Olivia has spent the past two months working in the 350.org Africa organizing office located in Cape Town, South Africa.  She is a student in the U.S., currently studying environmental policy at Middlebury College.

For the past few years, I have been very involved in climate change activism in the U.S. Environmentalism has pervaded my life as the subject of my academic career as well as numerous internships, campaigns, and events.  However, most of my work has been in United States environmental politics.  I was interested in coming to Africa and working with 350.org to get some insight into environmental activism outside of my home country.

I came to Cape Town with the mindset that I wanted to explore the environmental challenges of a new part of the world, a part that directly suffers from the world’s dependence on coal and oil.  I thought and still believe that by sharing the challenges of a struggling continent with prosperous and developed nations, petty arguments and political maneuvering will fall away in the face of true injustices to humanity.  I’ve done a lot of work in activism, and one of the topics that keeps on coming up in discussions on climate change is what type of message we should be spreading.  I specifically remember a conversation with one of my professors last year where we discussed how difficult it is to get people to understand the potential severity of climate change.  He said, and I find myself agreeing with him more and more, that this fight can no longer be practical or reasonable.  We must make climate change a moral issue.

Throughout my time here, however, I have realized that my main expectation of the work I would be doing here was flawed.  We are not here to bear witness to devastating environmental struggles, nor is our job to broadcast those struggles to the rest of the world.  We are here to help those who are actually doing something, who are actively fighting the climate change that threatens their daily lives.  For the past two months, I’ve been consistently blown away by the enthusiasm and energy of organizers around a continent that is home to some of the poorest nations in the world.  Instead of putting climate change far down on a list of priorities like so many in the developed world, these people are devoting their lives to the fight.  They understand that climate change isn’t just a future threat.  It is one that affects their daily lives, that exacerbates their poverty and quickens the pace with which the resources they depend upon disappear.

While the stories of those who have suffered under the hand of climate change- those who have no ability to change the path set before them, and who will ultimately be the first of many victims of this terrible threat- while those stories are important and need to be told, they are not the only stories to tell.  Those organizers, activists, students, mothers, fathers, kids, who are working so hard in this fight, those are the people who I want the world to see, and those are the people that I think may ultimately change the outlook of the developed world.