As we edge closer to the COP-26 climate conference next week, the environmental crisis can seem like a daunting beast to tackle head-on.
Our Gen Zero climate activists break down their efforts to address different aspects of this pressing global issue: campaigning for cleaner air, involving BAME people in the climate conversation and fighting eco-anxiety, the feeling of helplessness in the face of climate inaction.
We marvelled at Greta Thunberg’s dedication to climate justice - now Gen Zero are showing us that young people across the UK have taken up the mantle, with some balancing their A-levels alongside their visions for a greener future.
USP: Made national news by ‘hacking’ road signs to highlight air pollution levels
As one of the founding members of the Choked Up campaign – which drums up awareness about air pollution - Anjali Raman-Middleton sought an opportunity to grill politicians about their clean air policies. With the ‘hacked’ road signs stating ‘Pollution zone: breathing kills’ placed strategically in Whitechapel, Lewisham and Brixton earlier this year, Choked Up managed to organise a clean air hustings.
“Mayoral candidates were forced to actually talk about their clean air strategies- which they otherwise wouldn’t have had to do,” she says. “Off the back of that, a lot of politicians began to know our campaign and see us as legit.”
Watch: Climate change promises fall short and risk 'destabilised world and endless suffering', UN says
So legit, in fact, that Choked Up have worked with TFL to promote the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) and attended the ULEZ expansion launch hosted by Sadiq Khan yesterday, a fact which Raman-Middleton modestly describes as “cool”.
Choked Up labels itself as being run by “black and brown teenagers”. Following the death of Ella Adoo-Kissi Debrah, where air pollution was recognised as a contributing factor by the coroner, Raman-Middleton realised that no one was speaking about the role race had to play in the conversation.
“I wanted to make sure that it was understood that people of colour are disproportionately exposed to the dangers of air pollution,” she says. “People living in certain communities are breathing toxic, poisonous air.”
According to research by the Environmental Defense Fund, nitrous oxide pollution is on average 24-31 per cent higher in areas where people from BAME backgrounds are most likely to live. “Poor areas tend to be situated along busy roads, because rich people don’t want to live there,” she says.
Channelling concerns about such inequalities in a productive manner is a skill Raman-Middleton refined through an initiative called The Advocacy Academy, where she met “young people with similar angers” who ultimately formed the Choked Up campaign.
Yet her advice to people wanting to make greener decisions is far from radical:
Email your MP, write letters to them or go and talk to them about adopting more ambitious climate policies. We need to make sure we’re influencing strong legislation that will enshrine our right to breathe in law.
Pushing through such climate legislation on a global level isn’t something Raman-Middleton thinks is a feasible outcome of the COP-26 climate conference.
“Ideally, I would love to see a massive international strategy. But I think we have to look closer to home first – how can hosting the climate conference force the UK to change our own climate policy?”
But campaigning for clean air is not the only thing on Raman-Middleton's agenda. She is also waiting to hear back from universities, having just submitted her UCAS application to study Human, Social, and Political Sciences.
“I want to go into public policy so I can continue my campaign work and influence legislation– that's something I really don’t want to lose.”
Watch: Climate change: Posting pictures online and storing emails are contributing to crisis, says report