Amy Cotterell is a Biochemistry undergraduate student studying at the University of Bristol. She has participated in our Climate Action Bristol programme and is one of our paid student blog writers, who wanted to use our platform to share her views and experiences which have shaped her passion for tackling the climate crisis. In this blog, she outlines what type of news and events have shaped her desire to tackle climate change, and why she believes working with our community and collaboration is the best way to make sustainable and environmental change.
For a long time, I thought that the climate crisis was being fought against by a few key figures and experts and my job was to reduce my own emissions. I now believe that only by forming caring communities armed with a diverse combination of outlooks and skills will we able to significantly reduce the effects of the climate crisis.
So, why is collaboration so important and why isn’t it enough to just ‘reduce your footprint’?
Firstly, I want to highlight that the extent of climate breakdown we will experience is a scale. Meaning we will not lose and we will not win the fight. Instead, any reduction to emissions will reduce the effects of the crisis while any increase in resilience and reduction in inequality will improve lives. Many have already worked hard to do this and that has done a lot of good.
Right now, though, we’re headed for far above 1.5 degrees of warming, which will lead to suffering on an unimaginable scale across the globe. How is this possible? The answer is, too many powerful people profit from business as usual. So, they will continue to use their influence to stop any changes to the system that might save us from destruction. For example, when the alarm bells were first ringing, millions were poured into the climate denialist argument. It’s no wonder COP26 failed us (along with all 25 previous UN Climate Conferences), when more than 500 delegates with links to fossil fuels participated. Meanwhile, an Energy Charter Treaty has led to five energy multinational companies suing governments for a total of 18 billion due to loss of earnings resulting from climate inaction.
Locally, Bristol’s airport expansion has been approved by government planning officers despite already being rejected by the local council.
Even if the UK somehow reduced its emissions to net zero tomorrow, many countries across the globe cannot develop sustainably without support. How can we turn our backs and simply say it’s up to each individual to lower their own footprint?
Everywhere you look, people are directly profiting from the crisis and blocking solutions to it. This is what happens when competition trumps collaboration. So, while reducing your individual consumption and recycling is important, efforts to stop the crisis also need to effectively bring an end to the continuation of these power games.
This can be overwhelming but you don’t have to face it alone. Together, we can create new systems of power that challenge those invested in our destruction, while designing and contributing to the solutions we so desperately need.
My Experience of Activism and the Power of Community
I joined Extinction Rebellion (XR) Youth Bristol about a year ago, but at the time I had little interest in the community it had and no knowledge of the extent of its influence. I had, however, seen how XR increased awareness of the climate emergency, admiring the movement’s creativity and flexibility.
After being involved in a Peace Lotus Action (something I rather enthusiastically had all my friends folding lotus flowers for), I decided to join the G7 summit protest. Going in not really knowing any of the people I was going with. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the kind, creative and intelligent community which immediately welcomed me, generously offering me a tent, free camping space and food. Since G7, I have helped to plan and execute a multitude of different actions.
Currently, we are campaigning to make buses free for all students and apprentices and finding ways to ensure the bus service serves all parts of Bristol equitably. For this campaign, we have needed people to organise our meetings, get the equipment, design the posters, do the research… You get the idea! The action needed all of us to happen and used a diverse number of skills. Working with others also lifts the weight from your shoulders. There are many things I would like to do within activism that I know would help against the crisis, but I do not have the time or energy to do them all. Instead, I participate in the way I can and trust others to do the same. Together we contribute to the complex web of solutions which true, permanent change requires.
Collaboration allows us to combine our skills and outlooks but the formation of communities lets us lean on each other. After joining the climate movement, I learnt about the huge systems of power we stand up against. The collapse of nature and humanity felt inevitable and I struggled to find motivation to do anything while simultaneously feeling guilty I wasn’t contributing enough. That was when I took part in the Resilience Project, where two trained youths ran an 8-week resilience circle for a group of young people exploring problems in facing the climate crisis such as anxiety, burnout and isolation. The sessions provided a space where we could discuss our feelings and find ways to move forwards together while facing the crisis. Together we worked on skills needed to process the crisis
- Pointless joy: Don’t let the crisis swallow you, continue to do things that make you happy.
- Feel, talk about and acknowledge negative emotions: We are effectively dealing with the breakdown of our whole world and it is normal to be upset about it!
- Rest is an act of resistance: The climate crisis is immediate and frightening and it can be easy to feel guilty for not doing a thousand and one things. You can’t face it alone and shouldn’t burn yourself out trying.
In a community, you get the chance to take on roles that play to your strengths while allowing the community to function and thrive. Activism is a powerful part of this because it directs these networks of skills and knowledge to create change. Through forming communities in activist spaces, you support the people who make that push and make the movement more sustainable. Activism is my way currently of being part of the movement I want to see, but it is by no means the only way.
Everyone Has a Role to Play
While activism pushes the powerful to create change, we need to harness our collective power and continue to build networks that build the world we need. Regardless of your political views, your skillset or your background there are roles for you to play in building communities that empower the vulnerable and reduce emissions.
- Reducing waste and redistributing wealth within your community: This could include volunteering in a local charity shop or food bank and organising or helping with events that sharing clothes or food? A great example is FoodCycle which uses food that would otherwise go to waste to cook healthy meals for their community.
- Conservation work and connecting people with nature: This can range from typical conservation work within your local area, to helping with forest schools or community gardening projects. Connecting people with nature improves their mental and physical health while increasing their willingness and understanding of how to protect it.
- Learning from, educating and involving your existing community: Though you can learn about the crisis from books, podcasts or films, alongside that you can learn from the people you know. For example, my mum is a walking book of flowers. Building on that, you can use your knowledge to discuss and engage the people around you, by getting your community involved in any way possible you accomplish a lot more than you could do alone.
What have we got to lose?
Even if it was too late to reduce global warming (something I don’t believe) what will we have lost from working together, from rebuilding nature in our local areas, from learning and talking to others more about how our world works? Nothing.
Our movement will act like an ecosystem, each person fills a different niche or role forming a symbiotic relationship with others in their community and forming a powerful collective network. We will always be more powerful as part of this network.
Thank you to Amy for her moving and powerful piece on tackling the climate crisis! Amy is one of our paid blog writers, and our submissions are currently OPEN for student writers for the next academic year. We pay our writers £40 for their blog submission, and work with them to create and publish their piece. You can see Lucy Bayliss’s paid student blog about her experience of the Social Innovation Programme here.