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Australian climate strike sees record turnout of over 300,000 supporters

Rich Bowden

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Australia Climate Strike in Sydney

Organizers of Australia’s School Strike for Climate have estimated over 300,000 students and supporters gathered on Friday to protest the government’s inaction on climate change. The strikes, which shut down city centers, were timed to occur before a key UN climate summit in New York next week. Part of the global movement, the Australian crowds were around double those of the March 2019 protests.

Australia climate strike sets the standard

Swedish student and climate activist Greta Thunberg, the inspiration behind the school strike for climate movement, tweeted that Australia was setting the standard for the massive worldwide protests.

“Incredible pictures as Australia’s gathering for the #climatestrike. This is the huge crowd building up in Sydney. Australia is setting the standard! Its bedtime in New York…so please share as many pictures as you can as the strikes move across Asia to Europe and Africa!”

Students who had left classes on the day to attend the strike were joined by thousands of people in support of the strike’s aims. Organizers claimed strikers were joined by 2,500 businesses including Atlassian, Canva, Domain and Intrepid, over 30 Australian unions and churches including the Anglican Church and Uniting Church.

The Australian school strike for climate has focused on putting pressure on the federal government in three main areas:

  • No new coal, oil or gas projects.
  • 100 per cent renewable energy generation and exports by 2030.
  • Funding for “a just transition and job creation for all fossil fuel industry workers and communities”.

Adani coal mine focus for action

Many of the Australian protests were directed at the proposed giant Adani coal mine in the Galilee basin in Queensland, Australia. Fifteen-year-old Harriet O’Shea Carre, one of the original organizers of the Australian climate protests, took her protest to AIG, who have agreed to provide insurance for the Indian coal giant. 

“Alongside hundreds of thousands of young people across Australia, I have been raising my voice and taking to the streets to stop the construction of Adani’s massive coal mine,” she said. “As children, we are going to be living in this hot world far longer than the adults who are making these decisions for us, like the executives at AIG, and we know that our future cannot be one that is powered by coal and other fossil fuels.”

Australian PM elects to not attend UN climate summit

Despite the support shown by Australians for action on climate change, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has elected not to attend the UN climate summit. This despite meeting US President Donald Trump and senior officials nearby as part of a state visit. Mr Morrison’s decision has been criticised by many Australians. They say it shows the conservative government’s support of fossil fuel projects in the country and “do-nothing” approach to the climate emergency.

However, Australian Environment Minister Sussan Ley hit back at climate protestors claiming the federal government was already concerned about the climate crisis and was taking appropriate action. 

“I can assure everyone that our attention is already there,” she said in a statement. “We are taking real and coordinated global action on climate change while ensuring our economy remains strong.”

Millions strike worldwide

The climate strikes, which had started in the Asia Pacific and ended in New York — where the UN climate summit will be held —  attracted an estimated four million people worldwide. Held in more than 150 countries, the protests are being described as the world’s largest-ever climate protest. 

Recent figures have shown a rise in emissions despite a dire warning by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that we have less than a decade to act if we are to have any hope of keeping global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Protestors hope their actions will help influence decision-makers attending the summit to act on this information.

Advocacy

The World’s Biggest Brands Commit To Tackling Plastic Pollution, But What Else Can Be Done?

Belinda Chiu

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Plastic Pollution

After World War II, the world experienced a plastics boom, with production growing at an exponential rate thanks to the material’s versatility and durability. Plastic touches nearly every aspect of our lives, from the materials used to construct buildings and homes, vehicles, and technology, to household products, clothing, and shoes. It is estimated that we have produced more than 8.3 billion tons of plastic since this time, of which less than 10% is recycled. That’s where the plastic pollution problem comes in.

Many countries in the Global North turned to China to recycle their plastics, but ever since China changed its policy, the United States and many other countries are forced to find other avenues for taking care of their plastic waste and address the plastic pollution crisis back home.

Who is responsible for the crisis and what is being done?

Plastic pollution activists and coalitions have emphasized the responsibility that the world’s largest brands play in addressing this global crisis. Civil society members from more than 80 countries hosted brand audits through clean-ups during the #BrandAudit2019 initiative, calling on these brands to change their practices of manufacturing and selling products in single-use plastic packaging.

Some big brands have taken responsibility for their role in plastic pollution and have taken action. Coca-Cola announced its World Without Waste initiative with the goals to achieve 100% recycled packaging using 50% recycled materials, and by 2030 collect and recycle one bottle or can for every item sold. Unilever made a similar announcement, promising to cut its use of virgin plastics by 50%, and collecting and processing its plastic packaging.

One social enterprise is making it a little bit easier for big brands to shift their single-use plastic packaging practices. TerraCycle recently launched the Loop Store, a global circular shopping platform that allows customers to purchase products in zero waste packaging. Following the “milkman model”, products sold through the Loop Store are stored in reusable containers that are collected, washed, and reused again.

Innovations in tackling plastic pollution

Dutch inventor Boyan Slat founded The Ocean Cleanup, an ambitious project that aimed to collect the massive volume of plastic found in the oceans globally. At 2,000 feet in length, this plastic collection device has successfully collected plastic since its initial trials. Other entrepreneurs are developing products made from plant-based materials, such as utensils made from avocado seeds and creating faux leather using nopal, or producing products that do not require plastic packaging, in efforts to reduce our reliance on products made with plastic.

Consumers, recognizing the power they hold by their purchasing behaviors, are also raising their concerns with companies to change their practices. In a recent petition to Trader Joe’s, customers called on grocery chain to reduce their reliance on plastic packaging, garnering over 120,000 signatures. The company acknowledged this grassroots call for change, providing a status update since their announcement in late 2018.

Conclusions and the future for tackling plastic pollution

While there is hope hearing the world’s biggest brands acknowledge the role they play in and their plans for curbing plastic pollution, it is evident that is not enough. It takes more than a few companies to set green goals in order to move the needle forward. We need to continue holding big brands accountable, foster and support new ideas that open new horizons for plastic packaging and waste, and change our own behaviors to start addressing the global plastic pollution crisis.

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800 climate activists arrested during London’s Extinction Rebellion protests

Ari Kelo

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Extinction Rebellion

London’s Metropolitan Police have made nearly 800 arrests this week, targeting climate activists demonstrating in Central London. The protesters, part of the Extinction Rebellion, have blocked roads and public sites such as Trafalgar Square and Westminster Bridge. The group aims to put pressure on the UK government to do more to combat the climate crisis.

But the government has so far criticized the movement, with Boris Johnson publicly insulting the protesters and the Met police arresting hundreds by the day.

The Extinction Rebellion heats up

As protesters continue to congregate, tensions with the police have increased. The police have demanded that protesters contain their demonstrations to Trafalgar Square, attempting to limit the movement’s widespread protests across the city.

Since the protests began on Monday, police have arrested around 800 activists, paralleling the 1,130 Extinction Rebellion arrests made in April.

Despite the crackdown, the demonstrations have been peaceful. From one of 60 participating cities, Londoners have gathered for a two-week long, non-violent occupation of public locations throughout the Westminster borough, where the Houses of Parliament meet.

The crowds represent all sorts, from students to Oxford professors to parents with young children. They’re singing, chanting, sleeping in tents, leading yoga classes, and, at one gathering, even enjoying a live samba band.

Last week, protesters also sprayed nearly 2,000 liters of fake blood on the Treasury building to highlight government hypocrisy. In a statement, the movement criticized the UK’s pride in leading the fight against climate change, despite “pouring vast sums of money into fossil exploration and carbon-intensive projects.”

These actions contribute to the Extinction Rebellion’s ultimate goals. They’re mobilizing to draw attention to the urgent threat of climate change and demand the UK government take action.

The movement has three major demands:

  1. Tell the Truth. According to Extinction Rebellion UK, the group is demanding their government declare a climate and ecological emergency. In essence, they want the government to acknowledge the dire consequences of climate inaction and take a stand.
  2. Act now. Secondly, the protesters want the UK government to create stronger initiatives against climate change. They specifically are asking Parliament to stop biodiversity loss and enforce net-zero carbon emissions by 2025, rather than 2050.
  3. Beyond politics. The Extinction Rebellion also demands an institutional shift that would give more power over climate-related decisions to the British people. They propose the UK government create a Citizens’ Assembly, which would handle decisions about climate and environmental justice.

These demands have encouraged large crowds of supporters and activists. Protesters have stood their ground, despite police attempts to shut down the demonstrations.

“This is our home, our planet, our future, and we are destroying it. The government needs to step up and tell the truth,” one activist remarked.

Another demonstrator, 83-year-old Phil Kingston, spray-painted the UK’s finance ministry building with the message: “Life, not death for my grandchildren.” Kingston was arrested shortly afterwards.

Also among the crowds were George Monbiot, a popular environmental writer and political activist, and former politician Stanley Johnson — Boris Johnson’s father.

The movement faces government backlash

Despite the peaceful nature of these protests, the UK government has not taken a liking for these displays of civil disobedience.

The UK’s new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, called the protesters “uncooperative crusties,” highlighting his disdain for citizens who exercise their right to assemble and disapprove of their government’s actions — or rather, inaction.

Funnily enough, Johnson’s father, Stanley Johnson, embraced the title. “I regard it as a tremendous compliment to be called an uncooperative crusty,” he said to a protester crowd at Trafalgar Square.

Donning an Extinction Rebellion pin, he continued: “From tiny acorns, big movements spring. We have been moving far too slowly on the climate change issue.”

Despite its humor, the insult pinpoints the current resistance of Parliament to enact real change.

And with police arresting protesters by the dozens, the government’s distaste for these climate activists has real consequences.

Yet, in spite — or maybe because — of hundreds of their fellow activists facing arrests, the Extinction Rebellion is going strong. For them, the time is now.

 

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Meet Activist Autumn Peltier: The Young “Water Warrior” Making A Splash

Ari Kelo

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Autumn Peltier

Autumn Peltier, one of many young voices against the climate crisis, is stirring up a storm. Indeed, we are witnessing a mass, youth-led movement against climate change. From the recent UN Youth Climate Summit to the Zero Hour movement, young people are uniting in a common cause. And they’re demanding our attention.

They’re fighting for environmental justice. For governments to take a stand against climate change. And most importantly, for their futures. At the front line of this battle is Autumn Peltier, an international advocate for clean water.

Who is Autumn Peltier?

Autumn Peltier is a 15-year-old, indigenous, clean water activist. She’s a member of the Wikwemikong First Nation in northern Ontario. She lives on Lake Huron, one of North America’s Great Lakes — the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth.

It follows that growing up, Peltier always had access to clean water. But Peltier knows that others are not so lucky.

“We keep seeing and hearing that there’s First Nation communities that can’t drink their water, that it’s contaminated from pollution and pipelines breaking,” she told a reporter at CBC. “One day it really affected me and I actually cried about it.”

After this revelation, Peltier began to advocate for the universal right of clean drinking water — at just eight years old. She learned from her aunt, Josephine Mandamin, who also worked to protect Canada’s water. Mandamin walked the shores of the Great Lakes to advocate and raise awareness for water conservation.

Following those footsteps, Peltier has broken major ground for indigenous water rights. An official “water protector,” she fights for universal clean drinking water. Specifically, she advocates for safe waterways and drinking water for indigenous peoples in Canada and beyond.

“Water is one of the most sacred elements in our culture,” she said.

Peltier’s important strides

Even at such a young age, Peltier has already done a lot to raise awareness of water rights and ensure communities have access to safe drinking water. Notably, she met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2016. She, in tears, insisted he do more to prevent Canadian communities from consuming unsafe water. The Prime Minister had endorsed several pipeline projects, endangering First Nation communities.

Because of these pipelines, over 100 indigenous communities received boil water advisories. These government issued advisories indicate that a community’s drinking water could be contaminated with pathogens and is not safe to drink without first boiling it.

Peltier has also brought her message to the international community.

In 2015, she attended the Children’s Climate Conference in Sweden. And in 2017, she received a nomination for the Children’s International Peace Prize.

In 2018, Peltier traveled to the UN General Assembly in New York. There, she addressed the UN on water rights, as part of the commencement of the International Decade for Action on Water for Sustainable Development.

Peltier speaks at the United Nations

“Water is the lifeblood of Mother Earth,” she told the UN. “Our water should not be for sale. We all have a right to this water as we need it.”

Just last week, Peltier returned to the UN. This time, she spoke at the Global Landscapes Forum, which focuses on sustainability of land.

In her speech, she stressed the alarming number of indigenous communities lacking clean water, and how little has been done.

“All across these lands, we know somewhere where someone can’t drink the water,” she said.

“Why so many, and why have they gone without for so long?”

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