Los Angeles, United States – Like Greta Thunberg, University of Southern California activist Kayla Soren has been spreading global awareness about climate concerns. She admires the young Swede, but she also thinks Thunberg – who spoke at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland this week – doesn’t go far enough.
Soren founded the International Student Environmental Coalition, which has 500 active members in 30 countries. She describes herself as “even more critical of the entire premise of the World Economic Forum” than Thunberg.
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“While Greta pleads for these businesses and politicians to stop emissions, she isn’t specific on the relationship between capitalism and the climate crisis,” Soren told Al Jazeera.
“The climate crisis, a problem created by capitalism, cannot be fixed with more capitalism,” she added. “Real climate solutions won’t come out of Davos.”
Soren believes the youth climate movement is better off advocating more concrete actions, yet she acknowledges that Thunberg’s speech in Davos on Tuesday moved in that direction.
Greta Thunberg “demanded that countries halt investment in fossil fuels, end fossil fuel subsidies, and completely divest,” Soren said. “We need radical action now. Justice over everything. People over profit.”
The WEF’s shifting stance on climate change is in no small part due to outsized activism embodied by Greta Thunberg, the young Swede who travelled from Davos to Los Angeles in 2019, and then back to the elite gathering once again this year.
In its annual report about the top risks facing the globe during the next decade, the WEF candidly states that climate change is the biggest single threat.
Extreme weather, maladaptation, environmental damage, loss of biodiversity and natural disasters are listed as the five largest looming challenges facing an embroiled planet.
“In California, we can see the wildfires happening just around the corner, wildfires that are being intensified by the climate crisis,” the Scandinavian 17-year-old said when she headlined the Los Angeles climate strike in November.
Thunberg has helped create a mass movement of environmental advocates, taken the cause mainstream, and sounded alarms that echo through the international business community.
“What will you tell your children was the reason to fail and leave them facing the climate chaos you knowingly brought upon them?” she asked on Tuesday in the Swiss resort town.
But by upbraiding WEF, Thunberg also wants to remind the world that the opinions of Davos patrons do not represent her – or her fellow activists.
On the West Coast of the United States, where Thunberg has demonstrated her staying power, climate protesters continue to strike every Friday and are calling for even bolder stances.
Bolder than Greta
Kevin Patel started One Up Action to train the next generation of climate activists. He experienced the impact of pollution in his Los Angeles neighbourhood and was diagnosed with heart palpitations that resulted from bad air quality.
Patel has attended Fire Drill Fridays in Washington, DC with actress-cum-activist Jane Fonda. And during a Los Angeles march in November 2019, he served as personal security for Thunberg, whose movement inspired him to become the sustainability liaison for the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council.
Patel told Al Jazeera that Los Angeles has done a “fairly good job” dealing with climate challenges but “to say the least, we still have a lot of work to do”.
Isha Clarke, an Oakland activist with the San Francisco Bay Area-based Youth Vs Apocalypse, first generated attention when pressuring US Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, to support the federal Green New Deal.
“Greta has sparked a really powerful movement that has a lot of solidarity between countries,” Clarke told Al Jazeera. “People are doing the same thing, at the same time, on the same day, across the world. That’s incredible.”
However, she also said that the movement was not just “a reflection of any one individual, but a mass of people who put blood, sweat, and tears into organising”.
“Environmental justice and climate justice has always been a thing, fighting against the destruction of the planet,” Clarke added, cautioning not to be “distracted by [Greta’s] presence”.
Profiting from ‘climate breakdown.’
Cemre Gonen, another activist with Youth Vs Apocalypse, said that Thunberg “only represents a specific demographic of [European and relatively privileged] youth”.
“Highlighting the other climate activists [at Davos] is key,” she told Al Jazeera. “These teen activists include Autumn Peltier, Ayakha Melithafa, Mohammad Al Jounde, Melati Wijsen and others.”
“Many labour groups and other adult allies have tremendously supported youth activism,” Gonen added. “However, a lot of adults seem to lack the maturity and courage needed to win the battle against the climate crisis.”
Youth Vs. Apocalypse has campaigned locally against coal power, fracking and deforestation. The group was formerly part of nonprofit group 350.org.
“The message of these teenagers is at Davos because it is everywhere,” said May Boeve, executive director of 350.org. “Everywhere we are done with empty promises, doubt, and denial from those who profit from climate breakdown.
“The financiers and industry leaders would be wise to see the writing on the wall and get out of this toxic industry in their own self-interest, if not in the interest of the planet as a whole,” she added.
“Burning fires and horrific floods should have moved governments to act but these wealthy people [at Davos] have acted like a wall,” said Boeve.
“Greta, and the movement around her, is breaching that wall. It is because of the power of these young activists that took to the streets in their millions that these few billionaires are now feeling the urgency.”