All Hands on Deck
Asked about their first experience of moving out of their family home, people often talk about dealing with household chores or the exciting freedoms that come with living on one’s own. Yet, for me, moving out was a turning point that opened my eyes to the scope of societal indifference to environmental issues.
It was 2016. I was living in Krapkowice, a town of only 15,000 people in southwestern Poland. While climate circles rejoiced over ratification of the Paris Agreement after decades of sluggish negotiations, climate action was nowhere in the mainstream, at least in my country. Out of curiosity, I completed an online course on the risks of global warming. Even though there were no environmentalists in my family, the message around moderating consumption to save our planet resonated with me.
Due to the fresh memories of scarcity in communist Poland, I was raised in a culture conscious of resource use. I vividly remember how my mother would open packs of tissues, cut them in half, then re-pack them because the noses of my sister and I were too small to need an entire tissue at once. An extreme example, but it illustrates the point: I was primed to appreciate an environmentally conscious lifestyle.
In spring of 2016, I was awarded a scholarship to continue my education at an international school in Tel Aviv. A few months later, I moved to the boarding house, sharing a room with my Palestinian, Israeli, and Ecuadorian classmates. Amid many cultural shocks, I was surprised by the wastefulness of those in our community. Air conditioners battled the Mediterranean heat with windows barely closed, and a stream of water from the hose was used to clean the floor.
Freshly equipped with knowledge about the looming climate crisis, I felt a responsibility to push the people around me to embrace more sustainable practices. It was not an easy feat – old habits die hard. I spent countless afternoons stretched on a blanket, sketching out plans for awareness campaigns about recycling and turning off the light when you leave the room. “If only people came out of their households with more sensitivity to excessive consumption,” I thought, realising the importance of early-stage climate and environmental education.
If only people came out of their households with more sensitivity to excessive consumption,” I thought, realising the importance of early-stage climate and environmental education.
But as I kept learning more, a different image emerged of the challenge ahead. On the one hand, I was trying to make a change by getting the few hundred students in my school – and later, university – to switch from plastic to paper straws. On the other hand, I was reading about companies spilling millions of barrels of oil into the sea or celebrities churning out emissions equivalent to the carbon budgets of small countries in their private jets. Despite the commitments made in Paris and the flurry of net zero pledges around COP26 in Glasgow, greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. Currently, we are on a path to more than 3°C of warming.
I relish those early days in climate action, and I have no less faith in community-level education and advocacy than when I joined my high school’s Green Team in 2016. However, I also grew to understand that individual action will only matter if it is part of a greater push to address the root causes of these systemic problems. We need to fix the financial system that requires endless growth on a finite planet, a culture that puts extravagant lifestyles on a pedestal, and an economy that puts no price on the harm done to the planet.
This realisation brought me renewable energy -- 73% of emissions come from the energy sector. Getting ourselves free of fossil fuels is one of these systemic issues that must be tackled. Shortly after starting my undergraduate studies in the UAE, I participated in the inaugural IRENA Youth Forum, which put me in contact with the world of climate and energy diplomacy. After graduating, I joined the Global Renewables Alliance, where we promote policies that would triple installed renewable energy capacity by 2030 to 11 TW, as required to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.
I rejoice in my full-time work and initiatives because I know I am a part of a greater effort to create a cleaner, safer and more just world. Reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change demonstrate that tackling the climate crisis is possible if we rally human ingenuity. There is no time to waste-- we must continue to push for positive change in all dimensions. Thankfully, from the scale of global mobilisation currently on display, we see that millions of people are coming together to act.