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Climate crisis: What about us?

Young climate activists talk to UTV Voices about their concerns for the future of the planet. Credit: UTV

UTV digital series Voices gives a platform to those with a story to tell and this time around features young people concerned by the climate crisis facing our planet and trying to make a difference.

A group of secondary school pupils have united to create the campaign group Wake Up To Climate Change, lobbing politicians in Belfast, Dublin and London to take action to mitigate the effects.

It comes against the backdrop of a worldwide movement by young people, inspired by figureheads like 17-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg.

It can seem like teenagers are damned if they do, damned if they don’t – often accused of lacking social responsibility and preferring computer games to the real world, and yet coming under fire from adults for demonstrating a passion for environmental issues.

Just three of Belfast’s young campaigners now speak out about their anger and fear at watching the world they have inherited burn.

The plight of the Amazon rainforest may have been a catalyst in focusing their efforts, but everywhere they turn, more natural disasters are ravaging the planet – from devastating fires in Australia and California, to melting polar ice caps, to serious flooding in the Italian city of Venice.

You don’t have to look that far from home though.

In October 2019, Belfast City Council declared a climate emergency – following in the footsteps of Ards and North Down, and Derry and Strabane.

It has since agreed to develop a climate plan, including a future date for decarbonisation.

But the reality remains that major changes are needed to counter the impact man has already had on a planet increasingly showing the signs of strain.

So what drives young people to take action while governments and corporations falter? Do they practise what they preach? And do they still have hope for the future amid the doomsday scenarios?

First up is 17-year-old Sean Patrick Houston, from north Belfast – one of the founders of Wake Up To Climate Change, who spoke to UTV Voices late last year.

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“What struck me the most was the fact that Notre Dame cathedral had burned down in Paris and, while this is a beautiful building and it’s a brilliant example of human endeavour, the amount of money that was put in to save that building was disgusting,” he said.

“But when the Amazon rainforest was on fire - the lungs of this planet, what’s giving us existence – when this was under threat, there was maybe 1% of the money was being given to that.

“And it just highlighted people’s attitudes.

“It was from that moment that I decided I had to do something more than sort of personal sacrifice or doing things on a daily basis, it was time to start putting pressure on politicians.”

Eighteen-year-old Lauren Murphy is another member of the climate campaign group.

Among the recent images that have shocked her the most are those capturing the fate of koalas burned in the fires devastating much of Australia.

“I just think they’re such distressing images to see,” she said.

“It really makes you … you know, as an average person, think that something needs to change. You don’t need to be an expert to think that something has to change.”

Among the steps she feels can be taken in order to make a difference are addressing the popularity of so-called ‘fast fashion’ – buying cheap clothes only to throw them away after only a short period of time, despite the impact on the carbon footprint.

“I understand people wanting to follow fashion,” she said.

“But throwing out a top because, you know, four or five months ago it was something that was in and now it’s not …

“I think people need to be very conscious, and socially conscious – giving up little luxuries that won’t really impact your life that much in order to make a big change.

“If everyone’s doing it collectively, then it’ll make a massive change.”

Carter Wickham, a 19-year-old native of Canada who has lived in Belfast for the last seven years, told UTV Voices the city will see serious effects of climate change in our lifetime.

“What they’re saying is, the building we’re in right now, the UTV offices will be flooded in the next 30 to 50 years,” he said.

“Because worst-case scenario, which is what we’re preparing for, it’s going to flood the docks and it’s going to go very close to City Hall – so, are we going to have a city in 30 to 50 years?

“I dunno.”

He added: “It’s getting to the point where we’re not going to be able to go back anymore.

“We are bringing this world to crisis point – we’re on the edge. We’re almost like a sea-saw, and all you need is the tiniest bit of pressure on the other end and we’re going to drop over.”

UTV Voices can also be found on our Facebook page here.

The series has previously heard from contributors proving misconceptions around illness and disability wrong in resounding fashion, from mums speaking out about dealing with the heartbreak of baby loss, and from prominent businesswomen on positive leadership and overcoming hurdles.

UTV VOICES: Previous Instalments