Beyond Greta: youth climate activists across the globe


By Emily Barrett, First year, Physics

Greta Thunberg is one but by no means the only youth climate activist leading the conversation on climate change.

On Friday, February 28, Greta Thunberg inspired huge numbers of Bristol students to attend the climate strike. However, she is just one representative of a multi-faceted campaign. Despite climate change disproportionately affecting those in developing countries, the media is often guilty of focusing on the activism of white Europeans – so besides Greta, who are some of the young activists leading the conversation on climate change?

Among the speakers on College Green on February 28 was Mya-Rose Craig, a birdwatcher and environmental activist who at just 17 has been awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Bristol. This makes her the youngest person in the UK to receive this honour.

In her speech, she raised important points about how solutions to climate change need to take the most vulnerable people into account. For example, electric car batteries rely heavily on cobalt – a lot of which is mined in dangerous conditions by children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Mya-Rose Craig has also spoken about her experiences in nature as someone with Bangladeshi heritage and called out the lack of diversity in this sector. She created the project Black2Nature which runs nature camps for VME (visibly minority ethnic) children. This aims to improve equality and diversity in the conservation industry by creating more engagement with nature.

| Teen environmentalist receives honorary doctorate from Bristol Uni just days after calling the SU 'racist'

Looking beyond the UK, there are young activists fighting climate change all over the world. In Kampala, Uganda, 22-year-old Nakabuye Hilda Flavia began her first climate strike alone outside her university before others joined in. Flavia is the founder of the Uganda branch of Fridays for Future, the global student climate strike movement, and carries out a weekly lake shore clean-up with others.

At the 2019 C40 World Mayors Summit, Flavia gave a powerful speech on how the strong rains and dry spells caused by climate change impacted her family, saying ‘my parents had to sell off our land and livestock to sustain our lives’. Because of this, her father couldn’t afford her tuition fees and she had to miss three months of school – so, she pointed out, the climate strikes aren’t the first time she has missed school due to climate change.

Also inspired to activism by the effects of climate change is Xiye Bastida, whose hometown in Mexico experienced two years of drought followed by flooding. Upon moving to New York City, she also saw the impacts of Superstorm Sandy on the seashore. She led her high school in New York City’s first big climate strike in March 2019 and is now a leader of Fridays for Future in New York.

Bastida, who is a member of the Otomi-Toltec Nation, gave a speech on indigenous cosmology at the United Nations World Urban Forum in 2018. In an interview she spoke about how her heritage informs her view on the climate crisis, saying that for indigenous people, environmental activism and taking care of the planet is part of their culture and way of life.

Finally, proving that nobody is too young to make a difference is Ridhima Pandey. She made the news in 2017 when, at only 9 years old, she filed a petition against the government of her native India for its failures to act on the climate crisis. In addition, she is one of the 16 children who filed a complaint to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child over climate change.

In India, she has witnessed the damage wrought by humans on the environment; both directly, with the pollution of the Ganges River, and indirectly, through the severe flooding in Kerala. When interviewed, she has pointed out that India is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change and therefore needs a science-based action plan to tackle it.

As inspiring as these activists are, it is nonetheless worrying that child activists have apparently become necessary to raise awareness – particularly those as young as Ridhima Pandey. Greta Thunberg mentioned this in her speech on College Green and on other occasions. Climate activism should not fall to children, but for many it feels like the only way to take their future into their own hands.

Of course, the four activists listed here are only a sample of the inspiring people speaking out on climate change. It is important to recognise the efforts and common goals of climate activists everywhere and not allow the environmental movement to become whitewashed.

Featured image: Epigram / Maegan Farrow

Which activists do you look up to? Let us know!