By Lauren Turner
One is calling for greater corporate accountability, the other plants trees in her spare time. One translates the IPCC for others, while one picks up litter whilst balancing on her paddleboard.
And we’re not talking about Great Thunberg.
It cannot be denied that Greta Thunberg is incredible. The founder of the global environmental movement ‘Schoolstrike for Climate’, she has gone from being an unknown teenager to one of the most recognisable faces on the planet in the space of a year. She is relentless in her crusade for climate justice and has done the climate movement an immeasurable service.
But she is not alone. Born in a wealthy country, in a culture that values the voice of youth, that does not bear the burden of being a warehouse for the Western world, passing through the world as white– Greta has intersecting privileges. The public and media are so quick to recall Great’s name when thinking about climate justice, yet there are others deserving of recognition, setting an example for what Asian women round the world are capable of.
These are the fresh, female, Asian faces of the climate movement.
Marinel Sumook Ubaldo
For climate striker Marinel Sumook Ubaldo, climate activism became a necessity when her home in the Philippines was destroyed in 2013 by Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest typhoons ever recorded. She watched as her people lost their neighbourhoods, livelihoods and knew that she didn’t want to be just another climate statistic, but wanted the people who were on the front-line of climate change be part of shaping how we address the climate emergency. She founded Youth Leaders for Environmental Action Federation and supported a landmark investigation asking the Philippines Commission on Human Rights to investigate the 47 major fossil fuel and carbon-producing companies that are believed to be among those responsible for producing the greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change — for human rights violations linked to climate impacts. The Philippines is ranked in the Top 5 countries affected by climate change in the Global Climate Risk Index 2019, and although there have always been cyclones in the Philippines, climate change is making them more dangerous. “Climate change isn’t a fantasy — it’s a reality and it’s affecting all of us, now,” she wrote for an article in Teen Vogue.
li Nadiah Dzulfakar
Malaysia’s low climate literacy drove Ili Nadiah Dzulfakar to co-found KAMY (Klima Action Malaysia), an organisation that has joined forces with Greenpeace Malaysia, Amnesty International Malaysia, and indigenous groups to build momentum locally for the Global Climate Strike. Having ticked off several successful protests and marches, her organisation focuses on science-communication, translating thick, complex, English climate change terminology, such as U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), into the more palatable local Malay. She and her team also run events aimed at educating students and communities and encouraging them to get involved with climate activism, hoping to “smash the political and media silence on what seems to be the beginning of the 6th mass extinction of the planet”, Ili states in an interview.
Ralyn ‘Lilly’ Satidtanasarn
Frustrated at the lack of action against climate change, Ralyn ‘Lilly’ Satidtanasarn is waging her own ‘war’ on plastic in her home in Thailand. Skipping School to fish out the plastic that litters the canals of Bangkok, Lilly won her first fight when she persuaded a major supermarket in Bangkok to stop giving out plastic bags in its stores once a week, with many other major stores pledging to stop handing out single-use plastic bags by January 2020. Young activists like Lilly draw attention to major environmental issues present in Thailand, but have a long fight ahead of them facing strong corporate interest in the petrochemical industry, which accounts for 5 percent of Thailand’s GDP and tens of thousands of jobs.
More commonly known for its smog, China is one of the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters and generates 60% of its electricity from coal-fired power and coal consumption. However, amidst Xi Jinping’s goal of constructing an “ecological civilization” and the renewable energy capacity that continues to be installed, there is an increasing minority of young Chinese demanding more radical action. One of them is Howey Ou. Disappointed in the lack of public outcry about climate change, she decided to be the first Chinese youth to go on climate strike. In a political environment where the climate debate is controlled to the point of public apathy, she stood alone outside government buildings for 7 days before the police intervened. Not wanting to be punished but also not wanting to abandon the issue, she now plants trees to spread the message about climate change. Despite her parents’ concerns that skipping school might compromise her future, Howey is less phased. “This is the most existential crisis ever for mankind. All of us must do everything we can to protect the climate.”
Youth climate action is not new, and it certainly is not limited to one Swedish schoolgirl. These are but a handful of activists that demonstrate how global climate activism is, yet whom we hardly hear about in mainstream media. Perhaps instead, these activists will be mentioned in relation to Greta – being dubbed the ‘Greta of insert-country-here’, their unique narratives brushed aside to entertain the obsession over a European girl instead. We need to amplify the voices of these women in their own right; not as an echo of the ‘Thunberg movement’.
Privileging Great’s narrative over others endangers re-writing the environmental movement as a ‘western’ one, following the colonial script of framing the world through a white lens. The climate movement is a global movement, and we need to listen to those who are most deeply involved. Greta has shown that she is aware of her privilege; in her speeches she consistently mentions her fellow youth activists to remind the world that there are others working alongside her. We must do the same.
We don’t want to talk about Greta anymore. Let’s remember Marinel, Ili, Lilly and Howey instead.
New Zealand-based international-soul Lauren Turner is an editor and designer at Overachiever Magazine. Best personified by the color orange, you can typically find her in downward-dog, devouring jiăozi by the dozen, studying towards her Masters in Sustainable Development or generally frolicking in the sunshine.
INSTAGRAM: @laurenturner27, @sumei.creative