The Erased Climate Activists

CW: This article discusses topics of racism and ableism, which could be distressing to some readers.



The crop-out


Climate change is happening. We see inspiring youth activists protesting for our future. But we only look at what we are given.


Climate activist Vanessa Nakate joined four other climate activists at a press conference in Davos. But Nakate couldn’t find any coverage of herself. There were no photos, none of her comments were included, and she wasn’t even on the list of participants.


There was a photograph with four other climate activists, all who were white, Nakate was cropped out of that photo.

After addressing the Associated Press, they said it to be an error in judgement. Although Nakate didn’t believe this, I didn’t either, as there were other photos. They chose the one where she was on the end. And they chose to crop her out.


“A photo crop-out is an easy way to describe it, but it's really a metaphorical crop-out from the narrative of climate science in general”. - Jamie Margolin


"Systemic racism in the climate movement results in the marginalisation of Black expertise including scientists and practitioners, as European perspectives are generally supported, prioritised and magnified”.


Dr Robert Bullard states, “climate activism among youth is perceived by the larger society as a 'white thing'. The un-cropped photo didn’t fit the model.


There is an interconnectedness between climate justice, racial justice and disability justice.


Underrepresented communities


“Does the room I’m stepping into reflect what the world looks like?” - Daphne Frias


People talk about climate change as though it is yet to come, but it is very much in the present. And people in minority communities are experiencing the effects.

The global north is responsible for the majority of climate change, yet it is the global south suffering from it.

"Race is the number one predictor of exposure to pollutants" more than income. Black communities are more likely to live in vulnerable areas near polluting factories and dirty coal plants. Filling the air with dangerous toxins.


“You’re fighting for a justice that’s ablest and that fits into your parameters of what normal is, but justice doesn’t discriminate. Justice is for everyone” - Daphne Frias

I ask you, when 80% of homes lost in a natural disaster are black people’s homes, in 2005 when an underfunded levee system broke and flooded the city, black people were four times more likely to die. When disabled individuals aren’t included in policies before disaster strikes, how will they “be effectively accommodated during a crisis”.


I ask, Does the room you see reflect this reality?


We want to know how to stop climate change? But it's not about stopping one thing. Climate change interconnects with racial justice, social justice, and disability justice.


We are excluding the people who need help, but they are not just the victims of climate change.


“Indigenous people are playing a crucial role in protecting our planet. We are not on the front covers, but we are the first line of defenders”. - Licypriya Kangujam


Before they are victims of climate change, they are first victims of racism, ableism and social injustice.


The solutions are the problems

“If the governments are talking about transitioning to electric vehicles...some materials that is used in the manufacturing of electric vehicles mean that some people – women, children, girls – are exploited in the process”. “You hear the governments talking about tree-planting campaigns… this often means that indigenous communities are going to lose their land”.


Why do solutions to combat climate change only lead to problems? Problems I had no knowledge of, until I did this research. Why is the truth being hidden?


If women and girls were being exploited in the production of vehicles in a developed country, there would be protests. Yet for a developing country, it is dismissed.

“Communities cannot adapt to extinction, communities cannot adapt to starvation. The climate crisis is pushing many people in places where they cant adapt any more."- Vanessa Nakate

We need to approach justice before we can face climate change.


They matter


I don’t want to be a silencer; I want to be a listener, a listener to the silenced ones. A listener to those who can't speak due to the risk of being prosecuted.


There are activists who are black, Latina, and disabled. Here are just a few: Licyrpira Kangujam, Daphne Frias, Vanessa Nakate.


Licypriya Kangujam started protesting at the age of 6. After attending a UN disaster conference in Mongolia in 2018, she felt the need to get involved in activism. Resulting in the creation of the child movement.

Kangujam has travelled around the world, speaking at international climate conferences. Particularly she spoke at the COP25 conference in 2019 when she was only 9 years old. Kangujam helped create the "new law to curb air pollution crisis" in Delhi and made climate change education compulsory in three states in India.


Daphne Frias is a 24-year-old youth activist, she is Latina and has Cerebral Palsy. Frias has seen first hand how minority communities have been disproportionally affected by growing up in West Harlem, NYC. Frias spends her time at various colleges, summits and panels and consulting non-profits, “crafting engaging campaigns highlighting the voices of Gen-z”.


Vanessa Nakate spoke at the COP25 and COP26 conferences. Nakate has written the book “A Bigger picture”, founder of two climate action groups and "spearheaded the campaign to save Congo's Rainforest".


These women are just a few, and above is only a snapshot of what they have done.


Justice is possible


Making infrastructure climate resistant has a benefit-cost ratio of about 6:1. Meaning for every dollar invested six dollars are saved.


The United Nations estimate "$1.8 trillion invested in climate adaptation can prevent $7.1 trillion of climate costs".


“When you see a sports match, you can’t play with just half of the team. When you play with half the team, you are most likely to loose” – Vanessa Nakate


The reality is we are fighting but with only half of the team.