Issue 5: Black + White
How Not To Be A Climate Change Activist Like A Basic Bitch
January 10, 2020
From the pages of Issue 5: Black + White
By Kiona | @hownottotravellikeabasicbitch
Climate change is a global issue and affects travel destinations worldwide. However, not all travel destinations are affected equally. Some travel destinations are affected more than others, and within those destinations, there are people who are more vulnerable than others. The people who are disproportionately affected by climate change tend not to be who we pay attention to or listen to and that needs to change.
Who’s Criminalized & Murdered For Trying To Save The Environment?
Let’s travel to the Philippines. The Philippines is an archipelagic country in the Pacific Ocean consisting of about 7,641 islands. It also sits on the Ring of Fire, making the Philippines vulnerable to earthquakes, hurricanes, and typhoons even before you throw climate change into the mix.
The increasing water levels due to climate change bring in so many floods that at one point, 80% of the capital, Manila, was underwater. Read that again: 80%. When it comes to climate change, Filipinxs are directly affected today.
Now pause. Can you name a Filipinx climate activist living in the Philippines? Did you even know that the Philippines have created a long-term strategy for prioritizing the climate-smart industry and sustainable energy? The Philippines feel climate change with a sense of urgency and as such are responding to it with vigor, yet it’s likely you’ve never even heard of the measures they’re taking to mitigate climate change.
There’s more. The Philippines have 17 million Indigenous Peoples from 134 different ethnic groups living on the island. That means 17 million people have ancestral ties to the land that they’ve been living off of since time immemorial. These people are disproportionately affected by climate change because their very survival depends on maintaining the environment, in addition to their spirituality revolving around it.
Not only are these Indigenous Peoples dying due to climate change, they are willing to give their lives for the protection of the Earth. It is life or death to them. It is not an option. They are at the forefront of climate activism at every protest. And according to the Global Witness Report 2018, three environmental activists are murdered every week by resource extraction corporations; the Philippines is number one in environmental killings. That doesn’t include those who are criminalized for defending the land or the environment.
So has the world ever offered a Filipinx activist a global platform?
The answer is no.
Not All Climate Activists Are Created Equal
The media whitewashes, silences, and erases those directly impacted by climate change. Take for example the most visible climate activist, 16-year-old Greta Thunberg. She’s doing her part to speak out against climate change, yet she experiences no direct impacts of climate change. There are other child activists not only speaking out, but creating programming based directly on their environmental experiences as their relatives die around them. The difference is that Greta experiences no direct danger due to environmental impacts, while those in the Philippines and the Amazon, to name a few, do. Yet she gets a platform and the others don’t.
Why is that? The answer is the privilege of being white.
Let me put this into a different context for you.
Childbearing is a global issue. Reproductive health affects everyone. Without healthy adults who can produce children, the human race dies. However, reproductive health issues seem to impact women more than any other group. Yet it is primarily men who create laws around reproductive rights. How do you feel about that?
Yes, women’s reproduction affects all men, just like climate change affects everyone. But that doesn’t mean men should be the authority because they don’t experience it as intimately as women. No man needs to make decisions or solutions for women, nor do they need to be the spokesperson for women’s reproductive rights.
You can apply this same logic to climate change. The people who we need to listen to are those affected by climate change today and have the appropriate solutions for their environments and their homes. These are the people that need to be positioned as change-makers. And we need to recognize that while it is important that we all speak out about it and do our part, it is equally important to understand those who are being impacted now and listen to them when they call for help.
Protect Them And Pass The Fucking Mic
Being a climate change activist is not as easy as being for or against climate change. There are already Indigenous Peoples fighting for global change who are advocating with their lives and dying for this cause. So just like not all travel destinations are affected equally, neither are climate change activists.
The whitewashing of a narrative that is meant for the most vulnerable populations, which have always been Brown and Black People, is not only problematic but incredibly dangerous. We are ignoring the most vulnerable of voices who have the most knowledge in order to save us.
Within that, there are race, class, and ableist issues at play here. While Indigenous Peoples globally are most vulnerable to climate change, within those populations, those who are disabled and/or living in economically disadvantaged countries have even less accessibility. They are most impacted by the change in the environment. Imagine being limited to a wheelchair or oxygen tank during a natural disaster.
These are real impending issues that not only need to be addressed on a climate level but also within the media. So today, I challenge you to find and support those who are fighting and dying for the environment today. They exist and they have solutions. Listen to them. Hire them. Save them. Support them. And be conscious of who you are listening to and uplifting in your everyday media consumption.