In the wake of Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future becoming mainstream, there has been a surge in environmental activism on an international scale, hence the global climate strikes. As such, there has been a sense of urgency in regards to the issue, as people implore governments to take steps towards resolving it, especially considering the visibly exacerbated effects of climate change in recent years: summer’s heat waves are prolonged, winter comes later and is more frigid, and almost-yearly spring flooding has become the norm.
Of course, these things affect everyone, by virtue of living together on Earth. However, it’s naïve to think that we all experience these effects in the same way, and, just like our experiences with the matter cannot be subsumed into a single narrative, it mustn’t be represented vis-à-vis the same protagonist.
However, the discourse surrounding the environment’s deterioration, despite carrying a tone of urgency, is being universalized into an essential experience due to the media’s exclusive representation of it and its advocates.
This is, quite literally, the experience of Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate who was cropped out of a photograph, originally featuring her as part of a climate activist group at the World Economic Forum that was published by The Associated Press.
Following immense backlash, as well as an influx of accusations of racism on social media, The Associated Press apologized and claimed that they had “no ill intent” in publishing the controversial photo.
Unfortunately, the damage was already done: they had inadvertently erased the value of Nakate’s activism, along with her face.
In regards to this controversy, Nakate says, “We don’t deserve this. Africa is the least emitter of carbons, but we are the most affected by the climate crisis”.
In fact, most in the developed world have the privilege to have access to the means to cope with the effects of climate change, meaning we are not affected as quickly and as severely as we could be.
By contrast, as per Nakate’s reasoning for becoming an activist, in Uganda, the effects of climate change incite starvation, illness, and ultimately, death. Whether it be due to flooding or to drought, the resulting lack of crops makes for a loss of income for farmers, as well as increased prices of food, most of which are likely imported from developed countries and whose access is limited to the most privileged.
Nakate emphasizes that “erasing [their] voices won’t change anything. […] Erasing [their] stories won’t change anything”.
Ultimately, considering the multifaceted nature of climate change, the steps we take to combat it must take people’s privilege and intersecting experiences into account.
By Mel Spiridigliozzi