IF THE pandemic helped more people connect with nature, now is the time to turn reflection into action.
That is the plea from Holly Gillibrand, climate change school striker, environmental activist and Glasgow Times Young Scotswoman of the Year 2019, as we launch our search for her successor.
“I think people did have more time during lockdown to discover nature and think about how they live their lives and that is good,” says the 15-year-old.
“But what Covid also did was expose the deep inequalities which have existed in our society for a long time. Change has to start with the governments, we need to have politicians who have an appetite for change, rather than just wanting to prop up the status quo. It’s not enough to care about it, we have to take action and do something about it.”
These are hard-hitting, forceful words from a teenager unafraid to stand up for the cause she has campaigned tirelessly for since 2018. But Holly, from Fort William, has never been afraid to mince her words on a subject about which she cares deeply.
Even the pandemic has not stopped her campaigning this year.
In August, she supported TV presenter Chris Packham in a national campaign aimed at ending wildlife crime; in November, she joined fellow youth activists for a special Q&A with COP President Alok Sharma, ahead of its big Glasgow conference next year; she continues her role as a youth advisor and ‘future voice’ for charity Heal Rewilding, which aims to return more land to nature in the fight against climate change; and this week marks her 96th school strike climate change protest.
She was recently named on the BBC Woman’s Hour Power List – at 15, the youngest of 30 women from across the UK.
“It is mind blowing to have been included on this list alongside so many passionate and inspiring women,” she tweeted afterwards.
Passionate and inspiring sums up Holly, who has become one of the most prominent UK figures in the Fridays For Future school strikes movement. Described by some as ‘Scotland’s Greta Thunberg’ after the Swedish teenager who started the school strike movement, she says winning Young SWOTY was a ‘surreal’ experience.
“You feel grateful and excited because it can help you reach a whole new audience, but also a bit guilty, because so many other people are doing much more than you are,” she says.
Holly began campaigning when she was 13, because she became aware, she says, of the increasing threats to the nature she loved. She is watching closely preparations for COP26, the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference which will take place in Glasgow next November.
“Yes, I am excited, but I’m also feeling a but cynical because we have had 25 of these conferences and little has changed,” she says. “It’s really important that young activists get involved now and make their voices heard.
“My message to young people is – please join us. It’s not enough just to care now, you have to get involved.”
Nominate your heroes for Young SWOTY and SWOTY by completing the online submission form at newsquestscotlandevents.com/events/swoty/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org by January 29.