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“We’re in this for the long haul”: take inspiration from the new generation of climate activists

9 mins
29 Nov 2022
“We’re in this for the long haul”: take inspiration from the new generation of climate activists

Woo meets ‘Who Made My Pride Merch?’ founder Izzy McLeod and spotlights the other sustainability advocates to look out for

words Team Woo

The environment is one of the most pressing issues facing societies today as we stare down the realities of climate change and its ongoing impact on our lives. And while it’s great to be informed about what’s happening, all the negative news rolling in every day can have the reverse effect: making us feel disconnected, disempowered and susceptible to eco-anxiety. Ultimately, we need to remember that there are things we can do - and paying attention to all of the positive climate developments out there can be a huge helping hand when it comes to remembering the power we all hold to make a change.

Need a place to start? Look no further than COP27, which took place in Egypt earlier this month. While it’s officially been and gone, the meeting of world leaders yielded some significant, hope-inspiring moments. Not only were there rousing speeches supporting protections of the Brazilian rainforest, but Egypt designated 2000 kilometres of Red Sea coral reef as a newly created Marine Protected Area and France and Spain joined 212 other countries in moving to ban the sale of gasoline-fuelled cars by 2035.

Another source of much-needed inspiration? Gen Z. Research by Virgin Media O2 has shown that 8 in 10 of 16-24 year olds demand action be taken to protect the planet and we’ve already seen - from internet activism to the success of the global, youth-led Fridays for Future campaign - just how effective this group’s work has already been. To discover more and to delve into the everyday changes Gen Z is making to create a more sustainable world, woo called up Izzy McLeod: climate communicator, organiser, member of Virgin Media O2 Youth Advisory Council and founder of the ‘Who Made My Pride Merch?’ campaign.

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What does climate activism mean to you?

I think it's a whole plethora of things. For a lot of people, it’s a vision of people out in the streets protesting. I have done a bit of that, but I think that a lot of climate activism is behind the scenes. More “boring” work or work that's less easy to photograph: organising or meetings. There's a place in the movement for anyone doing something to tackle the climate crisis.

What is the youth role in combating climate change?

We have a lot at stake. Our role is really trying to preserve our present and future and we have a role to play, but we should be having a lot of the weight taken off our shoulders by those who are older and more able to make change.

When was the moment that you picked up interest in the environment?

I've always been interested in the environment. I spent summers when I was younger at my nan and my mum's allotments. Sustainability and ethics hit me when I was 18. I went travelling and realised after being in this insular, secondary school world that I was part of a global system and that my actions - whether I wanted them to or not - were having an impact on people on the other side of the world, often in a negative way.

I was looking at it through the lens of fashion at the time, how the people who made the things I was buying were not being paid enough while being treated badly. I decided that I didn't want to contribute to that. It was the moment that I went; “Yeah, I'm gonna change my actions.” And then it just kept going.

What were your hopes for COP 27 this year and what conversations do you think needed to be had?

I'll be honest, I didn't have a massive amount of hope from the conference itself. For me, it's the people on the ground that have given me a lot of hope for the future. The everyday people coming out and saying; “No, this is not enough.”

How have social media and technology galvanised the climate movement?

Social media, generally, is a blessing and a curse. It has allowed me to learn and grow and build a platform - it allowed me to find myself, learn and then continue that work online and bring it into my community. I’ve been able to connect with people all over the world and make friends here, there and everywhere. I really do think it is powerful that you see mass campaigns like Fashion Revolution, which is very much happening both online and in-person. When it's used right, social media really is a powerful tool.

How do we make sure that phones and social media are used to positively impact climate justice movements?

There is so much value in personal space and being able to go out and get into green space and connect with nature in person, as well as the value of being able to connect to people online. I think it's about having a balance.

Let’s talk more about you and the changes you’ve been creating in your life and work: what’s been the highlight of your activism so far?

I’m very proud of starting ‘Who Made My Pride Merch?’. Though it’s definitely still in its infancy, I’m proud that I got up and said; “this is an area not being covered, I’m going to cover it”. However, I don’t want to say it’s “mine” because change happens with collective action.

I also recently worked with A New Direction on KS2 Science lessons which are free for all to use and are all about connecting to nature, understanding climate change, and learning creatively and I’m so proud of this. A lot of my work around learning to communicate climate through activism work, as well as understanding mental health in climate spaces through projects like The Resilience Circle, have fed into this so it feels like a good example of lots of different things I have learnt and grown from coming together.

How has your activism shifted over the years?

I’ve learnt a lot more when it comes to climate justice and intersectionality over the years and really do see every struggle as directly related to climate change. So this has shifted what I focus on, and how I perceive and look after myself. From looking at just fashion, sustainability and ethics, I now look at LGBTQIA+ rights, workers' rights, disability rights, LGBQTIA+ justice, anti-racism, feminism, and so much more as important facets of my climate work now.

I’ve also shifted away from just seeing protesting out on the street and big campaigns as part of activist work. I don’t do much of that anymore and am much more comfortable doing background work alongside talks and workshops and creative work. I consider myself more of a climate communicator and organiser now rather than an activist, per se, but they all overlap.

As you’ve grown as an activist and organiser, how has your approach to self-care changed?

I now take much better care of myself: you can’t pour from an empty cup, and activist spaces are rife with burnout and people working themselves to the ground. That’s not sustainable, healthy, or necessary. I’ve learnt over the years, though I’m still not perfect at it, how to better do work that is sustainable for me long-term, that’s fulfilling and that’s joyful. All of this is incredibly important: we’re in this for the long haul, after all.

Finally, what are some forthcoming projects or causes you will be working on?

A lot will be continuing work I already do. I work with Community Energy Wales, where we try to grow the sector and have strong resilient communities across Wales. I would love to collaborate with others more to grow ‘Who Made My Pride Merch?’ and make more of an impact there and I am continuing to work on creative workshops for young people around climate change. And, of course, being on the Youth Advisory Council for Virgin Media O2 and hopefully influencing the work that they’re doing in the tech world. The Youth Advisory Council is a diverse group of young people that give Virgin Media O2 fresh perspectives and insights to help shape their sustainability plans. To me, it's important to see big organisations taking responsibility for their impact.

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Want to learn more?

Here are the other new gen activists to have on your radar.

Noga Rapaport-Levy

Having helped organise youth climate strikes from 2019, Noga helmed a protest of 100,000 young people in London and a further 350,000 across the country. Noga has also agitated for climate change by speaking direct to those in power, such as speaking to the National Maritime Organisation to call for a limit on shipping speeds to reduce emissions.

Saoi O’Connor

Saoi organised the Fridays for Future youth climate strike in Cork, Ireland in 2019. In the time since have campaigned against new gas fields and also appeared in the RTE documentary Growing Up At The End of the World, calling for people to “join us fighting, for the world, and for the people….teenagers shouldn’t have to be on TV explaining any crisis.”

Holly Gillibrand

The organiser for Fridays for Future Scotland, Holly has turned her advocacy for climate to rewilding, serving as a Youth Advisor for the charity Heal Rewilding and using her expertise from growing up in rural areas to inform her campaigning.

Frankie Mayo

Climate justice comes in many forms and one of them is developing cleaner greener policies. Frankie sits on the UK Youth Climate Coalition and his work as an analyst for a renewable energy consultancy means he’s crunching the numbers required to get big companies to deliver climate justice.

Mikaela Loach

Keen to approach climate activism in an intersectional and inclusive way, Mikaela has drawn links between climate justice and racial justice and especially the overlap of these issues when it comes to refugees. As well as writing about these topics, she covers issues of sustainable fashion.

This feature has been brought to you in partnership with Virgin Media O2, which is working to create a greener, more sustainable world for everyone with its Better Connections Plan. Izzy McLeod is a member of the Virgin Media O2 Youth Advisory Council. All other mentioned individuals, to the editors’ knowledge, have no affiliation to or connection with Virgin Media O2.

The interview with Izzy McLeod has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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