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The naked truth about the climate change debate

A naked protest is a very cheeky and British thing to do!

Activists from the Extinction Rebellion (XR) movement recently disrupted a House of Commons Brexit debate with a semi-naked peaceful protest calling for climate justice. Aside from the attention grabbing, buttock sharing moment in the public gallery – which caused much eye-popping amongst MPs – the naked truth they were aiming to share centred on how we are all vulnerable in “the face of environmental and societal breakdown”. The protest certainly got people and the media talking; and whilst the initial focus was on the nakedness, awareness of the cause was amplified and the name of XR propelled into the limelight.

Collective action

In terms of action and resistance, the sense that we borrow the earth from our children has been embodied by Greta Thunberg – the Nobel Prize nominated Swedish teenager whose school strike last summer has created a social movement. Her protest against political inaction on climate change has galvanised young people across the globe, and the Global Climate Strike for Future this March was one of the world’s largest protests, seeing 1.4 million young people take part in over 2,000 separate events across 125 countries. For context, global protests against the Iraq War took place in up to 60 countries.

Much of the rapid success of Thunberg’s movement is down to her qualities as a passionate, eloquent and authentic ambassador but, given the global scale, it can also be linked to young people’s ‘social first’ approach; with many of the protests being mobilised at a local level through social media.

The changing narrative

Academic reports are warning that we are at the inflection point of ecological collapse. According to research from WWF, humanity’s actions have wiped out 60% of wildlife since 1970, whilst a report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests that we only have 12 years left to limit the effects of climate change – beyond which point an increase of just half a degree will heighten the risks of extreme weather, leading to poverty and hunger for millions worldwide.

The uptick in detailed research from credible, international institutions serves to highlight the growing momentum around the debate, and the need for us to act before it’s too late. The burden of responsibility is on all of us, and many suggest that if we do nothing we are walking headlong towards the 6th mass extinction event. The urgency was stressed by Thunberg when, speaking at Davos, she urged fellow panellists “to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is”.

The personal is political

So what can we do to help on a personal level? Urgent action doesn’t have to come in the form of participating in protests, but there’s no denying that the personal has become political.

Whilst Thunberg’s movement proves young people are deeply connected to the cause we can all play our part. Simpler and more ethically driven lifestyles make a huge difference, be it re-using more, reducing our carbon footprint by adopting a plant-based diet or consciously cutting down on waste. Also at Davos, David Attenborough’s message to participants was clear: “The future of the natural world is in our hands… Don’t throw away food, or throw away power, just care for the natural world, of which we are a part.”

Collective ignorance – on behalf of businesses, societies and states – is no longer an excuse. Recent demonstrations, and their profile raising via social media, are helping to move the dial on the debate. The fact that younger generations are more attuned to the impact of climate change, and their own personal role in helping prevent the effects, is incredibly inspiring and plays against those in positions of power who choose to resist enacting change. Together we can make a difference, and the momentum is only set to gather pace.


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