‘When adults fail, we need to take action,’ says activist
Barçın Yinanç - ISTANBUL
As adults seem to have failed in putting enough pressure on governments about climate crisis, children and youngsters have taken over the job of ringing alarm bells about the urgency of climate change, according to high school student Selin Gören. “After all, it will be us who will have to clean in the future the mess of the damage that is being done today,” said Gören, a climate activist who is organizing high school students to join the climate strike that will take place on Sept. 20.
How would you introduce yourself besides being a high school student?
I am a climate activist with Fridays for Future Turkey. This initiative started last March; I joined them in June. It was started by a junior high school student, Atlas Sarrafoğlu, and we are joining hands with him.
If I were to tell my parents when I was at your age that I am an activist, they might have been concerned. How was it with you? Activism does not always have a positive connotation especially in our country.
The first time I said to my parents that I will be joining the strikes that scared them, too. ‘Will you go on strike in Turkey?’ they asked. But as this is rather being done by children and youngsters, we have not come across any danger. We are not particularly concerned because it is about the climate crisis; we are not giving any political messages. Obviously, as an activist, we are standing against the current order in terms of climate issues, but we do believe this is a necessary stance.
How did you become a climate activist?
I was following (Swedish student) Greta Thunberg, and I have come across her on YouTube. But I was already aware of the problem of climate change. My father is a big fan of Open Radio (whose founder is one of Turkey’s most renowned climate activists). Ever since my childhood, we listen to Open Radio in the car.
How did the strikes start?
Just as I started following Greta, Atlas called for the (first) strike in Bebek Park. I was not there at that first strike, as I did not know about it. I started to follow it (the initiative). It was only among the junior high students; senior highs were not involved. All of the 800 or so participants were junior high students. So I wrote to the social media account of Fridays for Future, and then they invited me to their next meeting. There I met Atlas and I started to organize the high schools; so we sort of made a division of labor.
How are you trying to organize the high schools?
We are currently preparing for the strike on September 20. We are mostly in touch with high schools in İstanbul, but we are also in touch with schools in eight other cities. Among them are Ankara, İzmir, Malatya, Bodrum, Bursa and Konya. We are currently 70 in our WhatsApp group, each representing one high school.
How did you build that network?
I first started with my own school, and as I was going to a summer school at a university, I also started to get in touch with students that came to the summer school. I brought along my high school (Robert College) to the strike on May 24. There were two more - Kabataş High School and the Getronagan Armenian high school. Later, people started to get in touch with us through our social media accounts. Currently, of the 70 high schools involved, we are expecting 50 or so to participate in the rally in KadIköy.
Tell us why have you become a climate activist?
From childhood we are told certain things: shut the electricity when you go out, don’t use too much water, etc. But these efforts remain on a very small scale. Currently, we are faced with a situation that cannot be solved just by individual efforts. It requires systemic changes. I realized that it is impossible to solve it by just individual efforts and that we had to put pressure on the decision makers.
Obviously, we, the young people, can change our lifestyles and become aware of our responsibilities, but we need the intervention of the decision makers.
How do you define the problem of climate change?
It’s like the iceberg that was not seen in the movie, Titanic. Actually, it (this problem) stands right in front of us, but we tend not to see it. It is not something incomprehensible. If we do not act now, the reports of IPCC (Intergovernmental panel on climate change) says big disasters are awaiting us in 11 years’ time, in 2030. If we do not act until 2030, taking action afterwards won’t serve anything, according to scientists from IPCC. What we need is zero carbon emission. I know that this is very difficult to accomplish especially in the present conditions. The life standards of people are not suitable for zero carbon emission; there is tremendous carbon emission when we take a car or plane. But we need actually the governments, the decision makers to aim for zero carbon emissions. That’s what the Paris agreement wants, but that agreement is not in force in Turkey.
Do you personally feel the consequences of climate change in your own life?
I think we do not directly feel the effects in our own lives, but we see them in our surroundings. Forest fires took place in Turkey at the same time with fires in the Amazon. I have, for instance, not personally experienced a flood disaster, but we see them happening. We increasingly see natural disasters taking place in Turkey.
How is the reaction around you, from your friends, teachers?
As people are not aware of the urgency, they say, ‘We’ll deal with it 11 years later.’ At the beginning, my teachers have not shown a particular support. But now, they are much more supportive. As they saw the influence of climate strikes upon governments, my teachers, including the school principal, have started to support me. Obviously, some among my friends were doubtful; they asked, ‘What can you accomplish with these strikes?’ I tried to explain them the best I can.
Indeed, do you think you can get some outcome?
We have big aims, but we start with smaller ones. We are trying to reach out to local municipalities; some among them have heard our voice.
Our biggest aim is obviously for the Paris climate agreement to pass from the parliament. We will continue trying. We are not like Pollyanna. We know we cannot see change with one or two climate strikes. But even if we were to see some changes in the municipalities or schools, that is even an accomplishment.
Why do you think youngsters have started to take center stage in climate activism?
It seems others have not succeeded in reaching out to decision makers. I guess it should not have been the job of young people. Those who should have been their job to do it, should have done it, but it seems they have failed. After all, this is our future, and it is going to fall upon our shoulders. In other words, it will be us who will have to clean in the future the mess of the damage that is being done today. That’s why we are making a call for our own future. But on Sept. 20 adults are also invited, including our teachers.