A year of Greta

A year of Greta

As I am writing this piece, Greta Thunberg is sailing across the Atlantic Ocean to New York, where she is due to attend UN Climate talks before touring South America. If her name isn’t familiar to you, you will likely have heard about school children going on strike – in Ireland and across the globe – to demand climate action from their government. The Swedish teen climate activist is the instigator and inspiration behind this worldwide movement which began just a year ago today. Since then, her name and her fight have crossed oceans and borders, just like Malizia II, the zero-carbon yacht that is currently taking her to the United States.

It all started on August 20th 2018. Greta Thunberg, fed up with her country’s inaction to reduce their impact on climate change, sat in front of Sweden’s parliament building, the Riksdag. She posted to Instagram and Twitter a picture of herself sitting by a simple sign reading “Skolstrejk för Klimatet”: ‘School Strike for Climate’ in English; ‘Stailc Scoile don Aeráid’ as Gaeilge.

The plan was to skip school until the general election on September 9th, to draw media attention to the Swedish government’s inaction on climate change. After the election, Thunberg returned to school. But with the success of her demonstration, she continued to strike every Friday. Soon her concept spread over the world, and with hashtags #FridaysforFuture and #ClimateStrike, encouraged  and inspired students and adults across the world to follow suit and make single demonstrations or set up local and national grassroots groups to pressure their own governments to take meaningful action. If you’re not convinced of the importance of this movement, a simple google of ‘climate action youth’ will demonstrate the volume of young voices calling for change for the sake of their own futures (as does ‘The Greta Thunberg Effect’).

And over the past year, the young activist has attended and spoken to thousands of people, from world leaders to local school children across Europe… All while travelling with a low-carbon footprint, completely avoiding air travel. Speaking to French news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP), Thunberg noted how ‘absurd’ it is that she has to sail in order to travel with no emissions, stating “It just shows how impossible it is to live sustainably today”.

If you google ‘climate action group’ followed by the name of your country or state (or even town), you might be surprised by what’s happening around the corner from you: what groups exist and what they are organising, from demonstrations to art installations to lobbying local councils and governments. In Ireland, numerous student-led groups support students in organising school strikes and protests, such as the Irish branch of the transnational Fridays for Future (FFF) movement, and Schools Climate Action Network (SCAN). In the past year, these groups have staged direct actions, protests, and have done policy development and community engagement. 

The most memorable events to date were when thousands of Irish students joined the world in the first and second Global Climate Strikes led by Greta Thunberg on Friday 15th March and 24th May 2019. The latter saw approximately 1,400 marches in more than 120 countries, reaching an estimated 1.6 million participants, all demanding government action on climate change. While Ireland was the second country in the world to declare a ‘climate and biodiversity emergency’ on 9th May, recent research by Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe shows Ireland is the second-worst EU country on climate change action. And since the emergency declaration, activists have denounced government actions as counter to their emergency declaration, such as granting consent for oil and gas exploration off the coast of Kerry on May 27th and blocking the Climate Emergency Bill on 5th July, which would have banned oil and gas exploration in Irish waters.

Students will have to continue the fight for the next 16 months, as those are set to be the most vital time for government decision-making, possibly a point-of-no-return. This follows the warning from one of the world’s top climate scientists, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, who stated in 2017: “The climate math is brutally clear: while the world can’t be healed within the next few years, it may be fatally wounded by negligence until 2020”. The urgency for action is why Greta announced in June her plans to take a sabbatical year from school to focus on making meaningful change happen by 2020.

While the teen did what could seem as the impossible in less than a year (mobilising millions of young people on climate change globally), Greta Thunberg is still regarded by some politicians as a fear-mongering child. On the other hand, the Swedish climate activist has also received recognition, the most significant to date being her nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in March 2019. 

Her next Global Strike for Climate, which will take place from September 20th to 27th across the world, will certainly be an indication of the rising strength of this youth movement.

And you, would you go on the mitch to change the world?

Photo: Anders Hellberg, Wiki Commons

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Book Review: The Milkman

Book Review: The Milkman

Milkman by Anna Burns, may be set in 1970s Belfast, against the backdrop of the troubles, but it is not a historical novel. The city is never named, much like the novel’s characters. They are referred to with titles such as ‘middle sister’ and ‘maybe boyfriend’. The book views the conflict that engulfed Belfast at the time from the eyes of an eighteen year old girl with no interest in the Troubles. She hides from the world around her by burying her head in 19th century novels as she walked because she ‘did not like the 20th century’. This act of eccentricity marks her as ‘beyond the pale’ and therefore her activities are seen as suspicious by many in her community. When a paramilitary known as ‘the milkman’ becomes possessive and begins to stalk her, it is automatically assumed by many in the community that they are having an affair.  This leads to her place in society falling even further, as the effects of the milkman’s actions cause a strain on her mental health and relationships. 

The violence of the troubles is never explicitly shown in Milkman. However, the oppression of ordinary people by paramilitary and State forces through tribalism and the patriarchal nature of warfare is very much evident.  Every character has to be careful not to be seen with the wrong type of newspaper, buying the wrong type of butter or drinking the wrong type of tea. This feeling of constant surveillance feels far more sinister than a graphic description of torture or murder.

Millkman is definitely not a fun beach read.  Anna Burns has a very specific and unique writing style which can make it quite hard to follow at times. However that does not take from the fact this is truly a phenomenal and original piece of work.

Photo: Milkman Book cover, published by Faber and Faber

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Why Are World Hunger Levels Increasing?

Why Are World Hunger Levels Increasing?

Recent reportage suggests that world hunger, one of the most pressing (and – arguably – preventable) humanitarian crises of today, is on the increase. The UN has said that over 820 million people worldwide remain hungry, and that its current target of zero hunger by 2030 will be ‘an immense challenge’. 

The increase in hunger is due to a number of factors, including rapid population increase, economic instability and income inequality. The UN says the increase jeopardises achieving other sustainable goals including climate action, as this hunger impacts all from farmers to newborn babies.

The increase in hunger is being mainly blamed on the general decrease in the level of aid deployed from richer areas to poorer areas, and specifically to certain African countries. According to Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, humanitarian organisations are currently receiving only 27% of what they need to provide relief to those affected by the hunger crisis. In 2018, this included a 3% decrease in overseas development assistance than in 2017 – including a 4% decrease in African aid, and 8% decrease in humanitarian aid.  

Speaking in the Guardian, Egeland says: “It is a question of priorities. The world’s total military expenditure has increased to a whopping $1.8tn. The cost of closing the humanitarian funding gap and providing people with basic support equals to just about 1% of this”. 

It appears that if political will matched the sense of humanitarian duty, much of this hunger could be easily prevented. 820 million adults and children across the globe would not go hungry tonight. If hunger is eradicated, in tandem would be less illness, increase production in agriculture, and a monumental increase in the quality of life for many. The (perhaps chosen) inability to prevent this hunger is one of the great tragedies of our age.

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

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Indie film or blockbuster: how you can support films that make a difference

The public influence the entertainment they get, and we should use this to promote films that give a voice to people who are usually denied a platform to share their opinion. 

The popular belief is that, films that are independently produced have a small audience and so they don’t get a lot of exposure, but with on-demand streaming platforms and crowdfunding, the public can now directly influence the film industry, making sure these films get made, and find an audience.

Now and again, we get films which would normally be thought to lack mass appeal, that are then given the opportunity to break this wall of expectations that block them from getting a fair shot. And they defy those expectations. This was the case of Tomorrow, an inspiring documentary about people around the world taking action to transition to a more sustainable society. The film was in big part funded through public’s donations on a crowd-funding platform called Kisskissbankbank. Tomorrow received unexpected success, went on to win awards and was distributed in 27 countries – moving and inspiring audiences worldwide.

Streaming platforms such as Netflix have also started funding their own films and documentaries, based on what their customers watch – hence giving us another cheap way of stating clearly what genres we want to support.

As members of the public, we can give independent filmmakers their fair chance, and influence what subjects are brought to the spotlight by the film industry. Films are like everything that’s bought and sold, it depends on demand and supply. However, often in any market place, acceptance is taken as sufficient to demand. But by using crowdfunding platforms to support independent films, and telling streaming platforms what kind of films we want to see, we can concretely influence what films are being made.

To ensure that new perspectives are being given a chance to be shared and also for consumers to get the chance to experience new types of film, we need to utilise this influence. By moving away from passive acceptance to active demands, we can do this. 

Photo by Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash

Browse more stories below or sign up to our newsletter to get our top news straight to your inbox.

Remembering Hoden Naleyeh

With her creative videos, Hodan Naleyeh showed the world another side of Somalia, far from the war cliches. Last month, she was killed in a terrorist attack. On international day for the remembrance of victims of terrorism, our editor Cassie tells us her story.

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The public influence the entertainment they get, and we should use this to promote films that give a voice to people who are usually denied a platform to share their opinion, writes Priscilla Obilana.

Review: Madonna’s God Control video

With a thought-provoking and graphic video for her new song God Control, pop star Madonna set herself on a mission to raise awareness about gun control, but found criticism on the way.

Review: Madonna’s God Control video

Review: Madonna’s God Control video

With a thought-provoking and graphic video for her new song God Control, pop star Madonna set herself on a mission to raise awareness about gun control, but found criticism on the way.

The video, directed by Jonas Åkerlund, is over ten minutes long and follows a writer, Madame X (aka Madonna), writing a story about a mass shooting in a nightclub. 

Its most powerful element is its juxtaposition of sounds. Before Madonna’s song kicks in, the video fluctuates between the clicks of a typewriter, the faint thudding of a nightclub, eerie anticipatory silences and loud, startling gunshots.  At first it reminded me of a subpar version of Alan Clarke’s Elephant, another film about the mindless violence of shooting people: both shock their audience with the simple sounds of murder.

At the end of the video, the viewer is told to “wake up”, and the words “Gun Control Now” appear in white and red across the screen. This seems a little patronising, particularly as a large number of Americans are greatly active in the battle against the gun problem in the States. 

And, indeed, the video has also been criticised by those who believe that Madonna has been taking advantage of what has been a very real situation to many (particularly those at Pulse nightclub in 2016) in order to gain views. Her response is predictable: she wants to make America a safer place for everyone, and is using her influence as a celebrity in order to do so.

It’s true that the video toes the line between tasteful protest and narcissism. Over the course of the ten minutes, the camera flicks back again and again to Madonna sitting at a typewriter, writing the words that many have been uttering for years, as though she is the first to ever have thought of them. Her dancing scenes in the nightclub where the shooting takes place seems particularly distasteful.

The idea that people will take more action if they see Madonna being shot in a nightclub in a fictional music video than their response to the frequent and non-fictional mass murders of children in the States makes us see the title in a potentially ironic light – God, here, seems to be how Madonna perceives herself. Does it take the imagined death of a pop star instead of the real death of children for people to take action against guns?

A year of Greta

A year ago, Greta Thunberg staged her first school strike for climate in front of the Swedish government buildings. Little did she know that she would spark a worldwide movement and mobilise millions of young people around the issue of climate change. Criofan Morrison tells us her story.

Book Review: The Milkman

Tommy Gilsenan reviews the Man Booker Prize story set during the Troubles.

Why Are World Hunger Levels Increasing?

Rising inequalities and decrease in foreign aid funding are to blame for a rise in world hunger, writes Amyrose Forder.

Indie film or blockbuster: how you can support films that make a difference

The public influence the entertainment they get, and we should use this to promote films that give a voice to people who are usually denied a platform to share their opinion, writes Priscilla Obilana.

Review: Madonna’s God Control video

With a thought-provoking and graphic video for her new song God Control, pop star Madonna set herself on a mission to raise awareness about gun control, but found criticism on the way.

Female Sea Watch captain becomes a symbol of defiance

When Sea Watch captain Carola Rakete forced her way into Lampedusa harbour to bring rescued refugees to the Italian shore, she became a symbol of defiance, write our editor Cassie.

Female Sea Watch captain becomes a symbol of defiance

Female Sea Watch captain becomes a symbol of defiance

She is being called La Capitana! Carola Rakete, the 31-year-old dreadlocked German captain of the Sea-Watch 3, has been lauded as a heroine by many after she was arrested following her challenge to the “closed port policy” of Il Capitano (aka Italy’s Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini). 

Rakete’s NGO ship was carrying migrants from Libya rescued from an unseaworthy vessel launched by Libya-based human traffickers. Salvini refused to let the ship dock in Lampedusa, one of the main Italian ports of arrival for refugees,  until other European countries agreed to take them. Rakete bravely decided the migrants had waited long enough and decided to dock without permission, saying it was a matter of human rights. Her organisation tweeted: “Its enough. After 16 days following the rescue, #Seawatch 3 enters in port.” Rakete hit an Italian police boat which was blocking her path to the dock which led to her arrest. 

While some deplored her actions – Salvini himself dismissed her as a “rich, white, german woman” who had committed an “act of war” – many were on her side, including UN experts who declared that “rescuing migrants in distress at sea is not a crime” and called on the Italian Authorities to “immediately stop the criminalisation of search and rescue operations”. 

The judge ruled Rackete was fulfilling her duty to rescue persons in distress at sea. She ordered her immediate release and dismissed the charges that Rackete had hit a police boat and ignored police by docking at Lampedusa. However, the judge has since been the target of sexist messages online as well as rape and death threats. 

Rakete remains under investigation in separate criminal proceedings, facing allegations that she endangered the lives of police officers and facilitated illegal migration. She could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted. Such a conviction would undoubtedly have a chilling effect on migrant rights defenders. 

Almost 700 deaths have been registered in the Mediterranean so far in 2019; nearly half as many as the 1,425 recorded in 2018. Libya is a main departure point for migrants and refugees attempting to reach Europe by boat in a bid to escape war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.  Italy is one of the main EU landing points. Until recently, it accepted nearly all of the refugees and migrants rescued by humanitarian groups at sea. However, when a populist coalition government took power in 2018, they swiftly moved to close Italy’s ports to NGO ships.

The EU ended its own Mediterranean rescue operations in March following disagreements on how those rescued should be divided between EU member states. UN agencies have called for a resumption of the naval patrols and for European countries to stop returning refugees and migrants to Libya where they are at risk due to the ongoing conflict and endure dire conditions. The agencies also said NGO rescue ships play a “crucial role” and must not be penalised for saving lives at sea. 

A tentative agreement, which aims to create a system for the European distribution of rescued people on a voluntary basis, has just been reached. It is hoped this will improve the situation for refugees and migrants, and that the vital EU rescue operations which save countless lives will now resume.  

If this does not happen, the situation for migrants in the Mediterranean will become even more perilous. 

The criminalisation or blocking of humanitarian help for migrants and refugees is an important human rights issue that we should all be concerned about. For five reasons why migration is also a feminist issue see: https:/ www.unfpa.org/news/five-reasons-migration-feminist-issue

 

Photo courtesy of Daniel Arrhakis via Flickr

A year of Greta

A year ago, Greta Thunberg staged her first school strike for climate in front of the Swedish government buildings. Little did she know that she would spark a worldwide movement and mobilise millions of young people around the issue of climate change. Criofan Morrison tells us her story.

Book Review: The Milkman

Tommy Gilsenan reviews the Man Booker Prize story set during the Troubles.

Why Are World Hunger Levels Increasing?

Rising inequalities and decrease in foreign aid funding are to blame for a rise in world hunger, writes Amyrose Forder.

Indie film or blockbuster: how you can support films that make a difference

The public influence the entertainment they get, and we should use this to promote films that give a voice to people who are usually denied a platform to share their opinion, writes Priscilla Obilana.

Review: Madonna’s God Control video

With a thought-provoking and graphic video for her new song God Control, pop star Madonna set herself on a mission to raise awareness about gun control, but found criticism on the way.

Female Sea Watch captain becomes a symbol of defiance

When Sea Watch captain Carola Rakete forced her way into Lampedusa harbour to bring rescued refugees to the Italian shore, she became a symbol of defiance, write our editor Cassie.