Young Activists Are Leading a Global Climate Strike Today

Fridays for Future is leading a global climate strike to press world leaders to address the crisis. We speak with Mikaela Loach who was instrumental in the fight against the Cambo oil field off Scotland’s coast. She describes the importance of linking antiracism to climate activism. “We’re in this crisis because fossil fuels and nature have been completely extracted and destroyed to make profit and to continue expansion of economies, in the Global North in particular,” says Loach.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Climate strike. That’s the cry of youth climate activists today to urge world leaders to do more to confront the climate emergency. This is despite the fact that a third of Pakistan has been submerged, Somalia is on the brink of starvation, and Puerto Rico still lacks power due to a devastating hurricane.

Earlier this week, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres blasted fossil fuel companies for their role in the climate emergency.

SECRETARYGENERAL ANTÓNIO GUTERRES: The fossil fuel industry is feasting on hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies and windfall profits, while households’ budgets shrink and our planet burns. Excellencies, let’s tell it like it is: Our world is addicted to fossil fuels, and it’s time for an intervention. We must hold fossil fuel companies and those who enable them to account.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by Mikaela Loach, leading youth climate activist taking part in today’s climate strike, one of three claimants who took the U.K. government to court for giving taxpayers’ money to oil and gas companies. She was also instrumental in the fight against the Cambo oilfield off the coast of Scotland. Mikaela was born and raised in Jamaica. She is currently a medical student at Edinburgh University and co-host of The Yikes Podcast. She is joining us from New York today as part of Climate Week.

Mikaela, we are glad to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. You could start by talking about the importance of this climate strike today.

MIKAELA LOACH: Yeah. Amy, thank you so much for having me here.

Today, the climate strike, especially in New York, is very significant because we’ve just had Climate Week New York, we’ve just had the U.N. General Assembly happening this week, and, as kind of usual, there hasn’t been enough happening. There have been many amazing things that have occurred, such as President Gustavo Petro from Colombia giving an incredible speech on the U.N. floor, calling out the fact that Global North nations still practice imperialism and control over the Global South. Vanuatu was also the first nation to call for an international treaty on fossil fuels to be signed at the U.N. So, that means a treaty that would mean that all countries would be signing it and saying they don’t want to have more fossil fuels. These types of things are important and I believe that the strike could be a pressure from outside. Because it can be reformist and not be addressing the root causes of problems, I find it difficult to accept a lot U.N. material. And that’s why I think these kind of strikes and this pressure can maybe shift things a bit more.

AMY GOODMAN: Discuss your lawsuit against U.K. government.

MIKAELA LOACH: Yeah. So, the U.K. government previously — so now they’ve recently changed the kind of tax regime there a little bit, but previously the North Sea, which is just off the coast of Scotland, was the most profitable place in the world to extract oil and gas. And that’s because the government made this deliberately really profitable tax regime where basically oil and gas companies were being paid to pollute. They were also given huge amounts from the public to pollute and promote. They weren’t paying any tax. Companies like Shell and BP didn’t pay any tax for multiple years on their operations there. They were actually getting paid more than they were paying. It was quite absurd. And so, we took the U.K. government to court around that, around this regime, the fact that — yeah, the fact that they’ve made it so profitable for these companies.

AMY GOODMAN: Shell announced that it would cancel Cambo’s plans in December 2021. You were a leader of the protest. And I was wondering if you could explain what that is, but today’s headline on the website Energy Voice says, “Government to fast track five North Sea oil and gas fields, including Cambo and Murlach.”

MIKAELA LOACH: Yeah. So, basically — that was last year — we found out that the Cambo oil field was being set for approval. Cambo was a ginormous — well, still is a ginormous oil field, thankfully has not been extracted from yet. It was expected to be approved within the next few months. And kind of in the U.K. when oil fields like this have come up, and there hadn’t really been that much resistance to them — and what we did is we formed this huge campaign. It was more than me. It was a group effort of many wonderful people to stop this field from being approved. We were able to stop it being approved. Shell pulled out of the campaign, which was an historic feat.

But you’re right that now what’s happening is that the new prime minister of the U.K., Liz Truss, previously worked for Shell, and she is now trying to push even more oil and gas fields through, like she’s trying to bring Cambo back, but also, kind of even more worryingly than Cambo is Rosebank, is this new oil field that is the biggest one in the North Sea. If this field was mined, the emissions from it alone would be greater than all of the low-income countries. The new administration in the U.K. is trying to push through all these fields, and they really need to be stopped. And that’s why a coalition of groups have been coming together to try and kind of take it from every angle and show that we cannot have any new fossil fuels, if we want to live for future.

AMY GOODMAN: It is truly incredible. Shell is one of most powerful oil companies in the entire world. Do you feel that it was your protests, and the protests of so much, that stopped them from moving last December?

MIKAELA LOACH: For sure. I mean, even in industry articles like oil and natural gas industry articles, they were writing that it was because of protest and public pressure. Cambo was financially unviable due to the fact that so many insurers were dropping out about how much protest was taking place and how much disruption was occurring. There were many tactics. We tried to have a concerted media campaign. But also, there was direct action such as when we occupied the U.K. Government Building. Greenpeace activists actually blocked — used kayaks to block the port where they were trying to go out and start the extraction. It was a ton of different — and we also challenged Shell’s CEO at TED Countdown’s event. We really tried to get them at every angle to make it the — it would just be too much of a nuisance for them to try and do this. And that’s why I think that we can be so powerful as people when we come together and put that pressure on. Cambo was a great example of how public pressure can really make a difference.

AMY GOODMAN: A new report Over 215,000 people are now worth more than $50,000,000 worldwide, according to new research. That’s an increase of 46,000 people over the past year. That’s according to bank Credit Suisse. Mikaela Loach, you recently spoke at the Gates Foundation’s annual event, where you surprised many in the audience by saying, “I think billionaires shouldn’t exist,” and “I think the climate crisis was caused by capitalism.” Elaborate.

MIKAELA LOACH: Yes, it was a difficult decision to even consider entering that space. I usually avoid these spaces, because I don’t agree with them. I don’t believe that billionaire philanthrocapitalism will save us. So, the idea that the same people who caused this crisis should be in charge of the solutions just doesn’t make sense to me. And I think that what it means is that these people will only choose solutions that allow their companies to continue to profit and extract and continue capitalism — and allow capitalism to continue, which has got us into this mess, so I don’t think it can solve it.

I decided to go into that discomfort to challenge it. These spaces are rarely challenged. Many people think Bill Gates is great because he gives a lot of his money to charity or has a foundation. But how much is him having that control having actually maybe a negative impact on our, like, collective liberation and the paths that we’re taking? I decided to enter that space and challenge him.

People gasped. People were shocked that someone could actually speak the truth to power. Gates was protected by Secret Service agents. But it was — I think it was a really impactful moment. And the amount of people that came up to me afterwards, actually, and spoke to me and said that they had been thinking these things but haven’t been able to say them because their work is reliant on funding from the foundation, made me feel like it was the right thing to do in the end.

AMY GOODMAN: If you can talk more about your activism and your intersectional approach to everything, from climate to — well, as you put it, the climate crisis intersects with various oppressive systems, such as white supremacy, racism, migrant injustice and the refugee crisis. As you’ve said, it’s not a refugee crisis, it’s a crisis of empathy. Mikaela, link all these issues.

MIKAELA LOACH: Yes. I think if we look back at how this climate crisis started, so we’re in this crisis because fossil fuels and nature have been completely extracted and destroyed to make profit and to kind of continue expansion of economies, in the Global North in particular. And this kind of — this process of extracting from the Earth and this process of, like, imperialism and colonialism started with the colonial projects that began. BP’s original — British Petroleum’s original name was actually the First Exploitation Company. Shell were also involved in British colonialism naturally, when the U.K. actually sold Nigeria to Shell back many decades ago and then began their exploration there. It is therefore inherently connected with white supremacy, colonialism and capitalism, as well as all of these systems.

And therefore, if we’re going to tackle this crisis, we have to tackle these root causes; otherwise, we’ll just be replicating the same oppressive systems, but maybe they’ll look a bit green, but it won’t actually have solved the real problem. I think as a medic, as well, I see it as we don’t want to just put a Band-Aid on it. We don’t just want to be treating the symptoms. We have to treat the kind of real thing that’s causing the illness in the first place. So, we must say yes to the real thing that is causing the illness. [inaudible] go to those root systems and realize that actually, for me, that gives a lot of hope, because it’s like if — if the climate crisis is caused by all of these systems, then, to tackle it, we have to treat these systems, and therefore, we can actually create a better world for all of us. It’s not just about stopping complete disaster. It could also be about building things, and creating a better world for everyone. This is something I believe could be very hopeful.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you feel like you’re winning?

MIKAELA LOACH: We are, I believe. That’s what I believe. I don’t know how much — I don’t even know if that’s true, but I have to believe that we’re winning, because more and more people are rising up. I think I look especially at Latin America, and I was living in Colombia during the election of Francia Márquez and Gustavo Petro. And Francia Márquez is someone who I have respected for so long and whose climate activism is incredible. That election was won by the people. It was won through grassroots campaigns. And it shows if Colombia can, like, overthrow elitist rule, 200 years’ elitist rule, then think about what all of us can do if we realize our own power and we come together. I believe that this is becoming more apparent. More oil fields are being shut down. More pipelines are being blocked. And I think that we can win, but it will require all of us to come together and actually — and take that into our own hands.

AMY GOODMAN: In 2020, finally Forbes, Global Citizen and BCC Woman’s Hour Named you one the most influential women in U.K. climate movements. Describe who has influenced you the most and who inspires your today.

MIKAELA LOACH: Whoo. I think that I’m really inspired by Angela Davis’s work and the abolitionists and Audre Lorde, so people who maybe you wouldn’t see as “climate people” as such. But I think the abolitionists’ work is what has really moved me to be where I am today and doing the work that I’m doing today. This idea that we should — not idea, this reality that we should challenge absolutely everything, and not only be taking things down, but building things, too, has really inspired my work and inspired what I do. And I try and hold kind of those people, and also Nanny of the Maroons in Jamaica, who was a freedom fighter there — I try and hold them in my heart as I’m doing the work that I’m doing, and remind myself, like, “What would they do? And how can I challenge things more?”

AMY GOODMAN: Mikaela Loach is a climate justice activist and cohost of the show. I want to say thank you for being here. The Yikes PodcastAmong many other things, thank you. We are so grateful.

MIKAELA LOACH: Thank you. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Next up: Model America. We look at a brand new MSNBC Documentary series that examines the murder of Phillip Pannell (16-year-old Black teenage victim) by a white officer in Teaneck, New Jersey in 1990. This was more than 30 years ago. It also teaches us lessons for today. Stay with us.