THE BIG STORY
‘REAL EDUCATION HAPPENS OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM’
Brianna Fruean, 20, of the Pacific Climate Warriors, speaks to 17-year-old Londoner Anna Taylor, from the UK school strikes movement.
Conversation moderated by Hazel Healy.
Tell us about your journey into climate activism: Brianna Fruean: I started quite young – at 11 years old. That was when I first heard about this thing called climate change. And as a young girl here in Samoa, hearing the implications it had for my island in the Pacific scared me, it jumpstarted my passion to do something about it. I started my own environmental group in primary school. And it was literally just a whole bunch of 11-, 12- and 13-year-olds doing car-pooling registers and recycling bins and tree planting – just anything we could to send a message to the adults. Later we became 350 Samoa [part of the international environmental organization 350.org]. That was the beginning of my journey and I’ve stuck with it. Anna Taylor: I grew up in London but I had a close connection with the environment – my parents would always take me out walking in the countryside. I’ve always been interested in activism; I went on a Greenpeace climate march many years ago, and I was disappointed because there wasn’t another one for four years. Then in 2018, everything really got going with Extinction Rebellion. I went to their protest in October, around the time that the [UN science body] IPCC’s report [on the impacts of global warming by 1.5°C] came out, and the COP 24 climate summit happened in Poland. And Greta Thunberg started her ‘Fridays for Future’ school strikes.
When the Australian students walked out of school, they made it onto our news. It was really empowering and inspiring to see kids doing something about climate change. Then all these countries in Europe were getting involved – Germany, Belgium – but nothing in the UK. I didn’t think I’d be able to set up a strike, being just one person. But I was talking to some people at a march and they said, ‘Why don’t you just start, do your best and see what happens?’ And then within six weeks, it went from me and a friend sitting in a coffee shop to 15,000 students going on strike across the UK [on 15 February 2019]. So, yes – it’s been a wild ride.
What was it like, Brianna, seeing this surge of activism among young people? Brianna: It was amazing for me. I feel like the young people of the Pacific are experiencing right now what young people around the world will experience tomorrow. In a way, we’re the canaries in the coalmine, right? We’re going in and we’re telling the rest of the world: this is not good. Right now, we’re having cyclones, floods and droughts, along with a lot of other vulnerable communities around the world. And it’s only going to be that – and worse – for our future generations. And so it’s great to see young people be passionate and not stand down to older people saying, ‘You should be in school.’ Real education sometimes happens outside of the classroom. I think the school climate strikes have really proven that. Anna: That’s a big thing that we’re trying to push, too. I’m a Geography A-level student – that’s the last stage of school in England. We had a lesson today on climate change and they don’t talk about it like it’s a crisis at all. They were just saying: ‘This is what America and China are doing to help reduce carbon emissions.’ They said nothing about what they should be doing about the imminent