Following Footsteps’ 2020 Earth Day gathering, this workshop provided an opportunity to listen to the stories of young people who have been leading the call for meaningful change. The workshop was also to provide the Birmingham City Council Taskforce with a view from the grassroots of what is needed from young people’s perspectives.
Some 10 young people, with a number of elders observing, participated in the workshop. The young people, aged 17-25, came from a variety of groups and network, including Youth Strikers for the Climate (YS4C). The points in this summary reflect the view expressed by this group of young people.
The workshop began with a moment of quiet reflection on the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matters protests. We heard from Anya Nanning Ramamurthy, a young Quaker climate activist from London, in conversation with local community activist, Mahmooda Qureshi (see video below). Together they explored the wider national picture and the particular contribution made by faith.
This was followed by a discussion facilitated by Sanaa Pasha, a young Muslim climate activist aided by the large number of contributions being made through the chatbox.
The workshop concluded with young poet and climate activist, Matt Sowerby, reciting the ‘Reduce, reuse, recycle’ poem that he had written especially for Footsteps’ 2020 Earth Day gathering.
A consistent plea running through the workshop was to improve communications with young people and involve them in the R20 climate emergency decision making process. As proficient social media communicators themselves, activists can help engagement across the city. The young people recognised the need for a just transition and the need to embrace social justice and equality issues. Young people have much to offer in creating change.
The Birmingham Youth Strikers for Climate (YS4C) feel they are not being heard in the R20 Taskforce
- YS4C are not being heard, and there is no direct communication or real dialogue over actions. R20 Task Force has young people but does not listen to them.
- The latest YS4C Get Serious campaign demands solutions involving:
- Communicating the problems and making it possible for everyone to get involved;
- Changing the attitude of BCC and applying a green lens to achieve net zero target by 2030 (e.g, across all depts of BCC such as Tyseley Incinerator which is not sustainable);
- Being transparent about BCC strategies and actions and sharing them with citizen groups to establish dialogue;
- Taking serious action, focusing on solutions to achieve the 2030 Net Zero targets.
- Young people are not going to go away – they want their voice to be heard and are willing to work intersectionally with other campaigns to be effective in making change.
Faith can bring young people and communities together around the Climate Emergency
- Young people of faith are empowered by shared beliefs in communities and by working together.
- Faith communities could make their Climate Emergency commitments more visible. Young people are willing to work on an inter-generational and interfaith agenda for change.
Engaging and involving young people will make a dynamic difference
- Mixed messages are given out by people in authority (e.g. local government or teachers) who invite young people to photo shoots / meetings but don’t listen to the concerns, actions and solutions offered by young people.
- Young people feel empowered by the fact that there is a global movement engaging young people across international, national and local networks. Climate change does not distinguish between borders so we need to embrace this global fight working across political boundaries.
Young people call for a just transition and new economic models
- In Birmingham there are great inequalities of health, wealth and employment and it is vital to embrace social justice and equality in this campaign if we are to face climate breakdown together and build resilience
- There is a recognition that we live under a right-wing government that is unlikely to support tax increases to fund investment in new solutions. However, post Covid-19 there will need to be economic recovery regionally and nationally: we need to Build Back Better – not go back to business as usual.
- Young people perceive that big business leaders have a ‘special seat’ at the table with the opportunity to slow down or steer the direction of travel of the R20 Task Force.
- Young people recognise the opportunity for BCC to attract and invest in greener technologies, and invest in the health care, social care and smaller technology businesses to employ larger sections of communities.
- “It’s about regeneration, developing industries, creating jobs or developing existing jobs that enable a just transition, not just returning to old-style industry.”
- Specific actions need to be addressed such as:
- the extension of Tyseley Incinerator with new procurement until 2035.
- Improving the recycling in Birmingham is vital as the city only recycles 22% of all waste the fourth lowest percentage for local authorities in Britain.
- This requires different strategies of social engagement and provision.
- There was broad support for the Clean Air Zone and the Transport Plan but concern that the delivery was being postponed due to the Covid-19 response.
Using Creativity and Young People’s Skills can make the climate message clearer.
- Communicating messages about climate change is better through stories than statistics.
- Young activists are conversant with social media tools, and have experience of creating projects to engage and educate young people about the Climate Emergency.
- Invite young people to use their creative skills to reach more young people.
- Maybe existing festivals could feature arts with this focus (rather than create a separate festival).
- Climate Action can only happen when all communities and citizens are involved and take ‘greener’ actions in their daily lives. This requires a grassroots approach to communication – not a top down directive through an email / leaflet.
- The Birmingham Mail in particular has featured the role of the Climate Youth Strikers regularly. Conversely, national news reporting can trivialise and never delves deeper into the reasons why people do or don’t take action.
Young People want schools to embrace climate education and action
- The experience of young people trying to bring changes within schools is they that run into bureaucratic problems.
- School / College buildings are often leased from BCC or other landowners. This can create problems in making changes to the buildings such as introducing new insulation.
- Eco-solutions such as replacing old bins with re-cycling bins in one case took a year as the facility was out-sourced and took time to make changes.
- The seriousness of the Climate Emergency is not reflected in the School Curriculum and young people are having to find out about the extreme changes of climate conditions outside school.
- National networks such as Teach 4 the Future have identified new curriculum resources: can BCC connect with these new networks of information for young people?
Young people want solutions and dialogue
- YS4C feel they are not being heard, as there is no direct communication or real dialogue over actions that the R20 Taskforce is taking.
- Clear suggestion that a Citizens Assembly is set up as a new mechanism for dialogue and action. It should be representative of the diverse cultural mix of the city, including young people.
- One example is Kendal District Council which has set up a Citizens Jury involving young people and has achieved a change of attitude and a change of behaviour.
Organisations to work with