"This is Zero Hour" Puts Indigenous Rights on the Frontline of Climate Change and Gender Equality

At the “This is Zero Hour” Miami Summit, the youth-led climate movement brought to the attention of the audience the intricate connections between climate change and its effects on indigenous people, women, and the LGBTQ+ community.

(From left to right) Indigenous youth activists Tokata Iron Eyes, Jasilyn Charger, Nina Berglund and Alethea Phillips speak on the panel “Indigenous Stories from the Frontlines”.  Photo: Ludovica Martella

(From left to right) Indigenous youth activists Tokata Iron Eyes, Jasilyn Charger, Nina Berglund and Alethea Phillips speak on the panel “Indigenous Stories from the Frontlines”.

Photo: Ludovica Martella

Jamie Margolin, co-founder of This is Zero Hour, addresses the audience at the Miami Climate Summit.  Photo: Paula Mitre

Jamie Margolin, co-founder of This is Zero Hour, addresses the audience at the Miami Climate Summit.

Photo: Paula Mitre

On the weekend of Friday, July 12, the youth-led organization This is Zero Hour ran a climate-awareness summit in Miami, Florida, at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Miami Airport & Convention Center. This is Zero Hour (also referenced to as “Zero Hour”) is the pioneer youth organization in the US advocating for climate action, with sister chapters all around the world. As co-founder Jamie Margolin explained in an interview with me , the goal of the summit was to bring awareness of the risks of climate change through workshop activities and panels by people working on the frontline of the issue. Some of the speakers included Greta Thunberg and Nathan Phillips (the indigenous leader who was infamously bullied by a young Trump supporter in a video that went viral in January 2019,) his daughter Aletha Phillips and a group of young indigenous women activists, such as Nina Berglund, Jasilyn Charger, and Tokata Iron Eyes. Their presence was crucial to highlight the very close ties between climate change and its repercussions on minority groups such as women, indigenous peoples and members of the LGBTQ+ community. If you didn’t think these issues could be related, then this article is for you.

Many people think that the climate crisis was initiated by the Industrial Revolution due to the peak increase of burning of fossil fuels used to kick start and maintain rapid rates of industrialization. In reality, the principles of insatiable extractions of natural resources, which characterized this period of time, always trace back to colonization and its roots. “With colonialism came the extreme extraction of the Earth, and the genocide and silencing of the indigenous wisdom of the peoples that have been keeping this Earth alive for centuries” Margolin explained. “With colonialism came the idea that everything on this Earth is made for our extraction, and that everything is to be bought and sold.” These principles of extraction move against the way of life of indigenous people, who are connected to the Earth through their beliefs of simultaneous harmony and relations with all that is living. “We were raised from a very young age being taught that the land and the waters are part of us, that they are relatives” Tokata Iron Eyes, a young indigenous activist from the Standing Rock #NODAPL movement, explained during the women-led panel “Indigenous Stories from the Frontlines” which was part of the conference. “Therefore, when we talk about climate change, we are talking about an assault on our lives, an assault on our bodies and our future. Our entire way of life depends on the land and the water and the ways they work together with us. We got an entire system of balance.” That system of balance is overthrown when big extraction companies dig close to indigenous conservations or build pipelines across them. The spills of gas or oil cause severe pollution of the water system, essential to the “system of balance” that Tokata referenced to.

It is also important to note that, unfortunately, this rhetoric of historic oppression doesn’t only apply to indigenous people, but to people of color as well. “Colonialism never went away, it just evolved,” Margolin commented. “There is compelling evidence that increasing social inequality is linked to environmental degradation and that the health of people of color and those living in poverty is negatively impacted by being exposed to higher levels of environmental pollution than their white counterparts or people not in poverty.” One of the most famous American examples of this is the led-filled water in Flint, Michigan, where 40% of families live in poverty and 57% are black. “This the next system of oppression that is very much intertwined with colonialism: racism” Margolin commented.

Jasilyn Charger, a Standing Rock activist, engaging in a conversation on water protection, gender rights and colonialism.  Photo: Paula Mitre

Jasilyn Charger, a Standing Rock activist, engaging in a conversation on water protection, gender rights and colonialism.

Photo: Paula Mitre

So how does all of this relate to gender equality? Colonization not only forced exploitive ways to threat the Earth upon locals, but it also exported a patriarchal system (mainly homophobic) to the indigenous communities, which were historically matriarchal. This means that women were the leaders of the tribes, being the ones between the two sexes who cultivate the seed of life. “Being part of the LGBTQ+ community is hard,” said Jasilyn Charger, also a Standing Rock water activist and 7thDefender Project co-founder, who identified during the panel as “consigned bisexual”. The LGBTQ+ culture “has been completely wiped out from our culture by boarding schools and colonization. When the colonizers first came to our camps, those were the first people that were thrown out because they were thought to be crazy”. And with those, women were harassed, raped, and slowly taken away from their leadership positions within the tribes. Men, at the same time, were forced into boarding schools, where they were taught to re-asses their thinking around what they always knew to be true, that the Earth, just as women, are the only things that constantly give life, and therefore should be protected and respected. Unfortunately, this is why, nowadays, indigenous men are struggling to let women into positions of power and reassess to a more gender-balanced society. “It’s really hard for us on the frontlines because when you are advocating, people look a you and all they see it’s a woman. And women in our culture just don’t do that anymore. We have to fight extra hard to get heard, to be listened to and be taken seriously. We should be respected at the highest levels because we are the carriers of our next generation, we carry the sacred life, we give birth to the children in this world,” Charger commented. Tokata Iron Eyes made a speak to this purpose, a speech which left the room speechless:

“No one really understands how tied women are to the Earth, the land and the waters, because we are the carries of life. The only other thing that has the power to do that is the Earth. The Earth is the only thing that continues to give us life over and over again. That interdependent connection between women and Earth is what keeps us alive. All women in this room are goddesses and you have to remember that, because that’s where the power comes from and that’s the power that this movement will need to continue to stay alive, and this is the power we need to continue to create change because it is now” – Tokata Iron Eyes

Tokata Iron Eyes, a young activist from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe speaks at the Zero Hour Miami Summit.  Photo: Paula Mitre

Tokata Iron Eyes, a young activist from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe speaks at the Zero Hour Miami Summit.

Photo: Paula Mitre

The connection between women and nature continued to be a major topic within the conference, which saw the participation of over 350 participants, speakers, and panelists from across the world. It’s extremely important to be aware of how these issues are deeply connected so to have a complete vision of the climate issue. Once the problem is clear, it will be even easier to take action, whether it is through demanding climate action from our politicians, or volunteering at your local community. The key is to inform yourself, especially because these are issues that are often not portrayed in the media. As Tokata explained, “the majority of the population is severely disinformed on indigenous people. We live in a world where everyone of us was colonized in some ways. If you look far enough, every single one of us has an indigenous person in our lineage because everyone was indigenous at some point.”

If you’d like to know more about This is Zero Hour and get involved, you can visit their website and find out if they have a sister chapter in your area. If not, you have the option of creating a sister chapter yourself. Margolin confirmed that even though the information is still confidential, there will be actions around the September 20th climate strikes and the Earth day 50th anniversary. Follow them on their social to find out more.



NEW CLIMATE REPORT WARNS AGAINST POSSIBLE +5°C INCREASE IN TEMPERATURES RATHER THAN +2°C. HERE’S WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT.

By Ludovica Martella

Ice melting near the edge of the Greenland Ice Sheet, “ while dust and algae darken adjacent ice”.   (Adam Lewinter, Extreme Ice Survey)

Ice melting near the edge of the Greenland Ice Sheet, “while dust and algae darken adjacent ice”.

(Adam Lewinter, Extreme Ice Survey)

This article was also published through Global Fashion Exchange Magazine.

On May 20th 2019, a worrisome report was published  by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) on how the repercussions of climate change might be even greater than expected: with temperatures reaching not +2°C above pre-industrial levels, (the Industrial Revolution is recognized as being the boom of emissions) but +5°C. This news has catastrophic consequences, as a rise in sea level of two meters; yet, there has been little coverage of this on the news, and no emergency meeting was called by the UN…Why?

At the conclusion of The Paris Agreement, countries agreed upon resolution towards limiting world temperature to above +1.5°C from pre-industrial level (COP Paris/Flickr)

At the conclusion of The Paris Agreement, countries agreed upon resolution towards limiting world temperature to above +1.5°C from pre-industrial level (COP Paris/Flickr)

Some context 

In 2013, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC,) an intergovernmental body of the United Nations, estimated that emissions from fossil fuels would amount to a rise in temperatures of +2°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. Because of this, the member states of the UN (the “Parties,”) met in Paris in 2015 for the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) and committed to a climate action plan, what is commonly referred to as The Paris Agreement. Since then though, technology has improved. “The last estimates were made in 2013. There have been a lot of studies over the last six years which indicate that processes going on in the ice sheets might move parts of the ice sheets off the continent and into the ocean, faster than previously expected” Michael Oppenheimer, Professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University and co-author of the report, said on a radio interview with the BBC. In fact, his report focuses on the repercussions that high temperatures will have on the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, which, when melted, would result in higher sea level rises across the world. 

What would the consequences of these ice sheets melt look like on land?

As a result of high sea level rise, approximately 1.8 million square kilometers of land would be submerged. Some examples of where this would take place are the Nile Valley in Egypt, some parts of London and Shanghai, Lower Manhattan in New York and an extensive part of Bangladesh. What is most troubling about this Oppenheimer said, is that “about half billion people live on river deltas which are by the coast and which are completely low line, and those people have nowhere to go so this is really a worldwide problem”. This information is major, considering that all climate resolutions that took place from The Paris Agreement until now have focused on a rise of temperature above +2°C and sea level rise of 1 meter above land, not greater. Thanks to the development of new technology, this new report estimated much greater numbers. Therefore, the Parties should revisit their efforts to diminish even more their fossil fuels emissions. “Under any possible emissions scenario, sea level will continue to rise indefinitely, but there is a world of difference between a low emissions scenario, where we are getting rid of fossil fuels as fast as possible, where sea level rises are at a moderate rate so people and society have the chance to adjust, and a rapid emissions scenario where we just don’t care about climate change and we keep burning coal. Over the century the sea level rise could get into the bold part as this report shows, of 2 meters or so” Oppenheimer suggested. “Let’s say you are going to get on an airplane knowing that it had a 10 percent of crashing. You wouldn’t get on it.” 

Sacramento, California in the U.S. sits on a delta. It is therefore one of the areas at risk of being submerged but the end of the century if countries don’t cut emissions and switch to green power.  ( Doc Searls - Flickr )

Sacramento, California in the U.S. sits on a delta. It is therefore one of the areas at risk of being submerged but the end of the century if countries don’t cut emissions and switch to green power.

(Doc Searls - Flickr)

Responsibilities and solutions

The responsibility of cutting emissions doesn’t only apply to the world’s biggest emitters of CO2 such as China, the United States and India, but to all countries, as Oppenheimer confirmed in the same interview. The richer countries in the world, what is known as the Global North, and the poorest countries, the Global South (you may have guessed it, their names are given to them also according to their position to the Equator) both have responsibilities, but different ones. As agreed in COP21, the Global North should help finance the development of the Global South: but with green, renewable energy. Too optimistic you think? At the beginning of this article, I mentioned how the Earth’s temperature started to rise around the Industrial Revolution, one of the greatest innovation peaks in history. Well, the Industrial Revolution was performed by the richer countries, the Global North. The Global South, on the other hand, stayed behind in development, but still suffered the most from climate change than their richer counterparts. Therefore, it is almost a moral command that the richer countries pioneer in support of climate efforts. Finally, it is the responsibility of the press to bring to people’s attention what technical reports entail, such as the groundbreaking one mentioned in this article, so that the people would be aware and demand for better climate policies to their respective governments.

Reflections of a citizen

As I do whenever I have some extra time and want to feed my soul, I go take a walk to the park. (As humans, our connection to nature is nurturing and greater than what most of us remember.) I saw turtle families bathing in the sun, other unbothered, swimming. I was just doing the same thing (a part from the swimming part, unfortunately,) just as many other people. Then I thought about those people in power. The lobbyists behind the oil industry, people who have become incredibly rich from disrupting the environment. Why don’t they give back by investing in cleaner energy? Don’t they feel a sense of responsibility? Of giving back to the Earth that made them rich? Under the moderate heat of the first nice days of spring, I imagined how it would feel to be outside by the end of the century. I feel truly sorry for what kind of future we are leaving to the future generations. This is something that I feel deeply within myself, but of which I couldn’t have learned without the help of informational resources and education. That is exactly why I felt the urge to write a piece about this, and in general, it is the reason why I decided to start a blog in the first place. 

How can you help?

What I decide to write about is not supposed to scare, but to inform and help brainstorm towards a better management of our world and its resources and how we decide to care for one another. These problems can feel less hopeless if we work collectively on them. You can help by sharing this article or the resources within, with friends and family, at your job, etc. No act will go unnoticed. Also, here there is a link to 10 ways you can personally reduce your greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) — yes, single humans also contribute to climate change, but far less than the industrial sector. Nevertheless, it is important to limit our footprint. Learn how here.

Resources

Some other sources that covered this topic: 

Important Messages from Mary Robinson (a Rock Star on the Fight for Human Rights, Climate Change and Gender Equality)

By Ludovica Martella

Mary Robinson (right) with the co-founder of Company (left). Picture: Ludovica Martella

Mary Robinson (right) with the co-founder of Company (left). Picture: Ludovica Martella

On February 26th, Mary Robinson, former first female (!) president of Ireland and UN High Commissioner of Human Rights and UN Special Envoy on Climate Change, engaged in a conversation about her latest book, Climate Justice: Hope, Resilience, and the Fight for a Sustainable Future, at Company, a space that hosts tech start ups, but also, conversations, like this one. Throughout this conversation, Robinson not only dug into the obstacles that she faced and overcame during her impressive career in human rights, but also gave important advice to individuals, companies and tech start-ups on how to tackle climate change solutions. Climate Justice is a story book about the injustice of climate change. Most often, climate change effects are more severe for women and poor developing countries and communities all over the world (the worst effects are seen in developing countries closer to the equator). The 11 short stories in the book are evidence of these injustices. They tell the stories of women (and men) tackling the conditions of the changing climate they live in which is truly inspirational.

First of all, it’s important to provide a bit of a background on this inspirational woman and her formative years. Mrs. Robinson opened the conversation at Company explaining how she became a human rights expert from a very young age. She grew up West Ireland, which is know to be the poorest part of Ireland, “in a household with four brothers, all younger than me, a very interesting human rights situation” she laughs. “At that time, women were supposed to know their place, EVEN THE CONSTITUTION placed the women in the home. My parents who were both medical doctors ASSURED ME that I had the same opportunities as my brothers”. Apart from the rage that many of us could have by reading the sad reality about discrimination against women embedded in the constitution, I’d like to focus for a second on the fact that Robinson’s parents encouraged her to believe that she was EQUAL, despite the law and despite what the general cultural circumstances of the time were. This is not a detail to undermine. More often than not, people who have a strong support system that includes their parents or the people who raised them, are more likely to survive societal pressures that automatically tries to put them in a box. This happens through a process that is called neuroplasticity, and the work of mirror neurons (because this is not a mental health/psychology post, I will keep it brief but I will link some interesting information about these). How does this work? As author Mark Matousek explains in his amazing book Ethical Wisdom, “the role of mirror neurons is to match up our inner reality with the world around us” aka, our brains’ “plastic” adjusts to the environment around us, continuously, but most strongly in children. This is a mechanism that is at the root of our moral beliefs and attitudes. So, would Mary Robinson not be Mary Robinson today if it weren’t for her parents? It’s honestly hard to tell because, honestly, she is pretty awesome. But neuroplasticity is a real thing. That said, let us continue.

Mary Robison engaging in the conversation on her book “Climate Justice”. Picture: Ludovica Martella

Mary Robison engaging in the conversation on her book “Climate Justice”. Picture: Ludovica Martella


Similarly to what we are experiencing nowadays during this sad part of history, Robinson grew up during a wave of global violence. In 1967 she was a young law student at Harvard. Despite the terrible currents of violence of those times, Robinson recognizes that many of her contemporaries were starting to speak out, of all things, about the immoral Vietnam War. As a result, many of them were killed because of their civil rights work. “In April of that same year, Martin Luther King Junior was assassinated, and just after not long, John F. Kennedy was assassinated.” She claims that “desperate times bring the best out of people. Young people were doing great things, they were taking leadership and making a difference.” As she makes this point, she takes a moment to praise the young students in the US who are mobilizing for climate justice and who are organizing a major walk out of schools around the country on March 15th 2019. Mary was brave herself. After she graduated from Harvard Law School she went back to Ireland and started teaching and practicing law with this new activist wave as her motivating force. Through a combination of things, she ended up getting elected to the senate at the age of 25 (mainly because her elderly professors didn’t want to take the lead and push for radical ideas themselves). Between the many topics she had at hearth, she called for the legalization of family planning because women in Ireland at the time couldn’t use contraceptives unless they had a medical note stating they needed them to regulate their menstrual cycle. Despite getting numerous hate mail and being “barely able to walk down the street,” while having her bill called by the Bishop of Ireland “a curse on the country,” Robinson kept on going because change, in her eyes, was the only option. One of her favorite quotes from former UN Secretary general Kofi Annan is (rest in peace,) “you are never too young to lead, you are never too old to learn”. Amen.

Fast-forward through her presidency and to her role of Human Rights Commissioner of the UN, she realized the incredible connection between human rights and climate justice. This was only after her five-year term had ended. At this stage, she created a non-governmental organization (NGO) called Realizing Rights out of her frustration for the still very apparent lack of human rights around the world. The mission behind this organization was to support the ability of African countries to build capacity to provide basic human rights to their populations. This includes holding governments accountable for providing things such as health, sanitation, food, water, education and shelter. During her time in Africa, in 2002, she kept hearing laments from people there about the climatic conditions worsening. She recalls speaking to a climate-wise woman from a small village in Uganda who said “we thought God was punishing us, and then I learned, no it wasn’t God, it was the lives of rich people.” The greenhouse gasses  (GHGs) produced by developed countries for the purpose of industry and luxury were having devastating repercussions on her village. “That brought me to be aware of the injustice of climate change. (Climate change) is disproportionately affecting the poorest countries and the poorest communities” even if it is the richer countries who are majorly contributing to the mess. And obviously, poor communities in climate-delicate areas here in the US are being affected as well.

So, should we conceptualize the issue of climate change as a civil rights issue or keep it purely scientific? “It’s not either or” answered Robinson. “We have to try and make the discourse on climate change and climate justice people centered,” because the decline of our environment has increasing negative repercussions on humans as well. Sometimes people seem to not understand that until they are directly affected by it. Robinson concluded that what we should do is to take the climate problem to a personal level. Whether that means avoiding single use plastic and bringing your reusable bottle or/and mug everywhere (you can save money and even get discounts at some cafes if you ask them to use your bottle) or changing your diet to one with less or no animal products, for starters. (There is a wonderful tool by the BBC where you can track the green house emission of the food we consume, here). Also, she invites individuals to get angry with those who have the power to make change and are not doing their best to take action. For businesses and especially for tech, she invites them to think about the world we envision for ourselves.

The cover of the book by Mary Robinson. Picture: Ludovica Martella

The cover of the book by Mary Robinson. Picture: Ludovica Martella

Mary Robinson’s book Climate Justice: Hope, Resilience, and the Fight for a Sustainable Future is a fast read and a small book that won’t add significant weight to your bag. I advise you to give it a read since it tells stories from people around the world that can be truly inspirational and give you a wider vision on the realities of climate change and how we can act on them.