Why I Quit Being a Climate Activist
The climate movement is overwhelmingly white. So I walked away.
By Karin Louise Hermes
Feb 6 2020,
I FEEL TIRED WHEN MY STORIES ARE USED FOR INSPIRATION, BUT I‘M NOT WANTED IN THE ROOM FOR NEGOTIATIONS.
In 2013, Typhoon Haiyan battered Southeast Asia, killing 6,300 people in the Philippines alone. … My aunt, like many women in the Philippines—a country made up of 7,000 islands—can’t swim. She, my uncle, and cousin were missing or presumed dead.
We only found out they survived after three grief-ridden days …
As a climate activist in Berlin, I felt required to tell my Filipino family’s experience during speeches and rallies because this form of “storytelling” was the only thing that would move a mostly white European audience to an emotional response of climate urgency—even though it was exhausting telling the story, especially since any mention of hurricanes in the news gives me anxiety.
I would hear “great speech,” “so emotional when your voice cracked.”
But after a while I realized I would only be called upon when climate organizations needed an inspiring story or a “diverse” voice, contacts for a campaign, or to participate in a workshop for “fun” when everyone else on the (all-white) project was getting paid.
Whenever I would question the whiteness of these spaces and how strategies didn’t take race into account, I would be met with uncomfortable silences. …
So I decided not to be there anymore. … I stopped talking to people who didn’t relate, including friends who were telling me to come join them now that the marches were becoming more popular. I was also in bed sick a lot. I stayed at home from climate marches telling people my knee was injured and kept to myself, needing to regain all the energy I had put into organizing….
At the same time, because I am Filipino-German and look ethnically ambiguous, it’s hard for me to emphasize the urgency or danger of climate activism as a Filipina—I am German too after all. …
When I voiced my exasperation on Twitter, Jefferson Estela, a 21-year-old activist with Youth Strike 4 Climate Philippines, replied, “People are expecting us to do so many things, but when we ask for support no one hears us. White activists can protest whenever they want because they have homes, jobs, a huge amount of freedom of expression. BELIEVE ME, WE WANT TO DO BIG THINGS, but what’s stopping us? A future and life that is at risk.”
Climate activism in Germany is mainstream thanks to the longevity and popularity of the German Green Party, which was formed in 1980. But generally the German climate movement is a white space, where there is little awareness of global inequality in the climate crisis.
… Sometimes it’s being asked time and again what whiteness, capitalism, and inequality have to do with climate change.
… If “Green” policies fail to consider anti-racism and migrant rights, how is any person of colour supposed to feel voting for them or organizing in the same spaces?
Fortunately, there is now a growing BIPOC Environmental & Climate Justice Collective in Berlin, where we share these experiences of being silenced or tokenized and work together on how to link anti-racism and inequality in climate justice.
As Sherwood-O’Regan said, “As we grow and climate change becomes a harsher reality, privileged activists need to learn to de-centre themselves and meaningfully support Indigenous, disabled, queer, global south, POC, and other marginalized people who are on the frontlines of climate change.”
We need to feel respected and feel valued in our climate activism. Until the rest of the movement understands that our stories may also provide solutions, I am sharing my activism on my own terms.
Karin Louise Hermes has lived in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Hawai‘i, and the Philippines. She is currently a PhD Candidate in American Studies based in Berlin, Germany. Follow her on Twitter.
And then another article asking why Nordic dwarf Greta Thunberg is the face of Climate Change instead of, well, to pick a random example … me!
When I joined the climate movement, I thought there would be swaths of students of colour like me. That wasn’t the case.
By Cynthia Leung; as told to Izzie Ramirez
Sep 20 2019,
CYNTHIA LEUNG SAYS SHE NOTICED A LACK OF DIVERSITY AT FRIDAYS FOR FUTURE MEETINGS.
The youth climate movement is supposedly focused on amplifying the voices of young people who care about climate change. Led by activist Greta Thunberg—who, like me, is a 16-year-old girl set on changing the world—hundreds of thousands will walk out of their classrooms this Friday and next to strike against climate change and make themselves heard.
Here’s the problem: the youth climate movement, at least in New York City, isn’t the most diverse.