The Creating Change Podcast
The Creating Change Podcast

Climate Activism w/ Iris Zhan

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Episode Details

In this episode we are joined by Iris Zhan, who is a climate activist in Maryland, USA and the co-founder of Fridays for Future Digital and also involved in the Sunrise Movement, This is Zero Hour, and Polluters Out.

In this episode, we talk about the importance of Climate Justice, Iris' work as a global climate activist and how sectors of our community (government, corporate and local communities) can create change.

Episode Transcript

Fatma
Hello and you are listening to the Creating Change Podcast, my name is Fatma Shami

Lanre
And I am Lanre Adeleye, and in this episode we will be talking about Climate Activism

Fatma
Later on we will be joined by Iris Zhan, who is a Climate Activist and also the Co-Founder of a worldwide digital climate movement FFF Digital where will find out more about her background as a Climate Activist, her thoughts on what needs to improve and a little more about FFF Digital.

Lanre
Before we dive into our conversation with Iris, we wanted to explore a bit about what it means to be a Climate Activist and why it is important to campaign on this issue.

Fatma
If it isn’t blindly obvious, a climate activist is a person who actively campaigns to have issues of climate change recognized and addressed.

Lanre
Climate Change is now affecting every country in every continent. And the Global temperature is rising. Public campaigning and climate change activism have long played a part in legislative and policy reform. Organisation such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace have been campaigning on climate change issues since the 1980s. Since then many more campaign groups formed working and collaborating on climate change.

Fatma
In recent years climate change has seemed to rise up the public agenda, with new high-profile protests and campaigns being widely reported and catching the attention of the public and politicians. A YouGov survey from early 2020 found that 46% of 18-24 year olds are “very concerned” about climate change, compared to the 24% of those aged over 65. This is the same worldwide. A 2019 Amnesty International survey of 10,000 18-25 year olds across 22 countries found 41% said climate change was one of the most important issues facing the world.

Lanre
As the impact of climate change intensifies over time, it is the children and young people of today who will face the worst effects. But far from being passive victims, young people all over the world have begun to fight back on a scale never seen before. Take Greta Thunberg. In 2018, the 15-year-old from Sweden sparked a global movement of school-age students demanding greater action from governments to fight climate change. Now millions are marching to demonstrate their support. Whether through education, technology, science or law ─ young people far and wide are tapping into their skills to speak up for climate action.

Lanre
So Iris, would you be able to introduce yourself?

Iris
I’m Iris, I’m 17, I use she/they pronouns and I am from the United States and I co-founded Friday’s for Future Digital and I also started a sunrise hun in Howard County. And I first knew about the climate crisis when I was in third grade, and when I first learned about it I was very very much shook, and a lot of the innocence in my young mind just completely left me and I very much gravitated to the severity of the issue and they didn't want to just forget it. At that moment, and that made me care a lot about the environment in general.

Lanre 
What was the thing that struck you about it, like, what made you notice it at such a young age? I know loads of people don't become aware of stuff like this until they get older.

Iris
Yeah, I think it has a lot to do with the fact that when you're young, you kind of has this positive vision, and view of the world, and anything that kind of goes against that is, is just very mind-blowing, and, and a lot of it has to do with just how big this issue is and how it just continues to go on and affects so much and just isn't, taken seriously.

Lanre
Why do you think it's an important issue that needs to be highlighted.

Iris 
Not only a pile of diversity and ecosystems all across the world, but you also have a lot of intersectional problems in the way that it affects every single sector, in our society, and especially know has different effects on different groups of people based on certain identities, and just the fact that it encompasses so many different issues on really makes it just that much more urgent.

Fatma
How has COVID changed the way you protest?

Iris
So, before COVID I had to organise in-person climate strikes. And we definitely cannot do that with COVID anymore and so I think first when things started to go into lockdown, it kind of felt difficult, and how can we organise and create change if we're not out there and putting in all this hard work for these strikes and stuff. But I think that pandemic and Quarantine is no opened our eyes to new ways of creating change and sustaining this movement and that's something that I've been able to do with digital is because the internet can connect people from across the world, using that use that to our advantage to connect, passionate young people fighting for climate justice across the world, to, to create digital campaigns and actions that can sustain this movement. And so a lot of it has been very much digital, and a big change that I noticed in my activism is that because things can't be in person anymore. That's has a lot to do with how I shifted from doing mostly local stuff that has is very dependent on the person to do more international stuff, where everything is virtual and digital.

Lanre 
I know you've mentioned FFF digital but could you tell us a bit more about how it came about.

Iris
Yeah, so FFF Digital, we are an international youth-led digital movement of Friday's for Future. And we seek to help locals across the world the best digital campaigns by providing all the resources and support needed with our knowledge and areas of expertise, and through digital actions and campaigns, we hope to make the movement more accessible and inclusive and be able to empower more people to be part of this movement and to create more impact. and so how it can about, was my co-founder, George Zhang, who is, a good friend of mine. We were part of the Friday for Future movement in 2019, and in April, we wanted to organise an in-person climate strike in our area, but we couldn't, for many, many different reasons. And so we wanted to be part of this movement and so we started by just showing online solidarity with Friday for Future. Having people who can’t strike, to be able to be included in the movement, and from there. As it’s grown into an international movement that can use our digital tools to make a substantial difference in the climate and the rest is history.

Lanre 
And like you guys have grown massively from April 2019, so 12 months it's just kind of grown massively which is, incredible, and important in a time like this to be able to reach loads and loads of people.

Fatma
How have your friends and family reacted to your activism? Have their opinions changed or evolved since you first started?

Iris
Yeah, so I want to say first, my family they’ve generally been supportive throughout the whole thing. It's just that when I started doing local stuff they kind of got annoyed at me spending so much time on this stuff, having to get rides to go to local events, on the weekends and spending so much time doing activism. And, I'd always have no conflicts about school and activism and that balance. But, they have been very supportive, they understand the severity of this crisis and a lot of my activism wouldn't be possible without them. Like, we have the privilege to get certain sustainable products and make certain sustainable changes to our home and our lifestyles so they've done that, as much as possible, which is great. And, they're proud I guess of my leadership development, and the impact that I'm having, because they understand it and they’ve spread it to their friends and their co-workers which is great. And so for my friends. I think that when I started, I don't even know how to describe it anymore because, there's a lot of nuance in it like people weren't exactly supportive, but they weren't exactly against me. It's either there was somewhere between not really caring, or just being neutral and being like yeah environment, whatever. I think that as, as things started to go on people either was slowly start to support me or people would be annoyed at me, especially as I got more political. I guess, it became more polarising people would either strongly support me or not support me. But I think that once you accomplish a good amount of stuff and you're able to connect with activists online, those become your friends that will always support you no matter what and I think that's been a great difference in my activism is having activist friends versus a small number of people at my school who were my friends who are supportive and I'm grateful for that.

Lanre
Being based in the United States, Any thoughts on what the Biden administration has done on climate so far and what you’d like to see going forward?

Iris
Yes, so what I know so far is that Biden Administration has done some good stuff - I will give them credit for that. They're are not going far enough because they need to be more inclusive of MAPA countries which stand for Most Effect People in Areas which are most countries in the global south or the global majority. And I think it's important for our climate policy, and actions to be inclusive of that because if we're not, then it's not true climate justice. I will give Biden credit for nominating Deb Haaland to be the Director of the Department of Interior, which is good because she’s indigenous. And that's important to have appropriate representation to protect lands that belong to indigenous people. But the Biden Administration needs to do a better job of cleaning out fossil fuel corruption within their administration, as well as within the national government as well, because there's still a very very long way to go, and holding and polluters accountable as well and making sure that all the right voices are at the table and are being heard and cared for, and there's just a lot more work to be done, and we can push him on because he's, not a climate denier and so we just have to push hard, or we're, completely doomed and so we have a chance and we need to take it.

Lanre
Going forward, how do you see climate change being better advocated for not only in the US but in other countries like Canada, UK, France, etc?

Iris
I see climate justice being a reality by implementing visions for climate justice like the green new deal, like the blue new deal and like the red deal, that's is usually what I say when I think of the ideal world, as the green new deal is like this general vision the blue new deal is very much focused on oceans and provides even more solutions. And then the red deal is very much focused on indigenous sovereignty and liberation, and all of those visions together, can create the best world possible and it's really important for us to create a grassroots movement and governments and businesses that will make those visions reality. And important for this to be international, because this is a global issue. And you can't just have certain countries doing it certain countries not doing it, it has to be unified. And that's, that's why I like doing international climate activism because I think it's really important for things to be unified across the world. 

Fatma
How can young people get involved?

Iris
There are many different ways to get involved. I think it depends on your interest, your capacity, and your energy. I think that starting on a local level is a great way to get involved, I mean I started there. Just because I felt like I could make a real impact, I started getting involved in my school. Green Club, and doing as much as I could there and talking to people at my school trying to get them involved in, making them aware of what's going on because there are too many people at my school who just don't know what is outside our little bubble. Yeah and I think that doing proper research, to get an understanding of this movement and what we need in this movement is important to understand where your place in this movement. I know that like a lot of people might not have the capacity to be full-time activist, but I think that's important for everyone no matter what is to be supporting what these Youth Climate groups across the world are doing. So that, when we have a campaign, there are actions that you can support us, and that is important to have that support for our campaigns, to be successful. Pressuring your politicians on a local level, and companies as well is important, especially when it's involved with an actual campaign. But I think that getting involved at a local level is the best way to start because not as overwhelming, especially if you are in touch with what is going on in your local community, it's a great way to get in touch with your local community. And it's fun, as well as long as you balance yourself. Yeah and also connecting these climate activists across the world is helpful so you can learn and have support, and just grow.

Lanre
Seeing as this is the Creating Change Podcast. The final question is, how can the following types of people create change. So how can the government create change? How can corporations create change? And how can just individuals and communities create change?

Iris
So governments. I mean it depends on different governments across the world, and how their government works, but generally we need people in office who will fight for climate justice which is why we focus on getting climate champions elected into office and kicking out corrupt politicians we take fossil fuel money and getting that out. I think it important to get polluter funded politicians out of office. Governments on every single level need to have their climate action be in line with what climate science demands, and of course boy justice demands regards to be intersectional and caring about the most marginalised and oppressed people who are on the frontlines of the climate crisis. Because true climate justice without climate justice. 

Then corporations, there are a lot of things that corporations could do, they need to clean up the messes that they've made, depending on what type of corporation, they are, of course, different types of a corporation create different types of effects on the environment. They need to stop funding politicians who spew these lies about the environment. They need to allocate their funds in a way that makes their company more sustainable and not just in a greenwashing manor that very performative and just for marketing but like actually substantially move away from fossil fuel production and using toxic chemicals and more towards using renewable energy in ways that are just and of course using other funds to use support the climate movement, and especially those who need it the most. 

And, and local people as I said earlier, we need all types of people to be supporting the climate movement by continuing the conversation taking actions that we need to happen, and bringing more people into this movement, and just being a good example of how we fight for climate change is on individual and system level.

Fatma
Thank you for listening to this episode of the Creating Change Podcast and thank you to Iris for joining us and talking about her experiences as a Climate Activist. 

Lanre
Make sure to follow her on social media @iris4action and also make sure you follow FFF Digital on all social media.

Fatma
Coming up in the next episode, hosts Frankie and Vassili will be joined by Lauryn Mwale to talk about Black women in STEM.

Lanre
Until then make sure you follow us on twitter @CreateChangePod and also on instagram and TikTok @CreatingChangePod

Fatma
Until next time, stay tuned and let us know what you thought on Social Media!