I prefer not to frame the individual as the current rhetoric, that as a consumer, if you want to do something on an individual level, then it's about buying reusable coffee cup or turning off the lights when you leave a room. Those can be empowering actions for the individual – each to their own. Those actions can reinforce really positive values. But ultimately, they're a starting point and not a stopping one. That whole narrative of consumer activism has been co-opted by the fossil fuel industry and by big business to put the onus on the individual and spotlight attention away from themselves and their responsibility as corporations. It's not about individual token actions. It's what can we do when we step up and own a problem. And critically, when we come together is where I've seen impacts. The people who inspire me are those who, rather than being overwhelmed by the enormity and the number of problems that do exist, have instead taken a view that impact comes from focus - what is a problem that I can focus on? That could be food waste, or fast fashion, or prison reform, or any of the kind of interconnected problems that make up the climate crisis. As individuals, we can take ownership of those problems, and then trust that others are doing the same in the system so that we can come together in a tapestry of individuals who are each owning problems, and each stepping up and each communicating with one another so that those problems don't then exist in silo, but are collectively working toward the same goals.


Where are we heading as a society?


It's very easy to entertain the kind of dystopian imagery and the apocalyptic scenes of the world that we're inheriting, but I have to have faith in society and faith that we will avert this crisis. Maybe we'll not avert it as soon as we want to, and maybe we will continue to lose species and we will continue to lose communities, but ultimately, we will choose to create a society that is built on the values of community and contribution, connection to nature and one another, rather than the current model in Western culture of commodification, competition and comparison. We live in a society of extrinsic values and for me, the hope and the faith comes from living in a society that values intrinsic needs – what it is to be human, what it is to understand one another, what it is to live as expression of nature, in relationship with nature rather than at odds and in competition with it.

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