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Battling burnout on a burning planet

Dominique Palmer’s reflections on climate wins in 2021 and the importance of revolutionary love

Illustration by Natasha Phang-Lee @npl_illustration

For the climate justice movement, the past year has been significant, turbulent, and emotional. 

Lack of action from global leaders and increasing direct climate impacts has invoked feelings of eco-anxiety and betrayal. Yet there were empowering moments too. People rising up in their millions around the world to stand up for our planet created a glimmer of hope for the future of the movement.

As a climate justice activist, I’ve worked on various campaigns and attended COP26 and TEDCountdown in the past year. During this time, I experienced firsthand the rollercoaster that is activism; ranging from the encouraging wins to the moments I lost hope. 

This past year has taught me more than ever how the success of a movement is not straightforward. It has shown me how love and a deep connection to our natural world can bring a sense of belonging, but that this also intensifies the heartbreak when you see it harmed. I’ve learned about the importance of strong communities which uplift one another, and how we cannot change the world without it.

Before looking towards the future of the movement, I needed to reflect on how much we have achieved. It can feel so discouraging when there is so far to go, but here are some wins from 2021. 

Fossil Fuel giants took a hit

With the #StopCambo campaign, we paused the development of the new oil field and pressured Shell to withdraw its funding. Campaigners and local courts forced Shell to halt oil exploration on the South African coast that would have devastated wildlife and delicate ecosystems.

At TEDCountdown, young people confronted Shell’s presence at the conference and young activist Lauren MacDonald called him out on stage before our walkout and protest. This gained international coverage and spotlighted the atrocities Shell has committed.

A Dutch court ruled that Shell is legally obligated to reduce its emissions by nearly half within the decade, and a shareholder rebellion from climate activists within ExxonMobil and Chevron hit the climate criminals where it hurts.

People united

Millions of people around the world went on strike for the climate on the 6th of November, including over 150,000 people in Glasgow alone, with huge numbers of social justice groups and unions joining.

Teach the Future’s Climate Education Bill (the first ever student-written Bill) proposed by Nadia Whittome passed its first reading in the UK. Young organisers pushed Harvard University to divest all $42bn from fossil fuel companies and Climate Live united young people and artists with music events in over 25 countries.

A majority Black neighbourhood in Memphis, Tennessee fought off construction of a pipeline, the Indigenous Passamaquoddy Tribe was returned 150 acres of land that was stolen from them after successful ‘land back’ campaigns, and the Keystone XL pipeline was cancelled.

We need to take the wins as they come, however small or big they may seem in the grander scheme. This past year of activism has proved to me the importance of celebrating wins, yourself, and each other. 

There are many aspects that the movement can focus on as it moves forward, but three aspects I believe to be crucial are: centring intersectionality and solidarity, engaging new people in an accepting space, and a revolutionary mind shift towards radical optimism and revolutionary love.

The way forward

Of course, as we know, we still have far to go. 

We are in a decade where we need to see concrete action to safeguard our futures and ensure a habitable planet. We can’t afford to accept compromises and the same empty promises from global leaders. 

Recently, the film Don’t Look Up sparked conversation on the climate crisis, for its stark similarities to the experiences of real life activists. The characters in the film are sidelined, deliberately tripped up in interviews and shamed in the media – just like those who have been calling for climate action for decades.

It can often feel as if we are battling to be heard to save the only home that we have. The results of COP26 demonstrate this perfectly. While determination and action took place amongst the  protestors outside of the conference, from within action was blocked. Fossil fuel delegates had more representation than any country, representatives from the Global South were ignored as they pushed urgency from firsthand experiences, and quotas that bring us towards the dangerous level of 2.4C degrees were agreed. 

What needs to be stressed now is this: if our world leaders, and the public, continue to underestimate the seriousness of climate breakdown, it will only accelerate the rapidity in which we will experience it, and how destructive it will be.

There is no going back once we hit certain tipping points, and we only have a decade to act before it is too late. We may only have five years left before we use the remaining carbon budget to stay under 1.5C of global temperatures. Any higher than that, and a habitable planet is in jeopardy. Every fraction of a degree matters and it will be the difference between stability or catastrophic weather events and ecological impacts that send our civilisation into chaos. 

However, we do still have the chance to safeguard our planet and reclaim our futures. 


One thing that Don’t Look Up did not represent truly is the collective power of the people. We are the hope. What I want people to take away from this article is not doomism for our future, but the feeling that we still have a chance. 

This will not be the end. 

These oppressive systems were built by people, and so they can be dismantled by people. We have the knowledge, solutions, and resources for transformative climate justice. 

Another world is possible, but we must be brave enough to imagine it. 

Those fighting against change will try to distract you from the systems and lobbying at play. We must believe in ourselves: societal and revolutionary change has always been achieved by pressure from people. 

You are a force to be reckoned with, we are a force to be reckoned with.A force that can create ripple effects of change through the actions we take. 

A revolutionary mind shift

My hope for 2022 is that a revolutionary mindset starts to come into play. That more people feel empowered and understand just how much they can contribute to the climate movement. That radical optimism becomes more prevalent than climate doom, and that we fight injustice by looking at the type of world that could await us. I hope that more people dare to be brave and realise that we do not have to stay within the constraints of a destructive system which tells us that climate justice and saving our planet is not possible.

Radical optimism is not easy, and everyone has something different which guides them. Within a system that exists to tell us we have no power, it is a radical choice to believe that we do. 

This includes taking the wins as they come. Because feeling burned out on a burning planet can take its toll. 

Optimism can spur this shift from apathy to action. This does not mean the absence of rage or sadness, but instead it is something to hold on to throughout it all.

Revolutionary love is vital. This love includes building community and genuine connections, extending understanding and empathy to others, growing together, and holding each other accountable. 

It is time to stop thinking within the constraints of society and the system that has told us that there are no other options. From the climate crisis, to abolition, to liberation for marginalised groups – we are limited if we try to work within the current infrastructure. But that’s the beauty of movements: they allow us to envision a new movement and make it happen. 

We cannot accept compromises. Wildfires, floods, heatwaves, droughts, and typhoons do not compromise. Ecosystem collapse and species extinction does not compromise. Our beautiful planet is burning right before our eyes. Don’t accept it. Demand a better future. 

So, do whatever you can and start today. This is the only way we will win, by uniting. Another world is possible, and we are unstoppable. So, like the sea levels, we must rise. Let us reclaim the future we deserve.


Illustration by Natasha Phang-Lee @npl_illustration

Inspiration for the artwork came from the feeling of impending and catastrophic change emanating from the article. At the same time, I wanted to capture this feeling of hope that Dominique imparts to readers. I thought the best way to represent this was by using bold colours and creating some depth and movement within simple objects. – Natasha Phang Lee


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