on the front lines of climate change: women of color

on the front lines of climate change: women of color

Original Publication Date: 5 September 2019

Move over, Greta Thunberg… there are more women to fight alongside you.

Greta, the teenage climate activist who has taken the world by storm, demanding legislative change in governments of the Global North and leading massive protests, has largely been seen as the primary leadership of youth resistance to climate change. Her bravery and selflessness is highly admirable, although it is not exclusive to her character. 

Many voices have risen up after Greta’s speech, questioning the amount of attention Greta has received in recent years in comparison to teens of color who have not received such recognition, but have been fighting the same fight. 

First, let’s dwell a bit more on the fact that these are teenage girls at the front lines of the battle against climate change.

There has been ample discussion on Boomers vs. Millennials and Gen Z: mostly calling Boomers (and some of Gen X) out on their hypocrisy and complacency with watching their children and grandchildren suffer under the environmental and political/economic institutions they created.

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What has been discussed (slightly) less are the roles that misogyny and toxic masculinity have played in climate denialism and resistance to climate action.

These young women are having to lead the world on climate action because of behaviors and ideologies observed in a 2017 study which found that men resist – or outright reject – environmentally-conscious behaviors and ideologies because they fear perceived as feminine. 

I know, it makes no sense to me either. 

This is not only leaving these girls to lead the fight, but also exposing them to blatant sexism on social media platforms such as Twitter. Grown men – politicians, mainly – attack these young women’s character and intelligence for their efforts to save the world these men have played a part in destroying.

Only in their teen years, they have been thrust into a hateful and dying world, and have fiercely taken and upheld the responsibility of rescuing us from ourselves.

Greta is not alone. They fight for us, too. Know their names.

Essence | “Little Miss Flint” (Amariyana Copeny)

Amariyana (Mari) Copeny, otherwise known as “Little Miss Flint,” has been fighting for Flint, Michigan since about 2016.

She advocates primarily for regulation of water resources in Flint, as the city has been without clean water since 2014, when the city lawmakers decided to use corrosive water from the Flint River as their main supply in an attempt to save money. 

Twelve people were killed in the beginning of the crisis, and over 8,000 children were exposed to high levels of lead in their water supply. Mari wrote President Obama in an effort to save her city.

Her work has brought international attention to a community of people which couldn’t even get the attention of its local government. Communities of color and underprivleged communities are disproportionately affected by poor environmental regulations. It is no coincidence that a city with over 40% of its residents in poverty has not gotten the same rescue efforts as, say, Paradise, CA. 

​Mari has continued her work to the present, despite relaxing media coverage. She has begun working on a crowd-funded project which will bring water filtration systems to American communities facing water crises like that in Flint, MI. 

CTV News | Autumn Peltier

Native people have been all but removed from all narratives in North America. 

Their communities are spoken of as if they are a thing of the past, but Natives have been fighting for environmental justice for centuries.

​Climate change is but an echo of colonialism, a reflection of how those in power act without regard to marginalized or disadvantaged people groups. Here lies the intersection of climate change and civil rights. This is why Native voices are essential to climate activism. 

Many schools of thought on what constitutes appropriate climate action involve the representation and legal protection of environmental resources as purely instrumental, whereas many Native activists shed light on the cultural and intrinsic value of the natural world as the justification for protection. 

Autumn, at 14 years old, is fighting for water conservation and regulation and Indigenous water rights. She is preceded by her aunt, who was also an environmental activist, having walked across all the Great Lakes to raise awareness for water conservation. 

​She presented to the United Nations Youth Climate Summit, urging political leaders for sustainable development, access to clean water resources and legal recognition of the spiritual and cultural significance of water bodies. She has even directly confronted Prime Minister Trudeau on his dangerously hypocritical policies regarding pipelines in Canada. 

ScholarBlogs | Tokata Iron Eyes

Tokata Iron Eyes was thrust into the limelight when she became the face of the Rezpect Our Water campaign. 

She represents the Standing Rock Youth of the Sioux tribe in opposition against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The campaign was launched in 2016 against the DAPL, as it was proposed to be built less than a mile away from the Standing Rock Reservation – representing a severe threat to those who lived there, in the event of an oil spill or worse.

The pipeline was built despite protests and stretches over 1,100 miles from North Dakota to Illinois. 

Iron Eyes still uses her voice to defend Indigenous water rights regardless of the irresponsibility and greed of lawmakers. 


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