Is the Climate Movement too White?

Extreme climate disasters affect people around the world, from wildfires in Australia to floods in the Philippines and East Africa. Most people attribute this to climate change – as long as they’re not climate deniers. And at the forefront of the fight against climate change are young women.

The Face of a Movement

Greta Thunberg is the most recognizable face in the climate movement. She started the School Strike for Climate and was named Time’s Person of the Year for 2019.

Thunberg also happens to be a white girl from Sweden, whose mother is an opera singer and father an actor. In no way am I discrediting the important work she has been doing. I am sure it is not easy being a teenager, with Asperger’s, standing up to the patriarchal establishment. However, I cannot help but notice the way white environmental activists seem to get more media coverage than those who are not white.

Take the example of Vanessa Nakate of Uganda, who was cropped out of this photo by the Associated Press.

This is someone who represents a community, a country, a whole continent. Yet someone else decided that her presence is irrelevant.

Then there is 8-year-old Licypriya Kangujam, who wants the media to stop calling her ‘Greta of India’. It’s another case of the media discrediting and disregarding voices from continents other than Europe.

Greta Thunberg has recognised her white privilege and called on the media to tell the stories of activists from around the world. Through Twitter, it seems that she supports her fellow activists who are not white.

Each of these girls has had to overcome obstacles. Trump told Greta to chill and go watch a movie. Licypriya is only 8 years old and had to drop out of school. Vanessa Nakate is now known as the ‘cropped out activist’, something she didn’t want and couldn’t have anticipated.

Is Intersectionality Possible?

I believe it is important to highlight the work of black and brown girls in the climate change movement. They have to endure multiple forms of discrimination in society. But intersectionality is not as simple as suddenly featuring more minorities in the media so that the aesthetics do not look so bad. It’s about listening to activists’ concerns and giving diverse voices the opportunity to lead as well. This counts for all movements. Intersectionality is essential if we want a cause to be effective.

I assume that most people would agree that climate change is not solely a white or middle-class issue. The challenge is how to include everyone so that the movement can be effective in creating change. But as long as we live in a racist, sexist and classist society, I think we will need a different, more inclusive approach to tackling the global threat of climate change.

Black Girl Magic: 4 Activists You Should Know

Here in the US, February is Black History Month. As a young Black woman, this time of year has always brought excitement. Growing up, I would learn amazing, interesting, and resilient stories about those who came before me. In more recent years, I have found myself looking up to several Black girls and young women who are making an impact in the world right now. As Black History Month comes to a close, I want to acknowledge and share the work of a few of these amazing activists.

Mari Copeny, 13, also known as Little Miss Flint, is a clean water activist from Flint, Michigan. She has been advocating on behalf of her community for the right to access clean water since 2014, when the residents of Flint began noticing their public water sources contained extreme amounts of lead poisoning. Mari has been a consistent and persistent advocate for clean water justice. She strives to “make sure people don’t forget about Flint.” I admire Mari for her courage and unwavering commitment to justice, even when adults don’t rise to the occasion in support of the same goal.

Kheris Rogers, also 13, is an advocate working on a future free from bullying. In the first grade, Kheris was bullied for the color of her skin. But she didn’t let it get her down. Taking matters into her own hands, she worked with her sister to launch the #FlexinInMyComplexion campaign across Twitter. After being met with a flood of positive messages, Kheris has built Flexin’ In My Complexion into a brand. They have sold over 10,000 shirts and garnered the attention of a number of celebrities.

In an article with Teen Vogue, Kheris shares her experience of being bullied for her skin color. I can’t help but resonate with some of her feelings and thoughts because of my own similar experiences at school.

I applaud Kheris for standing up for herself, sharing her story, and providing opportunities for other young black girls to acknowledge the beauty of their complexion.

Naomi Wadler, 13, is a gun violence activist. She highlights the effect that gun violence has – particularly on young African American girls. You may know Naomi from the engaging, honest speech she gave at March for Our Lives in 2018. Since then, she has continued to show up for her peers in spaces across the world. Naomi has spoken at the Tribeca Film Festival, the Teen Vogue Summit, and most recently at Davos 2020. I admire Naomi because she is firm in her fight against gun violence, and firm in making sure that girls and young women of color are always brought into the conversation. She is a true advocate for us in this space.

Vanessa Nakate, 15, is a climate justice activist from Uganda, and founder of Youth for Future Africa and the Rise-Up Movement. Uganda is very dependent on its agricultural sector, and so Vanessa has seen the effects of climate change firsthand. I first learned of Vanessa earlier this year when she attended Davos 2020. She was (unfortunately, yet unsurprisingly) cropped out of a photograph taken with other (white) youth climate activists. The incident has sparked conversation around the inclusion of African voices in the climate justice space. Since it happened, Vanessa has been working to make sure other African climate activists are included at the international climate justice table.

Who would you add to this list? Let’s celebrate and raise the voices of these inspirational young activists.

The Amazon is Being Burned in a Climate Crisis we Can’t Ignore

“Someday the earth will weep, she will beg for her life, she will cry with tears of blood. You will make a choice, if you will help her or let her die, and when she dies, you too will die.”
– Hollow Horn Bear, Brulé Lakota

Over the past three weeks, Brazil has been battling 9,500 fires. So far, they have shrunk the Amazon by 332,356 acres. 1 acre is equivalent to 150 cars parked in a square.

Smoke has turned the sky dark above the city of Sao Paulo – 3,300 kilometers away from the flames.

According to researcher Alberto Setzer, “the dry season creates the favourable conditions for the use and spread of fire, but starting a fire is the work of humans, either deliberately or by accident.”

There are many reports of increased illegal deforestation of the area by big corporations. As well as drought, erosion, flooding and landslides, deforestation can lead to the loss of biodiversity.

Deforestation is not new. For the last few decades, there have been fires in the Amazon every year. This year these fires are so big that the world is finally paying attention.

The fires pose a risk to millions of plants and animals and more than 400 Indigenous tribes.

More specifically, the Amazon rainforest is home to 2.5 million plant species, 1,300 bird species, 400 mammals, 400 amphibians and 3,000 edible fruits. It is also the ancestral home of 1 million Indigenous people.

Failure to preserve the Amazon rainforest will have severe consequences for climate change since it is so vital in the fight against global warming.

By absorbing global emissions of carbon dioxide, it produces large amounts of oxygen (20% of all of the world’s oxygen). According to Greenpeace, the wildfires are making a “tremendous contribution to climate change” because the carbon released as a smoke is making the warming effect worse.

Brazil’s far-right President, Jair Bolsonaro, doesn’t seem to take environmental concerns seriously.

He has been encouraging capitalization of the Amazon and has dismantled governmental efforts to protect the rainforest. He recently fired Ricardo Galvão, the director of Brazil’s National Space Research Institute (INPE), after a report was released showing an 88% increase in deforestation since last year.

In a statement regarding the wildfires, Bolsonaro claimed that NGOs are responsible for the fires. Some also believe that the current Amazon fire may be linked to the recent lawsuit against Big Oil that was won by an Amazon tribe. Indigenous people are the biggest barrier to Amazon deforestation and this win was a huge step towards ensuring the protection of vast acres from extractive projects.

Women play a huge role in the leadership of Indigenous communities. On August 13, hundreds of Indigenous women marched together in Brazil to protest the policies of President Bolsonaro. With lots of singing and dancing, and the motto “Territory: Our Bodies Our Spirits”, they demanded respect for Indigenous rights and denounced the invasions of their territories. They also protested against alarming Amazon deforestation rates.

This is not an isolated problem.

We are losing forests all over the world. Most of the burning areas experienced extreme heat last month – with temperatures higher than the long-term averages. In Alaska, 2.5 million acres have been burned so far. In the Canary Islands, a fire which started on August 17 has already destroyed 25,000 acres and forced over 8,000 people to evacuate.

Siberia has been experiencing its worst wildfire season on record during the past month. It has been reported that the smoke clouds are covering an area bigger than the size of Europe and that the blazes are close to cities. 

This is a life-threatening international emergency which lacks media coverage. It’s a climate crisis provoked by the ignorance and ambition of human activity. We continue to exploit earth even as we witness more and more natural disasters caused by climate change.

How many more cries for help does our planet need to give until we listen? It is about time we take environmental issues seriously. It’s about time we wake up and realise that we humans are endangered too.

What can we do? 

“Why is it taking so long to believe that if we hurt nature, we hurt ourselves? We are not watching the world from without. We are not separate from it.”
– Davi Kopenawa Yanomami

I believe that ecology can be revolutionary because in order to be able to protect nature, we will have to make changes on a social level. We, as humans, must understand that the environment is our home. This is an issue that should not be forgotten once the media stops talking about it. We have to create and maintain awareness by educating ourselves and others.

We should also condemn the insane global soy industry and other agricultural activities that require the deforestation of the Amazon by avoiding companies that import cheap meat from tropical rainforest areas. One tenth of our global emissions come from deforestation. The importance of the rainforest should not be overlooked in favor of short term profit and, therefore, stopping deforestation must be a priority.