Akshat Rathi is a London-based reporter for Bloomberg News and in his latest book, ‘United We Are Unstoppable,’ he tells the stories of 60 young people from all across the world who are tackling the biggest problem facing humanity: climate change.
Environment Journal got in touch with Akshat to find out more.
Can you tell me about the process of writing the book?
The idea for the book came around last September when we saw a large number of climate strikes taking place all across the world.
These climate strikes had been building up with Greta Thunberg as the leader, but the media has a tendency to focus on one person because it makes it easier to express stories and show what the movement stands for.
But that hero narrative is not representative.
I wrote a newsletter for Quartz saying this, the movement is amazing and what Greta has done is wonderful, but now is the time to share the stories of the other people behind the movement.
A theme in many of the letters is the limited power of individuals but the collective power when people join together, in this way the book is very inspiring because it brings all of these voices from across the world together, was this a motivation for writing the book?
Absolutely, we don’t understand how difficult it is to get people to leave their homes and take time off work to come down and talk about a topic that matters to them. This process is being done by hundreds of thousands of people and that is incredibly powerful.
One of the challenges that comes through in the book is that many young people feel like they’re not being taken seriously and are being undermined.
A lot of the young people in the book are under 18, they often cannot vote and they can’t get their voices heard to the people who can make changes.
One key reason to do this project was to show the diversity, breadth and depth of the climate movement and how many countries it envelopes, all of these people are coming to it from one cause but from different motivations
And the other reason to publish this book was to let people know that they have someone in their country who is doing this work – a lot of people feel like they are the only one who cares. But once they find out that someone else in their town also cares, that is how a movement begins.
Another important theme in a lot of the letters is the link between climate change, human rights and racial injustice, can you discuss this?
Once you start unpicking what the climate crisis is, you realise that the places and countries who are to blame don’t suffer the consequences of the harm.
This is a powerful motivation for people, fairness is ingrained in humans.
Unfairness shows up in all matter of activities, whether that’s about emissions, the impacts of air pollution or the impacts of climate change itself.
Poor people suffer more than rich people do – this is within countries and among countries.
Connecting these dots is so important, it’s not just about not burning fossil fuels it’s about creating a system that’s been created that is doing the work for people that it should.
The book showcases the voices of young people, but many of them highlight the necessity to collaborate with older people, how do you think moving forward we can encourage this collaboration?
This is a good question, first of all, we should appreciate the range of countries talked about in this book, some with full active documentaries such as Sweden or the UK, or dictatorships and regimes such as China or Zimbabwe.
In some countries where protests are banned or stopped, climate activists have no option but to work with people who are in power and influence, and reaching those people is very hard.
The sliding scale of democracy across the world has an impact on how climate activism works.
In terms of working with other people, it makes sense – climate change is an intergenerational problem and the only way to solve this is to get a majority of people on board, one generation can’t force the rest of the world to adapt.
Many of the individuals in the book show a strong sense of self-determination and dedication to the cause, what can we learn from them?
For me, the main thing that stood out is how many different reasons they all have to care about climate change.
If their futures are at stake because if something they can’t control then that is a strong motivation to try and find a way to influence that.
But we also know that young people have to go through the steps to find a good education and find a job.
And if this kind of activism impacts their career pathway in the short term then I think that is something we should recognise when we see young people on the streets, they are sacrificing something to be there.
Reading these letters it highlights how many people are already being impacted by climate change, in this way do you remain optimistic that we have time to prevent the worst impacts?
The answer is yes, and that’s because I choose to be hopeful
There is no point in giving up on a problem when we know clearly that there are so many solutions right in front of us that we could be implementing.
That fact alone is why I chose to remain hopeful.
As we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, and the world is faced with so many other global problems, how can we keep climate change at the top of the conversation?
This is a really important point, we are seeing protests happening now and the reason for that is because many activists connect the dots between the kinds of problems we face and how the climate crisis is making these problems worse.
The pandemic itself isn’t caused by climate change. But it is caused by humans entering nature in a myriad of ways and interrupting how wild animals interact and then a virus that exists in animals becomes a pandemic in humans.
We know that climate change decreases the stability of the world, so the Syrian migration crisis has some of its routes in the doughts that the country has faced and this has political ramifications across Europe and the U.S.
Connecting these dots is very important because climate change is a threat multiplier, if we don’t mitigate climate change then the problems we face will get a lot worse.
Young people are relying on scientists who have been making these connections for a long time to lead the charge, and activists have been raising the voice of the scientists and that’s why I think the climate movement will continue.