In Conversation with Lea Weimann, Eco Activist and Alumni
The author, Maitreyi Tusharika, is a fourth-year Management student working as a COP26 Student Reporter with the Principal’s Office. As part of a Climate Justice Conversation Series, Mae interviewed Lea Weimann, a recent St Andrews graduate with a M.A. in International Relations and Sustainable Development. Lea is currently doing a Masters in Climate Law at the University of Edinburgh.
Mae: Hello Lea, thank you for doing this today! Would you like to start by introducing your role as a Climate Activist?
Lea: Of course. I think Climate Activist is a term that came on more recently. When I was younger and first started my activism journey, I liked to call myself an Eco-Activist. For me, it was very much around looking at ‘Eco-‘ and ‘Lifestyle’. Now obviously the term Climate Activist is used more often, to which I’d say, sure, I am a Climate Activist. Whilst climate does incorporate many things, there is also a whole ecological system, its biodiversity, and the oceans – so that’s why I quite like the term eco-activist, it feels like a whole rounded representation.
Mae: On that note, what does Climate Justice mean to you?
Lea: I think it’s a big term – it can mean different things. Taking the word ‘Justice’ for example – you could refer to Intergenerational Justice which encompasses the conversations about climate change and all that’s currently being done politically to discuss what we leave for the future generations, for children. But then justice also very much refers to Equality in the global system in terms of those that are actually most affected under climate change. We need to make sure that we take a just approach with regards to those who are marginalised, those that do not have the same privileges as we do in the west, and those that have maybe not contributed to climate change the same way but are suffering the most from the effects of it.
Mae: Many students feel quite strongly towards sustainability and climate justice on the planet but it can get overwhelming as there’s a lot of resources out there. Was there a specific book/ piece of media/moment that changed the way that you feel about all of this?
Lea: This is a difficult one because there is so much and I started my activism when I was quite young, given that, it is really hard for me to think about the defining moment. I’ve thought about this for a while, “When did everything change?”. I’ve grown up very much close to nature. I think that had a big role in increasing my appreciation for it and creating a connection when I would play outside. I definitely always had that admiration and love for nature but my will to do something more active came when I was 12.
I was reading a German book that involved this girl in Japan who lives in a village and befriends some dolphins in the area. There is the whole situation of fishing and dolphin culling, and I was so moved bythe story because this girl tries really hard to speak to all these high people in the town council. She is trying to get them to understand that these are amazing animals we share the planet with. I think I was just so inspired by how much she gave to protect the animals. I felt like that was a book that really shook me and made me feel like we need to do something. As children, as young people, there is a voice that we can put forward to share empathy towards other animals on the planet.
I actually have a poem called “Dear Dolphins” in my book about it which refers to this book and moment.
Obviously, there’s been such an evolution as well. When I started this, I was not at all as confident as I am now, I was pretty shy. It was hard for me to speak about this publicly. I think the growing passion for the environment completely changed who I am. It enabled me to step out of my comfort zone. I felt like I needed to speak about this, it was not about me anymore, it was about the planet.
So I eventually started to speak at school and give environmental presentations, which really eased me into the whole process. Another significant change was when I decide to become vegan five years ago. I watched the documentary Cowspiracy and that influenced how I looked at lifestyle changes and sustainability. I had a whole new perspective of individual choices that could make a positive contribution. It was definitely a turning point where I decided to do something big in my personal life that speaks to the morals that I have.
Mae: That’s wonderful, it sounds like you’ve come a long way! Coming back to the anecdote that you shared – it’s almost been a decade since you read that book and embarked on this journey. If you could talk to your 12-year-old self and tell her something about where you are today, what would it be?
Lea: Yes, it has been 10 years! Having completed an undergraduate degree recently, I am at the stage where we ask ourselves the grand scheme question of where life is leading and what job we are going to do next. My eco-journey has almost defined me (and my life) for ten years. It is difficult in some ways because when you have something that defines who you are, it complicates thinking about your life, your role, and what to do next.
I think what I would tell my younger self is to not be afraid to speak my opinions and to speak my truth. I think ten years ago it was a lot less “in” to speak about sustainability and the climate than it is now. It has evolved to be an important topic that more people are comfortable discussing. Back then, it was almost looked down upon and that made it difficult for me to express why it is so important.
Sometimes teachers and other people would listen to me and say “Okay sweet, she’s passionate about protecting the planet” and did not see it with the required level of seriousness. All of this caused me to feel fear towards what other people were thinking about me. I think I would have told myself to not be afraid to speak my heart and my truth and to not worry too much about what other people thought and said.
Mae: This is beautiful and quite inspiring to hear, thank you for sharing that with us! So when you came to university, to St Andrews, how did you first get involved in climate action?
Lea: When I came to St Andrews I started thinking about what I could do, I was like “I want to do something!”. I had been the Environment Head at my school and came here to study Sustainable Development so I was already into sustainability. I remember going to the Green Fayre to find out about different opportunities. My initial involvement was with Transition (St Andrews) because they have a big presence when you first come here. I started working with community gardens and was their Social Media Intern in my first year.
Something that completely changed my time in Saint Andrews was my decision to start my radio show on “Eco-Activist Journeys“. Having a weekly radio show was so exciting, and obviously, there was a prominent learning curve as I learned so much about sustainability. I’m so amazed I did that for 4 years but it was one of the most joyful things I was involved in. In addition to my studies, I was able to learn so much and connect with many sustainability figures in St Andrews as I invited them to be interviewed.
Mae: It’s been almost two years since Line in the Sand (1) and we now have two new classes of students who are not necessarily in touch with what happened. Would you like to give us a quick overview of the event, what it meant to you, and how it felt?
Lea: I think Line in the Sand was a huge turning point for environmentalism in St Andrews. It is important to understand where it all started and why it was so significant. It obviously wasn’t the first climate strike, there had been global ones the same year at the beginning of March and April. This was very much a community collaboration. It was student-led but we worked with community members as well as Transition. There was the idea to have a Line in the Sand of people symbolically standing at the beach observing two minutes of silence to reflect on climate change and what it means for us in a coastal town like St Andrews.
We promoted it as much as we could but we did not expect that it would be so significant. There was this excitement because it was the global climate strike. It was so incredible to see school children of all ages, parents with their young kids, staff members, students, of course. There were a lot of people from older generations in the town. The energy is really difficult to describe because a lot of things about climate change can feel so heavy, but people standing there in solidarity made it incredibly inspirational and hopeful for everybody. Everyone left on a high, invigorated and confident that we could make a difference and do something. I think the images were also so powerful.
The estimated was almost 1,200 people. We never properly counted, there was a small boy who had a clicker and ran down the line. There were many small kids also running around. I actually went there the next day and I took 1200 steps to just see because I was at the beginning of the line and I literally could not see the end of it. So I just had to walk along that line on the beach the next day. I was like “Oh my Gosh, these are quite a lot of steps to take!”.
I think it is really interesting to realise that it’s something that then sparked change and caused the university to take important steps towards sustainability.
Looking back now, it felt so huge. We were standing at the edge of the water thinking “Change is coming”. And then just a few months later, we had a pandemic and literally, our world had completely changed.
Even though last year we could not gather people together in the same way again, we had sand art and socially distanced shoes there. I think that was something that really hit home for me as well as other people because just last year there were so many people that gathered here together.
I think it is definitely something that lives on in some ways. The visual impact and the people saying, “we need to draw a line now and take action because our world is changing.”
Mae: There’s powerful imagery there, thank you. You mentioned the importance of discussions and efforts in the build-up to COP26 – do u have any advice to leave with students who want to get involved?
Lea: I want to be careful with us because I think activism can mean something completely different depending on who you are and it does not necessarily have to mean protesting or going out into the streets. I think what’s really important is for people to find a way to make their voices heard. It is really important to show that there is a number of people who are behind this, especially for us as a generation that is inheriting this earth. (Students should) think about how to get involved in ways where you can leave a message and show support to the global movement of young people going forward.
However, it goes without saying, this is a long term thing. We will not be able to solve the climate crisis at COP26, this is a long term mission for all of us. It is about asking ourselves, “What can we do to bring the system change that we need?”. But also to think about how one can get involved on a personal level. It is important to relate this to our personal talents and interests because it is not only for students who study sustainability. It is about bringing this into every course and interest that exists as it does relate to everything.
Looking for those unique intersections in a creative way is exciting. We should bring them into our culture and thinking, and try and make this a community effort. This is not just about fighting this “big dooming looming monster” but it is about creating a better future and life for ourselves. Do not lose hope, look for a way to shape our future more positively!