How Joycelyn Longdon opens up environmental activism
By Natasha Levy
“Reading literature about racial injustice, and how that links with climate justice, it blew my mind – I realised those two things don't have to be separate”
Joycelyn Longdon has an affinity for teaching. She recalls helping her classmates with their work at just 10 years old. A few years later, she became a tutor. Then, while completing her undergraduate degree in astrophysics, she visited primary schools and taught students how to code. “When I look back, teaching has always been there,” says Longdon. “I just love learning, and I want to share that love of learning, discovery and curiosity with other people.”
Now, as 24-year-old Longdon works towards completing the first year of her PhD at Cambridge University, she finds herself teaching again. This time, it’s with Climate in Colour, her online platform that seeks to educate the “climate curious” and encourage environmental discourse that is diverse, as well as accessible. The platform’s talks, courses and informative, IG-friendly infographics have garnered a following in the thousands, collaborations with esteemed institutions such as the Wellcome Collection and Fairtrade, and now LDF’s Emerging Design Medal.
Although Climate in Colour launched in April 2020, the idea for the platform began to take shape years earlier, when Longdon was a teenager and feeling slightly isolated from the environmental activism that was happening at the time. “I went to my first march when I was 16, but I sort of felt like it wasn't for me... the conversations that were happening weren't really including justice issues,” she explains.
The light-bulb moment came when Longdon started university. “Once I started reading literature about racial injustice, and how that links with climate justice, it blew my mind – I realised those two things don't have to be separate,” she continues. “I know that those conversations have been happening for decades, but in my locality they weren't.”
Longdon is continuing to explore the intersectionality of race and climate change in her PhD. The three-year course will see her blend machine learning, sociology, ecology and indigenous knowledge to examine how technology can be utilised in forest conservation. Longdon’s fieldwork has so far been carried out in Ghana where, with the help of locals, she’s installing acoustic sensors to record ambient forest noise and wildlife. “I felt a calling to go back to my motherland and do work in the place of my heritage that holds my history.”
Next year, Longdon will revisit the Ghanian communities to present her findings from the forest, and build an interactive tool that helps them engage with ecological data. She says this human-focused element of her work is as important as the tech. “I'm drawn to working on problems that are affecting those who live closest to nature, but are going to be the most vulnerable to it. If technology is going to play a bigger part in conservation, then I think people need to build that technology in equitable and respectful ways.”
Though the demands of her PhD and Climate in Colour are high, Longdon is looking to the future with an impressively measured calm. “The last two years have involved a lot of agility, changing and adapting,” she concludes. “I'm just focusing on pacing myself and mirroring the kind of world I want to be in.”