Privilege and ego are robbing minority voices

Climate activism is popular nowadays. From the #SavetheTurtles movement with the uprising of reusable straws, to organized climate change strikes across the nation, people are mobilizing to reverse climate change and positively impact the Earth.

It seems as though a majority of the people who are aware of the dangers of climate change are united and act as one collective voice in an effort to prevent further damage to the planet. 

However, if the person speaking is a minority, their voice seems to be minimized on the world stage. This makes no sense, as these people have been and will continue to be the most affected by the threats of climate change. 

In an article by Minority Rights Group International, they provided a direct quote from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent impacts report which states, “Impacts of climate change are like to be felt most acutely not only by the poor, but also by certain segments of the population, such as the elderly, the very young, the powerless, indigenous peoples and recent immigrants…”

When Googling “climate change activist” the first person to appear is 17-year-old Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg. Alongside her name is actor, and now climate change activist, Jane Fonda and British environmentalist Blue Sandford, who are both white. 

Although these activists have made great strides, I simply believe that it is unfair for the most privileged people to be awarded the most news coverage and, subsequently, to be given the biggest voice in the movement when everyone deserves to have their voices valued, regardless of social status.

Indigenous people are some of the most devastated by modern environmental issues. For example, an article by Science magazine talks about Indigenous Alaskans and how global warming has affected their major source of food —Chinook salmon. 

Yet inexplicably, they are given the least room at the discussion table and the least attention from the eyes of mainstream media in the United States.

Oftentimes, Arctic warming is not connected to its impact on Indigenous Alaskans and is said to be “out of sight, out of mind,” Peter Darcy with the Woodwell Climate Research Center attests. 

Communication is a two-sided effort, but Kawerak Inc., a collection of 20 tribes in the Bering Strait area, said to the U.S. National Science Foundation, “For many decades we have asked to be active partners with agencies and academics that wish to come onto our lands and waters to conduct research.” All this, to no avail.

However, more regions outside the U.S. inhabited by minority groups are ignored, despite their richer knowledge and understanding of nature.

The Minority Rights Group International published an article titled “Minorities at the frontline of climate change,” in which they mention several examples of minority groups who have historically preserved and protected nature being trampled by giant modern unions.

An example is the Kenyan Sengwer Indigenous group who reside in the Embobut Forest. 

They are being forcefully and brutally evicted by the European Union for the sake of their “green preservation efforts,” in which thousands of their homes have been burned down. This alone robbed them of their livelihoods and their cultural connection to the forest. Due to their forced migration, they must seek out a home elsewhere. However, given that many powerful political figures, like President Trump and Hungary Prime Minister Viktor Orban, are against immigration, varying regions of the world are unaccepting of immigrants.

The article puts it best by stating, “there is an increasingly hostile political climate growing worldwide. Right wing extremism, xenophobia and stringent border policies does not seem that radical anymore.”

Still, the conclusion is important: “We need to include minorities in climate related efforts … trust them, their knowledge and understanding, in order to understand the needs of the nature. We need their help to combat, or at least adapt to, climate change. It is a responsibility we should not put on anyone, especially not the most vulnerable in society.”

The U.S. is no better to its own citizens. 

As very few nonwhite climate activists are handed the microphone, they still are managing to do everything in their power to support their communities, which are failed by the U.S. government. These efforts include forming climate organizations and leading marches in their hometowns.

Vogue published an article about Haatepah Clearbear, an Indigenous model and climate activist, and how he has been using his platform to educate and inspire both his people and other activists. 

His work includes representing the International Indigenous Youth Council at a climate march in 2019 and attending the Protecting Mother Earth Conference in 2018. This effort deserves to have the same recognition other activists have received. 

Regardless, the world needs to do better by minorities. If the world wants to do something about climate change, it needs to be a united effort where everyone’s voice is amplified and considered. That will not and can not happen without the aid of the people who know the land and sea best.

Anyone interested in supporting minority-led organizations can find more information at Indigenous Climate Action and at the First Alaskans Institute.