In March this year I started to care about the planet. Like, in a big way. Before that, I fretted about it and treated it like an extremely beautiful but very sick creature I was afraid to get too attached to. If you want to know how my change of heart started, I’ll tell you the same thing I told the poor old Texan man sitting beside me on a flight out of JFK. “I’m going for a chemistry test with the first woman president of Ireland so I could potentially be her co-host for this climate justice podcast she’s about to make.” He stayed quiet after that.
The following morning, jet-lagged and disoriented on a winding London street, I couldn’t find the restaurant where I was supposed to meet Mary Robinson. When I eventually did find it, I couldn’t find the door, so her first impression of me was of a tardy wild-eyed woman knocking on a window mouthing “so sorry” and “just an omelette please”.
My first impression of her was way back when I was eight years old, and she became the president of Ireland. Back then, she came across as powerful and good and clever, certainly not someone to mess with. Those were the instincts of a child and three decades later I’m glad to have been proven correct. After the Irish presidency Mary Robinson became the UN high commissioner for human rights, and it was during this time she began to see the link between climate change and human rights. She focused in on this and 15 years ago set up the Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice. Climate justice means a people-centered solution to climate change. It pushes for restorative justice and recognizes the integrity of the planet and every creature on it. And I’ve come to understand that climate justice is a way out of the capitalist and paternalist way of living that’s gotten us into this climate change mess in the first place.
I’m a comedian and a podcaster, as I explained to the Texan on the airplane who was now pretending to be asleep. My job as co-host, should I get it, would be to help navigate the world of podcasting and, I whispered as I patted his hand, I’d add in my own sense of curiosity and hopefully some levity too.
The following morning, after hurriedly eating my omelette, we headed to a studio where we had some classic podcast banter, which went as follows: Me: “On you and your husband’s first date, who paid for dinner?” Mary, narrowing her eyes: “This is a little frivolous. Shall we begin the divestment discussion?”
That’s how it started; that’s how I learned more about climate justice in the past six months than in the whole rest of my life. I count myself lucky, because climate justice is fascinating, uplifting, and intersectional in a way that’s still too large for me to comprehend but could change the course of the world.
Over the course of five months, Mary and I spoke to and heard from amazing women all over the world. There are scientists in Africa, farmers in Asia, politicians in Brussels, and indigenous community leaders in America, all working to solve climate problems every single day. People I didn’t realize were helping turn out to be the heroes of this story – like lawyers and children and midwives. People like Tara Houska, an attorney who advocates on behalf of tribal nations at the local and federal levels, who spent six months on the frontlines in North Dakota fighting the Dakota Access pipeline.
She is also heavily engaged in the movement to defund fossil fuels, and she travels the world challenging major banks and institutions about this. I got so fired up after listening to that I called my bank to see what they were doing with my savings: $3,200 at the time (less now that I had to buy a new sofa). Turns out I needed to move it (my money, not my sofa) because Chase Bank is … not a good choice if you care about divestment from fossil fuels.
Two youngsters stick in my mind, Victoria Barrett and Ridhima Pandey. They are just a couple out of dozens of kids worldwide using the law to force their governments to take climate change more seriously. Victoria is a 19-year-old New Yorker. Her school was flooded by Superstorm Sandy and she’s a plaintiff in a groundbreaking constitutional climate lawsuit against the US government, arguing the administration’s climate-changing actions violate young people’s constitutional rights to life, liberty and property. The trial starts in October. Ridhima, from Uttarakhand, India, filed a petition against her government in 2017 when she was just nine years old. She argued that the Indian government had failed to fulfill its duties to her and the Indian people to protect them from climate impacts – a hearing on the case is expected soon. When I was nine, all I wanted was one of those pens with lots of different colors to click between.
I also learned that while all of us have contributed to climate change to some extent, its results are not gender neutral. It affects women first and worst: women are more likely to die in a climate disaster, and day to day they are the ones cooking on solid fuel stoves that can ultimately poison them. Climate justice offers a feminist solution, one that sees women as equally valuable as men. I learned too that the countries that do the worst damage to the planet don’t actually feel its effects, at least not fully and not yet.
Which brings me to what I unlearned. I’m sorry to say that in the past I’ve seen people in countries and communities hit worst by climate change as unfortunate victims, and failed to see that precisely because of this suffering, they are often the ones leading the fight against it. Climate justice heroes come from Bangladesh, Rwanda and Puerto Rico, to name a few, and also from indigenous communities worldwide. It took repeated conversations and actual listening on my part to break down my colonial mindset, my internalized “the west knows best” attitude, one I wasn’t aware I had.
Within the US, people of color and poor people breathe dirtier air than whiter, wealthier people. In LA, you’re almost twice as likely to die in a heatwave if you’re black, because of the urban heat island effect and less access to air conditioning and cars than other Angelenos. Isn’t that just disgusting? But again, leadership is coming from within the communities at risk. We had a conversation with Sarra Tekola. She’s a climate justice and Black Lives Matter activist working on a PhD in climate science in Seattle. It was thrilling to sit in a studio and be part of a discussion between Mary, someone accustomed to and comfortable moving through the halls of power, and Sarra, someone who is 40 years younger and usually found protesting outside those very halls.
As you would expect, there was more in common than not, and what I found moving was the women’s shared sense of urgency and fighting spirit, and the unspoken kinship that comes with it. Anyone can be a part of this, you just have to join in. Until now, I’ve felt a pervasive sense of doom that’s kept me stuck when it comes to climate change. But today, there are new elements I’ve learned about that bolster me and give me hope: namely the ethics, the politics and the spiritual dimension in our relationship to the planet and the people who live on it.
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Meet the inspiring, hopeful women fighting for climate justice have 1580 words, post on www.theguardian.com at July 24, 2018. This is cached page on Talk Vietnam. If you want remove this page, please contact us.