International Convention Center Occupation. © Shayne Robinson
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Global climate strike in Johannesburg, South Africa. Across the globe, millions of people have taken to the streets to demand action on climate.

2020 was a year of disruption, awakening, and change, with many things forced onto us that were outside of our control. There was no hiding from the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts, the supercharged momentum of the Black Lives Matter Movement, and the looming, growing shadow of the climate crisis. These things made it abundantly clear that the systems that are in place are fundamentally broken: the economy is in the hands of the few; our politicians regularly fail us; social structures have blinded us to the basic relationships that we have to one another. 

Change is inevitable, and we have to evolve. We cannot hold onto things mental, material or systemic. The dominant systems that drive the world uphold extractivism and exploitation as the pinnacles of development. It is the dominant development model that drives our system for more, for bigger, for money, and it is only achievable through extraction and exploitation. But this value system, with roots deep in colonialism, is not sustainable. It perpetuates the stress we already feel and see in our biodiversity and natural treasures. It’s a narrative that we need to leave behind to create space to tell a new story, and the authors of that story are the youth leaders of the climate movement. 

A systemic problem 

The system of the world is supposed to deliver us to a better place; but that system is failing. I wrote last year about systems change, and that message still rings true. Being able to look at the system is a good starting point to eventually changing it, and I see two ways in which we do this: 

First, through political power structures. We can continue to fight these systems until our knuckles bleed, but what we ultimately need to do is create an alternative power system. This is where rising movements come in: we start to create different narratives with other parts of the movement, demanding change in a broader sense. It involves an element of disruption of the current system that we need to enact ourselves as an organisation. 

The second way is on a deeper, more personal level. It is in our mindset. On one hand, we know the impacts of extractivism and coloniality, and we experience the tangible ways that it impacts our lives; yet there is still that aspirational trajectory of wanting more. I want to challenge every individual on the continent: change that narrative for yourselves, change that mindset. Let us collectively go back to the basics and reimagine the kind of world we want to live in. Greenpeace Africa will not shift from its mandate; but we know we cannot do this alone. We need each other, and we need to cultivate a new way of thinking that balances our ambitions for the future as well as creating space for us to cultivate sound foundations for relationships to each other. 

Becoming human again

I believe that what is missing from most modern structures is a level of humanity in our relationships to each other. We need to challenge why this is the case at its very core: what caused us to forego the human part of our shared humanity? It is collateral damage from building a world around extraction, from the seeds of Western colonial values. We need to examine how these issues intersect with other parts of our identities now; it requires an intersectional approach. 

Intersectionality means one person can have multiple identities, and those come into play in different ways in our lives. You should never be apologetic about your identity. I’m young. I’m indigenous. I’m a person of colour. I’m in a leadership position. And I have a lot of values that I sometimes question myself; but what I’ve learnt through my experience is that decency and respect for each others’ humanity that we need to maintain. 

Equity and inclusion are non-negotiable when we imagine a different way of living. We have to recognise that our aspirations must be reconfigured. It sounds simple, but it’s challenging for others: to challenge your mindset, regardless of what you know, requires that you plant decency and respect in the soil of your value system. Those are the fundamental seeds at the basics of humanity that we need to grow and nurture. And we need leadership to do it. 

Finding new ways with the youth

Africa has no shortage of youth leaders, and being in conversation with the likes of Raeesa Noor-Mahomed, an intersectional activist from Johannesburg who raises awareness on climate issues using art, and Anesh Mungur, an environmental activist with the FridaysForFuture movement in Mauritius, makes the prospects of collaboration and co-creation more exciting. This is precisely how we imagine a better future: by co-creating it with those who will be living it when we are gone. 

The youth are the future – not our future, but their own. This much is clear from the growing movement of young people fighting to preserve what is good. Greenpeace Africa wants to enable their vision and support them to nurture their own movements; like them, we are one stream among many that are joining to become a river. 

Greenpeace Africa in the future

Greenpeace Africa represents many things; people, power, courage, for example. We have to build on these things in the coming months, and build equity and inclusion into the process. We all agree to co-creation in principle; implementation becomes easier when we recognise each other’s humanity, values, visions, and needs. It’s easy for us to get stuck on resources, timelines, mandates, and roles. But this year, we need to take a step back and create a structure that will make the space more inclusive and accessible. 

We can’t fly solo. It’s a no-brainer! The climate crisis is one of the biggest threats that has ever faced humanity. We are living it daily, and seeing its impacts often. We want to campaign effectively and create partnerships that will help all of us to avoid the worst impacts of the crisis and to build the resilience that will safeguard us against an unpredictable future. 

Yes, we will have strategies, campaign plans and partnerships. But if we lose ourselves in it, how will we extend our awareness to human beings that we are trying to impact, whose lives we are trying to change? That’s the mindset I want to cultivate in 2021. 

What to leave behind

We need to rid ourselves of the competitiveness that is perpetuated by the system; it only allows aspirations, not of human connection, but of big houses, fancy cars, and credit cards. Why do we need these things? These are the aspirations of a quality of life engrained in Western history. And we are deep in it; the symptoms are all around us, in our dependency on fossil fuels,  obsessions with economic development, and government’s inaction against carbon majors. 

We are surrounded by Western philosophy’s need for defined answers. What we really need is a conversation that will bring us back to the basics of humanity and how we live together, respect each other, and care for each other.  

Lagi Toribau is the Executive Director of Greenpeace Africa, based in Johannesburg (South Africa)