On the 6th of November, named the ‘Global Day of Action for the Climate”, up to 100,000 people marched through Glasgow – this year’s location for the UN’s climate change conference ‘COP26’. On the same day, marches were staged across the world to demand climate justice at a crucial moment in time. I was in the crowd on Trafalgar Square that day and listened to some amazing speakers talk. Among them was Noga Levy-Rapoport (they/she/he), a 19 year old climate activist, student, award-winning campaigner, writer, and performer, organising under YouthStrike4Climate and demanding a Global Green New Deal, who I recently had the privilege to talk to about their experience at this year’s COP, their work as a climate activist, and to learn ways to engage with the climate movement as a young person today.

Noga, you wrote, “COP is unlikely to be the negotiations miracle we desperately need, but it is becoming a space to celebrate and innovate campaigning […]”. With the conference ending last week, do you want to tell me a bit more about your experience at the conference and what change COP26 led to in your opinion?

COP26 was my first COP; I had watched COP25 from afar fail miserably, and I came to Glasgow very tentatively, with the belief that the streets would be bursting with energy but that the Green Zone would be riddled with co-option as much as the Blue Zone would be with corruption. I was right, but I didn’t account for just how much the spaces intersected – how many activists were able to hold leaders to account in the very margins of COP, and that left me with a huge amount of hope. Honestly, I expected very little from COP26 in regards to the action we need, and I was bitterly disappointed in how UK & US negotiators in particularly cast aside crucial Global South campaigners and voices in the final draft. Asad Rehman’s (@chilledasad / War On Want) speech after the closing agreement sums up that feeling very well – I would really recommend it. 

Hearing you among the speakers at the COP26 protest at Trafalgar Square in London, I was inspired by the way you all used your voices to passionately and with determination talk about the climate crisis and the fight for climate justice. Powerful words I heard were “Remember this feeling when you leave”. I remember feeling full of hope, determined to take more action – to engage myself in the growing movement to protect our planet, but also uncertain of how this action would fit into my life as I currently live it. I think those words about remembering spoke to many people because as inspiring and important as coming together for this cause felt in the moment, it is easy to distract ourselves with the many personal issues we already juggle on a day to day basis. I try to challenge myself to overcome this. How did you decide to start the work that has taken you to where you are today – where activism and campaigning are a constant part of your life?

On February 15th, 2019, I turned up to Parliament Square to discover hundreds of young people, as terrified and as angry as the climate crisis as I was, gathering and chanting on the grass outside Westminster, where politicians were making decisions that condemned our generation to a lifetime of volatile ecological chaos. The immediate comradeship I felt with young people I’d never met before strengthened my focus – I knew that just standing around wasn’t enough. We had to be loud enough to ensure those in control of the callously cruel fossil fuel economy would notice us and realise young people are serious about gaining autonomy over their own future. I borrowed a cheap megaphone from a fellow protestor and began telling people to follow me down the road, because I knew that once we began to reclaim our streets, we could start to be taken seriously. By the end of that day, over 5000 Londoners had swarmed Westminster roads, following me down past Downing Street onto bridges and roundabouts. It wasn’t the only thing that propelled me into activism, but it was for me the most important. It was a feeling I clung onto for a very long time. I draw inspiration from crowds, from talking about this work, from people asking me about it. Imposter syndrome and eco anxiety are tough enemies to beat, but the feeling of being in the collective, as part of a community, is something I continue to draw from to keep going. 

What has your journey looked like since that moment?

Shortly after that, I made a video with Jack Harries and Heydon Prowse where I directly challenged oil and gas company executives at the Petroleum Conference in London;  I then reached out and asked to join the UK Student Climate Network, which was working under Fridays For Future as the UK chapter at the time. I was able to build up a strong network of like-minded young people, gain a lot of confidence within my passions and my space in the movement, and continue to extend that message. I’ve done a lot of work as a speaker and an organiser, as a writer, host, and mentor, and as a media spokesperson, because early on I learnt that the best asset I could bring to the environmental movement were skills I already had. Since then, I’ve broadly campaigned around a Global Green New Deal, organising school strikes, pushing for youth empowerment and climate education. I’ve been instrumental in launching campaigns such as Teach The Future, and have mobilised and hosted hundreds of thousands at climate justice demonstrations in London and around the UK. 

You describe yourself as a Queer Jewish Feminist and have said that intersectionality is crucial to the climate movement. Can you explain more about the importance of intersectionality for your work?

I always grew up as a very political person – newspapers on the kitchen table every morning, my parents and siblings talking about upcoming elections – but I was most invested in feminism. It was something I was deeply passionate about and deeply connected to. I came out as bisexual (although I now identify as queer) at a very young age, around 13, and began experimenting with different pronouns at around the same time. As a first generation immigrant, as a Jewish non-binary person, I have been keenly aware of the intersectionality in my own life. So coming to the environmental movement, which is attempting to tackle an intersectional crisis – of racial, migrant, gender injustice from its colonial and capitalist roots, all of which fit into socio-economic injustice – it is fundamental to recognise that we require an intersectional response. That means respecting individual experiences inside and outside of the environmental movement – which has a major white saviour and racism problem, and is being carried forward primarily by women of marginalised backgrounds. If we ourselves cannot build a powerful movement that reflects the values and structures of equity and justice we want our future to hold, how can we defeat the climate crisis? 

Like me and the large majority of Smiths readers, you are a student alongside your work for the climate movement, and I have heard you talk about mental health before in relation to campaigning and the importance of taking care of yourself. How do you find the balance between your work, studies and protecting your mental health?

I struggled with mental health a lot when I was younger, particularly when I was around 13-17, when I suffered from clinical anxiety and depression as well as a host of other issues. This was a very difficult time for me, but as part of my recovery, I had to build up a very strong network of support – from my parents, from professionals, from teachers, from friends. No one ever heals alone, and I carried a lot of that forward into learning how to balance socialising, schooling, and campaigning when I started getting involved in environmental activism at 17. It’s an incredibly difficult balance, but I was able, and still am able, to rely on the support of others around me – whether it was catching up with school work, being honest about burn out, or saying, ‘no, I just can’t do this piece of action today – can someone step in for me? My eco-anxiety/exhaustion/work-life balance/etc is too much.’ I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to have a supportive network of people around you, and to be honest with them when it gets too much. Now as a student at the University of Warwick, away from home, I talk to my parents often, but I also take great care to think about my own priorities – if I know I have an assignment due the week after a huge climate march (as I did this week!) then I need to plan ahead, work into my spare time, and take healthy breaks to socialise, and am ultra-honest with my friends and flatmates about how much work I am taking on. 

One thing I am curious about is that when I grew up in Sweden, most of the media debate around the climate crisis seemed to circle around every person making a small personal change to our routine, reducing our carbon footprint. I noticed this changing when Greta Thunberg started her school strikes outside the Swedish parliament and I saw young people everywhere get politically involved. Can you identify with this as well and where do you think the individual’s biggest power lies in working towards solutions to the climate crisis?

Yes, absolutely. As a kid, that was one of the first and only things I was ever taught about the climate crisis – that only small individual actions could make change – specifically I was taught that ‘the way to heal the ozone layer is… to stop your parents using aerosol cans for shaving cream’. How ridiculous is that, that that could solve everything? The climate crisis is a systemic problem. It is the result of hundreds of years of extractivism and exploitation of people and planet, of the destruction of our natural resources, and enforced and encouraged mass consumption. Solving the ecological emergency requires a fundamental transformation of our societal and economic structures. I noticed this shift in the media hugely around 2019 as the climate strikes were at their peak of that year – around September 20th, the largest climate mobilisation in history, it was clear to see that this message was finally being picked up on. But there is still a lot of work to do against the greenwashing problem, and against individuals feeling guilty and paralysed because they can’t do enough to lower their carbon footprint – an idea that was actually coined by BP! The most important and significant thing that is within your power to do is join the environmental movement. Mobilise, educate, organise, agitate. Build community, build solidarity, and enable everyone around you to join in. It is the ultimate rule of social theory – if you build enough mass power and pressure, you can bend the will of the strongest and cruelest governments and corporations. 

What is an upcoming project you are excited about?

I’m very excited about a documentary that’s just coming out now, called Dear Future Children. I was lucky to view a UK preview and I truly cannot recommend it enough. For me, it is exactly the kind of work that media and creatives need to be doing – platforming the truth of the stories of young activists around the world – and I also think this is a piece of media that will hopefully inspire many people to join environmental and social justice movements. That is something that can make a huge difference. 

Personally, I’m looking forward to working on initiatives that can incorporate my passions around re-invigorating the arts sector (in particular the performing arts) and sustainability. I don’t have enough details to share on this yet but I think there could be some really exciting and creative partnerships forming. I’d like to leave a blueprint for creatives and artists of all kinds to re-imagine what sustainability and climate activism in these spaces can look like – we have so much power to tell really wonderful stories and create legitimate and large-scale change.


Noga’s instagram is @nogalevyrapoport