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Sounds about White: the rise of Greta Thunberg Thunberg has been receiving a lot more attention than climate activists of colour

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Photo taken at Montreal Climate Strike C/O Pascal Bernardon 

By Morgan Parcells, Contributor

Sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg agrees: hot girl summer was way too hot. 

At the forefront of a global sustainability movement, Greta Thunberg seems to have lit a fire amongst younger generations. She inspired hundreds of thousands of individuals to take part in Fridays For Future, Greta’s very own climate strike, across the world on Sept. 27, 2019. 

On Aug. 20, 2018, Thunberg singlehandedly began the development of her global movement with the very first Fridays For Future protest outside of her local parliament. The following week, her fellow students joined her in taking a stand for the environment. After only a few weeks, Fridays For Future became a weekly occurrence.

Thunberg’s ideas quickly garnered attention from neighbouring countries and Fridays For Future began to spread internationally. By February 2019, more than 30 countries across the world were participating. In August 2019, Thunberg attended the United Nations’ Climate Summit in the United States, and students in over 165 countries took part in Fridays For Future.  

To some, the idea of climate activism is an entirely new idea. However, others may believe that an environmental political movement has been at play for a greater portion of history. The question stands: how long have we known about the climate crisis?

In 1896, the first scientific evidence of human-induced climate change was discovered: Swedish scientist Svente Arrhenius found that human carbon emissions have a direct contribution to the warming of the atmosphere.

In 1938, British inventor and engineer Guy Stewart Callendar posited that a correlation exists between the warming land temperatures and human carbon emissions. Callendar’s research was largely ignored by the scientific community of his time.

In 1960, American scientist Charles David Keeling — known for the Keeling Curve — found that carbon dioxide emissions were rising.

Clearly, the science has been in our grasp for over a century, but only relatively recently have we begun paying significant attention. Many credit Thunberg as the sole pivotal voice in the conversation around global climate issues. While her impact is nearly unmatched in the social world, the voice of Thunberg is not a lonely one. For decades, there have been voices of colour proclaiming the same message as Thunberg. Although her message is undoubtedly an important one, it would be disappointing to look past the second message Thunberg is sending — that the world only listens when white activists decide to speak up. 

Despite doing the same work as Thunberg, climate change activists of colour are largely ignored. 

Only 15 years old, Indigenous activist Autumn Peltier addressed the United Nations on the same day as Thunberg, urging the organization to protect the world’s universal right to clean water. She has been an advocate for these issues for the majority of her young life, having attended the Children’s Climate Conference in Sweden at only 11 years old and even personally addressing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about his broken promises regarding Indigenous Canadian populations. At the age of 14, Autumn was named chief water commissioner by the Anishinabek Nation.

Eleven-year-old Ridhima Pandey calls Uttarakhand, India home and has been a climate change activist for the past few years. When she was only nine years old, Pandey filed a legal complaint against the Indian government for their failure to reduce and regulate the emission of greenhouse gases that heavily contribute to climate change. Her petition reached the National Green Tribunal.

Beyond the two bright individuals detailed above, there exists a world of young climate leaders of colour who face global issues at a harsher level than most white communities will ever see.

The choice to champion Thunberg as the leader of the global climate advocacy movement holds a large amount of political weight behind it, exposing our tendency to champion those with lighter skin in place of coloured individuals who work just as hard, if not harder. 

It is not wrong of us to recognize Thunberg’s dedication, passion and undying mission to save the world. But it is most definitely wrong of us to fail to acknowledge and appreciate the voices of colour who have been pushing this conversation for decades.

 

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