The breakdown of our planet is the farthest thing from fair, targeting those most vulnerable in our society rather than the actual culprits causing the earth’s devastation. STAND’s Student Festival hosted a panel discussion targeting this exact issue on November 7th at TUD’s Aungier Street campus, featuring five excellent speakers from a range of backgrounds and specialities.

In a typical Irish rainy, darkened evening, the climate justice panel drew a great turnout of interested students who have valid concerns about the role we can all play in steering the course of history away from more damage and destruction. The panel was excellently mediated by TU Dublin’s VP Welfare Officer Moya Browne, and welcomed experienced guests who each had something unique to offer. Niall Sargent, editor of Green News, podcaster and sustainable fashion activist Molly Parsons, Manuel Salazar of Extinction Rebellion Ireland, Clodagh Daly from Climate Case Ireland and Daniel Whooley of the Green Party provided careful analysis of the inequalities facing people in the Global South as well as reflecting on the failure of Irish politicians to tackle climate justice.  The importance of enacting legislation which will hold corporations and fossil fuel companies to account was also stressed heavily, but the panel brought positive energy and uplifting attitudes towards student activism. It wasn’t all doom and gloom. 

The panelists were quizzed on numerous topics after introducing themselves, with each guest having changed their focus towards the climate at varying stages of their lives. Niall Sargent credits his wife for enlightening him about environmental damage, and brings hard news and investigations to the Green News website. Molly Parsons described herself as a ‘self-confessed Xico Mondays PrettyLittleThing hun’ who grew up in a capitalist system with infinite materialist values. She began a podcast and took part in No Buy November, discovered the world of slow and sustainable fashion and the rest is history. Her lifestyle changes are now influencing her 13,500 Instagram followers and Depop audience, so the activist is definitely one to watch. 

Manuel Salazar grew up in Venezuela, a country polluted and essentially commanded by oil. Salazar has seen first-hand the effects of fossil fuel damage in his home country and the morally reprehensible corruption of these corporations. His work for Extinction Rebellion has helped the protesters form a movement in Ireland, which has grown in membership from about ten people to 200 within one year. Councillor Daniel Whooley described the paralysing fear he experienced after seeing IPCC reports broadcast on TV, which led him to run in local Ongar elections at the tender age of 20. 

Clodagh Daly’s work with Climate Case Ireland brings the issue of law into the environmental fray. If the campaigner was ever oblivious to climate change, she doesn’t remember that part of her life. She has always seen the crisis through the lens of government and corporate policy, and learned about migrant injustice and climate class prejudice while living in Chile. Seeing a country whose resources are relentlessly exploited and privatised inspired Clodagh to turn her focus to activism.

The topic of greenwashing, or companies appearing more eco-friendly than they really are in order to benefit their products or services, was brought up almost immediately during the event. The population are being bombarded with lies regarding the state of the planet, and what they can do to bring about positive change. So, who can we trust? 

Molly emphasises the fact that young activists may not be experts or scientists, but they bring fear and passion to the forefront of the issue. Using their eco-grief to give rise to a movement has allowed regular people of Ireland to access protests and receive information in a way that they can understand. Disseminating knowledge in a way that allows everyone to join in is crucial, according to Niall. It’s a “pathetic defence mechanism” when political leaders ask the public for answers, Molly insists. 

How can students themselves make their mark on such an abysmal crisis, when most of us are scraping together our five cent coins for a measly chicken roll? Clodagh advises to push every party to treat climate justice as a societal issue that is permanently tied to factors such as housing, gender, class, race and Direct Provision. Daniel suggests joining Extinction Rebellion or even running in the election. Molly tells the audience to “arm yourselves with information”, read widely around the topic and observe small changes in food wastage and spending habits.

Moya later poses the question of communities who are most affected by climate change, with Niall putting the spotlight on Western habits of outsourcing our problems to less developed countries to achieve short-term perceived fixes. Only recently, Bord na Móna were linked to the palm oil industry in Indonesia, importing peat but abusing the land of those communities: “Countries which are contributing the least are being affected the most by climate injustice,” Molly says. “Western society has been stuffing that hole with money, offering  charity to victims of natural disasters while actively causing more problems.” Leo Varadkar’s recent comments on climate change bringing us the “benefits” of warmer weather is a classic facepalm example of obliviousness. 

Molly posits that our education system urgently requires scientists and experts to speak to children rather than teachers. Western countries are already witnessing the effects of climate breakdown at an increasing rate. “Every single step I make, I think about my children or the world ending,” Molly continues. Young people marching now must juggle hormones, the formation of their identity and school with politics, ineffective governments and the incoming apocalypse. “How hard must that be to deal with?” she says. 

Despite the impending disaster, Manuel is determined to stay positive. He maintains that it’s the best time in history to be an activist, with children inspiring adults rather than the other way around. Resources and borders are controlling our humanity, with certain humans being regarded as worth more than others, but soon it will come to a tipping point. The panellists are confident that the next generation will continue the fight: “When hope dies, action begins,” Manuel says, smiling. “We have the people on our side.”

 

Photo by Kate Brayden

 

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