The map of climate activists and movements

The map of climate activists and movements

Who are the climate activists? And what are the associations? These are names we will probably hear more and more about in the future. Here is a rundown to get an idea.

(Photo credit should read JOHANNES EISELE / AFP via Getty Images) Activism on environmental issues is not something new. It has existed for decades, if not centuries, depending on what we consider it can fall into the category, but it is only recently that it is gaining ground in a more incisive and general way. The first name that comes to mind when we think of climate activism is certainly that of Greta Thunberg. If you want to sketch a map of contemporary climate activism, there is no other choice but to start with her, the young Swede who rose to prominence at the age of 15 thanks to her Skolstrejk för klimatet, (school strike for the climate) who it consisted of going to the Swedish parliament on a daily basis to ask his country for concrete and swift action to combat climate change.

Today Thunberg is 18 years old, she is still very well known and followed but her media role has been downsized after the Cop25 in Madrid in 2019. That particular UN meeting on environmental issues had a lot of media following and expectations of citizens and environmentalists were quite high, but they were disappointed.

In that 2019 Thunberg was the "person of the year" of Time magazine, he won the Nordic Council Environment Prize, the Fritt Ord Award, the Rachel Carson Prize but also the Ambassador of Conscience Award, the Right Livelihood Award and the International Children's Peace Prize. All in the same year. But then, due to the poor results of the COP25 but also to a physiological decline typical of political activities, the attention on Thunberg dropped. An excellent example to explain this mechanism is the political story of Al Gore, the famous environmentalist who was, among other things, the 45th Vice President of the United States. A role that realistically amounts to being one of the most influential people in the world, but evidently not even such a position can guarantee lasting fame.

An environmentalist at the Holy See

In the world of activism one of the most interesting names at the moment is that of Molly Burhans. Her choice of how to impact the climate crisis has less to do with street protests and more to do with what would be called "political pressure" or lobbying. Burhans is a fervent Catholic and a cartographer specialized in GIS (acronym for Geographic information system, a system with which large quantities of spatial data are managed), so, as the New Yorker tells in a long article, she decided to apply the his knowledge of the immense properties of the Holy See.

She took a ticket to Rome and managed to be received by the Secretariat of State, where she presented an idea she had been working on for months, namely to find ways in which the Catholic Church could be "mobilized as a force global environmental ".

The point, according to Burhans, is that in the world "there are 1.2 billion Catholics" and if the Church were a country "it would be the third most populous, after China and India". Not only that, the Church is also the non-state body that owns the most land in the world. According to Burhans' calculations, if we added the properties of the Holy See to those of parishes and various religious orders that respond to the Vatican, we would have almost 80 million hectares of land. Often in areas where warming has caused the greatest damage, such as central Africa and the Amazon basin.

This is why the young US activist is convinced that, without environmental coordination of these assets, the fight against climate change and its effects would be too steep. Burhans, when received at the Vatican, asked to be able to do a full mapping, and so she founded GoodLands which aims to "combine community engagement, design and mapping technologies to reveal high impact opportunities for land use strategies that have a regenerative impact on environmental, social and economic systems ".

Acting on the territory

As you can see by scrolling through the National Geographic special on young environmental activists, the number of those that can be mentioned is enormous. Some we may have heard of them, still others we hear them today for the first time. In any case, the way in which the new environmental activism has taken hold is based on the area to which it belongs. Young and very young therefore act directly on their governments or on the communities in which they live. The basic idea is to have a direct impact on specific problems, such as the drought in the Sahel or the deforestation that affects many areas of the Amazon.

By acting collectively on local problems, a global result is obtained. Take for example Mayumi Sato, a Japanese citizen who has focused her energies on the problem of deforestation in another part of Asia, between Laos and Thailand. Or, coming to Italy, Federica Gasbarro, representative for our country at the Youth Climate Summit of the United Nations.

The forerunner of young activists

It must be said that there were already some very significant young people committed to the environment and the climate crisis, even before Greta Thunberg. Like Severn Cullis-Suzuki. In 1992 Severn was just 12 years old and with three other young activists she traveled thousands of miles to go to the UN climate summit (it was not yet called COP, the first COP would be held three years later in Berlin).

With her speech, the young Canadian activist went down in history as "the little girl who silenced the world for six minutes". She said, among other things: "Losing my future is not like losing an election or a few points on the stock market". And again, referring to her other travel companions: “We collected our money and traveled 5,000 kilometers to come here and tell you that you have to change and choose to act”. Names like Cullis-Suzuki, although they don't make the headlines today, still have some impact on environmental movements.

At an associational level, the strongest movements today are Fridays For Future and Extinction Rebellion. The first is the continuation of the strike that Greta Thunberg did years ago, but on a global scale: a direct legacy that the activist has managed to expand in dozens and dozens of cities around the world. The name (literally "Friday for the future") comes from the fact that the very young Swedish activist protested every Friday in front of her country's parliament. It is now a very wide and distributed network on the planet, and consequently very heterogeneous, but which has as its cornerstones the activism of the youngest and the pressure on the states. Extinction Rebellion, on the other hand, is very different. First of all, it was born in the UK and is more linked to social movements such as Occupy Wall Street and what, many years ago, we called “No Global”. Both movements are mainly Western and have taken hold almost only in Europe and North America, but in the case of ER the idea is that of an activism based more on disobedience than on pressure on institutions.

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