Q&A with an Eco-Warrior
Emily Hunter (HBA 2011) only recently graduated from UTSC, but her career as an environmental activist and journalist is already eight years old. Hunter has been on anti-whaling campaigns with the confrontational Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (one of her missions was featured on the Animal Planet channel’s “Whale Wars” series). She is an eco-correspondent for MTV and has edited a book, The Next Eco-Warriors. She’s also the daughter of Greenpeace founders Bobbi and Robert Hunter. Inside UTSC caught up with her as she was getting ready to travel to Borneo as part of an anti-deforestation campaign called DeforestACTION.
Inside UTSC: Your parents were co-founders of Greenpeace. Did you grow up with environmentalism as a mission?
Emily Hunter: It’s something I came to on my own later. I lived kind of a normal life with my Greenpeace parents. We lived in suburbia, I went to a local school, all of that. However, it was also a very different family I grew up in. Every now and then my dad would go off on one of his environmental campaigns. He would write numerous books about our world dilemmas and report on them to a greater audience with City TV. We would have all these conversations about the environment growing up, so it was always there in the background.
Between high school and university I took a year off and decided to do English as a Second Language teacher training abroad. And I went to live and teach in Guangzhou, China. The things I saw there were so completely different than anything I’d ever been exposed to before such as perpetual smog and pollution in the air. It was so intense that there was a red haze in the sky all day. I actually got a series of ailments from being there. This was just one example I would come to learn of the costs from rapid economic “progress.”
So I decided to get off of that progress steam engine, if you will, and try to alter its path. I got out of my contract to teach English half way through and I jumped on my first Sea Shepherd campaign a few months later, which was to the Galapagos Islands. That campaign changed my life because I realized that I had a purpose: to be an environmental change-maker.
IU: Tell me a little bit about Sea Shepherd. How was it working with them?
EH: Sea Shepherd is one of the only organizations that focuses its complete attention to the oceans, what covers 70 per cent of the Earth’s surface. I’ve known (founder) Paul Watson since I was born. My dad and Paul Watson were like eco-warrior brothers. When I went out on my first campaign I remember feeling this sense of life and this sense of purpose I hadn’t really felt before. There was little weight put towards bureaucratic processes, rather Sea Shepherd laid its reputation on the line time and time again to directly intervene for what is right, not just what is politically possible.
IU: You use the term “eco-warrior.”How literal is that?
EH: I’ve received criticism that the warrior idea has a very negative connotation with its association to war. But I think there are a lot of positive associations with the term eco-warrior. An eco-warrior really is a revolutionary that fights because they love something. Warriors are guided by love – love for the world, love for other people, love for other life around them. So I think it is an empowering and important term to identify with. Eco-warriors are much more broad now than just the fighter or protesters, eco-warriors exist in many places.
IU: Can you tell me a little bit more about your book?
EH: One thing that was always surprising to me was meeting all of these young people who were the force behind, and in many ways the leaders of, so many projects and campaigns all around the world. This was in striking contrast to what my generation is always told. We keep hearing that Generation Y is an apathetic, complacent, unemployed youth. But instead I was really seeing this new generation on the rise, trying to tackle some of the greatest crises of our time. So my book The Next Eco-Warriors was a collection of these stories from the environmental youth front, attempting to solve issues such as climate change, animal rights and deforestation with new innovative approaches to change-making.
I’ve been working for the last two-and-a-half years getting the book written, getting a publisher and getting it out there. Even though I don’t expect it to ever be a best seller, the scale at which it is reaching people is amazing. I’m hearing from all around the world, especially from young people, who have read the book from small Pacific islands to places in Australia, Germany and Ecuador. Our generation really is on the rise. There are going to be great things to come.
IU: So you’re optimistic about the environmental movement? You don’t think that it’s a losing battle?
EH: I’m a critical optimist. I’m not naive. I’m aware just how grave the situation is. When you look at the science it’s absolutely a pessimistic story and you feel like giving up before you even try. But I am hopeful when I look at what’s happening all around the world, at people who are fighting for progressive causes and trying to make a difference.
IU: What’s next? What are you hoping to do?
My next campaign is called DeforestACTION. It’s a global campaign where youth around the world want to tackle deforestation because they know that it is a tangible solution to fighting climate change. The central core is trying to protect these forests that are being illegally logged in Borneo, Indonesia. This will also help the endangered species like orangutans. As well, it will help the local Dayak people whose economic means are being completely trashed. I’m very excited to be one of the people selected to go.
IU: How anxious are you about going? It sounds like you could be stepping into quite a tense situation.
There are definitely going to be risks. We will be faced with illegal loggers, we will be faced with illegal animal traders who aren’t very happy to see us. I’m kind of used to that.
Not everybody wants to go out there and be face to face with illegal loggers and illegal poachers or front men of industry and risk their own safety. That is why projects like DeforestACTION are also about creating other forms of activism that people can be a part of, such as through education with students able to help stop deforestation from their computers. At the same time I think sometimes we need more people who are willing to take serious risks. We’ve done a lot of lobbying government and we’ve done a lot of petition signing. I think we have to step up our game and be willing to risk more now.
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