experience the world under your own steam
Scarlett Somerville is an artist and activist currently studying for her A-levels. Deeply connected to her landscape and enchanted by nature, here Scarlett shares her vision for a simpler future as well as her perspective as a teenager profoundly troubled by a world that seems to be getting exponentially worse, yet not entirely sure her generation is taking things as seriously as they should.
Made by Jo Barratt with Gemma Mortensen, Iris Andrews and Lily Piachaud.
Music made for New Constellations by Art School Girlfriend.
Nightingales recorded by Scarlett Sommerville
This is Stevie. Lots of scratching at the door, politely asking to go out…
My name is Scarlett Somerville, and I’m 17 and I’m currently doing my A Levels.
[talking to Stevie the cat]
I definitely feel very young, um, because so far I’ve just been in school, so I haven’t really had any decisions to make myself. So I’m, at the moment I’m just really looking forward to leave so that I can, so that I can go and start exploring what I want to explore. So yeah, I definitely feel like I’m at the beginning.
I really, really know my landscape. I basically never really walk on footpaths. So I’ve, since, for the last like five years, I’ve spent my time just exploring and slowly stretching out my map of where I know, like off by heart. And then I’ve kind of got to the end of where I can cycle and explore and cycle back within like, an hour, like not too far away. So I’ve kind of, I really know my landscape, and I feel really strongly connected to it. And I, no one in my school is like that I don’t think.
Maybe people go on walks and enjoy it, like for their mental health to go on a walk and have some peace and quiet. But I don’t think people really connect to nature, like spiritually, feeling that that’s really part of yourself.
One of my earliest memories at all is just lying in a pram next to my cousin and like, just as a very small child, like baby pretty much I think. And being walked under the trees and looking up at the trees as they like slowly moved past.
I’ve always been able to recognise the species of trees, like even in the winter when they don’t have their leaves. It’s just been second nature to me to be able to recognise the plants around me. So like, I feel very connected to everything, because like I understand it. And yeah, when I was like five or six, we used to have a nature journal, which like every time we saw, saw an interaction with nature, we’d write it in the little diary.
I think it actually for my sixth birthday – no one else would understand this, but my dad bought me frozen mice for my birthday present. Frozen mice and a post, because there was a barn owl that used to fly across the horizon, and Dad banged in a post bang in the middle of the meadow and put, so I could put my frozen mice there, so that the barn owl would come and land, so I could see it. And barn owls don’t actually like frozen mice. They like live mice. But, um, yeah, it’s just, we’ve always, it’s always, I’ve always been very aware of the natural world around me and that’s what I’ve grown up with.
Obviously I’ve always been aware of climate change. I’ve been on climate marches literally since I can walk. I can remember going on like Greenpeace ones when I was small. It’s always been a conversation in our house. And I can remember like pre 2018, if someone mentioned climate change on the radio, I’d literally say to my mum – oh my god mum, they mentioned climate change on the radio! Like, wow, someone said something about it. But then when Extinction Rebellion started and Greta Thunberg and the Fridays for Future Movement with all the, students striking, school striking, that like definitely changed how I saw it because it became like a public conversation. It wasn’t just my family and our friends who were aware of it. It was like something that people, like everyone understood and everyone agreed with, that it was an issue. The protests were insane, like so many people were going to them, everyone was talking about it. Millions of students school striking, it felt like, oh my God, like I can’t believe that this is actually happening and it’s happened so quickly.
So that has a, has an impact on like carbon emissions and like people wanting to reduce their carbon emissions. But like really, I just feel like since then the whole thing is just really greenwashing. Like just things that just so aren’t sustainable at all now advertised as being green and it’s just like you are just missing the point. Like with the 1.5 degrees target, I don’t think that we are going to stay in that. I think we could go far above that because it’s just so not in the interests of the politics and big companies, it’s just not on their agenda at all.
When it comes to actually making sacrifices, like people aren’t just, aren’t willing to make them yet, and cause it is kind of a massive inconvenience if, depending on what you value in life, like if you really value flying on holiday like six times a year, it’s massive. You know, you don’t want, you want to continue that. And lots of people do value those things. So I feel like that lifestyle is just marketed to us from everyone wanting us to spend money. Like it’s the idea, it’s like that is success right? From when secondary school, everyone’s like, you know, that’s what your teachers want you to have as a career really.
I actually really look forward to the prospect of the human race going extinct. Like it’s quite depressing. I really don’t want the rest of all the other species to go extinct. They do not deserve this. We’ve done this to ourselves. If we were wiped out by a virus, I would be so happy! If I was the last generation, which, I don’t think I’m gonna be last generation, although thinking about like 2080, it’s like, wow, a lot can happen before 2080. If I was one of the last generations, I think, if we don’t realise that what we are doing, the way that we are living is wrong, is not right, then if we aren’t willing to change, then I think we, we should go.
It’s a funny thing to say. From being so connected to my landscape and to the natural world around me, it is really sad to think about what might go extinct even in half my lifetime, by the time I’m 50. Um, and for my children’s generation.
The most amazing moment that I’ve experienced probably in my whole life was like in January. When I’d found – last summer when I was going for a walk, or exploring, kind of trespassing – I found an amazing old ash tree, with a beehive just at head height. I was so amazed to find it because you don’t, it’s not often that you find wild hives. And then in January I went back, I was walking past and I thought, oh, I’ll just go and see how the bees are. And they’d actually all died off. I’m not quite sure what they died of, but, um, this beehive was empty, and I was like very, very quiet and I listened. Are there any bees in it? Definitely no bees in it. And the gap was about as big as a tennis, no, like as big as a big orange, the entrance to the hole, I’m not quite sure what had opened it up, but I listened to make sure there, there were definitely no bees in it. And I dunno what I did in this moment of like craziness, but I reached my hand into this beehive, into like the centre of this tree and came out like, clutched my hands into the comb and came out with this dripping hand of honey. And it was like the craziest experience because, pure sugar in nature, like finding something sweet normally is like, wow, this is so sweet. And it’s wild. But finding like a whole handful of pure sugar, knowing that every teaspoon of this has been carried for miles, by millions of bees. Um, yeah, it was just insane. And also to, to be reaching into the middle of a tree and to come out with that, really felt like reaching into like the spirit of the tree and really feeling connected to like, yeah, just something much, it felt like the tree was really giving. And when I came back away from it, I was like, thank you. Thank you universe. Thank you so much. Because it really felt like a gift, cause it’s so precious.
I had my bike and I was kind of, I wouldn’t normally walk that far from home, so I just had to like, leave my bike and just walk for like two and a half miles home dripping with honey, like with it running down my arm. And I walked past someone, I was like, look what I found! They were just like, oh.
And then I actually went back a few days later, and managed to – respectfully, didn’t wanna destroy the tree, but opened the hole a bit more and looked up properly with a head torch. And this beehive was like more than a metre high. The inside of the hive was like the inside of… if you’ve put your arms together, like that. I dunno how to describe that big. Um, but yeah, like more than a metre high. These bars of comb just like glistening as you put your torch in, they would just reflect back the light. Like crystals, it was insane. Um, and we managed to get like 10 jars of honey and that wasn’t, that wasn’t even denting it. I didn’t want to take more than that cause it felt like, don’t take more than you need. But yeah, just so much more than that. And I went back as well like a few months later, and it was still there! And I would, I would’ve thought that wasps would’ve come and taken it or like anything that would want sugar, but it was still there.
So I’ve still got some, you can have some if you want, you can try some.
It is really sad to think about what might go extinct even in half my lifetime, by the time I’m 50. And for my children’s generation. I haven’t like, experienced that yet. I know my parents have recognised things disappearing, but age 17, I haven’t really noticed that yet. So I don’t see things going, but I know that I will. And yeah, it’s like 40 degrees. Some of it’s, it’s all our apple trees were like, they lost all their leaves because they didn’t have enough water. And just, it’s really, it was very sad. And knowing that this is just the beginning. I mean like thinking about my lifespan. We talk about net zero by 2050 and like 1.5 degrees, when we are predicted to pass 1.5 degrees isn’t that far away. I don’t actually know when it is, but I don’t think it’s that far away. So what could happen by 2080? I’ll be 74 or 2090, I’ll be 70. No, 84. So much can happen. It’s not even talked about, 2080. So yeah, I think oh no it’s not gonna happen to me, it’s gonna happen to my kids, but actually it probably will happen to me. So it is a lot of my future.
Everyone talks about my generation as being like, “oh the young people, they’re gonna come and they’re gonna understand”… the people in my class, I’m the ‘be green’ person in my school. And there’s the people that that run the school tuck shops and stuff. They didn’t even wanna buy fair trade chocolate. And I was like sitting there like, guys, fair trade chocolate. That’s the easy, that’s like the simplest thing to be able to do, just to do something towards like climate change, if you like. It’s not actually climate change, but you know, some, um, moral, moral thing. They weren’t even, didn’t even want to do that. So I think people talk about my generation as being like, oh yes, the younger generation will come and they’ll make all this the right choices. Um, I really don’t think that, I think it’s just everyone’s idea of success is skewed because, yeah, it’s just how we’re taught, it’s not, the education system hasn’t got to the point where they’re teaching us to prioritise the environment. That’s only people whose parents prioritise the environment who have been taught to prioritise the environment through their, their families and stuff.
I’m already going outside of my comfort zone quite a lot. I do, I have been doing like assemblies in my school and I’m really not that confident public speaking. It’s like, it’s really like socially to get people involved. I’ve been trying to do that, but it’s very difficult. I find it difficult to do.
In my school, being the ‘be green’ person, it’s like one person’s role. So I’m the be green person, but it just feels so unfair because it’s like, it’s so personal and it’s such a massive responsibility. Like this is a systems change thing. Like one person can’t possibly begin to do it. Everyone needs to commit to this. So it feels like a massive responsibility, like completely out of like, kind of unfair, really. But it’s now kind of like trying to balance it, because everyone’s so focused on academics, exams and things like that. That there’s not really enough time to go outside. Do like easy fun things like going outside and listening to the birds. Like, oh, you are not learning anything then. They don’t, so just not really valuing things that aren’t working towards exams.
I just wish that caring for the environment was something that everyone had to do and like that was a, that was also something that LSE wanted their students to, to do like, so it’s not just them getting good grades. It’s all about exams. There’s just not enough time. It’s all because exams isn’t just the problem. Like once there’s an exam, then the whole curriculum is set up for exams so that every single hour is already assigned to something like that. You can’t just be like, oh, let’s do something a little bit different, because even when you’re a progressive school, there’s so little freedom to do anything. So I think this whole system of like teaching kids just for exams and just to be able to go on for a career is wrong. I didn’t revise for my GCSEs at all. I was like, no.
For this moment in time for my generation, for me at least, is that like everything seems to just be getting exponentially worse. But like, just unprecedentedly exponentially worse. Like, it’s kind of funny, I’m kind of laughing as I’m saying this because if you think of anything, like climate change, exponentially worse, like all the problems that social media has brought, getting exponentially worse, like ChatGPT, like bringing whole new unprecedented issues. Uh, there are positives I’m sure, but like just everything seems to be like waves and waves of problems that we’ve just never had to solve before. Just simple things like the fact that now more than 50% of the world population live in cities rather than the countryside. Like that’s something that’s never happened before. Or now we use, like in 2016 we started using cards more than cash, and now it’s like gone like that, like super sharply upwards, like everything’s changing.
I’m lucky because age 17, I was born in 2006, my childhood was kind of before the smartphone, like my, me and my sister, my sister’s nine years older than me, used to take photos on Photo Booth, and like she had like the basic like, I don’t even know, but like maybe an iPhone. I feel it’s like 2011 maybe. But like that was, it wasn’t an issue like in the way that it is now. So I feel very lucky that I was literally the last generation that got a childhood before technology came and completely changed what that is now.
So recently, I went with someone to school and they were telling me about how the fact – I always thought that, so far I thought that ChatGPT was like, kind of a funny thing that people are like, “wow, look what this can do, but are we actually using it yet?” No. Then I realised that actually this person I’m having a lift from, uses it in their day-to-day life. And I was like, oh my God, this is the first time, this is the beginning. And then yesterday when I was in London, I heard someone saying how they, their team had gone down from three people to one person because of ChatGPT. And I was like, wow, this is the moment, this is like social media ten years ago. This is the moment. Now that I’m hearing this for the first time, this is gonna change the whole of the next 10 years. So these are kind of like, it really does feel like constantly there’s a new thing which is gonna bring, change the world so much and also bring so many issues.
When I’m 60, I want to live in a world where there’s real community, real local community, where everyone knows their neighbour and people are willing to help each other, and people prioritise relationships and time rather than just money and greed.
It feels like the world is just, everything’s quite stressful and fast moving, so I really hope for a world where everything is just like, it’s gone down a few gears so we can just be more relaxed. Cause I feel like when we’re stressed, we make the rash decisions just to be able to have more time and to think about things more carefully.
I definitely want there to be more democracy so that more people can be involved in making the world that they want to be part of. Because the moment it feels like very difficult to share your vision, in a positive way. So yeah, for more people to be involved in democracy and shaping their local places.
A few weeks ago I cycled to Devon from London, which is like my first kind of stepping out of my home and stepping out of like my comfort zone, doing stuff, something by myself, like the very first time. You know, being able to experience the world under your own steam, but going so far, like it’s an amazing way, mode of transport. So I’d really like to cycle really far, maybe around Europe, maybe around the world. But yeah, that’s kind of the only thing that I’m looking forward to doing in the future.
I do still have optimism about simple things. Like right now there is a plane roaring overhead. And I know that in 40 years once we have moved away from flying everywhere all the time, there won’t be planes and we will be able to hear silence again. And although that’s a really simple thing, I really do look forward to that. And the motorways being quieter. And I know that there will always be beauty in the small things, if we open our eyes, no matter what goes on around us.