Find your joy to save the planet, says Dominique Palmer, a 22-year-old climate activist, storyteller, model and organiser of Climate Live, and member of Fridays for Future and the Bad Activist Collective.

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The Big Idea

Going to protests, pushing for policy change, going head to head with the super-powerful. It can all start to feel a bit draining. 

But what if there was an activist route that gave us life rather than drained us of it. 

Finding your joy to save the planet is what Dominique Palmer, 22-year-old climate activist, storyteller, model and organiser of Climate Live, and member of Fridays for Future and the Bad Activist Collective, is all about. Because joy is sustainable.

How Dominique Got Into Climate Activism

“I really never imagined myself being a climate activist at all. But I was interested in sustainability when I was younger. I went vegan, and tried to do different individual actions.”

Dominique Palmer

But it wasn’t until 2019 that Dominique really tapped into the climate movement. That’s because she saw posters in Lewisham in South London where she lived that revealed how air pollution was affecting the community. This was really brought home when she spoke to a woman in her local Jamaican restaurant who told her about how her child was suffering from asthma and how air pollution was making it worse. This really hit home because Dominique’s younger brother was facing something similar. 

From there, she connected the dots about how the climate and ecological emergency were right in front of her. 

At first she felt “incredibly overwhelmed” by the sheer vastness of the problem. But she started reading and learning and soon found herself at a climate strike and “never looked back.” She remembers: “The energy was incredible. And I thought, okay, there’s real power here. There’s real energy here, we can actually do something about this.”

That same year, Dominique found herself at the UN Climate Change Conference. Pretty wild, right?

The Power of Community and Collective Action

Climate change can seem big, scary, and impossible to tackle alone. Which is why going to a protest and being part of a community was a real game-changer for Dominique. 

“Community is really what’s kept me going and just guided me through this movement.. they really become another family to you.”

Dominique Palmer

But ultimately, climate change and all of the issues that come under its umbrella from ecological collapse to air pollution and climate refugees can feel so huge and overwhelming that moments of success can feel few and far between. But there has been one notable one: Stop Cambo.

Wait, What’s Cambo and Why Does it Need Stopping?

Cambo is a prospective oil and gas field in the North Sea. 

Green campaigners have argued that Cambo should not get a green light given the UK’s legally binding target to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

The #StopCambo campaign, made up of individuals, grassroots groups and organisations,  started in 2021 to fight the Cambo oil field and has since expanded to take on all new fields in the UK, specifically focusing on Shell’s Jackdaw gas field and Equinor’s Rosebank oil field.

You might remember the time young climate activists confronted Shell’s CEO, Ben van Beurden, on stage at a TED conference. That was one of Dominique’s friends and fellow activists, Lauren McDonald.

“No matter what he says today, remember Shell has spent millions covering up the warnings from climate scientists, bribing politicians and even paying soldiers to kill Nigerian activists fighting against them, all while rebranding to make it look as though they care and have the intention of changing. Disproportionately in the global south, so many people are already dying due to the issues related to the climate crisis such as pollution, extreme heat and weather-related disasters. thIS IS not an abstract issue and you are directly responsible for those deaths.”

Lauren McDonald

This was followed by a walk-out of activists in the audience who convened outside to protest. The whole episode of action went viral.

About a month later, Shell, which had been planning to develop the Cambo field, pulled out of the project. Success!

“It’s just been so incredible to get to a point where there has been an impact. That power really is there and our voices have been heard,” says Dominique. 

But it was also an experience imbued with many mixed emotions. 

“Right before we did the walkout, I was so anxious about what would happen that I was shaking. Those kinds of moments aren’t really spoken about as much and those moments can be difficult. And it places activists on this pedestal as these beings who are bulletproof which prevents a lot of people from getting [into activism] because they think you need to be perfect… or unstoppable. When that’s really not the case.”

Dominique Palmer

So what happens after a success story like that? Is it pure elation?

There are two sides to it, according to Dominique. 

“When we get to a point where we finally achieve what we wanted, it’s amazing. But then also, is that enough? Have we achieved everything we want to do? And where do we really go from here?”

Dominique takes us back to 2019. 6 million people joined the global climate strikes, making it the biggest climate protest in history.

In the UK, 350,000 people took to the streets and then Parliament announced a climate emergency. Dominique remembers it finally felt like we were getting somewhere.

But as you might have noticed, there’s been some backsliding since then. 

The UK has offered new North Sea oil and gas licences despite climate concerns, a report earlier this year warned that the UK will miss net zero target without urgent action and Liz Truss’ main policies for easing the energy crisis are to expand fossil fuels.

The overwhelm starts to creep back in. 

That’s why it’s important to remember the wins, says Dominique.

“For me, it’s been really important to put it in its context and see the impact that it’s had there [in Scotland] rather than looking at it on the massive global scale. And also the little wins, like in Climate Live where we held concerts in 20 countries, and we brought people together for the climate, which was incredible. That’s also a win, engaging people and getting new people involved is something that should be celebrated more as a win.”

Dominique Palmer

What Does The Future of Activism Look Like?

Activism, striking, protesting and campaigning are very high intensity activities. And it can be draining work. Which is one of the reasons Dominique is focused on engaging with creativity that sparks joy. 

“What I really want to focus on now is mainly two things: combining the arts with climate but also trying to reach into new communities. ​​I really want to focus on actually getting local communities, especially people of colour, who will be disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis. And just for me personally, trying to have more joy within my activism and focus on more joy and things that spark that for me, because it is sustainable. Joy is sustainable.”

Dominique Palmer

Finding an activist route that gives us life rather than drains us of it

Arts and culture will be the way that we the climate movement reaches the masses. Because art and culture lead to the massive paradigm shifting kinds of change we need right now. 

“The arts have so much power and so much influence. The climate crisis is also just a crisis of connection as well: of connecting to nature, connecting to our communities. So what better way to unite people than through something that connects us all so deeply, which is the arts, which everyone consumes in one way or another.”

Dominique Palmer

In 2021, Dominique’s organisation, Climate Live, held events and concerts in 20 countries.

And that creativity is coming from all corners of the world, not just parachuted in from the West. It’s not a copy and paste approach. 

“We need to go off the fundamental principle that no one is voiceless. Everyone says ‘we need to give a voice to the voiceless.’ But people are not voiceless. They’re just not being listened to.”

Dominique Palmer

Until next time — stay curious! 

In conversation with Climate Curious co-hosts Maryam Pasha and Ben Hurst, Dominique shares why art and culture is the only way to change behaviour and society, why the climate fight is a crisis of connection and community, and what it really feels like to stand up to oil executives and heads of state. 

Listen here: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | RSS | Android

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