Whitewashing climate activism limits its success

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Young climate activists represent the future of environmentalism in Canada and around the world. This activism must represent the diversity of those impacted by the climate crisis, not just a handful of white voices.
 
A recent Toronto Star opinion highlighted the importance of including a broad range of perspectives in Canada’s conversation around the climate crisis—and moving away from prioritizing the perspectives of the older, often white generation of activists.
 
The global climate movement is strongly associated with an image of primarily white activists. Even those activists who are notable for their youth are rarely people of colour—at least, not according to the general media.
 
Activist Greta Thunburg has become the face of youth climate activism on an international scale. The media has hailed Thunburg’s activism as one of a kind, even though there are many young non-white activists making similar calls to action.
 
What Thunberg has accomplished is admirable, and her impact, particularly as a young woman, is important. But the media’s infatuation with Thunberg’s work alone has caused her voice to eclipse those of non-white activists, effectively reducing their voices in the climate conversation. 
 
This common thread of racial bias has painted environmentalism as a predominantly white cause. But this image doesn’t reflect the reality of the issue. 
 
There’s a disparity in how much attention the media pays to non-white climate activists, even though, like most social issues, the climate crisis disproportionately affects people of colour.
 
Countries like Nigeria, Haiti, and the Philippines weather greater consequences from the climate crisis than most North American and European areas. Even within Canada, Indigenous communities are affected by our changing climate more than any other demographic.
 
Many non-white activists have ties to a history of practical, sustainable practices—vegetarianism, environmentally-friendly farming, water conservation—and yet this knowledge and these perspectives are excluded in favour of white activists’ voices. 
 
This habit of excluding non-white viewpoints seeps into our smaller communities as well. Queen’s Backing Action on Climate Change (QBACC) was recently criticized for failing to sufficiently support Indigenous land defenders and Indigenous climate activism.
 
When we accept the norms allowing white environmentalists to publicly claim climate activism, the cause becomes less accessible to people of colour. Without access to diverse points of view, the movement suffers.
 
We have a lot to learn from one another when it comes to combating the climate crisis, but some perspectives offer more than others, and the most valuable perspectives aren’t inherently white ones. 
 
The climate crisis affects everyone, and it demands our collective effort if we’re to have any chance of mitigating its impact. 
 
To do so, we need to reconsider the voices we predominantly feature in the climate movement.
 
 

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