Tuesday 3rd March

| BY Paul Toner

Ten’s Teen Activists: On World Wildlife Day, Meet Bella Lack – a 17-year-old Dedicated to Saving Our Planet

Bella Lack, photographed by Jermaine Francis

You can tell a lot about a person by what’s plastered on their bedroom wall, what sits on their bedside table or even by what they leave lying around on their floor. For a teenager, their bedroom is an extension of who they are – or who they want to be. Often with a ‘Keep Out’ or ‘Do Not Distur’b sign scribbled on their door, teens can lock themselves away from the outside world within their own personal sanctuary, where their every need is catered for. For Issue 64, we commissioned the photographer Jermaine Francis to explore these mini universes. The inspiration was Adrienne Salinger’s ‘In My Room’, a seminal photo book from 1995 that journeyed though a selection of teen bedrooms in upstate New York. Salinger found her subjects in shopping malls and restaurants, as well as through friends, resulting in a perfectly imperfect chorus of adolescent youth to photograph in their as-yet-uncharted territories. The only rule in place before Salinger’s arrival was that the teens were not to tidy their rooms, no matter how messy they were.

Comparing then to now, the sentiment remains that no two of these personal palaces look-alike, although for today’s teens, bedrooms are no longer dedicated to their favourite boyband member or celebrity crush. All over the country, the function of a teenager’s bedroom has evolved. Within their four walls, the modern-day teen is able to plot how they will make tomorrow brighter, both for themselves and the marginalised groups that surround them. From the climate-change warriors and LGBTQI+ activists, through to young migrants battling for their right to belong, teenagers simply can no longer wait for the government to assuage their fears for the future. In celebration of such titans, we trekked up and down the country to the bedrooms of 10 teens who are taking matters into their own hands. As part of World Wildlife Day, we bring you Bella Lack from London.

If you’re already one of Bella Lack’s 152,000 Twitter followers, you’ll be clued up on how devoted this 17-year-old is to saving our planet. An advocate for “life, both human and non-human”, Lack uses her platform to spread awareness about the climate and extinction crises as a youth ambassador for renowned organisations including the Born Free Foundation and RSPCA, as well as through being a youth director for Reserva: The Youth Land Trust.

Having started campaigning in her early teens, Lack has spoken at the Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT) Conference, in Parliament Square and at numerous climate-change rallies up and down the country. “At the IWT Conference last year, when I spoke to an audience of politicians and heads of states, I was really nervous, not because of their titles, but because of what was at stake if nothing came out of the conference,” she says. Currently taking a break from school, she’s working on a feature-length documentary that she plans to have filmed and produced by the time she returns to her studies in September. That’s bound to be an impressive What Did You Do With Your Summer essay.

Paul Toner: When did you first feel like you were an activist?

Bella Lack: If your house was on fire and you tried to put out the flames, you wouldn’t call yourself a firefighter, you’re just doing what you have to do. I still don’t feel like an activist. Protecting our only home is no longer the responsibility of a select few, it’s a job and moral obligation for every- one who inhabits it, activist or not.

PT: What pushes you to keep on campaigning for your cause?

BL: My love and reverence for the natural world. What spurs me on is also the recognition that nature and the environment are not ornamental, they’re the very foundations of life on Earth.

PT: What’s your favourite thing in your bedroom?

BL: My orangutan table. It’s hilarious.

PT: Do you make your bed every morning?

BL: My mum thinks I do, so let’s just say that I do.

PT: What can young people do to make the world a better place?

BL: Nowadays, anything. We have the technology and means available and no segment in society can match the idealism, enthusiasm and passion of young people. If you see something that doesn’t align with your val- ues, then make sure you step up and speak up. You may be alone at first, but be assured that if your cause is right and honourable, then people will begin to join you. That’s how a movement begins.

PT: Which fellow activists inspire you and why?

BL: Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, Autumn Peltier, Elizabeth Wathuti and every other young person pouring their time and energy into the causes they feel passionate about. The media spotlight has been focusing on a very narrow band of young people and I think some of the most inspiring, passionate and driven youth are those who do grassroots activism and who are fighting because they’ve seen firsthand the decimation that has been wrought on their communities because of the environmental crises.”

PT: What do you want to see change about the world in 2020?

BL: First and foremost, our mindset – the fallacy of our superiority mindset and the idea that we’re exempt from nature and better than other species. Also, apathy – it permeates our government and our society as a whole. If politicians, corporations and the general public stop putting their faith in the action of others and begin to do things themselves, then change will happen, fast.

PT: What’s the most comfortable pair of shoes to protest in?

BL: I haven’t mastered this art yet. I usually wear Converse – I’ve worn the same pair for almost four years – and I still get blisters after every protest.

Taken from Issue 64 – BEST, FOOT, FORWARD – which is on newsstands now.