Part 5: Be the change you wish to see in the world

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How do young peo­ple on the South Amer­i­can con­ti­nent expe­ri­ence the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic and the con­se­quences of cli­mate change? In this part of our inter­view series we get to know the liv­ing worlds of Eleni­ta Sales from Brazil and Ati Gun­nawi Vivi­am Vil­lafaña Izquier­do from Colombia.

They tell how their coun­tries both suf­fered from the con­se­quences of the cli­mate cri­sis even before the Coro­na pan­dem­ic, how they both learned about the pan­dem­ic on a sail­ing ship and what we can learn from the pan­dem­ic to com­bat the cli­mate crisis.

Even the biggest storm will not dis­suade you from your ide­al of a fair­er world: Eleni­ta Sales
Fight­ing water scarci­ty and cli­mate cri­sis: Ati Gun­nawi Vivi­am Villafaña.

Situation before Corona 

Cli­mate Del­e­ga­tion e.V.: What was the cli­mate change sit­u­a­tion in your coun­try before the Coro­na pandemic?

Eleni­ta: Brazil is the largest coun­try in Latin Amer­i­ca, both in terms of area and pop­u­la­tion. The effects of cli­mate change, such as droughts, floods, storms and crop fail­ures are alarm­ing. The IPCC warns of an increase in heavy rain­fall, land­slides and long peri­ods of drought, espe­cial­ly in the south-east­ern region of the coun­try, due to dis­or­der­ly pop­u­la­tion growth.

The main con­se­quences of the cli­mate cri­sis in my dai­ly life are the floods which have on sev­er­al occa­sions pre­vent­ed me from going to school and to work. Storms have also caused me to arrive late because I got stuck in traf­fic, and they have caused struc­tur­al dam­age in some of the hous­es I have lived in.

Ati: Colom­bia is one of the coun­tries with the most seri­ous inequal­i­ty in South Amer­i­ca. Thus, cli­mate change has had a par­tic­u­lar­ly strong impact on the poor­est part of the pop­u­la­tion, for exam­ple through the water cri­sis: although in my region, in San­ta Mar­ta, there were time­ly warn­ings of a pub­lic dis­as­ter for the months of Feb­ru­ary, mega-projects that fur­ther aggra­vat­ed the water cri­sis have been pushed forward.

Being a con­se­quence of cli­mate change, floods  like this one made the way to work and school dif­fi­cult for Eleni­ta.

Situation during Corona 

Cli­mate Del­e­ga­tion e.V.: How has Coro­na affect­ed you and your families?

Eleni­ta: I was on a ship to Europe with oth­er cli­mate activists when the pan­dem­ic start­ed. My first thought was to find out how my father is doing, who is an old man and lives alone in my home town. My fam­i­ly  lives in the cap­i­tal of the state of São Paulo, which for a long time was the epi­cen­tre of the pan­dem­ic, so they could not work. The chil­dren also began to take lessons from a dis­tance, but it was not easy to adapt to the rou­tine of the new normal.

Per­son­al­ly, my biggest chal­lenge at the moment is to find a job. I finance myself and it is dif­fi­cult to con­cen­trate on some­thing else when I also have to take care of rent and food, but that is the real­i­ty for many Brazil­ians. At the moment there are more peo­ple with­out work than work­ing in the coun­try. We are fight­ing for basic sur­vival needs.

Ati: I was also on this ship with Eleni­ta head­ing for Europe. Con­cern about the increase of coro­na infec­tions caused our coun­tries to close their bor­ders and the Euro­pean Union ordered the clo­sure of its mem­ber coun­tries. That moment was chaot­ic and had a huge impact on the way we imag­ine the world because it showed that the insti­tu­tions and their rules are immov­able and that the func­tion­ing of the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem, so deeply root­ed in our cul­ture, would nev­er stop.

But out of all this chaos of uncer­tain­ties and dis­in­for­ma­tion that we left behind, there was also some­thing pos­i­tive: nature has regained some of its bal­ance. Many ani­mals lived as they did before mankind. Even if they were apoc­a­lyp­tic sce­nar­ios for us, it was ide­al for the recov­ery of many species.

One of the pos­i­tive aspects of the pan­dem­ic: Many species were able to recover

Lessons from Corona — Messages for the future 

Cli­mate Del­e­ga­tion e.V.: What lessons should we learn from the Coro­na cri­sis for com­bat­ing the cli­mate cri­sis (col­lec­tive­ly and individually)?

Eleni­ta: I think the most impor­tant les­son is that togeth­er we can make a dif­fer­ence and make a more effec­tive trans­for­ma­tion of our soci­ety. I already had this aware­ness, main­ly through the black move­ment, but it was rein­forced dur­ing the pan­dem­ic. See­ing dif­fer­ent peo­ple fight­ing for social jus­tice has giv­en me hope to move forward.

Peo­ple have tak­en a stronger stand and are demand­ing more con­crete action from our lead­ers. We are not even halfway to mak­ing real change, but big steps are being tak­en. It is sad to need some­thing so seri­ous to help peo­ple under­stand the impor­tance of fight­ing for social and envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice. Togeth­er we are stronger, and it is our duty as a soci­ety to hon­our those who have died so young, whether by pan­dem­ic, nat­ur­al dis­as­ter or gun­fire. We must be the trans­for­ma­tion we want to see in the world!

Ati: The cli­mate cri­sis is a con­se­quence of our actions. This is an ide­al sce­nario for us to react with imme­di­ate respons­es, as hap­pened in the mid­dle of the pan­dem­ic and in an artic­u­lat­ed way. We con­sid­er the con­se­quences of our unsus­tain­able lifestyle in the long term as pos­si­ble sce­nar­ios.  In the face of this sce­nario, indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties argue that the worst-case sce­nario is not a dis­tant future, but that we are expe­ri­enc­ing the con­se­quences of this sce­nario right now. The mes­sage is clear: we need to rethink the kind of rela­tion­ship we have with our fel­low human beings, what does not actu­al­ly come from out­side and what we use.

The future is full of uncer­tain­ty in which we must take respon­si­bil­i­ty, and pes­simism is the worst of all dis­eases, because it leads us to inac­tion and to silence, where the worst of all sce­nar­ios is to be expected ”

As a cli­mate del­e­ga­tion, we see that there is still a win­dow of oppor­tu­ni­ty to lim­it the inter­ac­tion between the cli­mate and Covid-19 pan­dem­ic through glob­al sol­i­dar­i­ty.  If you would like to learn more about the inter­ac­tion of the crises in gen­er­al, please feel free to vis­it our blog post. 

Editor’s note: the inter­view respons­es are an edit­ed trans­la­tion from Por­tuguese or Spanish.

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