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Interview: Laura Young, climate activist

04 March 2022

‘The majority of us have clothes in our wardrobes we’ve never worn’

Andrew Cawley

I’ve worked for the Christian international development charity Tearfund for the past two-and-a-half years.

I started in the youth-and-emerging-generations team covering Scotland.
They do the same fund-raising and education we do with adults, but with 11- to 23-year-olds. Then I became the COP26 advocacy and campaigns co-ordinator in the advocacy team, until the end of the United Nations climate summit last year.

Now I work in our church-engagement space,
launching “Let’s Change the Climate”, our new campaign to get churches involved in climate action. I might be talking to really passionate congregation members who are looking for ways their church can help; or pastors looking to see how they can shape the theology and mission of their church. Every conversation is different.

Some churches are super-engaged with climate work.
Others are coming from a completely fresh perspective. Some are in rural farming communities, some are industrial, or have oil and gas backgrounds, or are urban churches. We sit within the Evangelical space, but we interact with churches all across the UK.

After COP26 I was just a bit tired — I wanted my bed.
Then I had quite mixed feelings. I was really proud of the way the Christian community were responding to looking after the planet and our neighbours — and of Tearfund, because we met our targets, engaged lots of new people. But, from the world’s point of view, we didn’t get what we needed. We saw progress but not justice. We just need to keep putting in that effort to get more.

I’m 100 per cent a glass-half-full person.
I hope it’s not naïvety. I think it’s a Christian perspective, to have that hope.

Climate change has been a core focus for Tearfund,
because taking action on the climate crisis is firmly rooted in our faith. We’ve witnessed the devastating impact of climate breakdown on the communities we have served for decades — and we’ve seen these impacts getting worse. Millions who have lifted themselves out of poverty are rapidly being pushed back into it.

We’ve launched the Great Fashion Fast
as a month-long challenge to get people thinking about how the fast-fashion industry and our consumption of new clothes links to the climate crisis. For the whole month of March, the Great Fashion Fast challenges individuals to wear only ten main pieces of clothing. (Luckily, pants and socks aren’t included in those ten.) This will, hopefully, give people a new perspective on just how far only a few items of clothing can go, and think about our often regular and constant consumption of fashion.

I think I’m almost there:
two pairs of jeans, a black dress, a couple of plain T-shirts, a couple of jumpers, a flannel shirt, and perhaps a denim jacket and a big coat that I can wear with everything.

The fast-fashion industry emits more carbon than aviation and international shipping combined.
As individuals, we buy more than five times as much fashion as we did in the 1980s, and the majority of us have clothes in our wardrobes we’ve never worn. Clothes are cheaper — which is good — but they’ve also become disposable. Instead of having two seasons a year, we have daily new fashion; so younger people, easily photographed on social media, feel they can’t be caught twice in the same outfit.

My passion for this world started at a young age,
with a love of outdoor sports, and spending family holidays in the Scottish countryside. This led me to pursue a degree in geography and environmental science, and then a Master’s in environmental protection and management.

My journey to becoming an influencer definitely started as an accident,
after beginning a social-media page, Less Waste Laura, to document my 2018 New Year resolution to live a year reducing my waste and trying to be more sustainable day to day.

After beginning with a small following of people interested in this journey,
it’s grown in ways I never knew it would, over the past four years, and it’s led me into different areas of work beyond just social media. I’m now a regular on traditional media platforms, like BBC radio stations, Sky News, and other spaces.

People bring their questions and struggles,
and find it’s a good space for learning. Churches have taken part, too. It spans different groups and ages. Some of the things I’ve shared I’ve learned from my grandparents, and I’ve been able to teach them some things as well.

Influencing other influencers,
whether they’re on social media, government representatives, or in the business world, is all about walking the walk and having conversations. The biggest change comes from sitting down and having a conversation — whether that’s engaging with businesses near to where I live to embrace more eco-friendly practices, or writing to my MP, answering government consultations, or speaking to my church leader. Change can come through all of these opportunities to talk.

I’m worried that the world won’t act fast enough to respond to climate change.
that people will respond only when it impacts them personally; and when that happens, it’s already too late.

But I’m surprised by the number of amazing solutions out there to stop climate change and end poverty.
We just need to get the support to the right places, and the changes in the wider system.

What gives me hope for the future
is the young people coming up as a new generation demanding better than before and cutting through with the important messages.

The hardest thing for me has definitely been trying to rely more on walking,
cycling, and taking public transport, especially as it rains all the time in Glasgow.

The most important thing is: less.
Everything is about less, and when we realise this, it becomes a lot easier. Less consumption, less waste, less destruction, and more simplicity.

Lent is a time for reflection and paring back,
looking at ways to draw closer to God and pull away from the grip of worldly culture. Tearfund’s Great Fashion Fast challenge could easily be adapted to fit with a Lent reflection, and something which could be used to base time with God throughout this season.

I was brought up in a Christian household in Glasgow,
and I grew up in the same house until I moved out to go to Dundee University when I was 17. We spent weekends seeing friends and family, and going to church, and spent summer holidays visiting parts of the Scottish Highlands in all weathers.

Now I live back in Glasgow,
close, again, to my family. Weekends are still spent the same way, now with the addition of two lovely dogs, and more time spent exploring this beautiful country.

I’m happiest when I’m outdoors,
walking, running, cycling, and swimming through natural beauty, and spending time with those closest to me.

I love the sound of ocean waves,
or rain before going to sleep.

I had the most amazing Sunday-school teacher,
who would bring stories to life, building structures and creating escapism to fully immerse us in the stories from scripture. In many of these sessions, as a kid, I felt God’s presence among us, as we learned about his world, and looked to Jesus as a guide for our discipleship.

It was at university I really committed to having a personal relationship with Jesus,
beyond just going to church and having fellowship with other Christians.

I’d love to learn to play an instrument.
The guitar would be lovely, but I am left-handed, which brings a few problems.

Injustice makes me angry
— and pineapple on pizza.

I pray prayers of thankfulness for the work God is doing through so many around the world,
and for the provisions he has put in my life. Then I pray for my neighbours, far and near: big prayers for peace, and small prayers for individuals, for God to break through and reach them.

I’d choose to be locked in a church with one of my grandparents.
I’d like to sit and listen to their wisdom and knowledge, and have a truly intergenerational worship time.

Laura Young was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.


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