Miranda, Apprentice Nation’s Research and Insights Associate, reflects on her time at COP26, climate anxiety, and how we can all make an impact on climate change with community social action.

My COP26 experience: What is social action?

After spending a busy week in Glasgow for COP26, I have now had some thoughts to reflect on.

Even though COP26 has not set targets that fully address the climate emergency, we saw on the streets of Glasgow the real meaning of social action and its importance. It is about individuals coming together to solve problems in their communities.

Across the 2 weeks, thousands of people descended on the streets from all over the world to call attention to the leaders inside the COP26 buildings, pressing them to take real action. They organised protests, marches, workshops, conferences and talks. Many delegates from the COP even came out to highlight the inaction that was occurring. On the last day, hundreds of people staged a walkout as they were unsatisfied with the solutions being proposed.

The atmosphere was so inspiring and evoked a sense of global community.

Protest outside the COP26 Blue Zone building. Source: Miranda Silva

What is a COP?

COP stands for Conference of the Parties. It is the UN’s climate conference that takes place every year. Due to covid, the 2020 conference was postponed to 2021.

Delegates, experts, scientists and world leaders come together to discuss what agreements can be made to tackle the climate crisis and then these are put into a pact, such as this year’s new Glasgow Climate Pact.

COP26 was a major step. It held the largest number of climate talks with world leaders since COP21, where the legally binding Paris Agreement was signed to keep global temperatures well below 2 degrees celsius, with the ideal being 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. Limiting the rise in temperature to 1.5 degrees instead of 2 means a reduced severity on the impacts on people and nature. The goal is to keep cutting emissions until they reach net-zero by 2050.

Climate Anxiety

Have you ever felt anxious or scared about the future of our planet?

Climate anxiety can manifest when we feel overwhelmed with the problems we face due to climate change. Floods, droughts, wildfires, and even countries disappearing underwater make the news, and feelings of anxiety and fear for the future are a normal response. 

Feeling a bit of climate anxiety is a good thing, it means we are aware of the risks that climate change poses. However, when it becomes too overwhelming, that’s when it can become a problem to our mental health. It’s important to take time out from climate news and social media to rest.

The first step to overcoming these feelings is to share them with people in our communities. It is something we are all feeling and once it is out, we can start thinking of solutions to these problems.

Climate anxiety also arises when we think or feel that we cannot do anything about it. But, there are small steps we can take in our everyday lives that compound to great change.

Watch the Apprentice Nation short set on climate anxiety with Mae Muller and climate activist Jon Alexander to learn more about the climate impacts and how to cope with feelings of anxiety that may arise.

As Jon Alexander says “Climate anxiety is a very rational thing. The advice I would give to people who are feeling anxious about this stuff is don’t disengage – admit that you feel it because other people do as well. Talking about these things helps us cope with them but also when we talk about these things then we start to build the relationships that build community.

When we come together we multiply our power. If we act as individuals it will be too little, if we wait for the government, it will be too late. But if we come together and act as communities and groups and networks and friendships, then it will be enough just in time.”

How we can fight climate change as a community:

Activist Larissa Kennedy speaks at the march against Climate Colonialism by group Global Justice Now. Source: Miranda Silva

1. Eat more plants

Swap your meat for more plant-based options. This is one of the most effective ways we can individually reduce our carbon footprint. The meat and dairy industry are responsible for 14.5% of greenhouse emissions, the same as all cars, HGVs, aircraft, and ships combined.  

Kip Andersen, director of the documentary Cowspiracy says “it is the leading cause of habitat destruction, water consumption and pollution, deforestation, and wildlife extinction. It replaces biodiverse ecosystems with monocultures (soy, corn or grass) and monospecies (cows, pigs or chickens).” 

Over the past few years, the plant-based market has continued to grow and it doesn’t show signs of stopping. There are so many great plant-based alternatives to the dishes we love, both in supermarkets and restaurants. To learn more about the impacts of animal agriculture, I recommend watching Andersen’s documentary Cowspiracy as well as Seaspiracy. The latter discusses the range of impacts on the world’s oceans, from climate change to the effects of plastic pollution and overfishing.

2. Reduce waste

The concept of a circular economy is where the least amount of waste goes to landfills. To achieve this, we have to reduce our consumption of unnecessary products. This includes fast fashion and single-use plastic products. 

As we are in the holiday season, it is easy to buy things we do not need. You can choose to make gifts that contribute to change, such as gifts where proceedings go towards a climate charity, gifts made of sustainable materials or gifts that are reusable. Check out this great guide on how to have a green Christmas

3. And reduce food waste, while helping those in need

Globally, ⅓ of food is lost in the supply chain before it even makes it to our tables. From the food that we do consume, 40% goes to waste. Some ways to tackle food waste include buying only what you need and donating/sharing food with others. 

Get involved with social action in your local community that tackles food waste. For example, you could volunteer with charities such as Edible London whose mission is to tackle food injustice and climate change by providing plant-based meals to those in need. 

4. Get involved in a local social action group

Such as Friday’s For Future, the youth-led organisation started by Greta Thunberg back in 2018. Here you can connect with other young people in your area and around the world.

Friends of The Earth also has grassroots groups you can join; by following this link and putting your postcode you can search climate action groups in your local area. If you cannot find a group in your area, consider creating one.

5. Or hold your government accountable

Mikaela Loach is a young woman with whom 2 other claimants, Kairin and Jeremy, are suing the UK government for paying North Sea oil and gas companies £4 billion of public money since the Paris Agreement became effective in 2016. You can keep updated with their court case on Twitter or Instagram. They teach us that we must make our voices heard and keep our leaders accountable. You may not be taking the government to court anytime soon, but you can write to your MPs asking them to support policies that tackle the climate crisis. Here is an example of a letter you can write.

Activist chants at the march against Climate Colonialism by group Global Justice Now. Source: Miranda Silva

Together we have more in common than things that divide us, and we can come together to create change in the world. Those who say it’s impossible simply benefit from things staying the same. And so it is up to us to take action.

I invite you to take a small step towards change from the list above. This Christmas, let’s give ourselves and the planet the gift of a better future.