Contemporary climate activism is extremely white. The UN Climate Summit and National Climate Strike happened last week, so there has been a lot of talk about climate change in the news and on social media. I have seen a lot of articles and posts praising Greta Thunberg for her activism. I find Greta Thunberg to be extremely inspirational and I admire her dedication and courage. However, why is it only Greta Thunberg getting praised? Why do we only praise white climate activists and ignore activists of color, such as Artemisa Xakriabá? Artemisa Xakriabá is a 19-year old indigenous Brazilian activist who has done extensive activism in Brazil, also spoke at the New York City climate strikes this past week.
The issue is that mainstream media are only looking at climate change through one (white) lens. We are not looking at climate change as the intersectional social justice issue that it is. People of color are the most likely to be negatively impacted by climate change as a result of environmental racism, despite contributing to it the least.
This extremely white narrative surrounding climate change is something that I have seen very clearly reflecting on social media, mainly through vegan activism. Veganism has become a huge part of the contemporary conversation surrounding climate change. I keep seeing (exclusively white) vegans, many who I know in my own life, posting content that enforces the idea that meat eaters are the reason we are in a climate crisis. However, none of these white vegans ever seem to acknowledge that indigenous peoples of the Americas and Africa has been eating meat for centuries, but they have not contributed to even a fraction of the man-made climate change that we see now. This climate crisis has been caused by colonialism and major corporations. I’m not saying that Greta Thunberg doesn’t deserve praise or that veganism is wrong, but this narrative fails to recognize the centuries of efforts made by activists of color. We are also failing to recognize the fact that just because a product is vegan, that doesn’t mean its production is ethical or “green”.
We’re ignoring the issues of worker exploitation, which in the United States is most often experienced by people who are incarcerated and/or undocumented. Someone or something is most likely being exploited in anything we purchase, so that means we need to be having a bigger conversation about what sustainability is. We should not be pressuring people of color to change their daily habits or lifestyles in order to be more “green” when climate change is a result of white supremacy and greed.
I really enjoyed your point about white veganism and some of the flaws that is intertwined in their narrative. I also understand your point about the acknowledgement of Greta while other activist like Artemisa aren’t given the same spotlight. I would say though that with Greta and all of the attention she has created, Indigenous activists have received more attention for their efforts. I would’ve probably never heard of them if it wasn’t for Greta. Granted, this is not the way that should’ve happened. Helping climate change is a group effort and obviously that comes with flaws.
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I really love this piece. I think the issue is that people have to understand the climate crisis is a crisis of white supremacy and that we can not get anywhere centering white voices. Indigenous people are the caretakers of the land and to have a white child become the face of what is actually an indigenous rights issue is harmful. When we see indigenous people being murdered for protecting the environment that should galvanize folks, when we see pipelines being built on sacred land that should galvanize folks, Greta is an amazing brilliant child but this is an indigenous and global south fight, we as Global north people need to elevate the voices of those who do not have ten years, who are feeling the effects right now.
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Yes! The points you raised here are so important to remember. Climate change is the result of white supremacy and corporate greed, not of people wanting to eat chicken for dinner. While the state of the meat industry in the United States is disturbing, placing blame on those who eat meat (which people have been eating forever) is damaging and unfair. It shifts blame away from massive corporations who have the ability to change their behavior and reduce their massive negative environmental impact, and onto individuals who have VERY little control over the situation.
(And I know I’m echo-ing here, but it is wildly problematic that most mainstream media sources are only discussing Greta, while there are people who are already being impacted by climate change whose voices are being completely ignored.)
This was a great read! I really appreciate you shedding light on this issue. As much as white individuals become allies of causes they oftentimes, unfortunately, have a way of overshadowing the true leaders in a cause. However, it’s interesting because there’s a mural of her close to being done in Downtown San Francisco and it’s worth noting that she’s completely against this kind of idealization.