According to the International Energy Agency, Africa’s total energy-related carbon emissions are two per cent of the world’s cumulative carbon emissions. However, Time reports that out of the top 10 most vulnerable countries to climate change, nine are in Africa. This is why young Black, Indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC) such as Vanessa Nakate have been speaking up through activism.
Nakate has been fighting the climate crisis since early 2019. She’s been acclaimed since becoming the first Fridays for Future activist in Uganda and founding her own pan-African collective of climate activists called The Rise Up Movement. Her work led her to be invited to the most recent World Economic Forum in January. In December, she spoke with Democracy Now! about how the climate crisis in Uganda has resulted in deadly torrential rain in some areas and drought in others — both of which are affecting food production.
She highlighted in her interview how in countries like Uganda, which heavily rely on agriculture, buying food will become a luxury if extreme weather destroys farms. Hers is an important perspective in a fight that grounds itself in the future, because for Nakate and other BIPOC activists, the danger is happening now. They are marching for their day-to-day survival.
This is just one reason why it was so detrimental to their cause when The Associated Press cropped her out of an image of fellow climate activists at the World Economic Forum.
The climate fight in its increasingly desperate narrative is leaning into dangerous ideologies, and the rise of eco-facism explains Nakate and other BIPOC activists’ erasure from the work they’re doing. Eco-fascism is refers to the idea that all of our environmental problems stem from multiculturalism, overpopulation, and a lack of widespread veganism, among other things. While the movement itself is niche, and overlaps with neo-Nazi movements, many of its ideas are widespread — even in liberal activism and discourse.
Eco-fascism denies the fact that oppressive white systems are what have led us to this disaster in the first place, and this denial often translates into calling for the genocide of people in the global south. Even Jane Goodall, while speaking at the World Economic Forum, made a point that if the planet held the population it did 500 years ago, most of our current environmental problems wouldn’t exist — a common eco-fascist soundbite.
This isn’t to say that any activist who aligns themselves with some of these views is a racist fascist. The subdued ideals of this ideology, which lead the media to erase the work of young BIPOC activists, are what is so dangerous. Eco-fascism reframes the climate fight as, ironically, a white-saviour movement, and centres its activism solely on animal rights and the physical advancement of the planet.
This ideology benefits many of the white, liberal activists who participate in it. The climate crisis should ask everyone to look at their lives and completely rework their perspectives, which can often mean realizing they have been participating in or benefiting from the very same systematic oppression that has landed us where we are now — with 10 years left before catastrophe falls.
These systems of oppression include globalization, white supremacy, and the constant colonization of Indigenous lands and peoples — the list goes on. Realizing your involvement in these systems means understanding that you are not always the oppressed when it comes to the climate crisis, and are actually at times the oppressor. In order to succeed, people have to take responsibility for that, and make efforts to dismantle systems that are actively benefiting them. For too many, especially within the climate fight, that’s simply unimaginable.
It’s uncomfortable, to say the least, for the very people whose struggles and plights continue to be ignored to speak up — with the voice it was assumed they didn’t have — and detail how the systems of oppression are the reason why we are suffering in the first place.
Instead of addressing this discomfort, the media would rather ignore them and their message. To respect and highlight their existence would also be to respect and highlight their claims, which just doesn’t fit into the white-saviour complex that too many white, liberal climate activists have.
This is why it was unfortunately not surprising to hear a young Indigenous activist such as Ta’Kaiya Blaney say of the Montréal Climate March, “There was just very clear disregard for Indigenous bodies and respect to [our] space that we occupy.” It is also why Nakate felt that her erasure belonged to a pattern of systemic racism.
The climate fight for young BIPOC activists is more than quirky signs and hashtags. It’s sustained action, aiming to completely change the way people across the world interact with each other, and to have oppressors take responsibility for making these necessary changes.
This means listening to all voices from around the world, but also amplifying the ones that have been muffled for too long. It’s difficult, uncomfortable, and certainly easier to just crop them out and ignore the issue altogether. But in order to win this fight, it must be done.
Nadine Waiganjo is a second-year International Relations student at University College. She is an Associate Comment Editor.