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  • Writer's pictureFernando Ortiz

The Face of the Climate Crisis?

Greta, White Privilege and the Climate Justice Movement.

Greta Thunberg striking for climate action in Sweden

Over the years, science has continued to provide evidence that climate change is real and happening at an alarming rate, so much so that in 2018 the International Panel on Climate Change announced that we have 12 years (by 2030) to start cutting down anthropogenic carbon emissions from sources like power plants and vehicles to avoid temperatures rising by 1.5 degrees Celsius- which would cause irreversible warming.

Climate change is not solely about the Earth heating up- its a ripple effect; changing climate patterns, rising sea-levels, melting of polar ice caps at alarming rates, increase in storms by intensity and frequency, increase in vector-borne and water-borne infections like dengue, increased forest fires due to drier and warmer climates, loss of biodiversity and ecosystems, longer seasons that affect agriculture and an increased refugee situation in an already hostile immigrantion environment globally. Communities around the world; particularly low-income and communities of Color are most vulnerable to climate change because of their high exposure to socio-environmental issues. All around the world we have seen people organizing, mobilizing and fighting for direct actions and legislations that will mitigate and improve their situations and help reduce the effects of climate change within their communities.

Greta Thunberg has risen to the spotlight as a global climate activist at the young age of 16. A Swedish native, Greta started by striking in front of the Swedish parliament calling for stronger climate actions and her leadership led to a cascade of schools striking for climate action around the world. Greta has been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, OCD and selective mutism and in 2019 embarked on a Transatlantic Voyage from Europe to New York to come and speak at the NYC 2019 Global Climate Strike and at the 2019 United Nations Climate Action Summit.

Greta is the face of white privilege. She represents a white, wealthy, young girl from Europe who has the freedom to embark on a yacht with solar panels and underwater turbines (because she wanted to make a statement about carbon-neutral travel sources as she refuses to use jet-fuel airplanes). Her intentions are well-meaning, but she is not the face of the climate crisis. Here in the United States, we have Black, Latinx, Brown and Indigenous communities, Asian communities and low-income communities in poverty fighting across the country around environmental and climate justice issues, coupled with structural violence issues that continue to marginalize these communities.

Why must we praise and massively propagate this young woman who does not represent the statue quo and the hard-reality of climate change. As the climate justice and climate action movement gains momentum- we are constantly seeing white, big-green and big-action organizations coming into our communities, totally unmindful of the work being done on the ground by people of Color and approaching our work and communities in a colonizing manner. Many are not sensitive to our leadership and hard-work and take our narratives, our names and our actions for granted. We lack funding, we lack political support, we lack data but yet we manage to get things done and to mobilize our communities.

Having Greta represent us as the face of the climate crisis and climate action movement, begins to colonize this movement; particularly within the United States and begins to erase and move to the back all the faces of Color leading their communities. Why should we import a climate leader to come speak at our events when we have hundreds of youth leaders everyday involved directly in this work. Greta’s efforts are appreciated, honorable and needed, but her face should not be the mainstream image that we propagate in this movement- it should be the black and brown fist that can’t afford to travel on a yacht, who can;t afford to miss school, who can;t afford to stop eating meat or who don’t have access to nutritious food options but yet continue to fight, organize, mobilize and lead the change within their communities not only against climate change but against the structural violence; the physical barriers that confine us, the political legislation that limits us, and the social sentiments like racism and sexism that seeks to stop us.

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