Student Štěpánka Klečanská on environmental protection: we need more people to do the small things that count

Štěpánka Klečanská

An essay about deforestation won Prague student Štěpánka Klečanská the chance to take part in an event aimed at raising awareness about climate change and the role of women in tackling it, co-organized by the Canadian Embassy in Prague and the Czech ministries of foreign affairs and the environment. I met up with her later to get her take on climate change issues and began by asking about whether there really is a difference in how men and women tackle climate change issues.

“Unfortunately there is a difference. First, there is the issue of female experts not being asked to talk about climate change as often as their male colleagues. But, there is now a website where you can find the opinions of female experts on climate and environmental issues as well. Secondly, as regards the impact of climate change women in less developed countries are less likely to survive floods because it is not considered appropriate to teach them how to swim. There are also issues in Europe – we were told about a special grant in France for young farmers, but young women usually want children before they start a business and set up a farm, but by that time they are too old to get the grant. So there are various issues linked to women and climate change.”

How important is climate change – and green issues in general – to you and your peers?

“I think it is important and we realize that it is important, although sometimes it is quite hard to step out of one’s comfort zone and try to do something because it is not enough to, say, just change your diet. I mean it is good, and every individual action matters, but we need bigger actions and we need them faster. That is why it is important for us – for the young generation – to push our leaders to do something about it.”

In what way would you like to get involved, on a personal level?

“I don’t think I am a great speaker, so I will probably not be the voice of our generation, but I can tell my friends about climate change and how it affects us. If you tell twenty people and they each tell another twenty, then it can start a chain of action. It is also important to think about these things when you are deciding who to vote for.”

There aren’t many parties in this country pushing a green agenda –why do you think that is so?

“I think that it is not attractive and in the Czech Republic, unfortunately, climate issues are connected –in the minds of the majority of people – with some sort of hysteria or panic. We tend to see activist doing crazy things, or what most people consider to be crazy things. We need a pragmatic voice to tell us – look there is this issue and there are two or three possible solutions and it is up to you to decide what we are going to do about it.”

Who influenced you most as regards the urgency of green issues and climate change – was it your parents, peers or school?

“I believe it was my peers, and also, we now live in the era of social media, and I was influenced by people active in green issues who are visible – that I think, is what influenced me most.”

So what are the small things that you and your friends do for the environment?

“I try to shop more sustainably and try to think about every purchase that I make, but, let’s be honest, I am far from perfect, and this personal involvement is sometimes limited by the socio-economic position of a person and I am afraid that this effort may be hard to sustain because not everyone can afford to by locally made clothes or food and they shouldn’t be criticized because of it.”

Do you think that more attention should be devoted to these issues in school, for instance?

Photo: Jan Bachorík,  Czech Radio

“Yes, I think so, and this is also connected with how we perceive data and information. We should try to look for reliable sources regarding climate change issues, because there is a lot of fake news around. So we should find the right sources even though it is sometimes hard to crunch the different studies and articles. There are people who create graphics and infographics on this topic so you don’t have to read a 400-page study about the problem.”

There is now an emerging group of young people called “ginks” (green inclinations, no kids) who have decided not to have children for environmental reasons. How do you feel about that? Is that going too far?

“Well, on the one hand it seems like a radical decision, but on the other hand, I understand it. This is not my personal opinion on the matter, I would like to have children one day, but there is a fear in our generation about what will happen to us and what will happen to our children. Given the fact that our future is endangered, then where does that leave our children? They will be endangered for sure. So I sort of understand it, even though I realize that it might seem a bit over the top.”

What do you think is most important now –to turn around the trend?

“I believe that climate change should be addressed as a political topic, and as I already mentioned we need one voice, one leader or even just one organization that will be heard and that will present the dry facts without emotions, without scaremongering. We need for someone to make it a political topic not just before the elections, but after them.”

At the grassroots level – what are the small things that you would urge people to do?

Photo: Nick Saltmarsh,  Flickr,  CC BY 2.0

“I would say that we don’t need everyone to be perfect, but we need as many people as possible to do some of the small things – whether you decide to change your diet and focus on locally produced food –or skip meat sometimes. You don’t have to be a vegetarian from now on –just take these small steps. Think about where you buy your clothes and whether you really need this shirt – even if it is quite pretty and it is cheap. But do you really need it? And who made it, if it is so cheap?  I believe these small decisions are what matters – you can get involved and then, maybe one day you can be the voice, the leader and you can join the change.”