The media has a lot of power to control how people see information and gather it when it comes to issues like climate change, especially youth-based climate change activism. One name comes to mind — Greta Thunberg.
Although she’s certainly not the only one and hasn’t been the first to advocate for environmental changes, she’s been the media’s token to represent youth climate change.
This can have adverse effects when it comes to the voices of others being heard — especially minorities in this landscape as they battle for diversity in the realm of environmental activism.
This is what Vanessa Nakate has been addressing after being cropped out of a photo with all-white climate change activists by the Associated Press. The photo depicted Thunberg, Luisa Neubauer, Isabelle Axelsson and Loukina Tille attending the Davos World Economic Forum.
This opened the discussion about erasure and how white media often disregards the voices of minorities, especially in topics involving climate change and political activism.
Nakate said she felt like she wasn’t even there — like she was invisible — which isn’t a far cry from how other climate change activists of color feel when it comes to media attention and having a platform.
“When I saw the photo, I only saw part of my jacket. I was not on the list of participants. None of my comments from the press conference were included,” Nakate told the Guardian. “It was like I wasn’t even there.”
Although the Associated Press claimed it was an error with no ill-intent, history claims otherwise. We constantly see the erasure of the voices of minorities when it comes to climate change and environmental actions that deeply affect the way of life of those people.
For example, when we look at environmental movements here in the United States, we see that the voices of indigenous and minorities are always left out, although these are the groups most impacted by the adverse effects of climate change and environmental actions.
Even focusing on this Davos forum, the media failed to showcase the diversity that was at the forum. Climate change activists from all over the world were present, and yet the media only presented one viewpoint: Only young, white activists seemed to be at the forefront of environmental activism and change, which just isn’t true.
The truth is, minorities have been fighting for environmental protection and climate change actions for a long time. Understanding that places like Africa are most vulnerable to climate change should prompt people to allow the voices of African activists to be heard in all areas.
Nakate is from Kampala, Uganda, and began her environmental activism after coming to realize the effects of global warming in her own country.
Although she was inspired by Thunberg to hold a strike, she paved her own path as the founder of two climate action groups such as Youth for Future Africa and the Rise Up Movement. But even with all these accolades, it's been hard for her and her peers to have their voices heard in a bigger stage.
When you search up climate change activists, the first person that pops up is Thunberg. Although she's made a lot of progress and influenced a lot of people, she is not the only face of climate change and she shouldn’t be the only voice.
Much like the likes of Nakate, Licypriya Kangujam is an eight-year-old climate change activist whose voice has also been pushed under Thunberg’s. Although she’s being called the “Greta of India,” Kangujam states that she started her movement way before Thunberg had become a household name.
“I am not doing my activism to look like Thunberg. Yes, she is one of our inspirations and great influencers. We have a common goal but I have my own identity (and) story. I began my movement since July 2018 even before Greta ... started.”
This is an example of how the media constructs only one narrative about climate change — how it shifts the voices of minorities and makes them unheard.
We can fight these disparities only if the media addresses its inherent biases about the way it not only views climate change, but also the way it silences the voices of those who would be impacted by climate change the most.
This isn’t an issue about giving a voice to those who don’t have it. This is strictly an issue about the world finally listening — because the world never listens to those who have the most impactful things to say.