Climate Strike and Corona: „Not back to old normal“

The pandemic did not replace climate crisis. It is adding to it. What does that mean for the movement? Three activists tell their stories.

Ein Mädchen sitzt mit einem bunten Plakat auf einer Treppe

Feels like long ago: Climate Strike in Bangkok, September 2019 Foto: dpa

Tonny Nowshin says the corona-crises should urge us to reflect on our priorities

„If I must choose my apocalypse, I would prefer Corona over the climate crisis. Because at least it is only affecting us humans and it gives us some time to reflect on the way we are taking up space and treating other inhabitants on this planet.

I am struggling emotionally with this pandemic like everyone else. I guess what affects me a lot is seeing the situation back home. I am from Bangladesh. Most of the countries were not prepared for a pandemic in terms of health care, we see this in the USA right now. But in the global south countries lack resources to cope with it. Staying at home for a big part of the population in Bangladesh means starving. Because we have this huge informal sector of really small entrepreneurs – day workers, rickshaw pullers – who lives on their daily earnings. So for them quarantine means no earnings, hence, no food. That is a different form of crisis and when I see the suffering through the news and numbers, it is difficult to cope with. Not everybody can understand the load of emotional stress this means. But I also dont want pity. Im trying to keep on working.

Tonny Nowshin

Tonny Nowshin is a Degrowth activist. She lives in Berlin Foto: privat

For the past two years we have been mobilizing to save the world's largest mangrove forest that is located in Bangladesh. It is threatened by the plans of building a coal power plant and industrial infrastructure that surrounds the forest. We launched a petition against the German engineering consultancy firm called Fichtner. They are involved in the construction of Rampal- the coal power plant in Bangladesh and we want to stop their involvement.

As for the pandemic I hope we will not just go back to old normal. This crisis is making it even more clear that our societies are not designed to protect normal people. You can see this when politicians are bailing out banks instead of people. With this pandemic, now that we are on hold, we reflect on our priorities. And this can be a very powerful thing!“

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Nanticha Ocharoenchai aka Lynn says if the pandemic hits hard the climate crisis will hit even harder

„It's weird because the pandemic has changed everything, but in the same time in my life nothing has really changed. I usually stay home a lot and don't meet a lot of people. I live in Bangkok and I dont like to be in the city, its hectic. And all my jobs have always been remote anyway.

Nanticha Ocharoenchai

Nanticha Ocharoenchai is a climate activist living in Bangkok Foto: privat

We are not in an official lockdown in Bangkok, but we are asked to stay at home. But in Thailand there are a lot of people who can't afford to stay at home, because their living depends on jobs that require going out. And a lot of people also don't have homes to stay in. So that is really tough. I don't exactly know how many people are infected in Thailand, I havent been reading the news much, it's distressing.

With the climate strike movement we wanted to do a physical strike during Earth Day, but now we are partnering with “we the planet“ to organize a strike on social media platforms. People are sending in their videos with a pledge. The pandemic shows that we CAN reduce emissions if we choose to. And media and governments start to pay attention on how things like deforestation and wildlife trade are linked to this outbreak. Many NGOs and us too, whe are hurrying to make this an agenda: This pandemic may hit hard, the climate crisis will hit even harder if we dont bring down the emissions now.

And we have another urgent concern in Thailand right now. There are huge forest fires in the north of the Country. There is a lot of open burning to clear lands for growing maize. But the fires sprung over to protected forest areas and they are growing bigger and bigger. It is causing all this air pollution and environmental impacts. Some news agencies are trying to cover it, but the attention is nowhere near enough. It is like half of Thailand is burning right now and noone is talking about it.

We really can't go back to normal, by no means. I really hope that the politicians realize how messed up we are right now. And the first thing they should do is stop fighting. There's just so much political drama in Thailand. Unproductive fights that use up so much time and energies for more urgent issues – the just transformation to renewable energies for example.“

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Anna Conradie says African activists feel more strongly about social justice and their biggest sorrow is drought.

Without the corona crisis, I would probably have had fundraising events for “artivists“. “Artivists“ is an organization I founded to use art as a means of protesting to draw people outside of the climate movement into the climate movement.

Anna Conradie

Anna Conradie, 18, advises big corps in South Africa on how they can work environmentally friendly Foto: privat

Since we could not do that, I set up some meetings for a youth think tank I founded. We work with a bunch of high polluters here in South Africa on how they can make their companies more environmentally friendly. How it works is, that I contact big corporates, tell them that we want to work with them and not destruct them or anything, until we finally meet. It took me nearly a year to get a meeting with one big company we now work with.

So that is how I started to get involved in the climate movement last year in May. I started joining strikes and organized a national school climate strike. We were planning to do another one this year, but because of Corona that plan shifted. It is very difficult to make people understand here that this is a very big issue, it is something that we need to act on rapidly.

I think where you come from defines how you see issues and how you understand them. Here in South Africa, we have the richest square mile next to the poorest. So, I think the youth in Africa sees climate issues a lot different from European activists, we call them “the West“. African activists feel very strongly about social justice because poverty and injustice are on every corner of our hometowns.

In terms of the climate crisis though, our biggest worry is drought! Last year, two regions were declared by the UN as “national disaster zones“. They did not have water for four months! We should have enough water but because of the lack of infrastructure, it causes us to lose about 40 per cent of the water that should go to homes. So, our biggest concern is the fact that drought will affect all of our subsistence farmers. If we do not act rapidly, it will impact all of our rural areas, people will lose all their livelihoods.

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