Advocating for climate justice


  • Community
  • Hamilton
August 19, 2020 Rosemary Quay

Sophie Handford is a climate justice advocate who has been raising her voice, since the age of twelve, about climate change and social issues. Now 19, Sophie is a founder and the national co-ordinator of School Strike 4 Climate NZ, as well as a District Councillor for Kāpiti Coast. With the ability to help rally hundreds of thousands of people and the mindset of turning challenges into opportunities, there is no doubt that Sophie is a champion who is already roaring! 

Kindly taking some time to answer a few questions for us, Sophie filled us in on her biggest accomplishment and hurdles, why it is important for youth to have a voice in decision making, the song she lives her life by, and more.


If you could choose four words to describe yourself, what would they be and why? 

Energetic - I tend to have a lot of energy most of the time and love being able to find outlets to direct this energy into for change and for climate justice. 

Motivated - Once I set my focus on something and I remain strongly connected to my ‘Why’, I tend to be able to keep myself motivated and on track. 

Focussed - This definitely comes in waves but similar to my motivation, once I set my eyes on something or on getting something specific done, I am pretty hard to deter from this. 

Optimistic - I am a glass half full kind of person and am often able to see the positives in a situation that might seem quite the opposite.


Is there a motto, quote, book or song that you live your life by?

“Roar” by Katy Perry always seems to get me in a good headspace for facing my fears, throwing myself into the deep end or tackling a task in front of me. I also have a go-to playlist that I jam to when I need a little bit of inspiration. Putting on a good tune and dancing around in my living room is one of the ways I spend my spare time as it’s a good brain break and helps me to recharge and have some fun!


What has been your biggest accomplishment in life so far?

My proudest achievement is being a part of the team that mobilised 170,000 people nationwide, 3.5% of New Zealand’s population. I still haven’t fully grasped this but it is something I am so proud to say that I was part of.


What has been your biggest hurdle, and how did you overcome this? 

Any challenge is just an opportunity to grow and I am thankful for all of the challenges I have faced. Climate grief is a huge challenge and something I am still trying to grapple with. I know I need to leave myself time to feel this grief, but at the same time I know that if I let it sit with me, I will be left feeling extremely paralysed.

I’ve also struggled with self doubt and becoming overwhelmed by a sense of needing to always be doing more for it to amount to anything in the wider picture of climate justice. I am still overcoming this and learning how to take breaks to ensure my activism is sustainable. At the moment, I tend to get out for a walk or a run if I’m finding this internal dialogue is becoming too distracting, taking time and energy away from me focussing on the mahi itself. 


Tell us one thing about climate change that you wish more people knew about… 

The link between climate justice and many other issues that prevail in our society today. Through addressing climate change in a way that centres justice, we have the opportunity to create a more beautiful world through our solutions.

We have the ability to reduce inequalities, to close gaps and to begin to create a world we'd feel proud to pass on to the next generation. 

Why do you think it is important for youth to have a voice in decision making? 

Decisions being made now directly shape our future and currently, we aren’t part of these conversations. Our future is being written for us and time is running out to be able to ensure our voices are heard, with only 10 years to halve our emissions and take the necessary steps to centre climate justice. 


As a young woman yourself, what would be one piece of advice that you would give to young women growing up in today’s society? 

Throw yourself into the deep end and accept that you will never have all of the answers or maybe the best way of approaching things, but you will learn along the way and that’s just fine. Back yourself and the power of your voice - know that there are so many people who are here for you and will continue to back you. 


Lastly, if you could change one thing - with no limitations on timing or budget - in your lifetime, what would it be? 

I would change what this system we all exist in ultimately values. We live in a capitalist society where profit is of higher value than the well-being of our people and planet. I would change what is put at the centre of how and why we operate in this society, to ensure that even if profit is of high value to some, it is used to benefit people and our planet and we begin to co-exist with our collective home through this. 

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