Coming of Age During the Climate Crisis
by Isla Sandford Hall
My name is Isla, and I’m 16. Since I was born, I’ve lived part-time in London and on Gometra - a small island in the inner Hebrides of Scotland.
The whole island is off-grid – no cars, no internet in any of the homes, no mains electricity – not even washing machines. Even aside from the logistical issues of implementing a grid on Gometra, my family has always tried to live in a particularly environmentally conscious way – we try not to use central heating, or buy clothes first hand, and most of us are at varying stages of vegetarian/veganism.
Having the two extremes – Gometra and London - and environmentalism being prevalent in my family culture, has put me on the front lines of the climate and ecological crisis – seeing and knowing what is being lost, and what is replacing it, and how. Gometra has always been my emotional home. I feel connected to it in a way that a city like London can never achieve. One can be free in nature, and happy - struggling with depression, Gometra has always been a safe place for me, where I feel relief from pain and self-hatred.
When I was around 9, an environmentally degrading salmon farm was proposed off the north-west coast of Gometra, and over the course of the two years between its inception and completion my world view was torn apart.
My dad campaigned with others against it, and they received threats that their houses would be burned down, were physically threatened with violence, and ostracized from the community. They were abused, intimidated and harassed, and I realised how blindly self-destroying self-interest is. These people were angry at my dad because they believed he was sabotaging the salmon farm and the jobs that it would provide for the community, when actually it would be taking jobs away from the community by killing the wild fish that many local fishermen depended on, as well as harming loads of other wildlife. For the first time I encountered the ‘opposition’ to environmentalism.
This was my first foot in the waters of activism. My second was Extinction Rebellion.
Extinction Rebellion is a decentralised movement using non-violent direct action to advocate for three demands:
1. Tell the Truth: Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.
2. Act Now: Government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.
3. Beyond Politics: Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.
I first heard about Extinction Rebellion last year, and in February I joined the youth group – then 6 strong. The youth group was created because there was a lack of youth voice in extinction rebellion, and as our generation has the most to lose to climate and ecological collapse, and we will inherit whatever the ‘adults’ decide to do now, we need a large stake in current decision making.
I decided that this movement was important enough to be arrested for, and I was one of the Sunshine Seven, who locked on at a fracking conference in London in April as part of extinction rebellion youth’s first official action. Six of us glued or locked on outside, forcing attendees to step over us in order to go to the conference, a literal representation of ‘ you are stepping on our future’, which we told each person who went past.
Our seventh infiltrated the conference. Natasha Engel, the so-called ‘fracking tsar’ of the government, was among those present at the conference, and she came out and spoke directly to us during the break. After she resigned a few weeks later due as she said to ‘environmental protestors’, and the school strikes for climate created shockwaves, the true emotive power of the youth in this crisis was realised.
Today the youth group has grown more than tenfold, and we have created a national structure to enable communication both between all of the local groups nationally and internationally with other branches of Extinction Rebellion Youth. Should you be interested, we are compiling a list of local groups so you can find one in your area, and if you want to start a local group, we are making a starter pack which will be available very soon at https://www.xryouth.org.
I’m also excited to announce Gometra Declares in August. We will be blocking the bridge to Gometra in protest of the two salmon farms proposed in the Staffa Archipelago.