For this year’s Cultural eXchanges Festival, we asked some of our Journalism students to write up accounts of several events. Here Will Millar reports on a talk by Scarlett Westbrook.
Teenage activist Scarlett Westbrook inspired audiences at De Montfort University (DMU) with a talk on the power of the individual to make real political difference - no matter what their age.
At the age of 16, Scarlett has already seen her work debated at the top level of Welsh politics, become the youngest person in the world to obtain an A-level in politics and government and fits regular talks with MPs around her chemistry and biology coursework.
Talking to an audience at this year’s Cultural eXchanges Festival – DMU’s annual series of talks and Q&As with influential cultural figures – Scarlett described her busy schedule.
She said: “Yesterday, a bill that I contributed to was debated in the Welsh Senedd. It tried to incorporate climate change into every aspect of the Welsh curriculum.”
“Last week I met two MP’s but earlier today, I had double chemistry and double biology.”
The talk consisted of a back-and-forth conversation between Scarlett and Dr Andrew Reeves, a senior lecturer in Energy and Sustainable Development for DMU.
Scarlett – who, age 13, became the youngest person in the world to obtain an A-Level in Government and Politics – said she had found ways to balance school and activism.
In primary school, she called on her sister to simplify Labour’s 2015 manifesto – this helped her sink her teeth into the world of politics and activism.
She said: “At 10, I was canvasing for Labour, knocking on people’s doors and telling them to vote for Ed Miliband.”
Months after completing a self-taught A Level, she got involved with the UK Student Climate Network (UKSCN) – the organisation behind the 2019 student strikes. She helped organise protests in Birmingham and London, subsequently lobbying over a hundred politicians.
She said she recalled herself and other young activists being patronised by adults but pointed out that recent political and social events had left young people “resilient and mature”.
“I’m 16 and I’ve lived through three recessions,” she said.
But she said she had found it hard, on occasion, to find like-minded people.
She said: “Until UKSCN, I didn’t have anyone who cared. It was all passive listening. They’d say – that’s nice, that’s great but they didn’t actually care”
With the temperament and charm of a politician, she covered a range of issues from colonialism to decarbonisation. She emphasised that climate change was a global effort, meaning a global responsibility from each country.
She spoke about her “disappointment” in the Conservative Party, saying she felt parliament was at the moment not progressive enough and that there was a clear lack of climate education in school and universities.
She said: “It should be embedded into every single subject. Whether you’re a farmer or a pharmacist. A builder or a banker. You’re going to be impacted by the climate crisis.”
She also covered plant-based dieting, as a positive and ecological step forward.
As the conversation drew to a close, Westbrook outlined three practical steps that she felt everyone could do to help fight climate change.
“Write to your MP. Read more about the climate crisis. Talk to three friends about what you’ve learnt,” she said.
Posted on Monday 8th March 2021