By Kristin Rodrigo, Canada, 23 years old
Earlier this January of 2020, I received the wonderful invitation to attend La Nuit Des Idées in Paris, France, as a representative for the Young Reporters for the Environment (YRE). This event, “The Night of Ideas”, was hosted by Institut français and now in its 5th edition, continues to celebrate ideas, cultures, and knowledge all around the globe. With the core concept of “Being Alive”, this year’s La Nuit Des Idées addresses questions revolving on the ecological balance with nature and the environment, and humanity’s relation to the world’s other inhabitants – an idea highly relevant in today’s times.
As an Alumni of the YRE Program and having been part of this organization for almost 7 years, I was ecstatic to be provided the platform to showcase how it has changed my life’s course and direction, as well as highlight the strengths and assets I have gained through my experiences as a Young Reporter. In addition to this, I consider my background in Zoology adding intensity and knowledge to my passion to protect our planet and its biodiverse ecosystems, and hope to see its prosperity for the future to come.
For this discussion, I was joined by two amazing individuals: Hilda Flavia Nakabuye, the founder of Fridays for Future Uganda, along with Nathan Méténier, a spokesperson for the NGO network Youth and Environment Europe, and founder of Generation Climate Europe. Both are such inspirational young activists who continue to strive daily to spread awareness in our society and to create change within our governmental systems.
On the opening night of La Nuit des Idées, our dialogue started off as the kick-off event, but prior to, we were welcomed by the Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves le Drian and the Minister of Ecological and Inclusive Transition, Élisabeth Borne, who both delivered speeches on the need for action and change, as well as the youth’s value in these efforts. Mediating our dialogue was Hervé Gardette, an exceptional journalist from France culture, who asked us each about our respective country’s issues, our struggles and experiences as a climate activist, as well as our opinions on the role of the government, the public and other various climate action-related subjects.
Amongst these topics, what stood out to me the most was the question on which is more valuable: individualistic or governmental actions?
To me, this struck me odd as I truly believe there should be no divide. For quite some time now, this has been a common question asked in debates and discussions, yet it should be realized that we need both to contribute to environmental efforts. Not only do we need individualistic actions from each person on this planet, but we need the government and other powerful corporations to join in this stand against climate change. We need each person willing to cooperate to the changes we want our government to instill in our society, meaning both must go hand in hand. In my opinion, separating the two creates further disconnect and wastes time when efforts could begin if we start finding ways to work in solidarity for the benefit of all humankind. Due to the severity of the consequences climate change has already brought upon us, it is imperative we take immediate and radical action, and pool all support available to protect wildlife, natural resources, and those vulnerable communities left helpless with the rise of these disasters. Despite the order of it may come in, climate change will not discriminate and ultimately, it will affect all of Earth’s inhabitants.
Each person on this planet has a responsibility to do everything they can to protect and preserve their home. One must maximize what their capacity can handle, but regardless of how simple and small that action may be, it is vital and valuable. Taking that leap into the unknown by straying away from the old age-style of fossil fuels and coal and into greener technologies must be taken. As risky and petrifying it may be to some, it is the only choice we have to keep our planet healthy and ensure the very existence of the human species — for by destroying our planet, not only do we hurt its biodiversity and other species, but drive our own to its extinction.
In this whole experience, my role as a young climate activist finally dawned on me. For years, I just pursued my passion and fervour for protecting our planet and nature, but all throughout that time, I considered myself just as an average person just doing what they love. Sitting there on that platform made me realize that my voice is now louder in the sense that there are audiences out there listening to me and are impacted by my words. Flashbacks from when I first just started as a Young Reporter came to me and I remembered the obstacles and struggles I had in developing the skill sets I have now, which has made me even more grateful for the opportunities I’ve had that has led me to become the person I am today.
I consider myself extremely fortunate to have had these experiences, but the biggest prize of them all is knowing a continuously growing network of exceptional people who surround me and I can look up to. My goal as a climate activist is to influence those around me, starting with actions that can be consciously taken to change one’s lifestyle and when done by many, can deliver a colossal impact. Eventually, I hope to grow my social media platform to reach larger audiences from far and beyond, and educate them on various environmental and sustainable topics.
Nevertheless, it is important to point out that not every climate activist fits into this category. In Uganda, Hilda focuses on raising awareness in her community to educate them about the impact of climate change to their vulnerable country and prompt action from their government to mitigate its ramifications. In France, Nathan is studying environmental policy and using his knowledge to take on climate advocacy that balances social justice and ecological transition. No one has to fit into one box and each of us, and thousands of more out there, occupy specific niches that broadens our influence as youth activists, making us effective and efficient in generating the change we desperately need.
To whoever is reading this, take note that Hilda, Nathan and I, are regular people—the ones you pass by when crossing the street or that stranger you make awkward eye contact on the subway. People who you see in your everyday life. The point I’m trying to get across is that everyone can be a climate activist. Everyone SHOULD be a climate activist. What got us to where we are now are actions that we’ve invested our time and effort to in order to spread awareness and positively influence those around us. Take this as an inspiration that if lil ol’ Kristin from Canada can educate and bring about change to those around me, so can YOU. It does not take one to have a huge following or a big social media presence to make an impact as everything starts small. Start at home with your family and friends. Inspire your peers. You never know what could happen and there’s nothing to lose, but everything to gain.
Everything counts, so never doubt yourself.
Always remember, there are thousands and thousands of us and we’ll always have each other’s back.