Conventionally, the climate change movement has been white and middle class in the UK. In these rooms, climate change is spoken about like the climate crisis is in the distant future. On the other hand, the climate crisis in the Global South is happening now and people with heritage in these countries have observed and have been affected by the climate crisis.
POC have been dealing with environmental issues for decades, from safeguarding their homelands to protecting their water sources. It’s paramount that we diversify our speakers surrounding climate change. This is not only so that young POC can hear and see people who look and sound like them in these spaces, but so we have a diverse outlook on climate issues around the world.
Robin Wall Kimmerer
Kimmerer is a Professor of Environmental Biology at the State University of New York. She is also the founding director of the Centre for the Native Peoples and the Environment.
Her work here involves working with tribal nations on environmental inquiries to retrieve hereditaries of knowledge that were made illegal in the policies of tribal assimilation. This was only lifted in the U.S in the 1970’s. Kimmerer grew up away from her clan, the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, and spent her childhood in fields and woods, which shaped her perspective of nature. She said
"In the absence of human elders, I had plant elders."
Kimmerer’s work is about the relationship between new Western science and ancient Indigenous knowledge. Kimmerer pays special attention to plants and how they work. She uses moss as an example. They have existed for 350 million years through cooperation and the sharing of limited resources, giving more than they take. She talks about how we can help, honour and care for our planet using Indigienous practises.
Ingrid R.G. Waldron
Waldron is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Health at Dalhousie University and Director of the Environmental Noxiousness, Racial Inequities and Community Health Project. Her work is on environmental racism and she defines it as
"the disproportionate location or siting of polluting industries in communities of colour, Indigenous communities, Black communities and the working poor"
Her book There’s Something in the Water was adapted into a Netflix film, which examines environmental racism in Black and Indigenous communities in Canada. It addresses issues like how your postal code affects your health; in other words, how those who suffer from social, political and economic issues are more likely to suffer from environmental issues. Throughout her work, she stresses that environmental discrimination is entwined with racial capitalism, gender, class and health, and environmental racism is perpetuated by the system. Waldron believes in the importance of taking a community-based approach to tackle environmental racism.
Soreng is a leading Indian youth climate activist and UN advisor and part of the Kharia tribe in Odisha, India. Her name, which means “rock”, reflects the belief that we are part of nature. In her tribe, being named as parts of nature means it’s important to be in the process of protecting it. Soreng’s grandfather was a leader of community-led forest protection practises in her village, her father was an indigenous health care specialist, and her mother and Soreng are indigenous rights activists.
Whilst she was studying her Masters, Soreng’s father passed away. This made her realise that we lose our elders and we could lose all of the knowledge we have learnt from them, unless we practise and preserve them.
Soreng stresses the importance for young people to safeguard their language, identity and traditional knowledge, especially whilst witnessing land-grabbing and displacement from the climate crisis. In her work, she draws attention to the actions of Indigenous people, who, she states, are the least polluters, who have least added towards the climate crisis, but are being affected by the crisis. Soreng believes that with traditional Indigenous knowledge and practise of living, they can contribute towards climate change.
"Indigenous people, young people should be the leaders of climate actions, not victims of climate policies"
If you want to know more POC climate change activists, I urge you to read We Have a Dream: Meet 30 Young Indigenous People and People of Colour Protecting the Planet by Dr Mya-Rose Craig. Written in an accessible way, Dr Mya-Rose interviews activists who come from communities that environmental issues affect the most extremely. It also includes beautiful illustrations of each interviewee by the West African illustrator Sabrena Khadija.