“We have failed to tell the story of climate change,” says activist Finn Harries. Finn rose to prominence through his YouTube channel JacksGap, co-produced with his twin brother Jack, which began with posting short entertaining videos but gradually started to upload more serious content and transformed into a platform Finn has used for advocating climate action. Since then, the 27-year-old has worked with the World Wildlife Fund and spoken at the United Nations, and, last summer, co-launched the online media platform Earthrise Studios. Finn is currently doing his MPhil in Architecture and Urban Design at Cambridge, after having studied in New York and London. In his research and social media campaigning, Finn is trying to reframe the climate crisis as an opportunity to combat systemic inequalities and develop strategies to build more resilient and regenerative environments.

“Stories are the foundation of human collaboration,” Finn quotes from one of his favourite authors, the historian Yuval Noah Harari. Climate change is a story too, Finn argues, one that has been told incorrectly for decades. He believes that architecture can be used as a tool to reframe this narrative: “It’s an opportunity, both to tell a more accurate story of why we are in this crisis and to understand that we can start taking action.” In his MPhil research, Finn builds upon ideas developed by ecologist C. S. Holling and conceptualises climate change with the use of ‘the adaptive cycle’, which suggests that “the growth and then eventual collapse of cultures and eco-systems is a natural part of any process throughout time”. This collapse then offers an opportunity to “reorganise it and to reimagine how it might function in the next cycle.”

Finn believes that this reorganisation should be based on a philosophical approach centred around the interconnectedness of humans and nature. He is especially passionate about studying cultures that “ingrain the natural environment in some way into their built environment”. Whilst in New York, he took a class in urban ecology, a fairly new subject that looks at the interaction of eco-systems within urban environments. “If you think about how we can live more sustainably, we have to take a look at our relationship with the natural environment.” Focusing on permaculture, a design approach that aims to meet human needs whilst also enhancing biodiversity, Finn wants to develop novel strategies to build restorative, resilient, and regenerative eco-systems in his MPhil research.

“Rather than something abstract like a polar bear struggling to stay on a small iceberg, we are trying to communicate the human aspect of climate change.”

Earthrise, which Finn developed in collaboration with his brother Jack and filmmaker Alice Aedy, frames climate crisis as a social justice issue. “Climate change allows us to take a look at systemic inequalities and racism,” Finn says, adding that the project was strongly impacted by the Black Lives Matter movement and the pandemic. Highlighting the stories of activists and victims on the frontlines of climate change, Earthrise aims to make climate change tangible and personal. “It’s an issue that we can contextualise as one that is relevant to our own lives,” says Finn. “Rather than something abstract like a polar bear struggling to stay on a small iceberg, which was previously perhaps the narrative of climate change, we are trying to communicate the human aspect of climate and highlight the social injustice of climate change.”

“Social media democratises access to communication”, Finn explains its usefulness as a space for activism. “But, as we know, it can also be a really problematic place, and most recently fake news has been proliferated across the web.” Earthrise, therefore, aims to provide easily understandable and scientifically verified facts to help young activists understand climate change. While social media has its flaws, Finn decisively asserts a shared responsibility to make it a useful space for interaction: “We all have a role to lean into social media and try and make it a space that is more accurate, more accepting, more open, because the potential in this regard is huge.”

He suggests that social media is also a vital tool to connect with other activists. “I get asked a lot what you should do as an individual to take action on climate change, and my response is to try and form a community,” Finn says. “Try and band together with people who have likeminded ideas and organise campaigns to put pressure on those who have the power to make the change you wish to see in the world.” While the Earthrise community currently remains online, with plans to organise meetings, workshops, and conferences in the future, the responses so far have been “a validation of the desire that everyone has for a community right now.”

“Climate change isn’t an abstract issue. It’s a very real crisis we face in our lifetime.”

For Finn, establishing support networks has been vital in navigating his own climate anxiety. “Climate change isn’t an abstract issue. It’s a very real crisis we face in our lifetime”, he explains. “So, when we learn about it, it tends to have an emotional impact on us, and the first thing to say is, that that’s really healthy. If you are able to navigate the literature around climate breakdown and have no emotional impact, perhaps you’re not digesting what you’re reading.” Finding spaces in which those anxieties can be shared and discussed, have helped him cope with the impact of coming to terms with the realities of climate breakdown.


Mountain View

To save forests, individual action isn’t enough

Finn’s drive and desire to take action is clear throughout the conversation. He explains his considerations of whether to do a PhD or go into practice after the MPhil: “I think academia is an extremely useful tool to understand the world. But I’m also conscious that at some point we need to shift from theory to practice.” Since his first encounter with climate activism six years ago in New York, his understanding of climate change has fundamentally transformed. Previously visualising it as a line, at the end of which is a “big fiery ball”, he now approaches it more optimistically, developing concepts he believes can be helpful for many people grappling with the climate crisis: “Once we accept that to a certain degree change is locked in, then we can think from a more proactive place of how we can react and transform from that change.”