Maya Mailer: Why charities should join in the Global Climate Strike

It will be a powerful demonstration of solidarity and of the connections between our struggles

Maya Mailer
Maya Mailer

This Friday, 20 September, millions of children and young people will again be taking to the streets calling for an end to the age of fossil fuels and kicking-starting a week of global mobilisation for climate justice.

But this time, the youth climate strikers are asking for adult solidarity. Many of us are heeding their call. Around the world, the young strikers will be joined by parents, grandparents, relatives and friends, by teachers, workers, trade unionists, campaigners and politicians in what is set to be a defining moment for climate action.

In the UK, together with organisations such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, charities from outside the environmental movement are also backing the strike. Among them is the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, a leading migrant support charity, explaining that the "the fight for migrant justice and against the climate crisis are one and the same".

Amnesty International has also written to head teachers around the world, urging them to allow children to take part in the strike action.

The UK voluntary sector is large and vibrant. It carries moral and political clout, and it can galvanise a wide network. It’s not too late for more charities and non-profits to declare their support for the youth strikes and encourage both their staff and supporters to participate. It will help to swell the numbers that take to the streets. Most importantly, it will be a powerful demonstration of solidarity and of the connections between our struggles.

On paper, the climate crisis might seem tangential or irrelevant to the mandates and missions of many charities. But it is the most marginalised and vulnerable in society, the very men, women and children whom the voluntary sector seeks to serve and empower, who will be affected first and foremost by climate breakdown. Indigenous people and communities in the Global South have long been on the front line of environmental destruction and climate chaos, even though they have done the least to contribute to the crisis and are the least well equipped to deal with it.

This inequity is being mirrored in the UK. As we experience scorching heatwaves, extreme flooding and all forms of pollution, marginalised communities and people, who are already grappling with austerity, poverty, homelessness, discrimination, abuse and illness, will be those who find it most difficult to cope.

The drivers of the ecological and climate crisis – unregulated corporate power, extreme inequality, profit before people and planet – are interwoven with the drivers of so many other injustices. Tackling the climate emergency will involve profound changes to our economy, society and culture. The expertise, creativity and tenacity of the voluntary sector will play a critical role in that transition.

The UK’s voluntary sector provides vital services and support. It cannot simply shut down on 20 September. Not every person is in a position to strike and not every voluntary organisation can participate. This is especially the case for smaller, front-line charities, which are chronically stretched.

That said, having worked in the sector for years, I suspect that what is holding back many charities is not necessarily the logistical challenge of releasing staff for a few hours or just for 30 minutes over lunch, but nervousness about reputational and financial risk. Managers might be anxious about supporting the climate strikes when they are yet to figure out their own internal carbon-footprint and environmental policies.

In the context of funding cuts, restrictive charity rules, competing priorities and challenges, these are understandable concerns.

But any risks that charities might face in the UK need to be weighed against the gravity of the threat. They also need to be put into perspective. As the environmental and human rights organisation Global Witness has documented, environmental activists face violence, prison and death as they seek to defend their communities and lands around the world.

And in truth, joining the climate strikes really isn’t that radical. The former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams and the former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, now chair of the peace and justice group The Elders, have recorded video messages commending the actions of the youth strikers. More than 100 eminent parents from across entertainment, business, politics, science and faith signalled their support for the youth strikes in May in a letter coordinated by Mothers Rise Up, a grass-roots climate group that I co-founded.

Children and young people, whose futures are imperilled by a crisis caused by previous generations, are now explicitly calling on adults to stand with them.

The voluntary sector is built on the values of solidarity, compassion and civic activism. Has there ever been a more important moment for us to live these values?

Maya Mailer is a campaigner and activist. She is the co-founder of Mothers Rise Up and a member of Our Kids Climate. She is on the advisory group of Asylum Matters. She was formerly head of humanitarian campaigns and policy at Oxfam. She writes in a personal capacity

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