Young people and the climate change crisis: an interview with Ifeyinwa, The People Plan’s for Nature
The clock is ticking, and it’s not hyperbole anymore. We are experiencing the devastating repercussions of climate change, from heat waves to flash floods. For a crisis that impacts everyone and disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable communities, the climate change crisis is still frustratingly framed as a problem for the future. The People’s Plan for Nature is working to change that by calling for “urgent, immediate action to protect and fundamentally change how we value nature.” This initiative, or roadmap, was taken by citizens from England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. It aimed to kickstart national conversation about what nature means to different people and methods to protect it. The People’s Assembly for Nature was then brought together as a diverse set of people with the goal of learning more about the UK’s nature crisis and discuss recommendations to tackle it.
I had the opportunity to interview Ifeyinwa, a 20-year-old Psychology student at Aberystwyth University and member of the People’s Assembly for Nature. Originally from Nigeria, she has always been “interested in being outdoors.” She had a small farm in her compound in Nigeria and didn’t realise “how much she liked her farm ‘til she missed it when she moved to the UK five years ago.”
We learnt how to commit to change by changing our lifestyles as individuals and involving different communities”
Intrigued by her passion for the outdoors, I asked her about her personal motivations for joining the People’s Plan for Nature and if any specific environmental concerns led her to become involved. Ifeyinwa explained: “I am not into technicalities. I felt like I wasn’t doing enough. I was enjoying all these outdoor activities, such as climbing and canoeing, but not contributing enough. The People’s Plan for Nature provided an opportunity to learn.”
I asked her: “As a member of the People’s Assembly for Nature, what were your main takeaways?” She said that the People’s Assembly involved a lot of discussion. She elaborated: “We learnt how to commit to change by changing our lifestyles as individuals and involving different communities.” In addition to learning about biodiversity and pollution more tangibly through the use of statistical facts, she learnt about practical ways to save food through the People’s Assembly with “apps such as Olio and Too Good to Go.”
When asked about how she thinks the People’s Assembly will impact local communities and the environment, she highlighted how the discussions revolved around individual actions but also emphasised involving “NGOs, government, and policymakers.” She said: “We spoke about what we should do to protect nature, the policies that should be discussed by the government and corporations.” She also mentioned the role of intermediaries such as “scientists and research people”, who could bridge the information gap between the public, government, and non-profits.
She believes in the role of incentives in encouraging people rather than “forcing people” to make environmentally conscious choices
I was curious to know if she was the only student who took part in the discussion and wanted to ascertain the diverse perspectives presented. Ifeyinwa said: “Young people were involved heavily in the discussions. There were different demographics in each group. However, at the end of the day, we all spoke about the same thing – the importance of diversity in the outdoors. Nature being there for us, and our responsibility to protect it. We also spoke about farming and the types of farming that are more profitable.”
When I asked her about the challenges she has faced in her role as an environmental activist, she was quick to point out: “I don’t think of myself as an activist. I have a passion for nature, which makes me more conscious of my individual actions. I am pro-choice, i.e. people should be able to make their own choices.” She believes in the role of incentives in encouraging people rather than “forcing people” to make environmentally conscious choices.
When asked if she would like to be involved with the People’s Plan for Nature in the future, she said: “Yes, if there is an opportunity that arises and fits into my schedule, I will take it.”
People are activists because they are passionate about it
Environmentalism and climate advocacy can take many forms. I asked Ifeyinwa: “How do you think your background in psychology informs your approach to addressing environmental challenges on these issues?” She emphasised the connection between psychology and nature. She quipped: “I have spent more time being in nature than the time I have spent studying psychology.” “Psychology draws on the connection with people, and it’s important to let people know that they are doing it for themselves. There is strength in the people and strength in numbers. It’s important to allow people to express different experiences to change different stereotypes and allow access to nature for different communities.”
As a young person, I wanted to know her perspective on the role of youth in addressing the nature crisis. She reiterated that she was pro-choice and that people should act according to their beliefs. She advised: “Find a way to understand why nature is important to you. People are activists because they are passionate about it. Find a thing you love, something that you want to protect.” She spoke about the ecological system to highlight how everything is interconnected. She continued: “Voting is the power of the people. Don’t underestimate the power of social media and TikTok.”
I probed her more about leveraging social media for climate change advocacy. She said: “My big thing (on social media) is diversity and inclusion in the outdoors and nature.” She gave an example of a vlog she created for She Climbs, where she spoke about girls not participating in outdoor activities because of period discomfort or the fear that their nails and hair will be ruined. As a black woman, she said that even getting her hair ready for events is hard. In her vlog, she highlighted how she climbed with her long nails, which she didn’t trim but wrapped to be able to climb. She continued: “People said the vlog was useful. I have seen the impact of social media myself.”
Generations have changed, but there are like-minded individuals who we can connect to
Given that young people advocating for tackling the climate change crisis are often portrayed as upset or angry about lengthy deliberations and the lack of action, I asked her: “What are your thoughts about the dichotomy that takes place in terms of slower-paced environmental negotiations and deliberations in summits versus the demand for fast-paced action through protests? She simply said: “I think I am not in the position to answer the question”, perhaps underlining the lack of tangible action arising from these deliberations.
I then asked her: “How do you envision bridging the gap between different generations and communities when it comes to protecting nature and addressing the environmental crisis?” She said that the thing with People’s Plan for Nature was that there were different demographics on each table. She said: “Generations have changed, but there are like-minded individuals who we can connect to. The information is the same but passed in different ways.” She emphasised the importance of involving everyone by saying: “different people should be able to share ideas, and no one is left behind.”
Throughout the interview, Ifeyinwa highlighted the importance of “representation of people across different communities, age, race, and gender” in climate change action. For tackling the climate change crisis and protecting nature, an issue that impacts everyone, it’s important to have initiatives such as the People’s Plan for Nature, which include diverse perspectives to initiate change. As Ifeyinwa mentioned: “If you are thinking of future generations, involve them. If you are thinking about inclusivity, involve a diverse set of people.”