Any Harry Potter fan like me will be able to conjure up an intense feeling of loathing when they so much as hear the name ‘Professor Umbridge’. I’ve hated her as much as the next potterhead since I first read the Order of the Phoenix as a child, but recently when I re-watch the films I have come to realise that there are authority figures in my own life who make me feel this burning loathing. For those of us in the UK Youth Climate Movement, Priti Patel is our Umbridge.
Today’s oppressive governments seem to get the same kick from imprisoning and assaulting young climate activists who peacefully ask for a livable future that Umbridge gets from punishing Harry Potter and his friends for trying to prepare themselves for Voldemort’s return.
When Harry is put on trial for using defensive magic outside of school to save his life I shocked myself with the level of distress I experienced. I’ve seen this film dozens of times, but now I know what it’s like to sit in a courtroom and be accused of being a public nuisance when all you want is climate justice. And I was saddened because while the fictional jury saw sense and let Harry walk free, my friends have not been so lucky. Last year in the UK we saw the first climate protesters go to prison for peacefully demanding an end to new fossil fuel licences. This demand could not be more reasonable or necessary. The International Energy Agency said that in order to remain under 1.5 degrees of warming no new fossil fuel licences could be approved from the year 2021. Well it’s 2023 and the UK government is currently planning to licence at least 100 new fossil fuel projects in the North Sea. Just one of those, the Jackdaw gas field, will produce more emissions in 1 year than the entire nation of Ghana. And every one of these new fossil fuel projects will kill thousands of people. The bottom line is, if we want to avoid total environmental and societal collapse we have to stop extracting fossil fuels right now. The UN Secretary General, António Guterres said in response to the 2022 IPCC report that ‘Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals. But, the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels.’
What the climate movement is asking for is reasonable and necessary. But rather than using their power and resources to deal with the root causes of the climate and other intersecting crises, the oppressive governments are continuously striping citizens of their democratic rights to protest. Here in the UK, each time protesters use a different tactic to sound the alarm, Priti Patel and her gang of thugs (much like Umbridge and the Inquisitorial Squad) make those tactics illegal. If the UK was like Hogwarts then Filch would be up his wobbly ladder hammering decrees into the walls of the Houses of Parliament making it illegal to hold a banner on the pavement or to make a noise that could be deemed ‘annoying’ by the police.
No one would dare defend the Ministry of Magic for the lengths it goes to in denying the return of Voldemort. But even Minister for Magic, Fudge, is forced to admit he was wrong when he comes face to face with Voldemort. Today’s world leaders, however, have succeeded in one-upping these fools because the climate crisis is already upon us and they continue to not only ignore it, but actively contribute to it. It might be more appropriate therefore to compare world leaders to death eaters because of their active and purposeful role in exacerbating environmental genocide.
Harry Potter sets up Dumbledore’s Army out of necessity because the adult leaders have failed to protect young people and safeguard their futures. The same goes for the youth climate movement. We have been failed by the people and systems we are told exist to protect us and now they criminalise us for calling them out on their genocidal programme built on colonialism, white supremacy and capitalism (if you want to learn more about the intersecting nature of the climate and other crises I highly recommend you read Mikaela Loach’s book It’s Not That Radical). So to anyone who has read or watched the Order of the Phoenix and been on the side of Harry Potter, I implore you to see the similarities between Dumbledore’s Army and the Youth Climate movement, summon up your hatred of Dolores Umbridge and direct it towards the governments and corporations fueling the climate crisis.
I think there is a very important lesson the Youth Climate Movement can learn from Dumbledore’s Army and that is that intergenerational connection is essential to successful movements. Young climate activists feel a sense of betrayal from older generations and it has led to a divide in the movement. While this feeling is understandable, it is destructive to both the movement and young leaders. When I re-watched the Order of the Phoenix most recently I thought to myself, what we’re missing is a Dumbledore. And then I realised we’re missing the whole of the Order of the Phoenix. Harry Potter and his friends stand side by side with their parents, elders and teachers. They learn from those who have fought Voldemort before and without this important intergenerational union they would not have been successful. As young climate activists we need to learn from those who have fought for social justice before. We need to learn from those in other movements and those who are already experiencing the worst impacts of the climate crisis. Together we are stronger and with any luck, one of our elders might have a giant hiding in the forest ready to take our Professor Umbridge away.