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Dear Matafele Peinem

how youth activism is shaping the climate movement

a film by. Natalia Vega-Berry
Country. usa
RUN time. 4:04 Min

“Delivered through powerful spoken word, we are taken on an emotional journey understanding a mother’s ferocity of love for her child and what it means to protect their future.”
ally lantz, Climate crisis film festival director

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tuvalu’s fight to stay above water

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WORDS by
Simmone Ahiaku
nus

global youth
fighting for change

Dear Matafele Peinem is a call to act. It asks us to visualise the world that is being passed on to our children and dares us to fight for the best possible future. The poem perfectly situates the youth climate justice movement we see today — one full of fearlessness, radical imagination and the determination to always push for more.

We now have millions of young people across the world mobilising for climate justice because we know a better world is out there, and we need to be active shapers of our future. Systemic change is within our reach.

Fridays for future are among the movements that have mobilised young people all over the world to take action and fight for climate justice

Tuvalu’s fight to stay above water

Youth movements rise out of necessity, when the failing systems drive younger generations to question their future prospects and organise to demand better. In 2014, the UN Climate Change and Migration Issues in the Pacific report declared that if sea levels continue to rise at the current rate Tuvalu, a nation of some 12,000 people, will become uninhabitable by 2050 , rendering it one of the first nation states to disappear due to climate change. Saving Tuvalu aim to become the largest youth-led non-governmental organisation to address the environmental and humanitarian issues taking place in Tuvalu. Kato Ewekia,

Saving Tuvalu’s global campaign director, has been involved since early 2020 when the organisation reached out to Tuvaluans who had had first hand contact with the crisis for their ‘Saving Tuvalu Global Campaign’. Having surveyed their work, Kato was excited by the group’s recognition of “the role of interdependence in tackling global issues.” For the 4th smallest nation in the world, partnering with larger allies to amplify their struggle is crucial.

In 2100, Tuvalu faces dramatic sea level rises of between 2m and 4m across the whole island
Kato Ewekia believes that Tuvalu’s young people feel passion and urgency to take climate action to save their country

Currently, Saving Tuvalu divide their efforts between two campaigns. An international one — managed by Kato — which is made up of young people, from all ethnicities, backgrounds, and regions around the world, who seek to amplify the voices of the community in Tuvalu. Then, there is the national one, bringing together Tuvaluan citizens and political actors — which develops actionable projects to improve quality of life indexes, as well as raising the nation’s voice around climate injustice. Their Instagram page offers visual explainers about their work and facts about Tuvalu.

Kato believes that the movement to save Tuvalu has to be youth led. “Particularly in the case of Tuvalu, the youth may be the last demographic that lives to see its country beyond the sea. Therefore, its voices must be heard and amplified to, at one point, save Tuvalu from extinction.”

He recently worked on a campaign with Fridays for Future on social media to amplify their cause and further their calls to increase international aid given to Tuvalu to tackle climate change issues such as drinking-water storage and soil infertility due to salinisation from sea flooding. In a world that abides by climate justice principles, we must acknowledge that wealthy nations are far more responsible for the climate crisis than places like Tuvalu. 66% of emissions between 1751 and 2017 came from the US, the EU, Russia and China - a total of 1053bn tonnes! Many of the wealthiest people in these countries live in cities which are sheltered from the worst effects of climate change, meaning that they don’t feel its affects as keenly. These nations therefore have a responsibility to eliminate fossil fuel use and fund projects to save at-risk nations from the damage their excessive consumption has caused.

“As individuals living in political systems that usually do not represent their needs, young people are the main voice in climate activism. After all, we, as new generations, will be the first to suffer from human indifference, built up over centuries from lack of sustainability and environmental responsibility.”
Kato Ekwekia, Saving Tuvalu

For Kato, his vision of a world that adopts climate justice principles is one where “all individuals, regardless of their characteristics, are equally represented in the eyes of the international community. In other words, to live in a world where some aren’t more impacted nor benefited than others.” Too often, the sentiments of people in the Global North are that climate change is a far off prospect that can be tackled with ethical consumerism, recycling and turning off lightbulbs. Within this strain of thought, people in Tuvalu are dehumanised into insignificance. The racial lens cannot be ignored — Would Western media feel differently if white people were at risk? Kato argues that “as individuals living in these systems, it is our duty to promote inclusiveness, the overthrow of structural issues such as environmental racism, and the amplification of the voices that need it the most.”

Tuvalu has contributed almost nothing to global emissions and yet it is suffering the most from climate breakdown

Saving Tuvalu’s campaign aspires to build systems based on action rather than empty rhetoric — their main drive is rooted in the hope that there is still a future for them. A future that considers Tuvalu, underrepresented nations, and marginalised communities within its ideals.

The communities most affected by the climate crisis are the least responsible for its creation. From sea level rise affecting other South Pacific island like Kiribati and Tuvalu, to typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines and floods of Pakistan, Algeria and Colombia. These communities are disproportionately communities of colour based in the Global South and the Indigenous North. Climate justice requires the status quo to be transformed for everybody, not just for those in positions of power, as we move to a more equitable and greener world.

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the young engine of the climate movement

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the young engine of the climate movement

The communities most affected by the climate crisis are the least responsible for its creation. From sea level rise affecting other South Pacific island like Kiribati and Tuvalu, to typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines and floods of Pakistan, Algeria and Colombia. These communities are disproportionately communities of colour based in the Global South and the Indigenous North. Climate justice requires the status quo to be transformed for everybody, not just for those in positions of power, as we move to a more equitable and greener world.

In recent years, youth movements have sprung up all over the globe, with young people taking action in the fight against the climate crisis. It is a movement which differs starkly from the previous environmental movements which have been largely based around conservation-orientated values and organised by large organisations like the WWF, Sierra Club and Conservation International. This internet savvy generation knows how to instantly connect with affiliated campaigners in countries thousands of miles away and merge previously disparate political and climate causes under the broad umbrella of the climate justice movement.

“This movement is yours. Be outraged, do not remain silent in the face of indifference. United, today and always, we are stronger than anything.”
Kato Ekwekia, Saving Tuvalu

What we see in the current youth movement has turned our traditional responses to climate change on its head. This era of environmentalism is digital, creative, and focused on disruptive direct action, with a clear target: holding institutions, corporations and governments accountable rather than individuals. Friday’s for future, Generation Green, UKSCN and Latinas for Climate were all created after 2018. Led by young people for young people, these forward-looking, focused on inclusivity and climate justice, understanding that the climate crisis doesn’t exist in a vacuum but is just a symptom of a larger crisis affecting the political, economic and social system.

The unique strength that young people bring into activism is their capacity to inject creative problem-solving and radical imagination into stale ideologies. Equipped with the uncompromising desire not to settle for the world as it is, we’re currently seeing a generation coming together to push the boundaries and fight for the eradication not only of emission but also of the systems of oppression that go with them.

Through mass strikes, protest marches and public awareness campaigns, young people’s voices are being heard, and a mass climate movement is building. Our fight for justice encompasses building radical solidarity and resources across movements, connecting the links between our struggles and uniting our demands against colonialism, capitalism and white supremacy that create and perpetuate exploitation, inequality and extraction.

Throughout history youth movements have energised social justice campaigns from the civil rights movement up today’s climate justice movement

The 2020s might be a historical turning point, a chance to design and build a new system — one that values our interconnectedness and interdependence with the world and each other. On a global scale, this is just as much about climate safety as it is about re-distributing power and wealth. If climate emissions are to be brought within safe limits, the system that allows the fossil fuel industry to operate based on neo-colonial business models of dispossession, oppression and complicity in state-sanctioned violence must be radically reformed.

When we choose to imagine a new future, we must dream big, collectively and radically. We must not tell ourselves that it’s unattainable. When we show the impossible is possible by taking action, we edge a little closer to creating the world we want to see. It’s important to emphasise that an eradication of this system has not happened yet, so we don’t have a precise map or destination for what climate justice will look like. But what we do have are a strong set of guiding justice principles and the courage to set out on a different path - to create something that is both within us and beyond our wildest dreams.

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footnotes

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curation Ally Lantz
written Simmone Ahiaku
edited Jake Coleman
art direction Susanna Basso
director Natalia Vega-Berry
country USA
year 2014
run 4 min

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