Eco-Warrior Profile: Chloé Mikolajczak Schools Us on Sustainable Consumerism
By: Lauren Pezzullo
Environmental crusader Chloe Mikolajczak wasn’t raised in an eco-friendly household. But after learning how the footprint of human activity has irreversibly changed our planet, she made it her life’s mission to protect the environment at all costs. Today, the young activist urges policymakers to make changes for more mindful consumerism. She’s the coordinator of Fashion Revolution Belgium, a movement that campaigns for greater transparency in the fashion supply chain. She’s also the founder of The Green Seeds Project. Here, she visits disadvantaged Belgian high schools to inspire students to develop more sustainable habits.
We spoke with Chloe about what inspired her mission and why it’s up to us—not just the policymakers—to create change. Here’s what she had to say:
What event compelled you to fight climate change?
I didn't grow up in an eco-conscious family or in nature. I grew up in Paris, and my teenage years were filled with fast fashion, fast food, and, generally speaking, careless overconsumption. But I've always loved animals, and during my first year at uni I saw articles, images and videos about the disastrous impact of palm oil on the Indonesian rainforest and the orangutans, and that was it! I learned more and more about the impacts of human activity on the planet, and from there, there was no going back!
What do you think isn’t talked about enough in relation to climate change?
There are many things! But personally, I feel that women and girls, as well as oceans, aren't talked about enough. Women and girls are one of the most vulnerable groups of people to climate change, but advancing their rights, education, and access to health and reproductive rights has been found to have considerable positive impacts on greenhouse gas emissions.
Similarly, we tend to focus on land issues (which are obviously super important) when we talk about climate change. But the oceans are actually the lungs of the earth. They act as the planet's lead climate regulator - absorbing around 1/3 of the CO2 we emit into the atmosphere. But now, human activity is taking its toll on ocean health, and we're looking away. And as Paul Watson, the founder of Sea Shepherd says, "if the oceans die, we die."
If you had a million dollars to donate to any cause, which would it be?
Tough one...I think I would split that money in two and donate the first half to environmental education and awareness projects because, without worldwide public pressure, we won't be able to push policymakers and companies to change. Then I would donate the second half to reforestation and conservation projects because we need to protect what we still have before it's too late.
How is climate change approached in your country? The good, the bad and the ugly…
Belgium has a very unique decision-making system, which makes it incredibly hard to move the needle on climate and environmental issues. Here, legislative power is distributed among three regions (Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels), all of which must agree to one unified climate policy. Often, the decision-making process is at a standstill for months, and even years, while policymakers discuss how many resources each region should contribute to the pot.
At almost every COP, Belgium is awarded the "Fossil of the Year" award for its climate inaction. Yet, a lot of citizen-led projects are beginning to flourish, such as organic veggie gardens, bulk shops, bike lanes, and even climate protests (Belgium was one of the countries where the most people mobilized for climate action). So, this really gives me hope :)
Are you working on a specific project that you’d like the world to know about?
About a year ago, I created an environmental education initiative for high school students: The Green Seeds Project. We decided to focus on relatable topics that we all have an impact on on a daily basis: fashion, plastic, and food. We developed a methodology where we began to empower students to become actors of change in their own communities, showing them that no one is ever too small or too young to make a difference! So far, over 500 students have completed the program, and we can't wait for what's to come :)
Where do you see the most hope?
I see so much hope, especially in terms of individual power and initiatives. There are a growing number of citizen-led movements, including those mentioned above. More people are protesting in the streets and putting themselves on the line for the sake of the planet. There are changes in consumption and living choices (off-the-grid tiny houses and second-hand shops). And political candidates who care about the environment are getting more attention than ever before. I'm truly hopeful that 2020 will be a massive year for change.
We can’t help but be inspired by Chloe’s commitment to a healthier planet through education and awareness. Best of all, there are more eco-warriors just like Chloe, fighting for sustainable change all over the world. Check out our blog to meet them and find out how you can join the revolution for a greener planet.