Today, the name of the teen climate activist Greta Thunberg is recognized worldwide, but just over a year ago, she was protesting alone. Greta-inspired Fridays for Future are now held in many countries. In August, the initiative reached Kaunas as well; it also exists in Vilnius and Klaipėda. Justė Vyšniauskaitė spoke with Elzė Drūlytė, founder of Fridays for Future Kaunas, about the organization, its goals and youth activism, for Kaunas Full of Culture magazine.
Can you tell us briefly what type of organization Fridays for Future is? Why did it emerge and how the community of Kaunas’ climate activists got established under the flag of this initiative?
It all started in August 2018, when Greta Thunberg held her first protest in front of the Swedish Parliament. For three weeks, to urge politicians to look at the threats of climate change, she held a rally every day and later chose only one day, which happened to be Friday. The movement quickly spread across Sweden then moving to Europe and North America, and since spring 2019, initiatives have begun to pop up in Africa, Asia, and South America. The German climate activist community is particularly active today.
When I returned to Kaunas after spending half a year in Budapest, where I was an active participant in Fridays for Future protests, I felt like the initiative and youth’s active interest in climate was really lacking and that is why I decided to organize this movement here. At the time, I just thought – who else if not me? And drawing from the Vilnius’ community, I held the first protest on August 2.
Why do you think the voice of Greta Thunberg has become an incentive for young people to become more interested in climate change and its threats?
I think she just impressed with her determination and courage. People are also affected by her simplicity. Greta’s example shows that you don’t have to be very big and influential or even an adult to be able to change something.
What is the primary goal of Fridays for Future Kaunas’ community?
I believe that to combat the climate crisis, national politics – both in Lithuania and abroad – need to undergo systemic changes. Based on global examples, we have compiled a list of requirements to make the climate crisis a priority in the country’s politics, economy, education, and media. We want greenhouse gas neutrality to be achieved by 2030 and for governments to take every effort to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees compared to the pre-industrial times. These figures are outlined in the IPCC document, which must be implemented to prevent the irreversible start of climate crisis catastrophe. One of the most important requirements is that state decisions must be based on the latest scientific research. Similarly, responsibility for combating climate change should be allocated in proportion to the damage caused, with the biggest polluters taking the most responsibility.
A common form of your activity is a protest. What exactly is your protest against? Do you want to reach politicians or citizens who are sensitive to the issue?
Our main goal is to reach out to politicians and engage in dialogue with them. It is they who should understand and evaluate the climate crisis as a primary question in the country’s politics before sufficient changes can be made. At the same time, however, protest takes place in public spaces and can serve as a way to raise awareness of the problem among various people. Everything is connected – if the citizens will understand the importance of the problem and will seek change that would be implemented in the country’s politics, then the authorities will have to listen to the majority’s opinion.
What have Fridays for Future Kaunas section already done?
Our movement is still very young, born in August last year. During these few months, we held three protests against the climate crisis to highlight the importance of the problem and show Kaunas that there are active people here. Also, on September 20 – 27, we organized a series of events called Week for Climate. During the event, we hosted a procession that stretched from Kaunas City Hall to the historic presidential courtyard, we also joined the River Cleanup Lithuania initiative and organized Panemunė Forest cleanup. September 23, when the United Nations meeting took place in New York to address the climate change strategy, was a particularly important day. That day we held a “mass dying”, during which the participants lay on the ground as if dead. In doing so, we wanted to emphasize that decisions made that day can cost human and many other kinds of lives. Another protest Open My Eyes was focused on the role of the media and education system in the context of the climate crisis. With this protest, we wanted to show that the climate crisis is not sufficiently discussed, actualized and addressed both in the media and in schools. During the Car-Free Day, we greeted the drivers with posters near the busiest roads that get the fullest during the rush hour. In the posters, we provided information on how cars are polluting the environment. The closing event of the Week for Climate was the March for the Future in Vilnius, attended by all three Fridays for Future communities: Kaunas, Vilnius, and Klaipėda.
I want to emphasize that all our protests are peaceful. We do not show or want to promote anger, but we do our best to spread information and try to reach as many people as possible. I think one of the most pressing problems in Lithuania is the fact that not enough people know and understand how significant and real the threat of the climate crisis is.
What reactions do you get from the people around you during protests?
Very diverse ones. Some people support and encourage and are happy about the youth’s activism, and sometimes they even thank us for finally starting to talk about the topic publicly. Of course, there are sceptics and people who are dissatisfied with protests. Some say that climate change does not exist, that it is nonsense. Others think that climate warming up is a natural process which is beyond human control – often comparing the current situation to that of dinosaurs and ice age. Yet others agree that the climate crisis exists and is driven by human activity, but do not believe that something can be changed, or even believe that nothing needs to be changed because the extinction of humanity is a natural part of evolution.
Not everyone wants to hear the voices of protesters, but it is understandable in part, after all, we are only simple people. If politicians or other celebrities spoke more about climate change, the problem would become more real, closer and more relevant to society. However, I hope that our movement can help spread the message, and the more people are concerned about climate change, the sooner we can achieve results.
You mentioned that the fight against climate change requires systemic changes in the politics of the world and that the voice of the ordinary people is often not heard. What drives you to disregard all these obstacles and not give up?
I think we just have no choice. Protesting and talking about the problem seems to be the only way out. We don’t believe that change is impossible and refuse to accept the consequences of the situation. Efforts to address the situation can still be made, but the country’s leaders need to recognize climate change as an important issue and to devote time, attention and resources to solve it. Several hundred cities around the world have already declared a state of emergency regarding climate change and are actively seeking solutions and working on informing the public. These actions help people understand that something serious and threatening is happening in the world. Such examples give hope and encourage struggle.
Are there any initiatives in Lithuania striving to combat climate change that you would consider necessary, progressive and sort of a role model?
As far as I know, there are no organizations specifically dedicated to combating climate change, except Fridays for Future. However, many important initiatives partly contribute to climate change mitigation. One of them – Gyvas miškas (Living forest) – actively takes care of the protection of Lithuanian forests. Another organization worth mentioning is Kūrybos kampas 360 (Creativity angle 360) located in Kaunas. This initiative works with the education of children and families, emphasizes minimalism, and strives to reduce consumerism. The River Cleanup idea, which organizes the practical environmental cleanup has recently reached Lithuania. Socially-responsible business Textale, which promotes sustainable fashion and makes clothes from second-hand fabrics, is also eco-friendly. In the field of information dissemination, the users of Instagram are doing a good job, and one of them – Žalia žinutė (Green message) – has recently created an entire website. The page provides information on sources about climate change and ways to combat it. Website eco-logika.lt also provides information and advice. Finally, Išpakuota (Unpacked) initiative produces great podcasts on climate change and ecology.
How can everyone contribute to the mitigation of climate change?
The most important thing an average consumer can do is to spread the message about climate issues. This can take place at the simplest level in the household – after reading useful information, it should be passed on to a friend, mom, dad, grandmother and other people around. If there is a wish to combat the issue more actively, one can join the climate activists’ community. Finally, climate-friendly personal habits will undoubtedly be beneficial. Each of us can try to consume less meat, buy less new things, instead of throwing out the unnecessary items – give them away, buy Lithuanian products instead of imported goods from faraway lands, to avoid single-use plastic, opt for public transport instead of cars and fly as little as possible.