The climate crisis has evolved into a full-blown culture war – and it is one on which both sides are found to be wanting in non-white voices and leaders. With all that has transpired globally in the last decade - a 0.3-degree temperature rise and the dramatic political polarisation on both sides of the Atlantic - this culture war has become more apparent than ever.
Only a select few have the time and resources to fight this war, and these people are not those who will be disproportionately affected by the continuing crisis. A quick glance at the Climate Change Vulnerability Index compiled by Verisk Maplecroft paints a very red picture:
African countries will be hit harder, and sooner, by the climate crisis than those in any other continent. Why, then, we must ask, is the most famous climate activist from a wealthy developed nation in Scandinavia? The media’s incessant focus on Greta Thunberg pushes activists of colour to the periphery, when really these voices should all be working in tandem to create a global call for climate action. There are activists of colour doing incredible things but their stories are often left out of the narrative pushed by a white-centric western media. Take Leah
Namugerwa, who planted 200 trees in Uganda on her 15th birthday, led campaigns in Kampala to institute a ban on plastic bags and raised awareness about deforestation and drought. Or perhaps Helena Gualinga, an indigenous activist from Ecuador, who was a founder of the Living Forest Declaration.
Of course, Thunberg has been a sensational inspiration for climate activism. The conversations she has started, the movements she has galvanized and the rage she has inspired amongst those who oppose her showcase her effectiveness. She has been exceptional at promoting activists of colour, yet mass media seems to ignore them completely.
"Why, then, we must ask, is the most famous climate activist from a wealthy developed nation in Scandinavia?"
In light of the figures above, it seems startling that the environmental movement appears to be shifting away from diversity and becoming even more whitewashed. The recent story of Vanessa Nakate, who was cropped out of a photography opportunity at the Davos conference (a photo in which, it should be emphasised, she was the only black person) demonstrates that climate activists are impacted by racism and ignorance.
The climate crisis debate is crying out for the emergence of one or multiple activists of colour into the sphere of the mass media. It is important not to undermine the agency of those activists by implying that they need help - but the lack of representation makes it clear that the removal of obstacles and media bias against people of colour must be part of the solution.
Those who have experienced the horrors of climate-crisis-caused catastrophes must be given the chance to tell their stories, to broadcast their experiences to the rest of the world and to maybe encourage some changes of heart. There exist activists who can do this, but the mainstream media doesn’t seem to want to push their stories forward. In order to achieve real change, activists from all around the world must not be denied access to a platform wherefrom they can engage people through human-interest storytelling rather than through tales of temperature rises and timescales.
Rarely does one turn to notorious British tabloid The Daily Mail for a sign of hope. According to Market Watch, the publication “skews conservative” and provides “unfair interpretations of the news.” So it was when the paper reported on the “hordes” of immigrants attempting to enter the United Kingdom during the Syrian refugee crisis of 2015. However, the death of Alan Kurdi - a 3-year-old Syrian boy who drowned attempting to get to the United Kingdom - changed the rhetoric. Suddenly, Syrian refugees, however briefly, were being treated as humans.
However, there are issues with the ‘show don’t tell’ method of raising awareness. To use the refugee crisis as an analogy, climate change sceptics refuse to believe the refugees exist. They refuse to believe the hard science that backs up the fact that these natural disasters have been worsened by the human impact on the climate.
We need global climate activists to truly showcase the horrors of what the climate crisis is doing. It is clear that the current scientific approach is running into major difficulties. As Michael Gove said in the run up to the 2016 Brexit vote in the United Kingdom “people… have had enough of experts”. It appears that he may have been correct. Andrew Hoffman argued in the Stanford Social Innovation Review that the continual side-lining of academics in popular debate has allowed the clear scientific consensus on climate change to be regularly ignored. What has transpired since this article was written in 2012, partially regarding the climate crisis but mainly regarding the intense political polarisation experienced on both sides of the Atlantic, is that this side-lining has become an active public distrust of academic thought. Thus, a method for communicating these climate-caused challenges we face as a species that involves human stories and engages people from all around the globe is surely another avenue that must be explored.
"We need global climate activists to truly showcase the horrors of what the climate crisis is doing."
The people being affected the most by the climate crisis are those who have the least. However, if those with the privilege to be able to fight this crisis are engaged effectively on a global scale, by a diverse range of publicised climate activists and shown that by changing their lifestyle they can have a real impact on people all around the globe, surely they no longer can give the answer that: “one American soldier is worth far more than an Afghan civilian”. Empowering global climate activists with a multiplicity of different backgrounds and allowing people from every part of the world to tell their stories will underscore the necessity for drastic climate action to ensure our future.