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.