Climate Action Capacity Fellowship (2021-2022)

Final Reflection CACF

I am sitting here watching the rain, in humid Jakarta, now cooled by the rain and breeze.

I was brought to climate action work because of a culmination of things. I had watched and read a lot of things as a child that made me realize how grave today’s environmental problem is. In Jakarta, I grew up with smoky air and the sights of trash clogging up rivers or the sides of the street on my way to school. I saw the mountains being carved for mining in my grandmother’s village, like some giant monster wanted to take a large piece of a tumpeng rice, and so turned the mountain’s forests into gaping crumbling soils. Ever since college, my perspective has grown more sophisticated, and now I can say things like, “Indonesia’s palm oil plantation zone expansion is causing a modern-day case of primitive accumulation, causing landless peasants to become proletariats under the control of the ruling class.” Or “As in the case of the capital relocation, this mega-infrastructure project requires methods of access control and the creation of a frontier by powerful groups and could very likely lead to another case of primitive accumulation.”

Whereas before, such as in high school, I thought the most effective way to tackle climate change was through personal actions (the consumer side of things), now I realize that what needs to happen is a complete and radical change in our system. Now I understand more deeply that ultimately it is the logic of capitalism that drives much of the exploitation and environmental harm today. More importantly, I think I finally understand the most effective way to make a difference in the environmental movement. Gone is my romanticization of international organizations, like the UN or WWF. They are too diplomatic. My goal now is to work with grassroots organizations such as farmers’ coalitions or small local NGOs. Furthermore, through talking with the other fellows, I’ve also realized the importance of community.

Something especially important that I learned from my Global Political Ecology class, as well as through the CACF discussions, is that capitalism has caused a lot of the social problems we see today—racism, patriarchy, sexism, gender inequality. This fires me up more, because whereas before I thought that I needed to put my several passions into different boxes, now I realize that they are all intersectional! War? It is fueled by and fueling the climate crisis. Gender inequality? Well, the unpaid labor of women to support paid male laborers was (and still is) another form of exploitation necessary for the industry’s profit margins. Racism? Little did I know that in the beginning of the “Plantationocene,” white people and black people worked side by side on the plantations, until rules were imposed top-down which segregated them so that the workers would not unite. So, this is the pressure point that we can push. If we rebuild communities which promote and celebrate inclusivity and equity, we can create a less capitalist world, which is one important step. With all this in mind, working for an organization like the UN would feel like hypocrisy, like I would be further receding into the ivory tower of ideals without actually taking action based on what I’ve learned. Hence, my determination to work with small and local activist organizations.

The Climate Action Fellowship helped me build the confidence to say this and to know what to do. Because I was given an incentive to work on climate-related things (bluntly, paid money), this encouraged me to take time aside from the hecticness of class work and college life to listen to podcasts about the climate, attend talks at Hillcrest, attended Sunrise organization meetings, read books, and so on. Things I would have normally pushed aside as unnecessary. Through Minna’s mentorship I was also able to learn that connecting with people is an important part of becoming involved in climate action work, as she encouraged me to reach out to my connections (like UWC alumni or Midd alumni), and to reach out to new connections. Most importantly, I believe, was the support I got from Minna and the other fellows. Although sometimes I felt like I was one of the people doing the least in the group, I felt that they believed in me and respected my thoughts and opinions. In that way, I always felt encouraged to keep trying. At one point (I can’t say when), I stopped believing in failure (at least in climate work). There is no failure when your motivation is good. You can only keep trying and keep trying.

This summer, returning to Indonesia before heading to Rwanda, I decided to start more actively following the Extinction Rebellion (XR) Jakarta WhatsApp group chat that I had joined many months ago. From there, one of the organization’s leaders asked if anyone could help with an action being planned for May 31st and I said yes. I joined a planning meeting over Zoom the day before, staying quiet but listening actively to their conversation. Then, not knowing what to expect and not knowing anyone there except the person I had said “yes” to, I took a motorbike taxi to the location of the action—by the BTPN Bank building in South Jakarta. They assigned me the role of holding one side of a banner that said, “Sayonara, Fossil Fuels!” This was an action against a bank which is a member of Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation (SMBC), a corporation that still funds fossil fuels. One of their mining sites is in South Kalimantan, which, in political ecological words, is causing “primitive accumulation.” In Indonesian, we say the villagers there are digusur, being evicted. I felt proud and happy to stand there under the blazing sun, as the bank workers and security officers in their formal suits watched us from the front of the building, and people being dropped off from their cars sprinted quickly inside, or cautiously as they tried to see what we were doing. I was also inspired by the visuals of the action. There was a large ondel-ondel, a large puppet figure used in Indonesian traditional puppeteering, the particular one used being an evil character wearing a sign that said “SMBC.” There were two people dressed in business suits also wearing the SMBC sign and carrying wads of pretend cash. Then there were three people dressed as victims—a fisher, a farmer, and a miner. The miner carried a bucket of charcoal (pretending to be coal) with a sign saying “batubara energi kotor,” “coal is dirty energy.”

It was through the Extinction Rebellion group chat that I got to know about the 3rd batch of Climate Education Mentorship and Course (CEMC 3.0). So far there has only been one class, but already I’m inspired and feel energized. In that class, we had a speaker who is a professor at Universitas Gadjah Mada (Mas I Gusti Agung Made Wardana) come and present on the IPCC report and what has happened since then. He then talked about the different environmental agreements that have been made in the past and why they failed. He explained why in Indonesia specifically the environment is not the main objective in politics, and it’s because although there are these political factions (such as the most prominent being the nationalist conservatives vs Islamic conservatives), these differences are in fact not very different, in the way that they are all still conservative. They are not progressive, as they mainly uphold the semi-oligarchy and the status quo of the elite, and they are all mostly funded by fossil fuels.

Although this situation is dire, being able to connect with other environmentalists, such as through the fellowship and this environmental course, I am filled with inspiration. I am inspired by the other fellows I have met, like Remi and Andres who see organic and equitable farming as a way to build community and fight environmental injustice. I am inspired by the environmental activists and NGO workers I met at the action the other day. I am inspired by the classes I have taken at Middlebury, and the imaginations we made about our ideal type of life. In Global Political Ecology, during one activity, my team drew an organic farming community living to the side of a city, using renewable energy, supplying the city with local food, and having a democratic approach to life. One of us drew a turtle going to work, symbolizing the need to approach life more slowly.

I am filled with questions about the future, and about the now. Though I know what sort of future I want, how do I get there? Though I know what sort of ideal life me and my peers would want, how do we get there? Do we need to reach the breaking points for capitalism to finally end? So, I am also filled with worries and sadness. But although life (and climate action) is sometimes despairing, I believe that hope is better than despair, and so I will continue to hope.

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