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Confession of a Former Climate Sideliner by Margianta

Confession of a Former Climate Sideliner by Margianta Surahman


Photo Credit: Margianta Surahman


I have a confession to make. Do you know those people who know the imminent threat of climate crisis, and yet stayed silent about it? That person was me, for the past few years. But I wasn’t always that ignorant. I used to be very passionate when it comes about climate and environment in general.


My concern for the climate crisis started when I was invited to a discussion held at Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior ship in 2013. I met Kumi Naidoo, the Greenpeace chief at the time who told us the visitors of the boat about the history of Rainbow Warrior. I was a representative of the National Children Forum at the time, so I spoke my opinion on the importance of involving youth in environmental issues.

A year after, in 2014, I joined the Youth March for the Arctic competition and became one of the 25 finalists, where I pitched my idea on the importance of having a holistic approach to facing climate change. But after this competition, my concern for environmental issues has been sidelined. I put more of my focus on global health and human rights issues. I co-initiated a tobacco control movement (www.fctcuntukindonesia.org) in 2015, and an anti-slavery organization (www.emancipate.id) in 2017.



Photo Credit: Margianta Surahman


Despite my daily efforts to live an eco-friendly lifestyle, I'm guilty as charged for sidelining my attention on environmental issues for years. All of the news, scientific findings, and scientist warnings were time bombs that are overlooked for years, including by me. But things were about to change.


One day I saw a photo of a girl holding a sign that says "School Strike for Climate". The same girl then gave powerful speeches that inspired thousands of children and young people to join her #FridayForFuture strikes. That girl was Greta Thunberg, and she was 15 years old.


No More Sidelining

The recent awakening of the #FridayForFuture climate strikes all over the world has evoked a calling within me. I decided to assert my concern for the climate crisis to intersect with everything I have been working for the past few years. Through my tobacco control movement and Lentera Anak Foundation, we initiated #SatuPuntungSejutaMasalah (one cigarette butt, a million problems) where we gathered more than 260.000 cigarette butts to highlight the devastating effect of cigarette waste to our environment. Through my anti-slavery organization, we campaigned against fast fashion industries that don’t only exploit its workers, but also pollute the environment with its toxic waste in Global South countries like Indonesia.


At the end of the day, I know I can no longer sideline my concern for the environment, while we are literally on the verge of an existential crisis. I can no longer sideline the obvious threat of climate crisis, when young activists in the Global South like Licypriya Kangujam of India, Leah Namugerwa of Uganda, or Salsabila Khairunnisa of Indonesia has sidelined their schools and childhood to alarm the global leaders to choose a planet and people over profits.


This is why recently, I went to the #JedaUntukIklim climate strike in Jakarta. During my 1st strike, I dressed as the lightning-powered, climate-reliant Indonesian superhero Gundala alongside my mother and my 7 years old sister. My sister brought a sign she made herself, saying "Choose Earth, Not Money" after I told her story of Orangutans who lost their home because of palm oil plantations.


On my 2nd strike, I dressed as Batman to symbolize my message: billionaires like Batman shouldn't have existed, because there is no climate justice with no economic justice. Years of working on human rights issues has convinced me that climate justice is closely related to economic justice.


All of us had different reasons why we care about the climate crisis, but for me the message is simple: we must choose people and planet over profit.

I believe we deserve an economy that works for everyone: indigenous people, wildlife animals, forests----not the corporations that prioritize profit over people and planet. There is no climate justice without economic justice. The Climate crisis doesn't discriminate. It affects everyone from indigenous people, impoverished people, middle-class people like me, to billionaires.


See the recent Coronavirus pandemic? The outbreak came when wildlife populations lost their habitats due to greed that exploits every single land, air, and water they used to live in.


We should not wait for rich superheroes from corporations like Batman to save our planet, whereas at many times their wealth is also built on environmental exploitation. We the people, especially the working class and middle-lower class people who will more likely be affected by the climate crisis, together we are our own superheroes.


The only way we are going to tackle this crisis is not through low-impact-highly-publicized CSRs or philanthropies, but instead from systemic changes that can only be enacted by government policies that work for all of us, and an economy that works for all of us---especially the planet.


Together is the Only Way

Now we only have less than ten years to keep the planet's warming stay under 1.5 degrees Celsius and survive this crisis. With the current will of governments and corporations, frankly, I don't see this happening---unless we, the people, act and push them to do right. This should be the moment when we re-evaluate how we treat the planet and every living being in it.


We rally, we march on the streets not because we think it's the best thing to do, but because we believe we're doing similar things at once, and we need to come closer together and collaborate for justice---both for our climate and our economy.

There are many things we can do to fight the Climate Crisis that has become our existential crisis. Ranging from personal eco-friendly behaviors like going plastic-free and taking public transportations, academic research for more data on bushfires or deforestations, scientific innovations for renewable energy and waste management, silent advocacy for state laws or national policies behind closed doors, to community development intersecting with entrepreneurial principles. But I still believe we need to get everybody on board---which is done by public campaigns, like going on strikes.


This is the time for us to join forces, beyond flags and borders, beyond identities and cultures, we must all act in the same message: the best method to fight Climate Crisis is every method possible. We need all the help we can get, make the governments and the corporations listen to us, and finally choose people and planet over profits. Together, we shall overcome this crisis.


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About the Author

Margianta (@margianta) is a youth advocate with focus on development issues and youth participation. His concern with climate started when he was invited to a discussion held at Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior ship in 2013. Besides climate change, global health, Margianta has been engaged in human rights issues, particularly modern slavery. Margianta is also currently serving on UNFPA Youth Advisory Panel (@unfpayouthid) to promote youth participation in development, particularly on Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE).


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Office of the Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth supports all young people and their diversity in exercising their right to freedom of expression. Reach Not Preach platform serves as a safe space for all young people to share their take on the topic of climate change. The views expressed in the Reach Not Preach platform are those of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the view or policies of the United Nations Office of the Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth and the United Nations.