Climate activist Tori Tsui: "Only by working together do we really stand a chance against climate change."

She's an activist, author, and Greta Thunberg's friend - but most of all, she's someone demanding change.

Tori Tsui: Climate activist
(Image credit: Future)

COP28 has made global headlines this week. While many were initially in support of the twenty-eighth iteration of the climate summit, it's faced backlash this week - partly because it's being held in Dubai and partly because the President, Sultan al-Jaber, has ties to the national oil company.

Just yesterday, it was reported that al-Jaber claimed there was “no science” to back phasing out fossil fuels - quite the opposite of what many around the globe hoped to come out of the climate conference. A clear majority have been pushing for an end to the fossil fuel era, with numerous studies, including the "code red" IPCC report in summer, conclusively proven fossil fuels to release planet-warming greenhouse gasses.

That's why climate justice activist and author Tori Tsui is using her platform to campaign for change. A researcher and writer from Hong Kong, her debut book It's Not Just You explores just how much climate change is impacting people around the world, especially those in disadvantaged communities. A friend of Greta Thunberg, she's long been committed to change.

Speaking exclusively with Marie Claire UK as the climate conference rolls on, she shares her thoughts on climate justice, the radical action that needs to be taken to save the planet, and what she thinks we can all be doing from home. In her opinion, it's not about individual efforts - rather, working together as a collective. Keep scrolling to read her take - and don't miss our guides to sustainable living, fast fashion, and greenwashing, while you're here. 

Tori Tsui wants you to know that sustainable living isn't just about individual actions - it's about coming together as a community

Speaking exclusively to Marie Claire UK the week of the global climate conference, she explains that she first felt inspired to pursue a career in climate activism after seeing the impact of climate change first-hand. "I grew up near the border of mainland China in a small fishing town in the northeast of Hong Kong," she reflects. As a result, she became acutely aware of environmental issues which led her to pursue studies in environmental sciences. 

Initially, she tried to be mindful of her personal impact - reducing her meat intake, flying less, and recycling. That said, she admits that she became more and more disillusioned with the personal impact she was having. "I realised that only by working together do we really stand a chance against climate change," she shares. 

That's where it all kicked off - the catalyst for her career, as it were. And she's not alone - a whole generation of Gen Z's are choosing to fight for a better tomorrow - before it's too late. She refused to stand by and watch marginalised communities struggling any longer. "The climate crisis acts as a magnifying glass, exacerbating the struggles endured by people and environments that are already marginalised," she points out. "By advocating for climate justice, we have the opportunity to tackle injustice everywhere."

Discussing intersectional environmentalism

Tsui talks a lot about intersectional environmentalism in her book, It's Not Just You. If you're not familiar with the term, it covers how certain countries - notably, those least responsible for climate change - are impacted the most by climate disasters. Speaking to her for this interview, she stresses how important it is to address climate change, if not for our planet, but for the people who are currently having to live with the repercussions of it day in, and day out. "Historically and to this day, those who are least responsible for the climate crisis are more likely to be impacted by it," she details. "Intersectional environmentalism and climate justice make sure that nobody is left behind and ensure that conversations around climate change don’t exclude the social injustices that exacerbate it."

She stresses that the poorest, racialised, gendered and disabled humans, at current, are the most likely to bear the brunt of the climate crisis. The main issue? "It's these communities who also hold the key to ensuring a safe future for all.  

Tsui bases her book on the link between climate change and mental health - something she calls "indisputable." So, how does she think it's impacting us, and does she think it's impacting a certain demographic more than others? "As we see time and time again with the climate crisis, those most marginalised are more likely to bear the mental load that comes with experiencing it first-hand," she points out. Think about it - if you're routinely living through natural disasters, your mental health is certainly going to be affected. But there’s also another caveat to this, she warns. "Those experiencing some of the most intense emotions in response to climate change are younger generations," she stresses. Why? Well, she reckons, partly because young people are "disenfranchised and inheriting the uncertainty and instability of tomorrow."

Not just that, but many young people may feel ill-equipped to deal with the issues before them, despite wanting to do more. As Tsui points out, according to a recent Time After Time E-Waste report from Virgin Media O2 and Hubbub, Gen Z’s perspectives, attitudes, and behaviours on the issue of electronic waste – the fastest-growing waste stream in the world - are divided. While more than half (76%) of Gen-Z think that more should be done to encourage people to pass on or recycle their unused electronics, they may not know how to or feel unequipped with where to turn to make the right choice. "This is why it’s essential to empower and educate the next generation with the tools to take climate action head-on," she stresses.  

Facing COP28 head on and demanding change

While headlines were made around the world from COP27 and the agreements that were met, many of them haven't come to light yet. So, what does the climate activist reckon needs to change this year to ensure actionable and active change is made? And with COP28 in full swing, what does she think needs to be agreed upon at the conference for positive change to be made in the next year? 

In short, Tsui wants governments and corporations to do more, and now. 

"This year, COP will have the first-ever five-yearly Global Stocktake, which reinforces the importance of holding the biggest polluters to account for taking action on the climate crisis," she explains. "While we have a long way to go, it’s been encouraging to see major organisations including WHSmith, Ikea, and Virgin Media O2 calling for a phase-out of fossil fuels and a ratification of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty by nation-states."

She continues: "With mounting pressure from civil society, concerns surrounding the leadership of COP, and the impending Global Stocktake, I hope that governments and corporations will take ambitious climate action that will ensure the protection of our planet."

How this relates to you

Wondering how this impacts you? In short, it impacts all of us - climate change is a very real issue and something that we all need to address in our daily lives. "The climate crisis is affecting us all and the longer we delay radical climate action, the more we and future generations will have to endure," Tsui stresses. "It's imperative that everyone steps up one way or another to ensure our planet’s survival," she adds.

While your actions can feel insignificant, when many people take small, regular steps toward a goal, the accumulated effect can be powerful, she goes on. "Especially when backed by manufacturers, businesses, and the government." 

Whether it's cutting your meat intake, donating your old and unused phone, or cutting your air miles, each of these decisions moves us one step closer to saving our planet.  

Tips for living more sustainably 

So, what's her one tip for those who want to live more sustainably but don't know where to start? 

"My number one piece of advice for those who want to live more sustainably is to tap into the power of community," she shares. Too often, she goes on, we try to make a difference all on our own, which can feel daunting and isolating. 

Try this: Instead, work with your family, friends, and community to brainstorm ideas and find support, she suggests. "By working together, we can lighten the load and come up with more impactful solutions for how each of us can contribute to addressing climate change," she concludes. 

Ally Head
Senior Health, Sustainability and Relationships Editor

Ally Head is Marie Claire UK's Senior Health, Sustainability, and Relationships Editor, nine-time marathoner, and Boston Qualifying runner. Day-to-day, she works across site strategy, features, and e-commerce, reporting on the latest health updates, writing the must-read health and wellness content, and rounding up the genuinely sustainable and squat-proof gym leggings worth *adding to basket*. She's won a BSME for her sustainability work, regularly hosts panels and presents for events like the Sustainability Awards, and saw nine million total impressions on the January 2023 Wellness Issue she oversaw. Follow Ally on Instagram for more or get in touch.