6 books to read on climate justice and nature centring marginalised people
With the climate crisis in full force in the Global South, these are the voices we should try listening to.
If you walk into your local library or bookshop and you’re looking for a book on nature or the climate crisis, you’re likely to find that most of the texts are written by white people; meaning most of our understanding of nature, the great outdoors and the climate crisis is from a singular perspective.
Sure, some books make reference to Black, Asian and other racialised communities, but they are often not representative of our wide-ranging experiences of nature and the outdoors. Yet with the climate crisis already affecting the lives of marginalised people across the world and especially those living in the Global South, the need for books that centre these voices is more urgent than ever before.
It’s crucial to diversify the spokespeople writing about nature and the climate crisis. This is not only so that young people can hear and see relatable voices and faces in this space, but so that we can ensure a diverse view of the issues at hand, offering an intersectional approach to climate conversations and solutions.
This is exactly why gal-dem has created this specific reading list of the texts that are already out there:
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Braiding Sweetgrass offers a nuanced discussion on the relationship between western science and indigenous knowledge. Robin, a scientist with Potawatomi heritage, states the importance of land for both sustenance and healing for our wellbeing. As we struggle to imagine a bright future ahead of us, Robin reminds the reader that if humans make more effort in restoring the land, the land will restore us. She also notes on how we can move towards a new perspective of nature, what we can do to help, protect and honour the land we live on, rather than using it and abusing it.
I enjoyed the new perspective and knowledge Robin’s book offers on ecological consciousness. In the climate movement, there is a lot of talk about the importance of indigenous practices and knowledge, how we can learn from those on the ground and how we can create better climate solutions, which centre those worst affected by the crisis. Braiding Sweetgrass goes beyond the talk, providing many practical solutions for exactly that.
Unbowed: A Memoir by Wangari Maathai
Wangari Maathai was a Kenyan scientist, academic, environmental and political activist who died in 2011 following a battle with ovarian cancer. She founded the Green Belt movement, a community-led organisation focused on conservation and women’s rights, and in 2004, became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
Unbowed is a story of Wangari’s journey through her childhood, Kikuyu culture, her faith, courage and the series of events that lead to her education and inspired the birth of the Green Belt movement, which has planted more than 51 million trees in Kenya alone. Her autobiography starts with the history of British colonialism in Kenya, the Mau Mau rebellion, poverty and the pro-democracy movement. Wangari emphasises that one person can’t change the system structured to oppress them, and calls for the need for collective action to unsettle the authorities. She recalls an encounter with the police during a campaign to save Karura forest, writing that, “in all our campaigns, it was our persistence that won the day”.
Unbowed will leave you feeling inspired and fuelled with enough rage to dedicate yourself to the climate movement.
There’s Something in the Water: Environmental Racism in Indigenous & Black Communities by Ingrid R. G. Waldron
Using Nova Scotia, a Canadian province, as a case study, Canadian social scientist Ingrid R.G. Waldron examines environmental racism and its impact on the health of Black and indigenous communities by addressing the equity issues around environmental protection.
The opening chapters provided an overall background to environmental racism, justice and the history of colonialism and policy. Environmental discrimination writes Ingrid, cannot be addressed without considering the intersections with race, class, gender and determinants of health, how they reflect environmental racism and are perpetuated by the system. We learn that Indigenous and communities of colour in North America are disproportionately affected by air, water and soil pollution because of intentionally negligent environmental policy and the lack of regulation and law enforcement for state actors and private firms.
Some sections of this book may be difficult for casual readers to understand because of the jargon but in 2019, Netflix released a documentary with the same title, directed by Elliot Page, which breaks down the topics Waldron explores in the book.
Consumed: The Need For Collective Change: Colonialism, Climate and Consumerism by Aja Barber
Aja Barber, a fashion consultant and writer, focuses her work on sustainable and ethical fashion, race and intersectional feminism. Consumed is an extension of her existing work, which exposes the exploitative nature of the fashion industry, educates readers on the role of colonialism in creating a racist, unequal and oppressive textile industry, and offers advice for personal change.
The first half of Consumed shows us how the fashion industry represents a new age of colonialism through western dominance and unequal powers working together to uphold global inequality. Through practical steps, the latter part of the book, titled ‘Unlearning’, gives the reader an opportunity to reflect on their own consumer habits and to challenge and overcome the capitalist culture of overconsumption.
A Bigger Picture: My Fight To Bring a New African Voice To The Climate Crisis by Vanessa Nakate
Vanessa Nakate is a Ugandan climate justice activist who champions the voices of other African and underrepresented voices in the global climate movement. “Climate activists of colour are erased,” said Vanessa in 2020, reflecting on being cropped out of a photo with Greta Thunberg and other white activists by Associated Press in 2020, “I [had] activists who messaged me to tell me that the same thing happened to them before but they didn’t have the courage to say anything.”
Vanessa recalls her journey into climate activism, which began following a strike against climate change inaction in 2019 and her experiences as an African woman trying to have her voice heard in climate debates. Through centring African voices, A Bigger Picture seeks to decolonise the climate movement and urges recognition of diverse voices, if we’re to create a just future. To quote Greta Thunberg, Vanessa teaches us critical lessons, highlighting that although we are all experiencing the same storm, we are not all in the same boat.
Reviews of A Bigger Picture have described Vanessa’s debut book as thought-provoking and insightful, shining a light on how the climate movement perpetuates white supremacy through whitewashing and only amplifying climate change phenomena that takes place in the Global North.
We Have a Dream: Meet 30 Young Indigenous People and People of Colour Protecting the Planet by Dr Mya-Rose Craig
Many young people feel abandoned and betrayed by governments. But how often do we hear the voices of young people in the climate movement?
We Have a Dream by Dr Mya-Rose Craig, 19, a British-Bangladeshi ornithologist and environmental activist, features Archana Soreng (an indigenous climate activist from Bihabandh village in Rajgangpur, India), Lesein Mutunkei (a 17-year-old environmentalist activist from Kenya planting trees for goals), Naila Sebbahi, (a Morocco-born social, human and environmental activist) and 27 other indigenous and young people of colour campaigning for environmental change. Mya introduces each young person through eye-catching illustrations by West African illustrator Sabrena Khadija, sharing their hopes, dreams and concerns in a bitesize and accessible way.
Mya emphasises the need to diversify the spokespeople talking about climate change, with the hope that minority ethnic children will be inspired by those featured in the book. We Have A Dream is a contribution to her ongoing campaign to amplify diverse voices and their achievements.
For too long, both climate activism and climate coverage have overlooked the voices and experiences of communities of colour. Follow our new series, It’s Happening Now, for stories that look to change that.