On our last day of Women’s History Month we bring you an important moment of girl power, allyship, women supporting women, and climate justice with Vanessa Nakate and Greta Thunberg.
In a blatantly racist act, the AP cropped Ugandan climate activist, Vanessa Nakate, out of a photo she appeared in with climate activist Greta Thunberg after they attended the World Economic Forum. While this may not seem like a big deal to some, it’s important to note that the only activist that were featured were Caucasian. It’s a big deal because the Associated Press, arguably the most influential news agency in the world, acted dismissively (raciest) toward Africa and black women.
Cropping Vanessa Nakate out of the photo, and leaving four Caucasian climate activist, was a form erasure. The African climate change story is suddenly absent from the global discussions because it isn’t represented. This behavior is not new, there are endless examples in which African nations and Africans are considered inconsequential to the global agenda.
Supporters and fellow climate activists came to Nakate’s defense. It sparked a dialogue on racism within environmentalist spaces and the need for climate justice. 18 year old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, along with others, loudly criticized the Associated Press for publishing the cropped photograph saying, “This is totally unacceptable in so many ways. Like Vanessa said herself: ‘You didn’t just erase a photo. You erased a continent.’”
Thunberg is a strong advocate for centering indigenous and non-Western voices in climate activism. She describes them as the people most directly affected and harmed by climate change. Thunberg uses her privilege to bring these voices to center stage whenever possible.
Nakate is more than ‘the young woman cropped out of a photo’. She is a passionate 24 year-old climate justice activist from Uganda. She founded Youth for Future Africa and the Africa-based Rise Up Movement. She also started the Green Schools Project, which aims to transition schools in Uganda to solar energy.
Becoming a prominent environmental activist requires a thick skin. Youth-led activist like Greta Thunberg and Vanessa Nakate often face hostility from the corporations and government officials that they hold responsible for contributing to climate degradation.
These young citizens are trying to create a positive change in the world for future generations. Sadly, their age does not protect them from being trolled, mocked, and dismissed. But these brave, committed and passionate environmentalist persist. They inspire us to learn more, think globally about our environmental impact, and do better. Not just for ourselves, for the future of our planet.
African activist have been fighting for climate change lone before it was cool. Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977. Her efforts contributed to the planting of over 30 million trees. While Africa has 17% of the population, it accounts for only 2-3% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Yet it bears the biggest brunt of climate change effects.