Radical Climate Action: From Hunger Strikes to Lawsuits to Community Care

Aura Balanta, 26, lives in Bogota, Colombia, a country the climate crisis has visited in the form of extreme flooding and landslides. Balanta says that this emergency is fundamentally a human rights problem. “We need water, we need air, we need land for our food,” Balanta says. “It’s actually important to preserve the human lives on this planet. And when we put water at risk and pollute natural resources, we put our lives at risk.”

Already, radical action has had radical results. In Mexico, a group of Indigenous communities united to form the Pueblos Unidos and took over a water-bottling plant that they said was extracting water from the land and drying up the ground. Community members now run the plant as a community center, including a library, school, and health practice.

But activism is not without its costs. In 2020, 228 land and environmental defenders were attacked and killed, according to climate justice organization Global Witness. Last November, 23-year-old Ghanian climate and anti-colonial activist Elorm Dade was killed by a truck while riding his bicycle. Dade’s family has raised suspicions about his death, noting that it occurred while he was in the process of gathering testimony for the Global Majority Vs.

“There are security risks young people face even for speaking out,” Amokwandoh says. “It’s not the end of the process.”

How do we make the climate crisis real?

For activists closer to home, like leaders in the youth-run Sunrise Movement, the challenge is making sure people don’t become desensitized to the ongoing impacts of the climate crisis — and the fact that things can change.

“I think we need radical action on the climate crisis because we all have dreams,” says Abby Leedy, 20, one of the five young people who participated in a hunger strike outside the White House in October. “We have lives we want to live and they are all being put at risk by the climate crisis.”

The idea for the hunger strike first started on a Zoom call between Dallas-based Kidus Girma, 26, and a friend. Girma worried that the general public was growing numb to climate activism. “Our biggest asset is just being young people who care,” he says he thought at the time. “We might not have the money or the follower count or things conventionally powerful people have, but we have our bodies.”

Thus, the hunger strike was born. The effort lasted for two weeks and generated countless headlines. As activists camped outside the White House, Biden traveled to Glasgow to address the annual United Nations climate conference, pledging to halve emissions by 2030. The activists released a Twitter video saying that wasn’t enough.

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But the hunger strike worked on a personal level. It gave a tangible human impact to the climate crisis. “There’s a way in Washington that they make the climate crisis abstract. It’s a really painful thing and we’re built to not want to feel painful things,” Leedy says. “I think the five of us in front of the White House saying, ‘We are starving!’ You couldn’t abstract that out.”

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