More needs to be done to ensure that a diverse group of youth activists are both seen and heard in the fight against climate change.
Spot the difference
When Vanessa Nakate, a 23-year-old activist from Uganda attended a press conference at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, she might have expected to be highlighted in the media for her views on the climate crisis, or for founding a transnational climate movement for young Africans, or how she helped set-up solar panels for local schools in her home country. Yet her name hit the headlines for a different reason. She had been cropped out of an AP photo featuring Greta Thunberg and a number of other young white activists.
— Lukwesa Burak (@LukwesaBurak) January 24, 2020
In an emotional live Twitter broadcast, Vanessa told her audience how much it had affected her; “So after the strike I decide to go through my phone to post some photos of the strike and I…and I landed on this article….I’m sorry…I land on this article and I see the photos…and I clearly see how I was scrubbed out of the photos…I’m sorry. Everyone’s message was being talked about…and my message was left out…and my photo was left out as well.”
Share if you can
What it means to be removed from a photo! https://t.co/1dmcbyneYV
— Vanessa Nakate (@vanessa_vash) January 24, 2020
AP later apologised for the omission. “There was no ill intent. AP routinely publishes photos as they come in and when we received additional images from the field, we updated the story. AP has published a number of images of Vanessa Nakate.”
Intentional or not, the episode played an important role in highlighting some of the struggles young people in the global south have in being seen and heard on the global stage.
The Greta Effect
In just over a year, Greta Thunberg has gone from a lone and unknown protester outside the Swedish parliament into a globally recognised climate superstar and leader of a global youth-led strike in September 2019 of four million people in over 160 countries. Her clarity, determination and integrity has inspired millions of young people, including Vanessa Nakate into taking climate action. What’s rarely examined are the structures which helped her get there. Supportive parents, a sympathetic and supportive government, the right to protest, laws of free speech, access to reliable internet and the support of a powerful liberal media with global reach. Greta has used her powerful platform to highlight the voices of other inspiring youth activists, amplifying school strikes from across the world. It’s time for the media, world leaders and international organisations to follow her lead – and do more to highlight a diversity of youth voices, especially those from communities on the frontlines of climate change, with limited social media clout or access.
Indigenous people and people of color are disproportionately affected by climate change, yet as we’ve seen with Vanessa Nakate, they are often left out of mainstream media narratives. In the run-up to Earth Day on April 22, here are six youth climate activists to watch out for.
Autumn Peltier – Canada
“We can’t eat money and we can’t drink oil,” said 15-year-old Autumn Peltier to world leaders at the UN General Assembly last year. At age 14, Autumn Peltier became the Chief Water Commissioner for the Anishinabek Nation. In her role, she represents water rights for the Anishinabek Nation and advocates internationally on access to water and the environmental impacts of climate change and pollution.
Follow Autumn on Instagram @Autumn.Peltier.
Timoci Naulusala – Fiji
“The threat of climate change is real…it’s time to take action….Ladies and gentleman, I sit at home, watching the news, where the sea is swallowing villages, eating away at shorelines, withering away crops, the relocation of people, the cries of lost loved ones.”
Timoci Naulusala first made ripples across the world aged 12, with his powerful speech at COP23 on the impact of climate change on his home in Fiji. Since then, he has become a leading voice in the youth climate movement as a speaker at the UN and within the Pacific Region.
Follow him on Instagram @timocinaulusala.
Aditya Mukarji – India
“People listen more to children bringing up environmental concerns.”
At the age of 13, Indian activist Aditya Mukarji started a campaign to banish plastic straws from hotels, restaurants and cafes – persuading them to use eco-friendly alternatives. Within 18 months, he had removed 25 million plastic straws and other single-use plastics from circulation. Now 16, he continues to advocate for plastic reduction, tree-planting and
Follow Aditya on Twitter @AdityaMukarji.
Xiye Bastida – Mexico
Xiye Bastida is a 17-year-old climate activist and a member of the indigenous Mexican Otomi–Toltec nation. Since moving to New York, she’s become one of the most vocal Friday’s For Future leaders, focusing on indigenious and immigrant visibility on climate action. “Earth is our home,” she said. “It gives you air, water and shelter. Everything we need. All it asks is that we protect it.”
Melati and Isabel Wijsen – Indonesia
“We learned that 40 other countries had banned single use plastic bags and we thought if they can do it, we can too.” Melati and Isabel Wijsen founded Bye Bye Plastic Bags in Indonesia back in 2013 at age 12 and 10 respectively after being inspired in school lessons about Mahatma Ghandi, Princess Diana and Nelson Mandela. From a small team of two – their organisation has blossomed into a youth-led organization with a 25-person staff and a board of directors. Thanks to their tenacious advocacy, the entire island of Bali was declared plastic bag free, with the country of Indonesia planning to ban plastic bags by 2021.
Follow them on Instagram @byebyeplasticbags.