Mya-Rose Craig's quest for environmental salvation - Conversations with Fergal

FULL ARTICLE

By Fergal Maguire, Features Colummist

‘It’s more important now than ever, that whilst we are trying to build back a greener planet, and deal with issues like climate change and biodiversity loss, that everyone is involved, and everyone’s voices are being heard.’

I first saw Mya-Rose Craig at the Youth Strike 4 Climate march in Bristol back in February, where - at the age of 17 - she spoke before Greta Thunberg to an audience of more than 20,000 people. The atmosphere was electric, it felt alive. A low hum of excitement permeated everyone as we listened to the young speakers make history in front of us. It was clear that the Youth Strikes were going nowhere anytime soon; in fact, the movement had the fervour of one that was just getting started.

But the message offered by Mya-Rose Craig and Greta Thunberg was bleak. It was a message that for many was a harsh realisation of our situation. The world they see is a dark one.

I had a conversation with Mya-Rose Craig to explore why she is leading some of the most important environmental and racial projects of our time. Awarded an Honorary degree of Doctor of Science earlier this year at just 17, on BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour Power list of 2020 and founder and president of Black2Nature - an organisation that engages the under-represented VME (Visible Minority Ethnic) communities with nature – she has already achieved international acclaim.

So, what has your latest project been? I ask. She mentions how her organisation, Black2Nature has just been granted charity status, meaning when she goes to university in September the organisation can gain funding and become a sustainable project.

'Climate can  feel very unreal, because it is so intangible. It’s very easy to put it to the back of your mind, or even not believe at all.'

This organisation, I soon realise, is perhaps the key to understanding the motivations behind Mya-Rose Craig. She is the world’s top teen birder, becoming the youngest person to ever see 5,369 birds, half the world’s species, and has been ‘birding’ across the globe her whole life.

‘I wasn’t seeing anyone that wasn’t white. As I got older, I realised it was a really big issue. The people involved in the climate change issue weren’t diverse either.’

‘It’s more important now than ever, that whilst we are trying to build back a greener planet, and deal with issues like climate change and biodiversity loss, that everyone is involved, and everyone’s voices are being heard.’

I spoke to Dr Richard Pancost, ex-director of the cutting-edge Cabot Institute in Bristol, and Head of School of Earth Sciences at Bristol University on this point.

He said, ‘solving a challenge such as air pollution requires an appreciation of its health and scientific aspects but also an understanding of its social, class and often racial dimensions. Every challenge - and every solution - sits in a complex social and natural system, and failure to consider that can create new problems for every problem solved.’

Mya-Rose Craig receiving her honrary doctorate from the Univeristy of Bristol | Epigram / University of Bristol

Her mother is a Bengali Muslim with family from the Sylhet Division of Bangladesh. I wondered how has having family from Bangladesh has shaped her viewpoint and ideas ?

‘Going to Bangladesh has had a big influence on me in terms of my climate change activism. Being from the West it’s hard to see the day-to-day issues of climate change. Whereas in Bangladesh, they are being affected by it every day. It makes it a very tangible issue; it makes it a lot more real because I know people that are dealing with it right now.’

I ask why she thinks the world has been so slow to act. ‘I’m going to sound very cynical,’ she chuckles. ‘First of all, climate change is a really unpleasant reality for a lot of people. And one that doesn’t feel very real, because it is so intangible. It’s very easy to put it to the back of your mind, or even not believe at all.’

‘Secondly, I think that some governments aren’t very motivated to do anything about environmental issues, partially because environmentalism has been over politicised. It’s seen as a left issue only, when in reality it’s just an issue full stop.’

'Being from the West it’s hard to see the day-to-day issues of climate change.'

‘Money is constantly a larger priority for the people in charge, and they are unwilling to push that aside to deal with the issues that we are dealing with currently.

There has been a lot of effort put into making people feel like they have to solve climate change singlehandedly and that it’s make or break if they cycle to school that day or whatever. When actually it is these massive corporations that are causing over 70% of climate change, and I think that getting them to change when they have zero motivation to do so is going to be the biggest challenge.’

She tells me how she went to the Arctic in September. ‘The trip was for scientific research about the sea ice minimum that was happening during that period (the Arctic sea ice minimum is the day in a given year when Arctic sea ice reaches its smallest extent). It’s what they use to tell how much climate change is affecting its size. It was the second lowest ever, following the pattern in which they are getting smaller and smaller and smaller.’

‘It felt like a once in a lifetime experience, because we are losing it. I could see we were losing it whilst I was there. Climate change felt very tangible.’ Just how tangible will climate change have to be before its widely recognised as the threat that it is?

I wonder what it says about the climate change movement that it’s taken young people like Mya-Rose Craig and Greta Thunberg to become its voice. How powerful do you think the youth-led climate movement is? I ask. ‘I don’t think people remember how the climate change movement was pre-Greta', she replies. It certainly feels like what used to be a stagnant movement, has now been revitalised and transformed completely by the very people to whom it matters most: young people.


Featured Image: University of Bristol

AUTHOR