• Sofia Eugeniou

Why black environmental activism needs more recognition

Updated: Jul 9, 2020

Could you name a black environmental activist off the top of your head? Difficult, isn’t it?

More needs to be done to increase the recognition and representation of black and ethnic voices in the climate debate and movement.

BAME communities face unique political and social realities thus making it important that the ideas and voices of these communities are better reflected in the environmental movement.

Considering the situation from a global South context, livelihoods are heavily interlinked with nature and the environment. Because of this, environmental problems more seriously threaten various aspects of livelihood such as food security, safe drinking water, and energy, than for those living in a global North context.

The same argument can be applied to black and ethnic minority communities living in places such as the UK.

Helping to amplify BAME voices in the UK environment movement is the Climate Reframe project, which serves to "highlight some of the best Black, Brown, Asian, People of Colour and UK based Indigenous Peoples who are climate experts, campaigners and advocates living and working in the UK" (seriously, you should check their site out).

But why only now are we starting to recognise the roles and the need for greater inclusion of BAME people in the environmental movement?

Image credit: Markus Schreiber/AP, taken from The Guardian.

In January 2020, global conversation about how the voices of BAME people are erased from the climate crisis movement was ignited into a new life. It all started with what appeared to be an innocent photograph taken of various climate activists.

Shot in Davos, a photo of different climate activists was taken, including Swedish Greta Thunberg and Ugandan Vanessa Nakate.

Causing dismay and outrage amongst many, The Associated Press news agency decided to crop Vanessa out of the image (who is seen on the far left of the picture).

This is just one example of many that highlight how little recognition and attention black and ethnic climate activists are receiving, despite it being the 21st century. It is about time we change the historical perception that climate activism is a white and middle-class pursuit, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

A new wave of climate activism is helping to break down the social misconceptions that surround climate activism and disable BAME individuals from having their voices, ideas and concerns aired and considered.

Paving the way is Black Lives Matter UK. Performing a protest nearly three years before anyone ever heard of global environmental movement ‘Extinction Rebellion’, a group of nine activists from Black Lives Matter UK chained themselves together on a runway at London City Airport in 2016.

Image credit: Aimee Roweth, taken from BBC London.

Their message was simple and undeniable – the behaviour of those in wealthy countries, such as frequent flying, contribute disproportionately to our warming planet and it is people in the global South who are most detrimentally impacted.

We have a lot to learn from black and ethnic environmental activists, and it is time their voices were heard more loudly.

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