In this interview, meet Eva Papanikolaki, an activist and co-coordinator of Fridays for Future Greece.
Many people have heard about Fridays for Future. Can you share with us the history of the organisation, how and where it all started?
In 2018, Greta Thunberg and a few other activists sat in front of the Swedish parliament to protest against inaction in the face of climate change. They posted a picture of the demonstration with the hashtag “Fridays for Future” and they quickly became known under this name. Fridays for Future counts today more than 14 million activists around the globe, while Greta and other climate activists have a podium at the major United Nations conferences for climate change (Fridays for Future, 2022). What these activists practically have done is bring climate change into the global public sphere.
What are your claims and what are you asking for?
These 14 million activists are advocating for the following requests:
1. Keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 °C compared to pre-industrial levels.
2. Ensure climate justice and equity.
3. Listen to the best-united science currently available.
Of course, these are the general demands that the movement has agreed on. Beyond that, there are some working groups on specific topics, such as biomass burning or climate education where I work.
Besides Greta Thunberg, who are your great sources of inspiration?
I think the biggest inspiration comes from each other. Climate activists are usually motivated by climate anxiety. So it’s therapeutic to associate with people who share the same anxiety, and especially the same passion for climate action and justice and doing something about it.
My fellow activists are those who motivate me to keep going in a game that seems to be lost and I am very thankful for working with these wonderful people.
Do you discuss with corporations and/or governments at a local or global level?
The climate crisis is a multifaceted issue and it needs systemic changes from governments, big corporations and international organisations. From my experience, international organisations are the most approachable and more open to listening to activists.
When it comes to the local governments it gets more difficult, as they usually are part of a complicated system of intertwining with businesses and interests very contrary to the protection of the environment. Businesses and corporations are other stories. It is truly ridiculous to think that profit and what they call “development” can be aligned with climate justice.
What does being an activist mean today? How can we act for climate as individuals?
It’s certainly not easy psychologically at least, because you become more and more invested while many things are out of your hands. However, I believe it is more common compared to other times when activists were some ‘weird guys’. What can an individual do? That’s the 1 million dollar question.
The most important thing for me is to be informed, and read the science necessary, because there is a load of fake news around the climate. Then act. Starting from the smaller things in your home or on your Twitter, you can find a group in your neighbourhood/city etc. Systemic change requires individual action, although this may not be enough when looking for the bigger picture. That’s why it is very important for all citizens to be active advocates.
Who are your allies who help achieve your goals?
Everyone can be an ally because everyone is a key stakeholder when it comes to climate change. Finding allies and forming coalitions is a large part of our work, because it is the only way to put real pressure on politicians. Regarding our on-the-ground actions, in the streets and at conferences, we usually cooperate with NGOs or other activist groups. In the coalition for climate education in COP27, we gathered more than 200 organisations!
Regarding our on-the-ground actions, in the streets and at conferences, we usually cooperate with NGOs or other activist groups. In the coalition for climate education in COP27, we gathered more than 200 organisations!
You are organising an event during the LearningPlanet Festival – can you tell us more about it?
We wanted to organise something interactive with the participants so we decided to do a workshop. Last year, we had various events on the topic of climate change, climate education, etc. However, we thought it was equally important to talk about climate activism itself. We wanted to exchange experiences and make an account of our activity.
Our workshop is called: Climate Advocacy: What We Wish We Knew.
Are you confident in the capacity of your generation to face and solve global challenges?
There is a phrase we use to tell in our demonstrations in Greece, “eimaste emeis I genia tis alagis.” It means “we are the generation of change”. I believe this.
I believe in our generation, not because we are something special, but because we live in special times. We went to school during a financial crisis, we went to university during a pandemic and as grown-ups, we are going to experience the worst effects of the climate crisis. I am an optimist when it comes to the capacity of our generation, even though I am not that optimistic when it comes to climate change.
Eva Papanikolaki is an activist, the co-coordinator of Fridays for Future Greece, and an advocate for climate education. Being active with YOUNGO and Fridays For Future Climate Education International, she is passionate about youth advocacy and has represented these groups at international conferences. She is studying economics at the Athens University of Economics and Business and she is a scholar of International Relations at the American College of Greece. Academically, she is engaged with environmental economics as an assistant researcher at AUEB ReSEES Lab. There she coordinates the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) Hub. This year she is also one of the organisers of the Local Conference of Youth and the Youth Delegation Programme in Greece.