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The big interview   |   Climate change   |   Diversity   |   Nature

Voice of a generation

The youth climate change movement is a force to be reckoned with. Fiercely intelligent and deeply knowledgeable, Mya-Rose Craig embodies the dynamism her generation holds and the sheer determination to create positive change.

The 19-year-old British Bangladeshi ornithologist, environmentalist and diversity activist started her popular blog aged 11, under her alias ‘Birdgirl’. President of Black2Nature, a visible minority ethnic (VME)-led organisation which Craig set up when just 14, she is passionate about equal access to nature and making the environment sector more diverse.

Her new book We Have A Dream: Meet 30 Young Indigenous People and People of Colour Protecting the Planet shares the stories of her peers from other continents, and highlights the importance of listening to those affected most by climate change.

Craig, who is an ambassador for indigenous rights charity Survival International, credits the organisation with helping her look deeper at the climate change movement and her relationship with it: “Survival has been great in terms of my journey with global climate justice, and they were the ones that originally made me think about indigenous people's rights in the environmental movement,” she says.

She notes that the people speaking out on climate issues are “always very white and very western”, so she went directly to young climate activists in the global south to hear for herself what they had to say.

One of the things that shocked her was the young age at which these activists began their work - some as young as seven - and that this came from necessity, the need for clean water, or to stop invasion by miners or loggers. 

“It’s very easy to say ‘oh, wow, look at all these young, inspirational people’, but by the end of the book one of the things I felt is ‘look at all these teenagers who have lost a decade or more of their lives campaigning to survive’,” she says.

Mya Rose
Mya-Rose Craig rose to fame as conservationist Birdgirl and her work campaigning for equal access to nature. Image Oliver Edwards. Copyright Dr MC Birdgirl Ltd.

Reflecting the urgency that underpins Craig’s work and that of other youth activists, in the week that we speak, the mainstream news is for once charting the full range of climate effects, with extreme heat and fires across the Mediterranean, North Africa and Siberia, and deadly floods in Turkey.

Craig is clear on what needs to change, from adopting green energy and jobs, and the importance of putting in infrastructure to cope with the issues that we've already created, such as heatwaves and floods.

“What we need to do in the next decade is transition into a green economy, where the environment is the priority and it's the centre of what we're doing,” she says. “I know the government has made various promises but frankly they're all very hollow and at the pace that we're going – absolutely unattainable. I think taking an international perspective is very important, whether that's reparations, or just not dumping our rubbish in other countries anymore.”

While constantly pushing these issues to the top of the agenda, I wonder what she makes of our current leaders. “The message you’re always trying to convey is that every day that you are not choosing to solve climate change is an active decision, and people are suffering because of that,” she says, diplomatically, before correcting my attempt to describe the UK’s outdated green efforts as “too forgiving”.

"I feel personally that it's much more purposeful than that. When we're talking about environmental issues, we talk about the earth dying, but really it is people dying,” she adds.

What would she like to see happen instead? “Short-termism within our government is a massive issue, because why should politicians care about what happens in five years’ time once they’re not in power anymore? That’s absolutely something that needs to change,” says Craig, who cites the importance of protest particularly for young people, who might not yet able to cast a vote for their future.

“If people are able, I think going to protest at COP26 is really important. So many people these days are coping with eco-anxiety about the future. There are many I know that feel empowered by going out and doing something about that, rather than sitting at home.

“Protesting is a way of using your democratic voice; I think it should never be illegal. You are just showing your leaders what you think about issues, which is essentially what protesting is: showing that you care about something,” she explains.

Mya Rose
'Protest is empowering for young people who cannot vote' - Mya-Rose Craig. Oliver Edwards. Copyright Dr MC Birdgirl Ltd.

Very much in the public eye through social media and a growing profile in the press (Craig was awarded an honorary doctorate from Bristol University for her campaigning and conversation work), she says she looks after her own mental health by returning to her first love of birding and nature.

“I’m pretty good at taking a step away and looking after myself. As I’ve got a bit older, being outside in nature has become an extremely meditative thing for me,” she says.

“There have been lots of conversations going on about burnout; there are certainly amazing young activists who have faded away because they have just given too much of themselves to the movement,” says Craig, who is involved with the Resilience Project, set up in Bristol to help younger activists take care of their mental health.

I ask what she wants readers to take away from her book, and the fight for global climate justice is at the heart of her reply. “I want people to come away with the importance of listening to people from the global south and from indigenous communities in general,” she says. “I also want people to feel empowered after reading it, especially young people. Even if you can't vote and don't necessarily have that democratic power you're still able to change the world.”

Engaging with such a vast issue can be overwhelming but Craig is a great advocate for how activism is empowering. For practical tips, she suggests using social media to find a community of like-minded people, and taking action – whether that is through conservation work, protesting or writing to your MP.

Joining her voice with those from around the world, Craig’s work and her book is a strong reminder that we truly are all in this together and need to act on that truth.

We Have A Dream (Magic Cat Publishing, £12.99) by Dr Mya-Rose Craig is out now.

    Comments

    Jack Thompson

    4 Weeks 1 Day

    “It’s very easy to say ‘oh, wow, look at all these young, inspirational people’, but by the end of the book one of the things I felt is ‘look at all these teenagers who have lost a decade or more of their lives campaigning to survive’,” she says.

    I always wonder what people like Mya-Rose would do if they weren't consumed by fighting the climate crisis?

    Would she be enjoying a normal, care-free uni life? As much as it must be fulfilling to be part of a movement and fight for a cause, it is a big sacrifice.

    0 Reply

    Walrus

    3 Weeks 6 Days

    I probably won't be liked for what I'm about to say but I'm going to say it anyway! Come on children - stop trying to be something you are not - if you want to protest about anything please go ahead but PLEASE will you be what you are a child and enjoy childish things . . . . . . stop listening to those who want you to complain about this and complain about that - most of them are but using you! Get out and enjoy your young lives - you will be a long time a so called grown up!

    As you come out of your childhood and having fun [why ever not that too is part of growing up - laughing and enjoying life] go and do soemthing for your country as those before you have done themselves - stop being so selfish, if you want to be part of a community do something for that community and help them - many do! And those that do do a lot! To the so called adults who keep encouraging you to be otherwise all I will say is shame on you - let the youngsters have their fun an laughter for a few years and stop thinking of yourself only Thank you! Standing by for incoming


    the Walrus

    0 Reply

    anthony roper

    3 Weeks 5 Days

    I have nothing but admiration for Mya-Rose. I don't think it's ever too young to be dedicated to a cause, especially to one so worthwhile. We talk about 'being a child' but really what does that imply? Being like others, and doing all the things that society says you should? Better to be your own person and pursue a dream which is worthy. She makes a good point in emphasising the need to take care of oneself. Be strong and keep going. May your voice be heard.

    0 Reply

    hecate

    3 Weeks 3 Days

    Its all about balance!
    Even more so for young people - to ensure they look after their core selves and mental health.
    We are much more aware of these things now. In my youth we were terrified of the bomb, terrified that we had 'no future' (Maggie dismantling our country!) and we were shouting out about climate change/organic food/factory farming/nuclear power - but we were just jeered at and labelled 'hippies or idiots'....Certainly we were not given any help or support for our mental health!
    So lets be more supportive of the kids now - support their need to stand up and be counted, support their health - mental and physical and stand beside them against the factions that oppose a better world....
    Every generation thinks it has invented the wheel.....! I dare say Mys-Rose will still be protesting in another 50 years - and hopefully supporting the kids bellowing for justice then.....
    Resistance is the secret of joy - a wise woman wrote!

    0 Reply

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