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Uganda's 23-year-old climate activist Nakate on environmental racism

Vanessa Nakate holding one of her climate protests

Vanessa Nakate holding one of her climate protests

23-year old Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate recently spoke in a live virtual discussion held by Doha Debates.

Speaking live from Kampala, Nakate discussed the lack of diversity in the environmental movement and noted that environmental activism is a privilege. She also said people from Africa cannot, for example, organize strikes and protests the same way Europeans can because of the "politics and how risky it is."

Nakate also addressed the 2020 incident at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland when the AP cropped her out of a photo with Greta Thunberg and other young white European climate activists. 

Amjad Atallah, managing director of Doha Debates, said, "With the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States resonating among people around the world, it's clear racial injustice is pervasive and problematic on a global scale. Now is an ideal time for #DearWorldLive to devote a series of thoughtful, engaging programs to the question of how we can overcome racism."

Nakate on the racism she has experienced being part of the climate change movement

To me, personally, environmental racism is me trying to tell my story and other fellow climate activists in my country [of Uganda] – to talk about issues that are disproportionately impacting our lives. And yet we're continuously being erased from the climate movement.

On being cropped out of an Associated Press photo at the World Economic Forum in Davos with four white climate activists

I was cropped [out of the photo in Davos] because of the history of excluding and erasing Black people from leading ecology movements. I think the climate movement has been idealized to be led by only white activists.

We have seen people of colour leading ecology movements from way back. So this is a history of continuous erasure of Black voices, in the leadership of these movements. That is why I think I was cropped out.

Nakate on how environmental activism is different in Africa 

Environmental activism is different for the people in the Global South. It's more complicated to do strikes in the Global South because of the politics and how risky it is to go out there and do massive strikes.

In the Global North, there's a privilege of people having alternatives. In my country, Uganda, you find that most of the schools use firewood for preparation of food. I have been to these schools, I have interacted with the teachers, and they say they know the dangers of cutting down the trees but they do not have any alternatives.  They know the dangers of eating meat, but they do not have any alternatives.

This makes environmental activism a privilege for other people. It is hard for people to be sustainable if they do not have alternatives. Some communities are trapped in systems they cannot get out of.

On environmental racism

If we do not include the issue of environmental racism in the environmental movement, then we cannot have the justice that we are looking for...When you come to the global south, it is the least contributor to the climate crisis especially countries in Africa but they are the most affected by climate change.

We know the historical events that brought about the climate crisis, from colonialism to imperialism and exploitation, to communities in countries like mine. Many children have to sleep hungry because their families have lost everything to climate change. Many girls have to skip school, they have to drop out of school, because their parents cannot take care of them.

On balancing the needs of the economy versus environmental activism:

At the end of it all, you cannot make money on a dead planet. You cannot make profits on a dead planet. A time will come when we have lost all our life support systems, and all the capitalist leaders will realize, money is nothing on a dead planet. So we have to put the people and the planet over the profits. That's the only way to survive.

Interview sourced from Doha Debates

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