I spent the fall of 2017 in Barbados. I was there as an urban planning intern with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). It was there that I first began to understand the magnitude of climate change impacts.
At the UNDP, I was introduced to a project that focused on increasing accessibility to solar-powered public transportation for impoverished residents on the island. Throughout my work with a team dedicated to initiating locally-led development programs, one of my main tasks involved conducting surveys of Bajan locals to identify key environmental policy issues that needed to be addressed. On the surface level, I anticipated that this research project would help me gain a more holistic knowledge on climate change policies. What I did not expect was that my personal encounter with climate-affected individuals would wake me up to realize the bleak landscape of our humanity’s state, propelled by the absence of systemic change against the use of fossil fuels.
My few months in Barbados marked a new turning point in my life as I observed the daunting consequences of global warming in front of my eyes. As my survey project began, I travelled to different neighbourhoods and listened to stories of hundreds of individuals, including many young women and girls living in poverty and with trauma from gender-based violence. Despite their contribution to the resilience of the Bajan community, these women and girls faced day-to-day marginalization in their households and within the broader society.
Due to a clear division of labour between men and women in Bajan communities, most married women I interviewed were occupied in household activities, like childcare, washing, cooking, and cleaning. According to them, gendered division of labour often perpetuated their husbands’ view of women’s roles as inferior to men, which normalized sexism and even sexual assault on the grounds of gender identity. What made things even worse, was the utter lack of systemic initiatives for tackling such violations, especially pertaining to climate injustice and environmental degradation.
Systematic failures caused women to bear additional burdens from the aftermath of climate change in their communities. Faced with sporadic yet intense storms, the fragile infrastructure of chore-flooded homes were utterly destroyed. As a consequence, women had to stretch their limited domestic income to manage the household budget, simultaneously over-exerting themselves in the workforce to find alternative sources of income. With the rapid acceleration of atmospheric temperature, extreme heat also caused life-threatening heat strokes among older women who continued to work to support their families.
While reading news articles through my iPhone screen had previously been my sole window into the outside realities of climate change, my heart was shattered upon witnessing this stark contrast in the quality of life afforded to the women of Barbados and my privileged life in Canada. I came to understand that the climate problem is not only environmental and that suffering in the climate crisis is often exacerbated under systems of oppression. From there on, I finally identified myself with the millions of youth who have been marching endlessly for climate justice around the world.
Youth do not march simply because it’s fun to walk out of their classes. They do not march because they value their time standing outside more than their education. Youth march because there are children – just like them – on the other side of the planet, whose lives are at risk due to global warming. They march because nature is so beautiful, that they want to continue to marvel at the beauty of this home called Earth. They march in hopes of becoming a part of a stronger force in the world that fights against the misuse of power, the type of misuse that wipes away indigenous land rights, sovereignty, and dignity.
In October of 2018, I participated in my own climate walkout from McGill University, along with thousands of students in Montreal, to demand and urge for a stop to the age of fossil fuels.
And I continue to march today.
I march for my friends in Barbados, because I know that those living in small-island developing countries are always the most susceptible to the adverse impacts of climate change.
I march for my family in South Korea, as the fine dust and air pollution invading the entire nation continue to infringe upon their basic right to a healthy life.
I march for myself, for despite not being eligible to vote in Canada with my Korean citizenship, my voice can be heard alongside millions of other global citizens who eagerly desire for climate action by the government.
I march because I have hope that we can deconstruct and improve the discursive practices that affect the environmental decisions of our policymakers.
Civic engagement is one of the most far-reaching and necessary instruments for public transformation. This is why I have joined the youth movement and am advocating for future generations through climate protests. While many youth cannot vote, those who can, must. With this being said, Canada’s federal election is approaching on October 21, 2019. With clear climate science demonstrating that our global climate is warming up faster than at any period in the history of modern civilization, it is imperative that we vote. We need to earnestly advocate on behalf of our one and only Earth and elect a government that will take urgent action and implement meaningful environment and climate policy.
Have your voice heard. Make your vote count.