Young climate activists met with experts at the American Library in Paris to discuss how to protect rivers, trees, wildlife and people through legislation.
The sixth Ecologues discussion featured Tim Crosland and moderator Alice McCrum, with Linda Sheehan and Irmak Kanyılmaz on Zoom, at the American Library in Paris on 29 June 2023.
How can we confront the devastation of climate change? Can we legislate against this devastation, and on behalf of who exactly?
That was the subject of the latest and last Ecologues event, “Legislating for the Future,” which brought together two experts and a young climate activist at the American Library in Paris on Thursday, 29 June. The Ecologues series was presented by News Decoder, the Climate Academy and the American Library in Paris as part of the Writing’s on the Wall project, funded by the European Union’s Erasmus+ program.
The talk featured Tim Crosland, director of the UK nonprofit Plan B, Linda Sheehan, executive director of Environment Now and Irmak Kanyılmaz, a student at the Climate Academy at the European School Brussels II.
As executive director, Linda Sheehan guides Environment Now’s work to protect and restore California’s coastal, freshwater and forest ecosystems. “We are facing a sixth mass extinction,” Sheehan said. “Ocean acidification is increasing at the fastest rate in over 300 million years and the United Nations has found climate change is pushing us to what they call an unliveable world.”
Environmental laws are obsolete, unable to stop climate change, let alone reverse it. At first, Sheehan blamed industry opposition, bureaucracy, overwhelmed courts, conservative judges and a lack of effective public outreach and engagement. It was later she realised the issue lies deeper within us. We view natural systems as separate from us, as commodities to be traded with.
Human rights and nature’s rights
We take far more than we give back and current environmental laws reflect this mindset.
But Sheehan said a legal philosophy representing an Earth-centric view generates laws which recognise the inherent rights of nature to exist, thrive and evolve, just as we recognise human rights. It was Thomas Berry who identified the destructive nature of anthropocentrism and proposed a different mindset.
Rights of nature are now recognised in law, to some extent, by 24 nations worldwide, including 15 U.S. states. You can see these and other ecological laws worldwide on the website ecojurisprudence.org.
Tim Crosland, a former barrister and the director of Plan B, a foundation supporting strategic legal action to prevent catastrophic climate change, emphasised the pervasiveness of climate change.
“First of all, the evidence of what we are doing to the world around us, is not just what the science is telling us about the critical tipping points,” Crosland said. “We’re seeing it aren’t we? We see it all around the world. It’s not just what was happening in Pakistan, or the famine in the Horn of Africa or Afghanistan. We’ve seen villages decimated in Germany, in France, in Luxembourg, floods in the UK. You’d have to be blind not to see it. You’d have to choose not to see it.”
Burying environmental devastation
The governments and the fossil fuel companies have known about accelerating climate change since the 1950s and 60s. Instead of tackling this issue head-on, they launched deliberate campaigns to conceal that, Crosland said. Today, even after 27 meetings of the Conference of the Parties — known as COPs — and despite all the talks, laws and congratulations, global carbon emissions are on the rise.
So what is the point of all these meetings?
“UK politicians say that we [the people of the UK] are just a tiny part of the problem,” Crosland said. “Well, actually the city of London supports 15% of global emissions around the world as a financial centre. That is a vast amount for a relatively small country. The top law firms in London have supported 1.5 trillion pounds ($1.9 trillion) worth of fossil fuel transactions since 2018.”
A secret international court system enables fossil fuel firms to sue governments for lost future profits. The companies blame climate policies. Crosland said that the UK government ignores scientific evidence. Meanwhile people protesting climate crimes are sent to prison. What about the fossil fuel directors? Shouldn’t they be sent to prison?
More and more young people get involved in politics.
Before joining the Climate Academy at the European School Brussels II, Irmak Kanyılmaz had little knowledge about climate change. At the Academy, students learn about climate change from a systemic point of view and they learn how laws can enforce concrete changes to reduce the heating of the planet and care for planetary boundaries.
“I have had the chance to visit the European Parliament where I talked to European Parliament’s members,” Kanyılmaz said. “It was a really interesting experience where I realised that politicians are not transparent. I remember at one point being told that numbers are not important, law is not important, policies are not important. It’s important that Europe is far ahead of other countries in implementing climate change solutions.”
When it comes to formal and legal jargon, young people have difficulties finding themselves in conversations. They might feel not educated enough and as such it might be difficult to take part in discussions.
“The fact we lack the knowledge and [are not familiar with] the legislative terms in politics is a big problem in taking part in a discussion about [climate change],” Kanyılmaz said.
Even though it is great to see young people get involved in politics and legislation, we wonder, should they? After all, it is the job of politicians and government to take care of citizens. Should we expect young people to be experts and use proper language when discussing politics? Or should we make politics more accessible to young people instead?
As Ecologues comes to a close, we reflect on the invaluable insights shared by our speakers and the passion displayed by the youth voices. The discussions around justice, energy, food, economics and the role of politics have left us with thought-provoking questions. While this may be the final article of the series, the journey towards a sustainable future continues. Let’s carry the spirit of these conversations forward and work together to create a world where rivers, trees, and future generations thrive. Thank you for joining us on this enlightening and inspiring journey.
You can watch a full recording of the talk here. If you are curious to learn more about the previous meetings we invite you to read News Decoder articles, watch the accompanying recordings or check out our climate change educational resources.
Ecologues is part of the Writing’s on the Wall climate education project, helping young people combat the climate crisis through journalism, activism and art. Learn more at thewritingsonthewall.org.
Questions to consider:
- How do some people equate the inherent rights of nature to how we recognize human rights?
- How can we hold governments and fossil fuel companies accountable for actions that harm the environment?
- If you were in government, how might you ensure that the voices of young people are heard in shaping policies and legislation?
Karolina Krakowiak is News Decoder’s Project Management Intern for The Writing’s on the Wall. Leaving engineering behind and following her passion, Karo decided to move to Paris and pursue a Master’s degree in International Management and Sustainability at the American University in Paris. Both in her professional and private life, she prioritizes nature, kindness and mindfulness.