By Kate L. Ferguson
Edited by Julieta Marino Tartaglino
Ahead of the launch of her debut book, ‘We Have a Dream’, which showcases the dreams and voices of 30 indigenous young people and young people of colour, the COY16 Team caught up with Mya-Rose Craig– a young environmentalist, naturalist and social justice activist – to talk about her work on climate justice, her thoughts on the overall movement and the role that young people can play in achieving global climate justice.
For those less familiar with the topic, climate justice goes beyond viewing climate change as purely an environmental and ecological problem to address. Instead, it also seeks to acknowledge and fight against the civil rights issues and social inequalities associated with the climate crisis.
As Mya-Rose described it, “I would say that global climate justice is pushing for equity and equality in the global climate movement, on various different levels, whether that’s at the grassroots level, national level, or an international level in international politics.”
Expanding on why the climate justice movement has grown in recent years, Mya-Rose credited an increased understanding of intersectionality and how different issues can affect people in different ways. A term frequently referred to in conversations around climate justice, intersectionality describes how the various different aspects of a person’s social identity, such as their race, class and gender, can combine to influence their individual experiences, in this case, their experiences around climate change.
For Mya-Rose, who is a big believer in placing intersectionality at the core of any activism and campaigning, the intersectional nature of climate justice is key. However, this is not the only reason. Being half-Bangladeshi, her connection to the movement is also personal: “I have a lot of family from Bangladesh and a lot of them, especially the people living in the Village and Sylhet District, rather than the capital Dhaka, are really experiencing climate change right now and have been for quite a few years.”
Reflecting on the conversation around climate justice overall, Mya-Rose finished by mentioning that, “I think people are becoming increasingly aware that it is the global south that is taking the brunt of climate change at the moment, but they have so little voice, for the most part, within the climate movement and within climate politics. A lot of people, especially a lot of young people, really feel that that has to change.”
During our conversation on climate justice, Mya-Rose told us about the message she wanted to share on the importance of intersectionality. She began by explaining that intersectionality is not only key for ensuring the sustainability of the movement on climate change, but also for identifying who is most vulnerable to its effects.
“When talking about climate change,” Mya-Rose elaborated, “one of the things I always want to highlight is that it really is not a concern of the wealthy and upper class, because if you have enough money and you have enough power this is not an issue which is going to affect you in the next 10, 20 or 30 years, because you can always escape.”
Mya-Rose continued by saying that “when climate change comes, and it is coming both to countries in the global south and eventually to countries in the west, its people who don’t have much money, people from minority ethnic backgrounds, people who are struggling in some shape or form who are going to be affected first.”
“I think that’s one of the most important things to highlight in terms of western climate change, because people often talk about climate change being the great equaliser when it is not in any shape or form,” Mya-Rose explained touching on the inequalities, in this example racial inequalities, that will disproportionately affect people’s experiences of climate change in western countries, as well as other countries around the world.
Looking at intersectionality through real-world examples, she recounted the impacts of climate change on families in Bangladesh, including her own. “I know lots and lots of people who have families back home [in Bangladesh] who are sending more and more money to help them survive and get through. I know my family had to send a lot of money a few years ago when the crop was washed away and then there was a terrible drought and there was food loss for two years.”
This interaction between climate change, wealth and class can also be seen when considering events in the global north, not just in the global south, she added, making reference to the cold spell which saw record breaking low temperatures in Texas at the start of this year. “A lot of people had hypothermia and it was the people who didn’t have the money, who were living in rural places that died.”
“It just keeps coming back to intersectionality,” Mya-Rose concluded. “You have to look at these issues through that lens to make sure that the least suffering possible can happen.”
As both a naturalist and social justice activist, Mya-Rose established her own charity in 2016 called Black2Nature, which focuses on improving access to green spaces for young people from ethnic minority backgrounds in the UK. Alongside the work of her charity, which she is president of, she has also been involved in projects promoting the concepts of global climate justice.
Speaking about her work on climate justice specifically she said, “I guess there are two main projects I have been involved in: the first is the organisation Survival International.” Having worked as an Ambassador for the organisation for nearly 3 years, Mya-Rose talked passionately about their “brilliant work”: “they do so much campaigning for indigenous people’s rights, but especially pushing against eco-facism and discrimination against indigenous people in environmental spaces, which there is an awful, terrible lot of- even from very large organisations.”
Focusing on the importance of the subject, she returned to the broader aims of climate justice. “One of the things that global climate justice pushes for is listening to indigenous people’s voices- in terms of conservation and in terms of saving the planet- because they are really on the front lines…Which I suppose is linked to the second thing,” she adds, elaborating on her second, most recent project, “which is that I was writing a book last year which is coming out next month called We Have a Dream.”
Written during the pandemic, ‘We Have a Dream’ features the voices of 30 young people of colour and their dreams for the planet, including the voices of 10 indigenous young people, the latter of which Mya-Rose said was critically important. Touching on her inspiration, she revealed her climate-justice themed book “came from the feeling of there being a very small number of activists that are constantly highlighted and constantly given a platform within the global climate movement”, adding that “for the most part they are very white and very western.” Giving an example of this, she explained that one of the most influential moments for her was the cropping out of Vanessa Nakate, an Ugandan climate activist, from a photo taken of herself and 4 white climate activists attending a climate conference in 2020.
This is something she strives to change through her book: “I wanted to amplify the voices of young indigenous activists, young activists of colour all over the world,” Mya-Rose explained, “and that is what We Have a Dream is all about; it’s about amplifying those voices, giving these people a platform.” Not only does the book feature the voice of Vanessa Nakate herself, but also includes stories from an equal number of young male and female activists of colour.
Overall, Mya-Rose hopes her book will not only empower her readers to create their own change in the world and make people realise the importance of intersectionality and global climate justice, but for it to also serve as a reminder to people of the importance of hearing everyone’s voices.
Lastly, we asked Mya-Rose why young people should be involved in advocating for climate justice. Touching on the power of youth to influence each other, Mya-Rose answered: “There are a few different reasons but I think the main one is that young people are more interesting when it comes to activism and campaigning and are much better at thinking outside the box: in terms of their approach to issues and in terms of utilising social media and the internet, which can be so so important in engaging people with the movement.”
As for the existing role young people play in the climate justice movement, “I also think there is so much more diversity and inclusion within younger generations,” begins Mya-Rose. “It’s not just there, it’s a value that’s very important to most of the young people I speak to. So, I think it’s really young people that have been pushing for global climate justice, equity, inclusion and diversity and I think that’s totally transformed the movement: that’s what makes it different to past environmental movements like in the 60’s, it’s that intersectionality is so important to young people.”
Acknowledging the power and influence young people can have, we spoke to Mya-Rose in depth about how the young people can get involved in championing the need for global climate justice. From our conversation, we identified three key areas in with which young people can help:
As you might expect, listening to the voices of those most affected by climate change was a recurring theme throughout our chat with Mya-Rose. As she summarised, “sometimes it can just be about sitting down and listening to what people actually want and actually need and there is such a strong global network these days it’s not like there’s a lack of people to listen to.” In addition, it is extremely important to prioritise and listen to the voices of people who are in need, which she explained is something that isn’t always acknowledged within climate change campaigns. “There are lots of people dealing with climate change right now,” she stated, “and it’s not about political ideals, it’s about helping them.”
2. Spread the word
As we continued with our discussion of how young people can help accelerate the climate justice movement, social media was another frequently mentioned topic. Something we can all easily do is spread awareness and shed light on issues surrounding climate justice via our individual social media platforms, Mya-Rose explained, even more so for young people with international platforms.
Last, but not least, for anyone unsure of how to get involved or how to make their voice be heard and the voices of others heard, Mya-Rose always recommends connecting with a community of like-minded individuals. That way, as she put it, you’re plugged into the ‘mains’ of the movement.
We certainly learnt a lot from speaking to Mya-Rose and hope reading this blog has left you wanting to learn more about climate justice, or if you’re already well-versed in the subject, inspired you to follow in Mya-Rose’s footsteps and keep writing, speaking, listening and getting involved in the conversation around climate justice. Should you be needing any extra inspiration or reading materials, Mya-Rose’s book, ‘We Have a Dream’, came out on August 5th.