Tell me a bit about you – where are you from, what age are you, and what do you do (climate-related and otherwise)?
I’m from Belfast in Northern Ireland and I’m 17 years old. I am a climate striker with NISCN which is the Northern Irish branch of UKSCN, the national social media coordinator for UKSCN and youthstrike4climate and I’m the founder of friday for future belfast where I’m the only weekly striker in my country so far. Otherwise, I’m an A level student studying Technology and design, English literature and biology.
How did you get into climate activism?
I got into climate activism by hearing about Greta Thunberg through the news and word of mouth and wanted to find out more so I did research by reading things such as the ipcc special report on climate change etc and it once I fully understood the science and the severity of the crisis I felt like I needed to do something about it. Since I am too young to vote I turned to the next best thing- protesting to raise enough awareness so as adults would vote for our future. I then turned up at a climate strike and was hooked.
How did you go about starting Fridays For Future Belfast?
It’s pretty straightforward to be honest. I just created a social media account called fridaysforfuturebelfast with the help of my friend Sam. Then, I made a sign out of some cardboard scraps I found in the recycling bin in my kitchen, and wrote on it with a black marker. After that, I just got the bus to city centre Belfast, sat myself down on the stone slab making up the base of the spirit of Belfast Statue in Cornmarket and read a book. It hasn’t changed much since except it’s four months on, I’m onto a different book and my sign has progressed to wood.
You were part of a Greta Thunberg book-reading event at Waterstones Belfast. How was that set up, and what was the experience like?
It was set up by the NI Human Rights Festival to celebrate how women have been taking the lead in climate activism via the launch of Greta Thunberg’s updated book ‘No One Is Too Small To Make A Difference.’ The experience was very empowering as I got to hear other young people from across the country even coming from as far west as Derry talk about their experiences with activism. It was also a good opportunity to talk with them in person and meet face to face as a lot of them I knew from organising on group chats and slack groups.
What have you learned through your activism?
Many things. I’d say I’ve learnt more in the days I’ve striked from school than I would have in the lessons I’ve missed as you can always write up notes later on but you can’t redo experiences. I’ve learnt a lot about myself and being an adult because usually at events or meetings you’re one of the only young people there and so you are forced to talk more maturely than you feel, reporters and presenters expect you to be as educated as the scientists and politicians talk to you like you’re experts in law. The adults seem to not notice the fact that we are youth strikers. This isn’t our day job; we have to go to school the next day. Furthermore, I’ve learnt many valuable and unique but transferable skills such as communication when networking with people and leadership skills when Coordinating social media volunteers for UKSCN. Finally, the politicians aren’t as confident in person as you’d think they’d be when they aren’t hiding behind a prepared speech or a prewritten interview. They are actually scared by a bunch of kids.
What are your goals for 2020 for climate action in Ireland and/or the UK?
The dream is for them to have it enshrined in law that our emissions must be at net zero by 2030. In addition, for actions to begin to be carried out to achieve this. Currently I don’t see this as realistic by 2020 but I’m remaining hopeful. As the government in Northern Ireland has collapsed we couldn’t do this even if we wanted to. However, Belfast city council have declared a climate emergency and set up a climate change working group so the motivation is there, we just have no government to implement it in. In terms of Westminster, that’s a whole other story due to the Conservatives pledging to be carbon neutral by the sloth’s pace of 2050.
What would you consider your successes and disappointments so far?
Successes- the Lord Mayor of Belfast coming to the global strike in September and announcing to the crowd that a climate emergency would be debated because of us standing they’re today. We showed him what democracy looks like. And he acted.
A climate emergency being declared in Belfast city council just two weeks later.
The four month anniversary of my solo strike being this Friday.
Disappointments- it’s been over 1050 days since we’ve had a functioning government and nobody has done anything about it.
It’s been three months since a climate emergency was declared and nothing has been done about it.
What?s something or someone you think more people should know about?
People- wise: Grace Elm, Vanessa Nakate, Saoi O Connor, Xiye Bastida, Isabelle Axelsson, Jessie Nicholls,
What frustrates you?
Whenever I’m at a strike and someone tells me that I should go back to school. They’re right. I should. I shouldn’t have to sacrifice my education and be the adult because the people in power are too immature to do so. But I have no choice because I’m not allowed to vote in the decisions that will affect my future.
What gives you hope and keeps you going?
The people. The friends I have made and the kindness of the human spirit that I see. People handing out umbrellas out of their own pocket in the rain and offering to buy hot chocolate on the colder strikes. The people who aren’t responsible for the climate crisis but still try and clean up the mess anyway because they care about the living conditions of our children.
How can people join or support your activism?
By joining me at the strike or sharing my posts on social media to help me raise awareness.
Do you have any advice for fellow or potential climate activists?
For fellow activists, it’s very easy to get caught up in the craziness that is activism- going straight from a full day at school, to a tv studio then straight on to an art meeting to make signs before collapsing on your bed and realising you forgot to do your English homework. You decide to get up early to do it but you realise you’ve already set your alarm early so as you can draft a letter to politicians urging them to act. It can be very overwhelming and the general public don’t realise how much work actually goes into it but just remember that it’s ok to say no. You don’t have to go to every zoom meeting, interview, strike and panel because soon you’ll burn out and will not be able to to any of it. Your health should always take priority.
For potential activists, don’t let the hard work put you off. It’s honestly great fun too. You make the best of friends because you all share one common interest- saving the world. You get to chant, sing and dance at strikes, you get unique experiences and skills. And the best part is that it’s completely voluntary so there’s no commitment or pressure to stay at all but we all still do it for a reason.
Is there anything you?d like to add that I haven?t mentioned?