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Exclusive – Amelia Crews on building community resilience

We spoke to the environmentally-centred Gen Zer – who is a renewable energy engagement lead at Younity – about why we must be confronting the climate crisis as a united front.

Amelia Crews’ advocacy journey began at her lowest point. Having struggled with mental health issues for some time, it wasn’t until she hit ‘rock bottom’ that a way out presented itself to her.

Once she ‘fostered enough courage to pull [herself] up,’ it became astonishingly clear that engaging with her surroundings – Amelia grew up by the ocean in Cornwall, a beautiful corner of the UK renowned for its spectacular coastline – would guide her towards a better headspace.

‘I was severely depressed,’ she told The Times last year, citing the overwhelming number of climate-related threats we’re faced with (fossil fuels, rising sea levels, deforestation, carbon emissions, and disappearing ecosystems) as a contributing factor.

It was then that Amelia ‘started swimming in the sea a lot’ and came to acknowledge her purpose: to save what was saving her.

‘It gave me a cause,’ she tells Thred. ‘I quickly realised that I wanted to help heal what was healing me. I felt close to nature. Part of it, rather than apart from it.’

Yet connecting with the natural world wasn’t solely what brought Amelia to where she is today.

Because in spite of the personal empowerment that doing so offered her, she still felt isolated in her concerns about the intersectionality of environmental problems and helpless to confront it alone.

This prompted her to seek hope through shared experience, which she found by joining communities of others who felt the same way and whose values of ‘protecting our home for future generations and supporting those bearing the brunt of the crisis right now’ were in alignment with her own.

One of these was Force of Nature, an organisation that aims to teach young people how to move past paralysis and into action.

‘It made me feel like I wasn’t the only one who was worrying about this, which changed everything for me,’ she says.

‘You can often feel that you’re in a silo and doing something that’s only impacting a single area or only focusing on a single solution but when you come together you see that we can tackle the whole issue instead of just a single element of it.’

With this in mind, it’s no wonder that Amelia deems building community resilience the top priority in the fight against environmental injustice – which her work at present embodies.

 

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As the community renewables engagement lead at Younity coop, she is dedicated to empowering new audiences to join the movement, while mobilising and collaborating with those who are already in it.

‘Energy is at the centre of many injustices throughout the world (climate, racial, gender, etc.),’ says Amelia. ‘Community-led solutions present an opportunity for people to take control of their future and not be left behind in our fast-moving society. Integrating the two, therefore, is simply logical.’

As she explains, community energy is a collaborative approach to our energy system that prioritises community ownership to bolster resilience and ensure that the transition to net zero isn’t extractive.

Within traditional models, those who benefit can afford to invest. Whereas with community energy, the benefits – from economic development to technological innovation – extend to those who can’t.

‘Revenue streams are directed to those in need and profits are invested into however best will benefit local communities, not into lining the pockets of the people who frankly don’t need any more money,’ she says.

Establishing community energy as a key player in our quest for a greener future isn’t without its challenges, however, with the fossil fuel industry primarily to blame for hindering the success of community-led initiatives.

By purposely positioning itself to be considered vitally necessary for growth, prosperity, and even wellbeing across the globe, the notion of a future without coal, oil, and gas seems a bitter pill to swallow.

This is perpetuated by the industry’s efforts to cast doubt on research examining the climate crisis and mislead the public with disinformation.

Amelia references the carbon footprint concept as a prime example of this, which is nurtured by fossil fuel giants to shift the attention away from them and the onus onto us as individuals so that we, in turn, feel guilty for our inaction.

This highlights their eagerness to maintain the status quo and the emptiness of their claims to be investing in sustainability for the community, not for an elite few.

‘I’m a true believer that if politicians and companies were genuinely interested in people and planet, a switch would have already been made,’ says Amelia. ‘They have the funds, they have the resources, and they have the power. There’s been no decisive pivot because they have ulterior motives.’

Nowhere is this more visible than at COP, which in recent years has been undermined by a shadow network of fossil fuel lobbying.

‘It baffles me that leaders have structured it so that the people who have got us into this mess are the ones being asked to get us out of it,’ says Amelia.

‘We need to bring everybody into the room, not just lobbyists but activists, creatives, scientists, everybody. I don’t see how genuine change can come from a very exclusive two-week ‘save the world’ event.’

As to how we can be active in promoting this, Amelia says it’s a case of ramping up the pressure.

The fact that the latest fossil fuel industry report named activists as a major threat is proof that stepping up as a collective and using our voices to call for accountability is inherently effective.

‘When we’re shutting down, we’re walking blindly into a future that we have no control over,’ she says. ‘When we step up, we have a say in how the path in front of us is laid. When systems have failed us before it’s triggered uprisings.’

‘Community resilience is how we channel our anger, anxiety, and despair into agency. It goes against the individualistic ‘work for the grind until we burn out [and the world burns around us] mentality that capitalism so desperately wants us to have.’

Unfortunately, however, the voices of young people – particularly those from marginalised groups – often go unheard in decision-making spaces, where time and time again they are tokenised more than they are integrated.

To overcome this, Amelia advises we mobilise the ‘golden’ individuals in positions of power who are ‘actually listening’ to advocate for those who should have the most say.

‘If somebody finds themselves in a decision-making space, they should be speaking up for those who aren’t there,’ she says. ‘It’s about encouraging the people who are there to advocate for us.

‘Representation is crucial. Uplift the people who feel as though they’re not good enough to be there as well. Affirm their abilities so they see that they can make the difference they care about making.’

Beyond this, Amelia says that channelling our creativity is essential.

As someone familiar with using their creative mind in their field of choice, she stresses the importance of understanding that you can use any skill and be involved in any area – even the energy sector, which doesn’t always demand the science or research background that she herself initially assumed to be a prerequisite.

 

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‘We need to make these alternative solutions engaging – we need people to want to get involved,’ she says. ‘Creative people have an incredible skillset that is not tapped into enough. Creativity is such a great way to tackle this issue because it engages people. It’s light amid the heaviness.’

But with burnout the enemy of creativity, it’s become increasingly difficult for young people to let it flow freely.

Largely expected to bear the brunt of addressing the crisis, this burden has significantly limited their capacity to offer themselves to the cause, let alone get creative with how they do so.

‘I’ve been told on several occasions that “it’s okay because you’re righting our wrongs” or “you’re the generation that’s going to sort this all out” which is so dangerous because it’s so much weight for us to carry on our shoulders,’ says Amelia.

‘We can’t do this work if we don’t have the energy to, so it’s about balance: putting ourselves out there but making sure we also take time for ourselves.’

And how better to recover from burnout and reignite creativity than connecting with the natural world which many of us have lost touch with?

For Amelia, scheduling consistent time outdoors not only covers these bases, but immersing ourselves in what’s already so available to us as a vehicle of restoration can activate our impulse to protect it from further destruction.

‘People should spend time in nature, consistently, with facilitators who understand nature’s systems and who foster an innate knowledge of the interconnectedness of human life and the natural world,’ she says.

‘What if our world leaders had to spend time in nature? What if they had to try to connect with it? We need to help people connect and therefore find the meaning that’s within them to act.’

Of course, connecting with the natural world is a privilege that isn’t accessible to all.

Therefore it’s our responsibility to come together as a community, so that connecting with each other leads to connecting with the Earth, which leads to a positive cycle of improving the resilience of our biggest asset in the fight against injustice and for a future that’s fair for each and every one of us: unity.

‘In short,’ finishes Amelia, ‘start by connecting with community by joining people making a change in the spaces you feel resonate with you. Then connect with the natural world and strive to spread the message that everyone should be able to have that same opportunity. And finally, live your truth. If you focus on the values you want to see in the world and practice them, you’re doing all you can.’

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