Sharona Shnayder, Francisca Rockey, Sara Arnold and Elizabeth Fleur Willis speak with reporter Florence Freeman about their fight against Climate Change in a Q&A series.
By Florence Freeman
For those who aren't familiar with these four influential women, let me briefly introduce you to them.
First we have Sharona Shnayder, a 21-year-old environmentalist, speaker, and the co-founder of 'Tuesdays for Trash', a grass-root organisation on a mission to create a healthier home for all. The movement, which takes place across the globe, encourages people to pick up trash - or litter for British readers - in their local neighbourhoods and natural parks.
Although the organisation's Instagram page was creatEd earlier this year, it has reached almost 4,000 followers, and the movement is marking big waves worldwide, with thousands joining in to play their part.
Next up is Elizabeth Fleur Willis, also referred to as Lillibet, who is a nature lover, gardener, artist, and the director of creative agency, 'The Earths Issue', which focuses on environmental and intersectional activism. The activist can be frequently heard on her platform voicing her beliefs on fighting climate change.
Francisca Rockey is a name you've probably heard of before, especially in the field of geography. The 22-year-old is a campaigner, writer and public speaker. Not one to shy away from discussing the inequalities within geography, the Gen-Z founded the group 'Black Geographers', which works to ensure black people within geography have a space to network and connect.
Last but not least is Sara Arnold, a fashion designer, environmental activist and an active participant with the global movement 'Extinction Rebellion'. She frequently uses nonviolent actions to make her voice heard in the fight against climate change.
Florence: What exactly kick-started your drive into actively fighting for climate change in your daily life?
Sharona: I think it started for me in 2018 when I saw Gretta Thunberg giving a speech to the UN, and she just looked so terrified, and she was yelling at them. To see her speaking in that manner to these representatives startled me. And it made me want to figure out what was fuelling this emotion in her.
I started doing some digging into climate change and became terrified. So from that point on, I thought, what can I do? I knew it was too big for me as an individual to tackle entirely, but at the very least, I could do some things to prevent it from getting any worse. And I could look back and say that I'd done everything that I could.
Florence: You are also the co-founder of the project 'Tuesday for Trash'. What inspired you to start this organisation and begin that journey?
Sharona: It seems like Gretta is a common theme for many things that I do. But what inspired it from the get-go was the pandemic. My friend Wanda and I just wanted to hang out and there was nothing we could do besides going outside. We're both very big volunteers in our community, but there weren't any volunteer opportunities. So we thought, why don't we go pick up trash in our university like Park blocks? That'll give us an excuse to go outside and hang out and make an impact.
And it was just self-fulfilling. So many people saw us and thanked us and the immediate impact that was seen that day. In those seconds, just filling a bag of trash and noticing how much cleaner the park box was. It was just so fun that we decided we want to keep doing it every Tuesday. We just happened to do it on a Tuesday, and I'm like, let's make it a thing. And then it was born, 'Tuesdays for Trash'.
Florence: What lessons has your journey into environmentalism taught you and what has changed in your life?
Lillibet: My relationship to nature and to sustainability as a whole. In 2016, it felt to me liked there was a list of things I needed to do to become conscious. You know, do your recycling, choose your foods from more local sellers. And now I think once you start to get into the pattern of doing those things and checking off that list, you begin to live and breathe this lifestyle. Now I would never see it as a chore. It is the way that I live and breathe now. It is part of my identity.
Florence: Since joining the Extinction Rebellion, what have been some of the lessons you have learned being a part of this group?
Sara: Great question. There are masses that I've learned. One thing I've learnt through my journey of activism is that there isn't one solution. We're in uncharted territory, so we need different kinds of approaches. We also need to respect that even though somebody else might be doing something that's not the way you would do it, it is still valued. The thing about extinction rebellion is that it has such a clear theory of change. They use nonviolent directive actions, and they use it because they've looked back at history and studied the success of it and considered what made those successes successful.
Also, whatever your interests are, some intersect with the environment. You don't need to veer away from whatever your interests are to take action. You also need to respect everybody's approach because they all have a part to play as long as we're all going in the right direction.
Florence: When speaking about the environment, it can be very disheartening to listen to all the issues going on in. What keeps you determined and motivated towards environmentalism?
Sara: We have to remember our future is not set in stone. The more emissions there are, the more forests are getting cut down, the worse the impacts will be. So every action counts. In terms of hope, we have to think about what we mean by hope? What are we hoping for?
We can't hope for the environment to return to what it was, but we can hope for a kinder society. We can hope to live fulfilling lives and hope for justice. We can hope for change. What gives me hope is action and seeing people take action. It's only through action that you can have any hope. You cannot sit back and have any hope. For me is getting up every morning and doing something that is going to create a system change. It is getting to the end of the day and reflecting on the positive conversations I had.
Florence: You’re very vocal on the inequalities within geography and environmental science. Why is there such a misrepresentation of black geographers and environmentalists in this field?
Francisca: Think about outdoors and nature and how we are victimised in that space. For example I like to go for hikes and there are ‘black girl hikes’ but if it wasn’t for this, I wouldn’t go on hikes. People would stare at you and make you feel you don't belong in a space that is for everyone. Historically we spend so much time excluding people from these spaces. I guess me being the bait and showing people that it is actually possible. We need to have things set in place so black people can succeed in this field. Why is the reading list all white. Why are there hardly any black geography teachers and lecturers. There needs to be a change.
That’s why I’m so passionate to go into physical geography because we are so underrepresented in that field. You would find more of us in social geography but not many in physical geography, the representation there is lacking. What frustrated me is that people try to push me into being more of a social geographer or political geographer but that is not my interest.
Florence: Do you feel the pressure to be recognised as that person that is paving the way in geography, especially for black people?
Francisca: I feel that pressure not only online and how I use my platform but also because I know when people think of a black geographer they think of me. And I know this because of the amount of emails I get. A person who had invited me to this awesome event had stated that they had been watching me for a while. And I got another email from the government because they want me to do a blog post for the geo space division. And the woman who contacted me spoke about how she wants me to inspire her grandkids and so on so i definitely feel the pressure.