words by Daphne Chouliaraki Milner
photography by guanling chen
The climate activist speaks with Atmos about her new book It’s Not That Radical—and why it’s crucial that we reframe how we talk about the climate crisis in order to tackle its root causes.
You’re probably already familiar with Mikaela Loach.
The 25-year-old climate activist made headlines a couple of years ago when she took the British government to court for handing over taxpayers’ money to oil and gas companies. A few months later, she called for the abolition of billionaires at an event held by the Gates Foundation in a now viral clip. Today, Loach continues to lead with heart, honesty, and an unwavering belief in compassion and community; values she’s laid out in her new book, It’s Not That Radical.
The book is a timely guide for anyone looking to become a better activist, emphasizing the importance of self-care, community-building, and recognizing that individual actions are just one piece of the puzzle in the fight for a more just world. It is empowering and forgiving, a crucial reminder that progress trumps perfection in the fight for climate justice. And, more than anything, the book is a grounding testament to the transformative power of solidarity; in the educational benefits of searching for answers in our peers—not the legislators.
“There’s this constant reinforcement of a fairly barbaric reality that we’re told to believe is all we can have,” Loach said. “I just don’t think that’s true.”
Here, Loach speaks with Atmos about the ways in which the mainstream media uphold and reinforce limiting narratives that serve only a privileged few, and lays out the significance of self-reflection in our path to building a better world.
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Daphne Chouliaraki Milner
What inspired you to write It’s Not That Radical?
I actually started writing after having a conversation with my grandma in Jamaica. It was a way for me to process the climate grief that I was feeling around the loss of beaches that I’d grown up going to, the flooding that’s impacted the island, and my fears about the safety of a huge amount of my family that still live in Jamaica. I didn’t know it was going to form into a book, I just needed to make sense of everything.
But then I felt it was incredibly urgent that we reframe this crisis. More and more, I was seeing the climate crisis positioned only as doom and gloom; that we’re all screwed. And I found that—although there are some really brilliant people who’ve been doing work on the fringes—climate justice was often being used as a buzzword phrase with a level of detachment that wasn’t considered: What does this term actually mean? So, I wanted to create a narrative that places emphasis on the fact that we can create a better world. All too often we’re told that the best that we can hope for is a worse version of this world. A lot of the media, for instance, have been saying that we need to decrease emissions so that this world that’s inbuilt with inequality can continue. And that’s not that exciting.
What I think is really exciting is the fact that climate justice offers us liberation for all peoples. And so it felt very urgent to write It’s Not That Radical—which is why I wrote it in just over a year—to reframe the narrative around the climate crisis and move us towards a motivating narrative that can inspire change.
Building on what you’re saying about the urgent need with which we need to reframe how we talk about and understand the climate crisis, how do you define radical in the book? And why is it important to challenge mainstream uses of the word?
The title plays on the duality that what we’re asking for is not particularly radical even though the mainstream media portray climate activists as radical in the sense that they’re outrageous, ridiculous, and extreme. We need to take hold of that narrative by asking what is actually extreme? What is really ridiculous? I think the answer to those questions is governments all over the world are giving $11 million in fossil fuel subsidies every single minute. That’s extreme, that’s ridiculous, that’s outrageous. And in the meantime, we know that the majority of people in this world live insecure lives in which they are either close to homelessness or being unhoused or are already unhoused. They don’t have access to what they need to be able to live. We’re living in a cost of living crisis—even the fact that we’ve normalized that term is wild. The fact that we live in a world in which we have an economic system that requires the dehumanization of the majority of the population and requires us to believe that people are unworthy of necessary resources in order to justify a very small amount of people having everything—that is outrageous. But we’ve been consistently and intentionally manipulated to believe that what is ridiculous is a world in which we can all have dignity in a world in which we’re all safe.
At the same time, in order to create a world where peoples aren’t living under the oppression of white supremacy and capitalism, we have to go to the root cause of all of this harm. I turn to the definition used by Angela Davis: “Radical simply means grasping things at the root.” In the book, I delve into the ways in which we can work to change what is deemed impossible; about reframing the facts in order to take action that addresses the underlying issues, the root causes of oppressive systems.
Like you say, effective action means tackling a long list of injustices including the roots of poverty, exploitation, racism, police brutality, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, legal injustice—the list is long. What advice would you give to readers who are willing but overwhelmed about the prospect of taking effective individual action that can translate to systemic change?
In the book, there’s a chapter titled “You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know”, and it’s about perfectionism in the climate movement. All of us have these expectations of ourselves that we have to know everything right now—as if we all lept from the womb into climate spaces as these perfectly unproblematic people who knew everything there is to know about fiscal theory and everything else. That’s just not the case. We are all constantly learning and we need to be allowed space to learn. We need to see this work as lifelong work where we’ll understand more and more as we keep going—we don’t need to be perfect right now. Taking action is not necessarily this big grand gesture. It can be so small and so mundane and so ordinary—but it comes together with the work of others and creates a much bigger impact.
All the things that I have written about, I have learned in community with other people. We all learn from each other and we’re all impacted by one another. What I’m writing in this book isn’t about me, it’s my expression of ideas that have been running around in all these different spaces for so long. It’s testament to the fact that we learn a lot more in community than we do alone, especially if we’re with people who will encourage us and challenge us. And this in turn means we’ll be supported in the long run. We’ll be able to do this work for much longer and we’ll feel less alone in how much we care.
“Part of us getting to this better future is us also sitting and forcing ourselves every day to believe that a better future is possible if we build it.”
What I think is so important for people to hear is the way in which you talk about climate activism in the context of compassion—that compassion, both for yourself and others, is a necessary tool when doing this work. What role does self-care play in your activism work?
There is a chapter in the book dedicated to the fact that we need to have a lot more compassion for our fellow humans; less barbed wires and tall walls. I want our movements to be a sanctuary where people who have caused harm and been harmed are able to acknowledge that and be healed and welcomed and allowed to change. That’s really important to me. Compassion for myself is something that I’ve only really been beginning to learn properly in the last few years through a lot of therapy. I can be way too hard on myself. A lot of us can be here in these spaces. Other than professional therapy, what’s helped me most is having a very strong community around me. It’s only been in the last couple of years that I have, through organizing work, gained the best friends who are really chosen family in the sense that we are so committed to each other.
We act as if self-care is this individualized thing that we do alone—and I don’t think that’s true. Capitalism and neoliberalism want us to become isolated individuals, and so they’re removing us from a community that would maybe fulfill some of the needs that capitalism is saying, The only way you can fulfill these needs is by buying more shit. But maybe we don’t need to buy our way into wellness, maybe we could just support each other and be in community with each other.
I think that is part of the reason why romantic love is focused on so much more than community love or friendship love or platonic or chosen family love—you can’t really market community, but you can market romantic love about one person. It means that, by separating us from one another, we are more easily controlled. And it means that we don’t recognize the reality that all of our lives are interconnected. For me, finding community and leaning into community has been one of the most important things that I’ve done; it’s really saved me through all the hard stuff.
You said it took you around a year and a half to write this book, which is in many ways very personal. Did the process of writing the book transform the way in which you approach your own advocacy and activism work?
I definitely think so. After I’d written the book it became a lot easier to talk about different [aspects of the climate crisis] because I’d spent hours and hours processing and trying to understand the nuances. One problem with the current movement in the UK is that, too often, we know what we are fighting against, but we don’t know what we’re fighting for. We are very clear that we want to stop certain things, but we put less attention on imagining what we are trying to build. In order to write this book, I had to sit down for many hours across many days and be like, What am I trying to build? What are we trying to build? What are we trying to move towards? What is this future that we’re fighting for? For the capitalism chapter in particular I had to ask myself: What are the alternatives out there? And how do we build those?
Whether it’s resisting fossil fuel companies in the UK or working with migrant justice groups or working with families of folks who have experienced police brutality and trying to connect the climate movement to that struggle, I feel like I’m doing that work knowing what we’re moving towards. That has had a profound impact on what I choose to do or the way I choose to direct my energy in my life and practice. I feel very lucky that I was able to sit down and reflect on the future I want to work towards as part of my job as a whole year. I know that we don’t all get that time. It’s why, at the end of the book, I invite the reader to write down answers to: What is this better future they’re fighting for? Having read the book and drawing on their own life experiences, what is their vision? I encourage you to write down details about that liberated future and stick the piece of paper somewhere you will see it often.
It’s so important that we envision and have the audacity to be like: We can create a better and transformed world. So many of the limitations of this world today is because we believe that nothing else is possible. We’re manipulated into thinking that this is all we can have. Part of us getting to this better future is us also sitting and forcing ourselves every day to believe that a better future is possible if we build it. No one else is going to give it to us. We have to take it in both hands and fight for it ourselves.
It’s Not That Radical was published by Dorling Kindersley on April 6.