In this year’s third Women Leading Climate Action webinar series, hosted by Action Aid Australia in partnership with Women’s Agenda, another stellar lineup of brilliant young activists came together to chat to WA’s editor Angela Priestley to share their journeys to climate activism, discuss the state of the world as its being impacted by climate change, and share tips on how to sustain positive momentum and drive to continue our battle in the fight for a better future for the planet.
The discussion aimed to congregate the women leading solutions to the climate crisis included Action Aid’s Head of Campaigns and Policy Katherine Tu, Climate Activist Evelyn Acham and Groundswell Co-Founder Clare Ainsworth.
Recent climate events have caused catastrophic turmoil for citizens across the globe; hurricanes affecting India and Bangladesh, Tropical Cyclone Harold which ripped across Vanuatu, Fiji, Solomon Islands and Tonga in April and deadly flooding in East Africa.
Angela stressed the importance of not taking our feet off the pedal, and for the continuing need to learn the lessons on leadership that has been shown by women throughout this pandemic: the strength and power of female leadership, and benefits of ensuring a diverse range of voices are included in decision making.
Humble beginnings. Extraordinary Champions for change.
For Katherine Tu, climate action is all about justice. “Climate is an issue of justice,” Tu said. “I’m the daughter of two refugees from Vietnam. My parents taught me privilege and provided me with great education and stable housing. They instilled in me strong moral responsibility and for me to stand in solitary with others, particularly with those overseas.”
Tu began her climate activism more than ten years ago during university, when she joined the Australia Climate Coalition. “They run a lot of training for young people where you get to meet people with common values. The group takes a concerted action on climate change and you’re exposed to high levels of decision making. You quickly learn that it’s through people power that change happens and corporations are compelled to move towards the right directions.”
Climate activist Evelyn Acham grew up in the tropical climate of Uganda, a nation of more than 42 million people. “The education system did not do me justice,” Acham said. “It didn’t emphasise the necessity of climate change. Uganda doesn’t address climate justice and accountability.”
The national Ugandan coordinator of the The Rise Up Movement in Uganda said she was inspired to do her own research and activism when she saw fellow Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate start her one-woman protest in the capital, Kampala.
“Our education system don’t go into detail what climate change and its impacts are, so I decided to find out for myself and then to extend my voice for other voices to join,” she said. Acham is an active member in the Youth for the Future Africa group, both of which are headed up by Nakate.
Clare Ainsworth said her children are the reason she wants to fight for a better future. “I’ve got two young children and this is what sustains me.”
Ainsworth’s ‘ah-ha’ moment was seeing a film – the 2012 documentary ‘Chasing Ice’ by Jeff Orlowski which followed American photographer James Balog as he and his team assembled a chronicle of the planet’s rapidly melting glaciers over a number of years.
“It was quite beastly, the scene of the ice piece detaching,” Ainsworth said. “I made a decision that night that I’d use my skills in the environment space to engage people with the cause. I began my climate action journey that night, and since then I’ve been taking research groups to the Herron Islands in the Great Barrier Reef and educating people about climate change.”
With over 12 years experience in not-for-profit development and philanthropy, Ainsworth started Climate Council Heron Island research trip with Anna Rose in 2017, and began Groundswell with two of her best friends. Created in response to the Climate Crisis, Groundswell aims at accelerating action and supporting solutions by funding high-impact climate advocacy. They launched the organisation in February this year – and event which was attended by more than 400 people. “ There’s a lot of momentum to get people get involved,” she said. “Committing $20 a week goes a long way.”
“At Groundswell, we focus on advocacy. We want to change the game at a systemic level and build a movement, change the story,” she said.
Every tiny action counts
Daily decisions matter. This is what Acham reiterates throughout the webinar. In Uganda, where she is born and continues to reside, Acham reminded audiences of the perpetual battles women face.
“There’s a lot of difficulty in accessing health care here for women. There are diseases like malaria and dysentery. Women face a lack of finances and financial independence. Floods, causing people to be homeless. Rural communities giving away their daughters in exchange for money. There’s been a rise in child marriage in exchange for money. Schools are still closed and workers are laid off.”
“There’s a concern that girls will never return to school after this crisis settles. There’s an increasing rate of teenage pregnancy. By the time school opens, some girls will be pregnant, and their parents can’t afford school fees. They’re given up for marriage in exchange for money.”
Acham believes creating awareness is critical for making change, and it can begin by small steps. “We need to lift each other up. It’s okay to begin where you’re at. Connect with other good people. I started two of my best friends.”
“The biggest reason for inaction for many people is that they don’t know about it. Floods affect everyone. Small acts multiplied by a million people can make a difference. Give yourself a target of planting a tree once a month. Put pressure on companies and government. Most leaders don’t know the science of climate change.”
Ainsworth believes it’s people like Evelyn who are making great impacts on the crisis. “These are modern example of modern philanthropy,” she said. “At Groundswell, we acknowledge that giving comes in different currencies. This can include time, talent, or money. I know a young lawyer who is doing pro-bono work, and there are artists who are designing posters, we want to redefine philanthropy.”
She mentions the epidemiologist, Dr Peter Doherty, who was among the 180 professionals who signed an open letter earlier this week, warning the Australian government of the country’s “failing” environmental laws fuelling further public health crises. “These are the trusted voices we need to pay attention,” Ainsworth said.
Tu believes engaging one young woman at a time is critical and necessary for change.
“At Action Aid, we work with young people who have a shared vision for the future and building power by doing all sort of things like holding events, doing stunts, attending shareholding meetings.” Every small action counts.
Stay informed. Be knowledge driven
As part of Tu’s work at Action Aid, she monitors the impact of Australian companies’ fossil fuel emissions overseas.
“We chart Australia’s fossil fuel impact, and research for two years between 2017-2018 showed that there’s been a 13% increase in potential emissions for companies overseas and their emissions. We need to be monitoring these companies and to hold them to account.”
“These operations are not placed under scrutiny because they’re so far away, and so we need to change that. We need evidence to show that this is happening, and then to make them accountable”
“Action Aid works directly with women leaders and funds their ability to use this evidence to put women’’s concerns at forefront and demand change. With scientific evidence, we can enable engagement with corporations and force companies to engage with us.” Hence, the power of evidence to negotiate people on the ground. Ainsworth believes knowledge is irreplaceable when it comes to the power we have as consumers.
“Make informed choices,” she said. “Ask yourself, how can we soften our footprint if we consume less? The endless appetite for consumption is not sustainable at all.”
Stay positive. Be hopeful. Have the right attitude.
Acham believes attitude is key in staying positive and driven in this sector of climate activism. “Keep going. Don’t give up. Someone out there is out there watching. Look for like minded people. Small acts can cause a big change. When many people come together. “
“If you can’t do anything, let me encourage you, listen to the science. Join the fight. Follow women on Twitter, and ask questions. Let the trolls keep trolling.”
Tu believes in the power of working with people across borders. “Work in solitary and work with other people overseas, this is a global problem, stay hopeful while acting. Read up on biases and undo-biases, and be more inclusive. Put people who are affected to lead.”
Ainsworth believes in taking a broad view into the future. “Take a longterm view; and celebrate small victories. Communities orientated actions. That gives me a lot of hope. Change isn’t always linear so that’s important to think about.”