The theme of Brighton’s International Women’s Day this year is Women and the Climate Emergency. It seems only right to sit down with the woman who’s just been re-elected as our very own Green MP, with more than 30 years of experience fighting climate change.
So, why is it so important to address both gender equality and the climate emergency at the same time? “The bottom line is that climate change doesn’t affect everybody equally,” explains Caroline Lucas MP, “there is plenty of evidence to suggest that women are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis.
“You only need to look at the evidence from many countries in the global south where we can see that people who are poorer are the ones who are least able to move away from areas where flooding or other kinds of climate disasters are more likely. And if you look at who makes up the poorest people, then again women are disproportionately represented according to the UN.”
But women aren’t just victims of climate change. There are many women, like Lucas, who are at the forefront of the climate movement and she is enthusiastic in describing all their achievements. Lucas particularly sings the praises of Indian scholar, environmental activist, food sovereignty advocate and anti-globalization author, Vandana Shiva. “Just the clarity that she brings to that debate, she’s a wonderful grassroots activist, but she’s also the most articulate, eloquent, fighter for justice and you could put her up against anyone in an argument and she would win it, because she has such a grasp of detail and such a passionate way of expressing it. Whether you’re reading what she’s written or you’re watching videos of her, or if you’re lucky enough to actually to be seeing her speak, she is just one of the most powerful people who influenced me for sure.”
And Vandana Shiva is not alone in Lucas’ admiration. If nothing else, the long list of women she mentions who are involved in the climate movement show her advocacy and celebration of women. She talks about Berta Cáceres, the Honduran human rights and environmental activist who was murdered in 2016 for her activism against the extractive industries, the anti-fracking Nanas, and the women who fought against the South Dakota Pipeline.
It’s worth noting that these women have diverse backgrounds and Lucas doesn’t shy away from reminding us that it’s easier for some than others. “I think sometimes if you’re in the UK, in Brighton, activism can seem like a luxury, whereas for so many communities, and so many women within those communities, activism is literally a matter of life and death. It requires huge courage to play that activist role, and I think that just increases my admiration for so much of that activism across the world.”
Nonetheless it is one of the founders of the German Green Party that Lucas credits with inspiring her to get more involved with the green movement. “Petra Kelly was one of the founders of the German Green Party, until she was killed just over 20 years ago at the age of 45. I have this photo of her when she entered the German parliament wearing her jeans and just carrying armfuls of sunflowers and there was just this image of life coming into a parliament that was pretty grey and dominated by men wearing their suits and so forth and she was bringing life into traditional politics.” Lucas has said before that she often walks past the scarf of suffragette, Emily Wilding Davison, in the Houses of Parliament to remind herself of how she is able to be there at all as a woman. When I asked her what women of the climate movement inspire her, I was surprised to hear her speak of the younger generation, rather than those who’s legacy is already set in history.
Not only does Lucas highlight Greta Thunberg, she stresses the impact of the young women who led the youth climate strikes, because: “there is nothing more compelling really than a young person telling the older generation that we’ve screwed up their future. And we have.”
It is clear Lucas places justice at the core of the climate movement. It’s not just justice for those who are disproportionately suffering because of poverty, or those suffering because of their gender, it’s also intergenerational justice, for the youth who need to resolve this crisis as it becomes more and more critical.
Although we are talking more about the climate than ever before, it’s the gap between the promises and reality which Lucas feels needs to be tackled next. On this issue Lucas’ passion is clear, and she speaks with obvious frustration.
Already, she explains, young politicians are making a huge impact. Councillor Amy Heley of Preston Park recently passed a motion for a report to be made on the feasibility of having a city centre without private cars in Brighton. Alex Phillips, who last year became the youngest ever Mayor of Brighton and Hove, set up a Green New Deal Intergroup in the European Parliament during the last year she spent as our MEP. “We desperately need some good, feisty young women in politics right now. It’s young people’s futures that are most at stake, so if ever we’ve needed young people to be real decision makers in what’s happening over the coming months and years then it’s now, and it’s more vital than ever before that young people have that voice.”
Brighton Peace and Environment Centre is a community education charity. It delivers projects which teach and tackle issues of peace and the environment, inspiring action through learning about the world. Find out more at www.bpec.org