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ALL eyes are on COP26 next week, but the environmental crisis can seem like a juggernaut to tackle head-on. The next generation, however, are not daunted — they are breaking down the issues, taking immediate action. Greta Thunberg has started a movement, now young people across the UK have taken up her mantle, with some balancing A-levels alongside their vision for a greenerâ¯future. Meet Gen Zero.
Anjali Raman-Middleton, 17
USP: Made national news by “hacking” road signs to highlight air pollution
After placing printouts of road signs stating “pollution zone: breathing kills” across London earlier this year, the Choked Up campaign managed to organise a clean air hustings. Anjali Raman-Middleton, the campaign’s co-founder, says: “Mayoral candidates were forced to talk about their clean air strategies, which they otherwise wouldn’t have. A lot of politicians began to know our campaign and see us as legit.” So legit, in fact, that Choked Up promoted the Ultra Low Emission Zone alongside TfL and attended the ULEZ expansion launch hosted by Sadiq Khan this week.
Choked Up labels itself as being led by “black and brown teenagers”. Following the death of Ella Adoo-Kissi Debrah, where the coroner recognised air pollution as a contributing factor, Raman-Middleton “wanted to make sure that it was understood that people of colour are disproportionately exposed to toxic, poisonous air,” a trend identified by the Environmental Defense Fund.
Though Raman-Middleton would love to see “a massive international strategy” at COP26, she fears that is unrealistic. “We have to look closer to home — can hosting the climate conference force the UK to change our own climate policy?”
As well as working to “enshrine our right to breathe” in law, Raman-Middleton has just submitted her UCAS application to study Human, Social and Political Sciences. “I want to go into public policy so I can continue to influence legislation — that’s something I really don’t want to lose.”
Louis VI, 30
USP: Getting young people of colour involved in the climate conversation and will deliver a speech at COP26
When Hurricane Maria struck Dominica in 2017, devastating the island his father’s family are from, Louis J. Butler decided he urgently needed to do something about the planet. Butler is a musician and rapper, who goes by the name Louis VI but now he is also an activist. “The Global South, the places that people of colour are from are already feeling the effects of climate change — it’s not something that will happen in the future,” he says.
So when Tanya Ramsurrun, a friend and member of the People of Colour Creatives, was making a short film titled The World is Yours, Butler jumped on board as a script writer, music composer and presenter. Though the five-day turnaround was “a mad one”, the film sparked conversations about green policies among BAME youth around the time of the 2019 general election.
Butler has mixed emotions about COP26, where he’ll be delivering a speech. “It’s a step in the right direction and definitely good work. But we could be doing so much more. The science says changes have to be made by 2030, not 2050 — and science is non-negotiable.” He is optimistic about the results we could reap with systemic change — particularly through the international exchange of green technologies.
“There’s an opportunity to create an exciting future world where we get to have rich experiences with nature,” he says, adding that people could have the “coolest time” to really hammer home the glory of living on a healthier planet.
Clover Hogan, 22
USP: Convinced her family to move to Indonesia to go to the Green School
Growing up in Queensland, Australia meant that Clover Hogan was no stranger to rescuing beached sea turtles and even fishing frogs out of the toilet, a surprisingly common occurrence in Australia. But after watching the documentary An Inconvenient Truth, tracking Al Gore’s climate campaign, she remembers being overcome with grief, anger and frustration.
“I was trying to wrap my head around how I’d inherited these huge challenges but also how the adults in my life were so good at pretending they didn’t exist.” At the age of 11 Hogan marched down to the dinner table and stated she was going to be an environmentalist and within a couple of years had convinced her parents to move to Indonesia, so she could attend the bamboo-walled Green School. Her parents run a wedding business and relocated it to Indonesia and she has two older sisters who had already left home.
Now, Hogan’s work, through her global youth-led non-profit organisation Force of Nature, tackles eco-anxiety, which she says is “how powerless we can feel in the face of climate change”. Her TED talk on it has been viewed more than a million times. But such anxiety cannot be taken as a weakness, but rather “proof that we are awake to the issues”. Instead of spreading ourselves thin across what can seem like an overwhelming problem, Hogan says, “choose the piece of the puzzle that ignites a fire in your belly”.
Hogan feels “a smoothie of emotions” about COP26. “I’m excited to connect with people from around the world who are dedicating their lives to this cause but am terrified of the decisions which will be made behind closed doors that will determine our future.”
Izzy Warren, 17
USP: Went viral for confronting Michael Gove at a climate debate
As a shy 15-year-old suffering from social anxiety, going head-to-head with Michael Gove might seem the worst imaginable way for Izzy Warren to spend a Thursday afternoon. But when Boris Johnson failed to show up to Channel 4’s leaders’ climate debate in November 2019, she took the opportunity to barrack Gove in the public foyer. “In all honesty I have no idea how I got the confidence to do that — I’m not a confrontational person but I was really angry,” she says.
After Australian school children took to the streets to protest about climate change, Warren was spurred to create an equivalent movement in the UK in late 2018. Together with like-minded students, the UK Student Climate Network (UKSCN) was launched, leading 100,000 people onto the streets of London and millions striking worldwide. It is no wonder she describes the student climate action of 2019 as her proudest moment: “none of us thought it would be possible to get those numbers.”
For Warren, paying more attention is the one change people can make for a greener lifestyle. “That doesn’t necessarily mean being more aware of how you travel or what you eat, but also being aware of what’s happening in the world, what the politicians you elected are doing and who they are taking money from.” At COP26, she says “we need legally binding pledges that centre equity and global responsibility.”
Scarlett Westbrook, 17
USP: The youngest ever person to pass a government and politics A-level, at 13
Scarlett Westbrook has probably accrued a longer CV in 17 years than most of us will in a lifetime. At 10 she was canvassing in her home of inner-city Birmingham for the Labour and Green parties — with her parents trailing a few steps behind her — after reading about their climate policies leading up to the 2015 Paris Agreement. She says: “I told my parents the planet is burning — if I’m not going to do it, who will?”
Fast-forward three years and Westbrook was frustrated with the perception on doorsteps that she was unqualified. The solution? To self-teach an A-level in government and politics in seven months, becoming the youngest person ever to obtain the qualification. Her speciality was climate and education, which in part led to work as a member of the UK Student Climate Network (UKSCN), where she organised student climate strikes.
She now heads up Teach the Future, the student-led campaign which aims to transform the British education system by focusing on climate change. In this capacity she has spoken in the European Parliament and Westminster, contributed to seven party manifestos and two draft legislation Bills, making her the youngest policy writer in Europe.
Westbrook hopes to study medicine at university with the aim of becoming a humanitarian trauma surgeon to help people suffering from climate disaster. But she won’t hang up her megaphone — she still hopes to be protesting on the streets because, as she says, “people power is how we win”.