This post is written by Marissa Harney.
In the past few years, primarily since the major upsurge of the March For Our Lives movement, youth-led activism has garnered a substantial amount of attention. Recently, a 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, Greta Thunberg, has emerged as the face prominent in saving the planet from climate change. At the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference, Greta told world leaders, “Since our leaders are behaving like children, we will have to take the responsibility they should have taken long ago.” This notion that young people need to take action if world leaders and politicians won’t isn’t a recently developed pattern, but it is perhaps one that is the very backbone of the movement against climate change.
Environmental justice is a social movement that advocates for the fair distribution of environmental privileges and burdens, and undoubtedly, environmental justice is no new fight. This concept has existed for decades and gained further visibility when environmental advocacy groups called attention to the fact that waste treatment facilities are often constructed in lower-income minority neighborhoods. Now, environmental justice tackles the issue of climate change and its implications on future generations. While scientists speculate that we have about twelve years to save the planet, new data indicates that the next eighteen months are to be vital in determining if climate change can be kept at survivable levels. However, politicians do not seem too concerned with this impending threat while youth across the world are calling for prompt action. Climate change is disproportionately affecting multiple generations. Young people, like Greta, are shouldering the burden of a burning Earth, while older generations got to enjoy the privilege of an environment not on the brink of ruins.
Perhaps, however, there is another injustice among the figures involved in the progress towards climate change, and that is the neglect of its many global advocates. After all, climate change is a global crisis spanning international borders, and it is narrow-minded and irresponsible to hold our attention away from the multitude of voices from all over the globe who are simultaneously fighting for its reversal. When we limit our scope of perspectives to one voice and solely one advocate, we diminish the gravity of the issue. Climate change is a multidimensional affair, spanning the entire globe, affecting peoples of all cultures in various ways and it is vital that we recognize how intersectional this movement truly is. Otherwise, we will fail to recognize the actual magnitude of our climate change crisis and continue to perpetuate the injustice our generation is facing. Numerous young climate activists are people of color whose indigenous homes have been ravaged by the direct and indirect effects of climate change or whose neighborhoods have been experiencing the adverse consequences more harshly than the more affluent and resource-abundant communities.
Vic Barrett launched his fight for the climate as his Afro-Indigenous home community in Saint Vincent Island, Carribean has been continuously subjected to rising sea levels. Barrett says, “We are being pushed from the lands that my family has inhabited for generations. That land will be underwater in a few decades if we continue on the path we are on.” Barrett is one of the countless climate activists who call attention to the injustices indigenous populations face as their land is destroyed by the repercussions of the lack of action on climate change. Now, Barrett is one of twenty-one youth who is suing the executive branch of the United States for their negligence of action towards the climate change crisis. Another activist who stands with Barrett in the avengement of indigenous peoples is Helena Gualinga. Gualinga is from Sarayuka, Ecuador in the Amazon rainforest where wildfires are ruthlessly destroying communities. Gualinga said she chooses to preserve the climate because it is about protecting her home and that “indigenous peoples’ rights to their territory go hand-in-hand with climate justice.” The right to a healthy community is also the core platform of Juwaria Jama who lives in a predominantly African-American community in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This area of north Minneapolis is also home to many factories whose fossil fuel emissions gravely affect the neighboring communities by creating poor air and water quality. Jama, however, calls attention to how her parents’ home in Somalia is also being affected by similar environmental issues that manifest in the way of drought and food shortage.
These young, intersectional climate activists are at the front lines of a current movement dedicated to environmental justice. They epitomize how climate change crosses international borders and affects no one single country, community, or individual. It does not matter that only a handful of countries contribute the most to harmful greenhouse gas emissions, namely China and the United States. It is unquestionably ecosystems like the Amazon, small coastal communities, and less affluent neighborhoods that are shouldering the burden of climate change while the instigators thereof are enjoying the security of shelter, clean air, and clean water afforded by unequal amounts of resource distribution.
Environmental justice is at a critical point, globally. Policymakers around the world do not feel the immense heat of the crisis as they are more concerned with the short-term economic gains and are therefore neglecting the importance of a sustainable global community. To put it simply, young people are facing environmental injustice. Most importantly, minority young people are facing this injustice. In our fight for climate advocacy, we must endorse and uphold the voices of all our leading activists if we are to do justice to the true intensity of our climate crisis. We need to recognize every demographic, every face, and every natural disaster climate change influences. The fate of environmental justice will be crucially determined in the next year and a half. Justice, right now, means recognizing every face, every ethnicity, and every indigenous land in the betterment of the fate for future generations and the unified struggle against the impending effects of climate change.