“I want you to panic. I want you to act as if the house is on fire, because it is.” So said 16 year-old Swedish climate activist, Greta Thunberg. Her words were heard by millions around the world. Both of us really relate to what Greta said – we too feel panic.
Coming from Germany (Sascha) and Ireland (Carol-Anne), the two of us are nearly 40 years apart in age, but we share a commitment to climate justice.
Carol-Anne: As an older queer activist I now feel embarrassed that, for years and years, I heard the news about climate change, but somehow I ignored it. It felt distant from me. I didn’t realise that dangerous climate change is happening right now.
Sascha: I was similar when I was a teenager. It took me a while to inform myself and become active. But for my generation it is harder to escape global warming. Media coverage is broader now, and more people are involved in activism.
Carol-Anne: For a long time, I didn’t understand climate change, and everyone talking about it seemed to be an expert. I thought it was a scientific issue. It took me ages to realise that it is also a justice issue.
I’m worried that the climate crisis will be devastating. Like war, climate breakdown will make women, LGBT+ people and other minorities more vulnerable to discrimination and violence especially as the extreme right will take advantage of people’s desperation. All the incredible gains we’ve won will be at risk.
Sascha: I agree. When I look around Europe there are a lot of parties who reject the science of climate change, while it is now beyond any doubt that the earth has warmed about 1°C since pre-industrial times. CO2 levels are higher than they’ve been for three million years.
We are experiencing the sixth mass extinction event of our planet, but this time it’s not an asteroid causing it, it’s humans.
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Carol-Anne: We’ve recently seen a lot of signs of climate breakdown locally: the long drought in Ireland last summer, Storm Emma that dumped all that snow, and just a few months before – we had Hurricane Ophelia. On our TVs we’ve seen the deadly floods in Mozambique and those terrible forest fires in California.
Sascha: Many people may understandably feel hopeless given the situation. But we have no right to be hopeless. If a 16 year-old girl from Sweden can spark thousands of school strikes around the world with millions of pupils demanding real action on climate change, then we should really ask ourselves: what can we do?
Carol-Anne: I believe that LGBT+ people can make a huge contribution to fighting climate change. And the climate justice movement can really benefit from our skills and experience – we’ve faced crises, built movements, won referendums, and created amazing organisations and communities. Because older people have delayed so long, we need to follow the lead of young people, but we all have a vital role to play!
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Sascha: Yes, and because we know what it means to be oppressed, we realise we need to stand in solidarity with everyone and everything else that suffers. The diversity we cherish is being lost right now on a global scale. This makes me want to act.
Quite a few queer people are involved in different movements. Maybe we’ve tried to fit into society for so long that we’ve lost sight of whether that is even desirable. In some way global warming offers a chance to reconnect to our role in challenging the status quo, and let’s remember that in many indigenous cultures we were healers, communicators, priests.
Carol-Anne: The environmental movement used to seem heteronormative to me, but now I realise that there are LGBT+ people involved. Maybe we could be more visible and wave our rainbow flags and our trans flags.
Sascha: I’d love to see more signs of queerness! I met quite a few queer people in the climate justice movement. In climate camps in Germany I saw men walking around in skirts and painted fingernails, and queer-themed climate justice actions. Hearing hundreds of people shouting, ‘We’re here, we’re queer, the end of coal is near’ highlighted this connection for me.
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Carol-Anne: And now the School Climate Strikes are having a huge impact. They were so powerful and inspiring around the world on March 15. We saw children and young people in their thousands marching on the Dáil chanting ‘system change – not climate change’.
Sascha: I felt inspired and hopeful on that day. Dealing with the whole issue can be depressing sometimes, but this helped and I still draw energy from it.
Carol-Anne: Right now is an urgent historical moment – we need to act and put pressure on the government. They have failed us all in not moving beyond token responses to climate breakdown.
Sascha: On May 24, there is another global climate strike. Also, let’s all vote in the EU elections on that same day! If we all rise – with love and with rage – I know we can still win.
Mayday: The Fight To Save Our World, an evening of information, conversation and action -a collaboration between GCN and Extinction Rebellion Ireland will take place in Project Arts Centre, Dublin on May 1. Tickets for the event are available here.
This story originally appeared on GCN’s May 2019 issue. Read the full issue here.
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