Lessons from Lockdown: XR Youth, One Year On - Extinction Rebellion UK

Lessons from Lockdown: XR Youth, One Year On

by Talia Woodin, XR Youth

One year on from the first International Rebellion, my life as a youth climate justice activist has changed dramatically, along with the movements I’ve been a part of. As the UK goes into its fourth week of lockdown as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, I find myself reflecting on what this means for our work as activists.

During this time I have, on a few occasions, been posed with the following question; ‘Surely you’re happy about the lower levels of air pollution?’ It’s a difficult one. In and of itself, the reduction of emissions in many countries around the world is a good thing, a cause for celebration for those of us who have spent years pushing governments and big corporations to bring about systemic changes in order to lower emissions, amongst other things. However, that celebration is not only bitter-sweet but also hugely problematic. 

As a youth activist, I have spent the past year making various personal sacrifices in order to prioritise my work in the climate justice movement. I am not the only one that has done so; over the past 18 months we’ve seen thousands of students striking from school and many young people giving up their higher education, sources of income, and in some cases even their freedom, for a cause that many continue to deny even exists.

As the world has shifted dramatically in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, we have seen clear evidence of the lengths we are able to go to, both as a society and as individuals, in order to protect people in times of crisis. Such lengths in fact, that record breaking decreases in pollution levels, have been observed! However, I find myself saying this with a great sense of irony. 

In April 2019, exactly one year ago, I joined thousands of others in occupying the streets of London in an act of mass civil disobedience, to demand that our government take appropriate action on the climate and ecological crisis. This historical event stood on the shoulders of over three decades of climate justice activism, not to mention the ongoing resistance of all Indigenous and Global South communities, on the frontline of this crisis.

So after all these years of action, why is this crisis still not prioritised to the same extent as that of the current pandemic we face? Why are the millions of deaths caused annually due to air pollution and the lives of all future generations not enough to merit a similar level of urgency? Lastly, why should we celebrate a chance decrease of pollution levels, when this is something young people have been demanding for well over this past year?

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