Mikaela Loach doesn’t want to be a hope machine, nor does she think she can save the planet on her own. The 25-year-old activist, who has recently written her first book, It’s Not That Radical: Climate Action to Transform Our World, wants everyone to take responsibility for stopping the climate crisis however they can. Whether that’s joining a local organising group, unionising and pushing for a just transition in the workplace or cultivating a place of political education, she believes there’s a role for every single one of us.
“With any big issue that I see, I have to remain connected to the real histories of transformation and change that have happened already,” she says, pointing to the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners badge on her pink cardigan. “Every time I look at it, I remember the courageous coalition that came together and the real solidarity that was built in a way others thought would be impossible.”
I video call Loach after she does a panel event for Lush in Bournemouth, to celebrate the cosmetics company launching a Green Hub in Poole to help achieve full circularity in its business. She speaks to me from the lobby of The Nici, the hotel she’s staying at for the work trip. Loach has also brought her grandmother along, which is very endearing.
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The book reviews for It’s Not That Radical are in, and readers have been sending the author heartwarming messages, making Loach’s hard work feel much more rewarding. “One thing that’s been especially nice to see is how many older people than myself have shared that it’s really challenged them on many strongly held beliefs like the overpopulation myth,” she says. Out of all the chapters in her book, the anti-capitalism one has been a hit with her audience, which has surprised the activist, but is a reassuring sign that she’s guiding people in the right direction.
One thing that’s been especially nice to see is how many older people than myself have shared that it’s really challenged them on many strongly held beliefs like the overpopulation myth.
“The thing I’ve enjoyed the most has been how the in-person book events have been onboarding opportunities for people to get actively involved in climate justice work.” She likens her book events to pop-up Freshers’ Fairs for organising groups which speak to people while they queue for a book signing. “It’s amazing to hear from people who didn’t know anything about my book a few weeks before, and then they’ve come to an event and are now taking an active part in climate justice work, like joining a local climate group for the first time or an anti-raids or a cop-watch group. That’s the entire point of my work.”
It’s been a busy month for the climate justice campaigner. Not only has she been touring the country for the release of her bestselling book, but she’s also been in and out of various studios for interviews with journalists and radio hosts. Some have been friendly, others, not so much. “I used to be afraid of doing the things that were a bit scarier,” she says, reflecting on the more stressful encounters, “but actually, I think there’s value in being in spaces that are a bit more uncomfortable and challenging.” In fact, it was at a Gates Foundation event that Loach went viral for calling out billionaires.
“I think billionaires shouldn’t exist, and I hope the discomfort I’m feeling and maybe the discomfort I cause others to feel will mean that we can all be transformed through this conversation”, she said on the panel, pointing out that a true redistribution of wealth in the name of climate justice means a redistribution of power. “I have many challenges to philanthrocapitalism because I believe the climate crisis was caused by capitalism,” she continued, stunning the audience. Surprisingly, she tells me she doesn’t even remember being on stage or saying those words because she was blinded by anxiety. “Thankfully, there was a video of it,” she jokes.
I don’t think I ever can seriously think about not doing [activism] because it feels like once you’re, not just aware, but once you feel the realities of everything that’s happening around us and the conditions that many of our siblings across the world get forced into living, campaigning feels like the only rational way to respond.
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As her career evolves, the activist is making more time to lean into the quieter and slower behind-the-scenes climate organising work. Too much public-facing work has caused her to burn out in the past. “I do enjoy public speaking, but I’m only able to do it by putting enough aftercare in afterwards, to give myself time for that adrenaline crash to happen and be in a comfortable environment for that and have people around me who are willing to let me ramble about stuff.” Instead of speaking herself, Loach recently supported her mum’s speech at Extinction Rebellion’s Big One protests in London. “Seeing and hearing from her was amazing because this was the first time she’d gone to a big protest.”
In the lead-up to important climate campaigns and projects and since the release of her book, Loach is taking extra care of her wellbeing. “My burnout has recently manifested more in how my body felt physically. It’s not just tiredness but also pain, which is quite concerning,” she explains. “I turned off my phone for five days and slept a lot. I feel so much better, but [burnout] has taught me how much your body pays attention to when you’re overworking yourself or overstressing yourself.”
I ask Loach if she has ever considered quitting what she does. “I don’t think I ever can seriously think about not doing it because it feels like, once you’re, not just aware, but once you feel the realities of everything that’s happening around us and the conditions that many of our siblings across the world get forced into living, campaigning feels like the only rational way to respond.” For example, she is beginning to work with the Yukpa Solidarity Network in Colombia, which has been resisting Glencore, an international mining company and their Cerrejon mine, which is the largest in Latin America and the tenth biggest in the world. The indigenous Yukpa group blames air pollution, loss of ancestral lands and the diversion of freshwater sources for the horrific wave of deaths of the community’s children.
“The Yukpa Solidarity Network is trying to [communicate] that those of us who live in the UK or Europe are living in the core of the empire. We’re in proximity to the headquarters of these companies that are causing harm to the communities that exist on the periphery, in these sacrifice zones. We’re talking with the community about how we can best support and continue the fight here in the UK.” On 4 June, there will be a Resist Glencoresolidarity rally led by Indigenous Yukpa Leader Esneda Saavedra Restrepo, from the Colombian Embassy to The London Headquarters of Glencore.
In her personal life, Loach is trying to create a better separation between work and play. “I didn’t focus enough on friendship until this year, and I realised how many of my existing friendships were work-related. This year I told myself I’d say yes more to seeing cabarets and musicals,” she says. These days, she’s trying to have more wholesome dinners with friends and make time for listening to Brazilian rap music and reading Young Adult fantasy books. “I’ve been watching the Hunger Games a lot,” she laughs.
With the climate crisis making itself clear more and more each day, it’s obvious that Loach’s work pile is not getting any smaller or less urgent. Yet she doesn’t shy away from the challenges ahead because she knows she’s never resisting alone, but in community.
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