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Don’t wait for a ‘tipping point’

Don’t wait for a ‘tipping point’

I have a confession to make. The recent reports on climate change? I didn’t read them. An Inconvenient Truth? Not for me.

Tipping points?

For me, I’ve already tipped over into a state of latent dread. It’s a feeling that rises up from the pit of my stomach with each and every new headline on climate change that flashes across my screen. It’s a dizzying, adrenaline shot of dread – my eyes read slightly too much information before my fingers can scroll away from it, and the few key words sear themselves into the back of my eyes.

From watching how these stories perform online, I’m clearly not the only one playing this cowardly game. Though arguably the most important stories of our time, headlines on climate change always seem to fizzle out within a day or two, even when the scientists are literally calling us ‘idiots’ for ignoring them.

And of course, they’re right! This isn’t a problem we can swipe off our screens, especially the day after the majority of the Amazon rainforest has fallen into the hands of an authoritarian firebrand. But like many times before, I think it will take a narrative ‘tipping point’ to bring climate activism crashing into the mainstream.

What will it take?

I believe this moment will come, and soon. When it does arrive, I predict it will take the form of a human story that cuts through politics and ideology, and speaks directly to us on a fundamental level.

As Max Fisher pointed out in the New York Times, the world stood by for over a year as the Saudi-led war in Yemen unfolded into a humanitarian catastrophe, which continues today. Yet it was the murder of one dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul that garnered international condemnation, and dominated world media coverage for over a week.

Looking back to the Syrian refugee crisis, the same story played out on a beach on the Greek island of Kos, where the body of Syrian infant Alan Kurdi washed ashore, and in the back of an ambulance in Aleppo where Omran Daqneesh sat, covered in ash and blood. In an intractable conflict of uncountable loss, and fearmongering of refugee ‘swarms’ pouring into the west, the stories of two little boys spoke a human truth to us clearer than the figures of numerically greater tragedies which came before and after these two tiny moments.

The infamous images of Alan Kurdi and Omran Daqneesh

As for the movement on climate action, we can’t know when or what this tipping point will be, but what we do know is that a generation of fearless and tenacious young activists are already blazing a trail to follow.

“We can’t save the world by playing by the rules”

Greta Thunberg, a 15-year-old girl from Sweden, has started skipping school. Not in secret, but as a public act of defiance against political inaction on climate change. Standing each day outside the national parliament in Stockholm, she is demanding immediate and radical action, and wants to drive her issue to the top of the national agenda.

It’s working.

On 19 October 2018, she addressed a crowd of over 10,000 fellow protesters in neighbouring Finland’s capital, Helsinki. Her message is stark and simple: “The politics that’s needed to prevent the climate catastrophe—it doesn’t exist today…We need to change the system.”

Meanwhile in the United States, David Hogg and Emma González – survivors of the Parkland School Shooting on February 19 2018 – have miraculously risen up as new leaders in the fight for sensible gun legislation. They have galvanised their movement with passionate and articulate speeches and combative social media presences, at times openly sparring with, and taking scalps of NRA acolytes.

Young activists the world over are refusing to play by the old rules, and ICTs are an integral to their understanding of communication, politics and movement-building. A teenager today has never known a time before the internet. They have matured into a culture of self-presentation, where in spite of their youth, they are ready to record and share their opinions to their Group Chat on SnapChat, to their YouTube channel, even to the New Yorker.

But not everyone has the innate tenacity of a Greta Thunberg, a David Hogg or an Emma González, or they haven’t yet had their Damascene moment of inspiration to take up the fight for social change. One thing development organisations can and should be doing today is giving these young people – in the global South as well as the North – the skills and tools they will need for the road ahead.

Empowering Youth Through ICT4D Programs

Luckily, such programmes already exist, and with stronger support, could be scaled up to support many more young people in the future.

The Ctrl-Alt-Dev writers have recently been analysing videos from an ongoing ICT4D webinar series hosted by the NetHope Solutions Center, including Empowering Youth Through ICT4D Programs. In this webinar, the EVOKE platform is presented – a multi-player, game-based learning platform for young people, that uses storytelling, game mechanics and global social networks to drive collaborative social innovation ideas amongst its users.

Based on a narrative arc of 8 ‘missions’ EVOKE aims to develop 48 different skills in its users   – from problem solving, communication, collaboration and teamwork, which culminating in a real-world project, service or event in their local community.  Previous iterations have focused on literacy, water and energy, and promoting peace. Future versions could easily be adapted to focus on environmental protection and climate change.

EVOKE : Leaders for Literacy course. Source: https://allchildrenreading.org/evoke-literacy/

The webinar also shares some important ‘best practices’ for reaching marginalised young people, particularly those in the global South. As discussed in my last blog, ICT4D programmes should be culture-specific, and made with regard to local customs and traditions. However, as presenter Rekekah Levi points out, it’s also equally important to consider the IT infrastructure in place, know what social media platforms are dominant in the area, and where possible, take a ‘BYOD’ – Bring Your Own Device – approach.

When the time comes

Without doubt, we need more programmes like EVOKE to provide supportive environments for young activists to develop their skills and confidence. However, the world today, particularly online, can be a cruel and dark place for those pushing for progressive change. In the US, Hogg and González are routinely hounded and harassed by trolls and extremists online. Civil society organisations are being targeted and forced onto the back foot. The Guardian has even created a running tally of environmental activists who have been killed around the world this year, reaching 66 at the time of writing.

It is no small thing to ask of young people to take up such a burden, knowing the risks involved. But I believe that soon, something will have to give. We simply cannot continue ignoring the environmental calamities around us, nor can we know when and what will cause this tipping point, but when that times comes, we will need all the Greta Thunbergs we can get.