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Climate Strike: Mikaela Loach on How Capitalism, Colonialism & Imperialism Fuel Climate Crisis

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Climate activists, led by Fridays for Future, are holding a global climate strike today to pressure world leaders to do more to address the crisis. We speak to Mikaela Loach, who has helped lead the fight against developing the Cambo oil field off the coast of Scotland and who describes the importance of seeing antiracism and climate activism as linked. “We’re in this crisis because fossil fuels and nature have been completely extracted and destroyed to make profit and to continue expansion of economies, in the Global North in particular,” says Loach.

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Climate strike. That’s the cry of youth climate activists today to urge world leaders to do more to confront the climate emergency. This comes as a third of Pakistan is underwater, severe drought in the Horn of Africa has brought Somalia to the brink of famine, and Puerto Rico remains largely without power after a devastating hurricane.

Earlier this week, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres blasted fossil fuel companies for their role in the climate emergency.

SECRETARY-GENERAL ANTÓNIO GUTERRES: The fossil fuel industry is feasting on hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies and windfall profits, while households’ budgets shrink and our planet burns. Excellencies, let’s tell it like it is: Our world is addicted to fossil fuels, and it’s time for an intervention. We need to hold fossil fuel companies and their enablers to account.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by Mikaela Loach, leading youth climate activist taking part in today’s climate strike, one of three claimants who took the U.K. government to court for giving taxpayers’ money to oil and gas companies. She also has helped lead the fight against the Cambo oil field off the coast of Scotland. Mikaela was born in Jamaica, grew up in Britain, is a medical student at the University of Edinburgh and co-host of The Yikes Podcast. She is joining us today from New York in the midst of this Climate Week.

Mikaela, welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. If you can start off by talking about the significance of this climate strike today?

MIKAELA LOACH: Yeah. Thank you so much, Amy, for having me here.

Today, the climate strike, especially in New York, is very significant because we’ve just had Climate Week New York, we’ve just had the U.N. General Assembly happening this week, and, as kind of usual, there hasn’t been enough happening. There have been a lot of incredible things that have happened, like, for example, President Gustavo Petro of Colombia gave an incredible address on the floor of the U.N., really calling out how much kind of Global North nations are still inflicting imperialism and control over Global South nations. And also we saw Vanuatu be first nation-state to call on the floor of the U.N. for an international fossil fuel treaty to be signed. So, that means a treaty that would mean that all countries would be signing it and saying they don’t want to have more fossil fuels. So those kind of things are really important, and I think that the strike can be a pressure from the outside. I struggle with a lot of the U.N. stuff because of how much it can be very, like, reformist and not really be going to the roots of the problems that exist. And that’s why I think these kind of strikes and this pressure can maybe shift things a bit more.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about your lawsuit against the U.K. government.

MIKAELA LOACH: Yeah. So, the U.K. government previously — so now they’ve recently changed the kind of tax regime there a little bit, but previously the North Sea, which is just off the coast of Scotland, was the most profitable place in the world to extract oil and gas. And that’s because the government made this deliberately really profitable tax regime where basically oil and gas companies were being paid to pollute. So, they were being given huge amounts of money from the public funds to promoting and polluting. They weren’t paying any tax. Companies like Shell and BP didn’t pay any tax for multiple years on their operations there. They were actually being paid more money than they were paying. It was kind of ridiculous. And so, we took the U.K. government to court around that, around this regime, the fact that — yeah, the fact that they’ve made it so profitable for these companies.

AMY GOODMAN: Shell announced it was scrapping plans for Cambo in December of 2021. You were one of the leaders of the protest. And I was wondering if you could explain what that is, but today’s headline on the website Energy Voice says, “Government to fast track five North Sea oil and gas fields, including Cambo and Murlach.”

MIKAELA LOACH: Yeah. So, basically — that was last year — we found out that the Cambo oil field was being set for approval. Cambo was a ginormous — well, still is a ginormous oil field, thankfully has not been extracted from yet. And at the time, it was going to be approved in the next couple months. And kind of in the U.K. when oil fields like this have come up, and there hadn’t really been that much resistance to them — and what we did is we formed this huge campaign. It was like not just myself, like a bunch of wonderful people who came together to resist this field, because it was so massive and would have such an impact. We managed to stop it from being approved. Shell dropped out, which was a historic feat for a campaign.

But you’re right that now what’s happening is that the new prime minister of the U.K., Liz Truss, previously worked for Shell, and she is now trying to push even more oil and gas fields through, like she’s trying to bring Cambo back, but also, kind of even more worryingly than Cambo is Rosebank, is this new oil field that is the biggest one in the North Sea. And if it was extracted from, the emissions from this field alone would be more than every low-income country combined, just from one field. And the new kind of administration in the U.K. are trying to push through all of these fields, and we really have to stop them. And that’s why a coalition of groups have been coming together to try and kind of take it from every angle and show that we cannot have any new fossil fuels, if we want to live for future.

AMY GOODMAN: But it is truly amazing. I mean, this is one of the most powerful not just oil companies, but companies in the world, Shell. Do you feel it was your protests, the protests of so many, that stopped them in their tracks last December?

MIKAELA LOACH: For sure. I mean, even in, like, industry articles, like oil and gas industry articles, they were writing, saying that it was because of public pressure and protest, which is what caused them to have to drop out, because it actually made developing Cambo not financially viable because of how many different, like, insurers were dropping out, about how much protest there was, about how much disruption there had been. There were so many different tactics that were used. We tried to have like a concerted media campaign, but also there was direct action, like we occupied the U.K. government building. Greenpeace activists actually blocked — used kayaks to block the port where they were trying to go out and start the extraction. It was a ton of different — and we also challenged Shell’s CEO at TED Countdown’s event. We really tried to get them at every angle to make it the — it would just be too much of a nuisance for them to try and do this. And that’s why I think that we can be so powerful as people when we come together and put that pressure on. And Cambo was an example of that public pressure really causing a huge change.

AMY GOODMAN: A new report finds there are now over 215,000 individuals worldwide who are worth more than $50 million. That’s an increase of 46,000 people over the past year. That’s according to bank Credit Suisse. Mikaela Loach, you recently spoke at the Gates Foundation’s annual event, where you surprised many in the audience by saying, “I think billionaires shouldn’t exist,” and “I think the climate crisis was caused by capitalism.” Elaborate.

MIKAELA LOACH: Yeah, it was a big decision to even go into that space. I usually avoid these spaces, because I don’t agree with them. I don’t believe that billionaire philanthrocapitalism will save us. So, the idea that the same people who caused this crisis should be in charge of the solutions just doesn’t make sense to me. And I think that what it means is that these people will only choose solutions that allow their companies to continue to profit and extract and continue capitalism — and allow capitalism to continue, which has got us into this mess, so I don’t think it can solve it.

But I decided to kind of go into the discomfort of that space to challenge it, because these spaces rarely get challenged. People think that Bill Gates is great because he donates a ton of his money or has a foundation. But how much is him having that control having actually maybe a negative impact on our, like, collective liberation and the paths that we’re taking? So I decided to come into that space and challenge that.

And people gasped. I think people were quite shocked that there was someone who was actually kind of speaking that truth to power. I mean, there were like Secret Service agents everywhere protecting Gates. But it was — I think it was a really impactful moment. And the amount of people that came up to me afterwards, actually, and spoke to me and said that they had been thinking these things but haven’t been able to say them because their work is reliant on funding from the foundation, made me feel like it was the right thing to do in the end.

AMY GOODMAN: If you can talk more about your activism and your intersectional approach to everything, from climate to — well, as you put it, the climate crisis intersects with various oppressive systems, such as white supremacy, racism, migrant injustice and the refugee crisis. As you’ve said, it’s not a refugee crisis, it’s a crisis of empathy. Link all these different issues, Mikaela.

MIKAELA LOACH: Yeah, for sure. I think if we look back at how this climate crisis started, so we’re in this crisis because fossil fuels and nature have been completely extracted and destroyed to make profit and to kind of continue expansion of economies, in the Global North in particular. And this kind of — this process of extracting from the Earth and this process of, like, imperialism and colonialism started with the colonial projects that began. BP’s original — British Petroleum’s original name was actually the First Exploitation Company. Shell were also involved with British colonialism inherently, when actually the U.K. sold Nigeria to Shell back many years ago and then began their exploitation there. So, it is inherently connected to white supremacy, to colonialism, to capitalism, to all these systems.

And therefore, if we’re going to tackle this crisis, we have to tackle these root causes; otherwise, we’ll just be replicating the same oppressive systems, but maybe they’ll look a bit green, but it won’t actually have solved the real problem. I think as a medic, as well, I see it as we don’t want to just put a Band-Aid on it. We don’t just want to be treating the symptoms. We have to treat the kind of real thing that’s causing the illness in the first place. And so, what we need to do is, yeah, [inaudible] go to those root systems and realize that actually, for me, that gives a lot of hope, because it’s like if — if the climate crisis is caused by all of these systems, then, to tackle it, we have to treat these systems, and therefore, we can actually create a better world for all of us. It’s not just about stopping complete disaster. It could also be about building things and building a better world for all of us, which I think could be really hopeful.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you feel like you’re winning?

MIKAELA LOACH: I think we are. Well, I have to believe that. I don’t know how much — I don’t even know if that’s true, but I have to believe that we’re winning, because more and more people are rising up. I think I look especially at Latin America, and I was living in Colombia during the election of Francia Márquez and Gustavo Petro. And Francia Márquez is someone who I have respected for so long and whose climate activism is incredible. And that election was won by the people. It was won by grassroots campaigns. And it shows if Colombia can, like, overthrow elitist rule, 200 years’ elitist rule, then think about what all of us can do if we realize our own power and we come together. And I think more and more people are realizing that. And more oil fields are being stopped. More pipelines are being blocked. And I think that we can win, but it will require all of us to come together and actually — and take that into our own hands.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, in 2020, Forbes, Global Citizen and BCC Woman’s Hour named you one of the most influential women in the U.K. climate movement. Explain who influenced you most and who inspires you today.

MIKAELA LOACH: Whoo. I think that I’m really inspired by Angela Davis’s work and the abolitionists and Audre Lorde, so people who maybe you wouldn’t see as “climate people” as such. But I think the abolitionists’ work is what has really moved me to be where I am today and doing the work that I’m doing today. This idea that we should — not idea, this reality that we should challenge absolutely everything, and not only be taking things down, but building things, too, has really inspired my work and inspired what I do. And I try and hold kind of those people, and also Nanny of the Maroons in Jamaica, who was a freedom fighter there — I try and hold them in my heart as I’m doing the work that I’m doing, and remind myself, like, “What would they do? And how can I challenge things more?”

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you so much, Mikaela Loach, for joining us, climate justice activist, co-host of The Yikes Podcast, among many other things. Thank you so much.

MIKAELA LOACH: Thank you. Thank you so much.

AMY GOODMAN: Next up, Model America. We look at a new MSNBC documentary series reexamining the killing of Phillip Pannell, a 16-year-old Black teenager shot dead by a white police officer in the suburb of Teaneck, New Jersey, in 1990, more than 30 years ago, and the lessons it has for today. Stay with us.

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Next story from this daily show

“Model America”: Family of Phillip Pannell, Killed by White NJ Cop in ’90, Still Struggles for Justice

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