Earth Day is a global event created to fire up the next generation of changemakers by bringing together environmental activists. This year’s theme – Restore Our Earth™ – aims to provoke opposition to ‘business as usual’ after the pandemic, an impetus for changing the way we treat Earth’s resources.
Three days of climate action kick off with a global youth summit, Earth Uprising, in association with My Future My Voice and young activists from around the world – the heirs to our Earth. The most famous young environmentalist in the West, Greta Thunberg – the Swedish schoolgirl who became a beacon of outspoken truth to power as she travelled around the world – is one of the most well-recognised faces of the School Strike for Climate that spread around the globe. Her blunt, passionate message enamoured adults the world over and has led to high-profile speaking engagements, including the UN Climate Change Conference in 2018 and the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit. She is now listed in Forbes 100 Most Powerful Women as well as having three nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Known for her open style of communication, Thunberg has always been upfront about being autistic – crediting it as her ‘superpower’, one that enables her to retain a deep focus, and to be undeterred by critics’ attempts at belittling her impact. For an exploration of the wide diversity of autism, see our Heady Mix theme for this season: Dazzling Colours of Calm.
Female campaigners are leading the charge on climate change solutions but in the West, this optimism is mired by a lack of diversity and hidden figures. One of the most exciting and dynamic activists rising to prominence is Ugandan Vanessa Nakate. You probably haven’t heard of her, she was literally erased from an Associated Press image of a lineup of activists at the 2020 World Economic Forum in Davos which meant subsequent news coverage of the event didn’t feature or name her.
Nakate’s erasure not only highlights the persistent problem of diversity in environmental activism, but also the harmful lack of understanding of local issues by local people on the part of big climate change campaigns. Of her erasure, Nakate said:
“The cropping had made it possible to believe that African climate activists were absent from Davos; that Africans weren’t active in the climate change movement; and that there wasn’t a global youth climate movement that included people like me and many others in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.”
Nakate has been striking outside the Ugandan Parliament and has become a vocal opponent of those denying African voices on climate change. She started the Rise Up movement, reflecting the local concerns of the global south, and highlighting climate as an energy and social justice issue. With a book, My Fight: A Bigger Picture, out in November 2021, Nakate hopes to share her fight to place African voices into actions on climate change.
Nakate isn’t the only Ugandan rising to prominence – the Fridays For Future strikes also inspired 16-year-old schoolgirl Leah Namugerwa, who has been striking for over 114 weeks Namugerwa is also involved in work to protect Uganda’s vital assets of Bugoma and Zoka forests, plus reforestation of areas already decimated.
Nigeria’s leader of the Friday’s for Future Movement, Adenike Oladosu, is an eco-feminist based in the Lake Chad region, who blends her environmental and equality work with peacemaking efforts across the country.
South America is another continent impacted heavily by climate change, partly due to large scale deforestation which brings in its wake floods, disease and desertification. Since witnessing violent conflicts where members of her community died protecting their land, Helena Gualinga, an Indigenous activist in the Kichwa Sarayaku in Pastaza, Ecuador, has been dedicated to fighting large oil companies’ interests in her homelands.
Gualinga takes the message of land protection to schools in Ecuador and was invited to speak to the international community at COP 25 (The UN Climate Change Conference) in 2019. Her most recent action is the founding of Polluters Out in collaboration with 150 other environmentalists, in January 2020, which calls on The UN to refuse funding from any fossil fuel interests.
Xiye Bastida is Chilean-Mexican and a member of the Indigenous Mexican Otomi-Toltec Nation. She focuses on immigrant visibility in activism, and co-founded the Re-Earth Initiative, an international not-for-profit, aimed at involving as many young people in actions as possible by being “global, inclusive and intersectional — just as the climate movement should be”.
Rounding up our young female environmental changemakers is nine-year-old Licypriya Kangujam. Kangujam believes there’s large-scale environmental damage in India and surrounding countries due to pollution and a lack of climate change education in schools. Advocating for climate change action since 2018, Kangujam has protested outside India’s parliament for a climate change law that would incorporate disaster risk reduction.
Kangujam has since travelled the world speaking in Mongolia, Africa, COP25 and the World Economic Forum 2020.
We’re inspired by these powerful young women who are fighting for a clean and safe Earth to benefit all of us, not just the West. So, if like us, you’re impassioned into action, visit Earth Day for some simple steps you can take now: https://www.earthday.org/take-action-now/