Guest blog from Earth Charter Youth: A letter to a friend

Guest blog from Ayla van Kessel, Earth Charter Youth, Netherlands

In anticipation of the Climate Summit COP21 taking place in Paris this December, Earth Charter youth member Ayla van Kessel travelled to Brussels. There, around 100 people passionate to contribute to climate justice met to talk about ideas for different projects. What can Earth Charter values bring to an event around climate activism and direct action? By way of this blog, Ayla reflects on her contributions to the gathering. And how she sees theories of transition and holism apply in the practice of systemic change for climate justice.

Ayla studied Economics for Transition (2013/14) at Schumacher College, international centre offering transformative learning for sustainable living. Her favourite Earth Charter phrase: It starts with one.

A letter to a friend

2 February 2015


In the bus back home, from Brussels to Amsterdam, I take a moment to reflect on the experience we shared these past few days. All weekend, I thought I was not an activist of direct action. I think I found out I am. My direct action is the action of writing this letter to you. I have seen a change of your personality at the cost of your peace of mind, and this change concerns me. More than climate change concerns me. I decided to take a moment to write to you because to the extent you are worried for the future of our climate and humanity, I am worried for our present. 

I recall entering the space on Friday afternoon. A large concrete building, a former bus repair depot, poorly heated and with no windows. For the occasion, a mobile kitchen and gas heaters. All coated in winter gear, we meet everyone else who came to this place to discuss all of our ideas around direct activism for the next Climate Summit. You and I – we are part of a team. Yet up to now we haven’t had much chance to really check in with each other.

In one of the plenary sessions, I recall Sara crying out with a big smile on her face: “We’re probably going to be smashed!” Do you remember this as well? A special moment. A moment of group recognition that our efforts to change status quo are oh so often ignored, misinterpreted, smashed. Sara was one of the most vibrant participants this past weekend, wasn’t she? It was nice meeting her. Someone who just doesn’t lose hope and enjoys the ride. Understanding that her protests and ludic actions are nudges of which the direct impact is difficult to track, she wants to try and try for more, and maintains the smile. So determined to make the change. And so are you. Also, you maintain your smile. It strikes me as a different kind of smile. You have become so involved in the fight for climate justice, that you have become a fighter.

“Systems change, not climate change!” Everybody here is aware that we, all people together, form the system. This awareness that each of us influences the system, is why we feel called to stand up to change it. The recognition that each interaction and transaction influences the system, is why we gather low-budget, low-carbon, and in welcoming fashion. Whilst everyone in (explicit) power positions goes through diverse processes of coming to their senses on setting the right priorities for the community of life; we will live by our values. We listen, collaborate, share. We do this in the understanding that changes are happening all the time – whether they concern policy, culture, and behaviour, the climate, individual wellbeing. One event may have many effects. One cause is affected by many events. Climate change is caused by a complex system of events and beliefs. Climate change is causing many events and beliefs.

It is worthwhile to find out to what extent climate change is changing me. To what extent a system defines me and my choices in life. With that, it is worthwhile to find out to what extent we have internalized the currently prevailing culture of exploitation of natural and human resources into our own ways of doing things. As activists, so often we exploit ourselves, even when we think it is voluntary rather than reactionary. Without climate change, what would the both of us have been doing over the past weekend? I understand now, climate change changes me. Each day. It changes you. And I would like us to be aware of these changes, and to assess if they are changing us in a direction we want to go. I would like us to consider whether future climate justice is becoming a trade-off for our own current wellbeing, our autonomy, our authenticity. I don’t believe in trade-offs.

I know you as a loving person. A lover of people, the planet, of life. Is the fight for climate justice, the fight for anything, nurturing your love, your identity? Your great sense of responsibility, it can be satisfied in a way that brings you peace, not war. Fighting is one option in a grand spectrum of choices. And to some people combat indeed nurtures their creativity and peace of mind. It’s not the same for everybody, and I believe no sacrifice has to be made to harmonize the satisfaction of all living needs.

“Systems change, not climate change!” Let’s shout it from the roof tops. Let’s write it on the skyline. To first and foremost remind ourselves. That we are the system. And that if suffering prevails inside of us, suffering prevails in the system. If sacrifice prevails inside of us, sacrifice prevails in the system. A war against our future does not call for a war against our present. For the love of the future, we love the present.  

Thank you for letting me be honest with you. I look forward to meeting again soon. For now: Happy Global Divestment Day on Valentine’s! I think I will be joining the boys on the bike tour, inviting Amsterdam to stop investing in the fossil fuel industry.


Learn more about divestment here.