“To be able to change the world, you need to change how you relate to it”

On a very warm summer day in July I had the opportunity to talk to Axel Eriksson, who, among other things, is a youth representative for Sweden at the UN Climate Convention. We cover a lot of topics in this interview, from young people’s perspective on climate change, how to make an impact, to the importance of inner development and psychological sustainability. I felt very inpspired talking to Axel, and I hope you do to.

Who: Axel Eriksson
Age: 20 years
Does: Studies technical physics, youth representative for Sweden in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC); involved in the Global Youth Biodiversity Network, among other things.
Currently: Participating in the UN climate conference COP 27 this fall to represent the interests of Swedish youth.

Hi there Axel Eriksson! Who are you?

I am 20 years old and stud technical physics in Lund, Sweden. Originally, I am from Umeå, and grew up in Gothenburg and Stockholm. Regarding my interest in the environment and climate, ever since I was a child I have had great sympathy for animals and wanted animals to be treated as well as possible. As I got older, I began to realize the magnitude of climate change, and it has become more of a focus for me. I come from a large family, where there has been an awareness of these issues, and we have talked a lot about it at home.

How does your commitment to the environment and climate look like right now?

Among other things, I am one of two youth representatives for Sweden in the UN climate convention, UNFCCC, which means that I am part of Sweden’s delegation and represent the views of young people in that context. For example, it can be about issues where young people’s opinions differ from those of the delegation or to remind that young people are not a homogenous group, that it is important that young people are included and represented regardless of socio-economic background.

Another part of my role is to make the UN climate convention as understandable as possible for Sweden’s young people and to regularly report back in e.g. social media, what is said in the negotiation rooms, and where the international climate process is heading. It is quite difficult as a young person to follow these kinds of questions otherwise. Now that it is COP 27 in Egypt, for example, we will participate and represent the interests of Sweden’s young people in the proposals that will be presented there.

Then I am also involved in the Global Youth Biodiversity Network, which is an organization that represents young people within the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, CBD, and is made up of young people from all over the world.

In the context of your involvement as a youth representative, have you encountered climate worry as a question? 

Absolutely. Together with another person from the “Nature and Youth Sweden” (a Swedish organisation for youth interested in nature studies and environmental protection, Ed.), I have written a column about climate worry for the “Keep The Planet Alive” yearbook. It was about the perspective of children and young people, and that you can feel overwhelmed at times.

What we wanted to highlight was that it is not necessarily negative if you have strong feelings about the climate. It can also mean that you are very motivated to achieve a change. Having strong feelings, on the one hand, and what you then do with those feelings, on the other hand, is important to distinguish. It affects how one feels psychologically.

How come you choose climate worry as the theme for that column?

We think it is important to see climate worry as a societal problem, really like any health condition that is widespread among the population, and recognize that it needs to be addressed at a societal level, rather than just at an individual level.

I have thought a lot about societal responsibility versus individual responsibility and sometimes it almost seems like it is being discussed as opposite poles. Either society should solve the climate crisis through political decisions and systemic change, or we as individuals should live more sustainably. What is your perspektive on this?

Yes, I totally agree that both aspects are important. I have seen lately that inner development has become increasingly important. They talk about “the inner development goals”. It is a good initiative. I believe that in order to change the world, it is necessary to change the way you relate to the world.

But people need to feel safe with that development, and not think “Then I have to give up everything”. That means, it requires both political decisions to reduce emissions but also talking to individuals so that they can feel comfortable with what they themselves are doing. Both parts are needed, individual development and societal development.

What is your impression of what people your age are concerned about regarding the climate and the environment?

There are different things, but something that I think is very tangible is a concern for the future of their children. Some young people that I have met are considering not having children at all. Both because it wouldn’t be fair to put a child in a world that could go downhill, but also because they wouldn’t be able to give a child the attention it deserves when there’s a crisis to deal with at the same time.

There is also a concern for direct consequences of the climate crisis, for oneself and for others. Many young people are aware of different scenarios for what a number of degrees of warming would mean, what consequences it would have for us humans.

Is there hope in the people that you meet?

I would say so. Among those who are actively engaged, there is hope. Many people find it energizing to get involved. But it can be a tricky balance, when you think about all the consequences one’s lifestyle has on the planet. It can sometimes feel overwhelming.

What do you do yourself when you feel strong feelings related to the climate?

There have been different periods. For a while it seemed hopeless and I felt I wasn’t doing enough. Since then, I have decided that I can get involved in the issues that I think are important now, and then I see if it feels meaningful after a while. For me, it has simply been important to spend my time in a way that I can make the maximum impact with what I can do and what I feel good about.

Interview by Fabian Lenhard. Photo: Tim Swaan on Unsplash

Read more about:
COP 27
UN Convention on Biological Diversity, CBD
Nature and Youth Sweden (Swedish)
Keep the planet alive
Inner development goals

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