by Natalie Kapsosideris
I've always been interested in and fascinated by science and nature. From a young age, I'd spend my days playing with bugs in my garden and in the evening, I would watch environmental documentaries. To me, the world was – and still is – full of great beauty and wonder. But I also began to realise how much of the environment was being destroyed and would continue to be destroyed because of climate change, and I was distraught. I first became interested in climate change because I saw it as an issue of environmental justice.
There were always news reports about how the natural environment was being lost to pollution, wildfires, animals starving or overheating, dying in wildfires and ever more extreme floods. I soon began to realise that it was so much more.
I have always known about climate change – the reality that the climate is changing because of humankind’s activities – but I didn’t really understand the full meaning of this. It was only after I started working with different climate change organisations that I became aware of the bigger picture – this was really an issue of climate justice.
At various points, I met people who were in denial about the effects of climate change – many people didn’t believe it was real at all and some of my peers called me melodramatic. This denialism only encouraged me – it made me understand just how necessary climate activism was and how important it was to educate and inform people. People around the world are already struggling to deal with the effects of climate change every day, even within our own country, and the fact that people didn’t know or understand this demonstrated how important it was to build a united movement for climate action.
When the global call for students to take action and demand climate justice came in 2019, led by FridaysForFuture, I was the head of the enviro-club at my school. I felt a huge responsibility to heed that call and decided to organise a march. Only about 50 people participated but it was the beginning of my advocacy journey.
I researched the demands from the FridaysForFuture movement and began to understand more and more what climate justice really meant, that more than just environmental justice, we need to strive to achieve justice in its totality as humanity is so heavily dependent on a stable environment. Across the world people are still divided and marginalised by class, race, gender, and so on. People will thus be differentially affected by the crisis. So in order to 4 adequately “solve” the issue of the climate crisis these factors need to be taken into account. Climate Justice is a solution to the climate crisis that protects and uplifts everyone.
Since first researching the FridaysForFuture demands, I have broadened my understanding of the crisis even further, recognising the importance of intersectionality and building movements from the ground up. The most important thing I've learned on this journey is that when united, people cannot be defeated.
Inspired by this notion, and recognising the need for a grassroots youth organisation, in 2019 I co-founded The Collective Movement. The organisation focuses on achieving climate justice through social justice, specifically by creating awareness, starting conversations and promoting action among young people. In the past we’ve assisted youth in running climate marches at their schools and hosting conversations about climate justice, writing articles about the climate crisis aimed at youth in publications such as the Daily Maverick, worked with COPAC and the Climate Justice Charter alliance to get different schools and universities to endorse The Climate Justice Charter. The youth of South Africa are becoming increasingly aware of the existential threat of climate change, as well as how our politicians prioritise profits over the lives of people. The Collective Movement aims to help overcome this – we all want a safe and equitable future and the only way to achieve that is to start working towards it for ourselves. Over the years I have learned that social awareness can be achieved through activism and much of this takes place on social media. Despite the global pandemic caused by COVID-19, I managed to mobilise with youth across South Africa, Africa and the world to stand united in our call for a better future. Many decision-makers tend to ignore youth and not take us seriously, and this is something we need to overcome. We know what we are fighting for, we know that climate justice will create the progress we so desperately need, and we need to remain passionate, using our activism and advocacy until this is achieved.