Cheltenham’s own Greta Thunberg and her battle for a greener future

For environmental science student Yolande Booyse, the turning point was hearing a 16-year-old girl fight for our planet.

That girl is Greta Thunberg who inspired Yolande to make her own mark in the climate change battle we are currently fighting.

Greta Thunberg (SWE) at the Annual Meeting 2019 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, January 25, 2019. Congress Cenre. Copyright by World Economic Forum / Valeriano Di Domenico

After hearing Greta’s speech at the United Nations climate change conference and her plea for a global climate strike, Yolande knew she had to help. “I definitely knew I wanted to be involved in [the strike] so I looked online to see if Cheltenham was getting involved and couldn’t find anything, so decided I could start that process”.

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Now she is the president of the Green Team society at the University of Gloucestershire and has brought several societies together, including the university’s sustainability team to fight for change.

The story of climate change is one that many people have struggled to tell convincingly for decades now. With scientific details becoming more horrific and prominent within the social media community, more people are beginning to not only listen, but believe. 

Yolande quoted Greta saying “change is coming whether you like it or not- and you can get ahead of the curve or get caught by the wave. And it’s a tsunami that’s coming”.

This is something that Yolande decided to take into her own hands, and began a partnership with Cheltenham’s Extinction Rebellion (XR) group.

“Through a link with another student, I came to a meeting with XR Cheltenham and asked them if they were planning to strike, so we combined forces and with the help of them we made the strike in Cheltenham a huge success and over 1000 people showed up”. 

This included Cheltenham’s Ladies College, MP Alex Chalk, the university’s Vice Chancellor and hundreds of Cheltenham’s citizens. 

She says this strike triggered and knock on effect with effort from students, young people and people in general really proving we all care about what happens to our environment.

“I study environmental science and I can see what the signs say, it’s not pretty, it’s time we stop taking a leisurely approach to climate change”.

This is not something that’s just happening on a local scale but on a global one, with Extinction Rebellion acting across the planet.

This is a non-violent protest group formed of people from across the country fighting for our environment. They grouped together in October 2018 and expected a couple hundred rebels to show up to their first protest. That hundred ended up being just over fifteen hundred rebels.

They are demanding three things…

  1. For the government to declare a climate emergency.
  2. For politicians to pledge to reduce emissions to zero by 2025.
  3. And they are calling for a citizen’s assembly ‘asking for people from different communities to discuss climate action’.

What does this mean for Cheltenham? It is known for being rural, open and surrounded by forests. But its climate is actually worse off than some London Boroughs. Friends of the Earth calculated the climate score of towns and counties all over the UK. Cheltenham scored a total of 64%, which was 20% worse off than London’s Camden town.

With Cheltenham’s climate at a lower standard than a busy city borough, a lot needs to be done if this climate catastrophe is to be averted.

This is where XR have acted, including gluing themselves to trains, blocking traffic and in one case delaying flights at Heathrow airport. On a smaller scale, the Cheltenham based group protested at the literature festival to get the word out.

However, they are yet to majorly affect government legislation.

Yolande says “this is not a third world country problem, this is not just a coastal problem, this is not just an American problem, this is everyone’s problem because it will have a knock-on effect for all of us”.

Not only can change happen from the top down, but also from the bottom up. Whether this includes walking or cycling to work, using refillable water bottles or protesting for change. The new normal needs to be an environmentally friendly way of living. 

Something Yolande and hundreds of others are doing now for Cheltenham 2020.

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