BIPOC youth stories about the climate crisis

Aug 3, 2021

BIPOC youth stories about the climate crisis

Talking Radical Radio

Listen to the interview using the audio player below!

Areej Riaz is one of the key organizers behind Our Climate, Our Stories, a new book that collects essays, stories, and poems related to the climate crisis written by Black, Indigenous, and racialized youth from across Canada. Faith Edem and LJ Prabaharan are both contributors to the volume. Scott Neigh interviews them about the climate crisis, about the importance of creating spaces for BIPOC youth voices in this context, and about the book.

At the moment, it is hard to feel optimistic when it comes to the climate crisis. The assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are increasingly grim. From faster-than-expected loss of ice in the arctic to the heat waves, droughts, and wildfires plaguing North America, the physical manifestations of the crisis are increasingly palpable. And government responses range from outright denial to talking a good game while still doing things like buying and building a tar sands pipeline, extensively subsidizing fossil fuel industries, and consistently violating Indigenous sovereignty. In the face of all of this, it is no wonder that many people are drawn towards action that is direct, overtly political, and confrontational.

As important as that kind of action is, however, it is far from the only kind of work that needs to be done. In the face of the enormity of the harm that has already begun and that will only get worse, various kinds of relational work are essential, to strengthen our communities. Given the overwhelming grief that so many of us feel in the face of it all, we need to find collective ways to deal with those feelings. And in the context of the broader forms of justice work that are necessary to make any possible response to the climate crisis adequate to the problem, we need to put energy into supporting voices that have been excluded and marginalized – particularly in the context of many government, institutional, and movement spaces working on climate – so that they might exert more influence in shaping public discourse, policy, and politics.

Our Climate, Our Stories aims to do just that. Along with centering the narratives of Black, Indigenous, and racialized youth, the book includes illustrations from a group called Climate Illustrated, and messages from big names like Nature Canada, the David Suzuki Foundation, Climate Strike Canada, and more. The book is a space in which youth whose communities face disproportionate impacts from the climate crisis can share their experiences, their feelings, and their narratives, which are often marginalized even within youth-led climate activism, let alone in broader conversations about the crisis.

The book is a project of the People Planet Pages Book Club, which brings people together to read and discuss material related to environmental and social sustainability. The book club is a partnership involving three organizations. EnviroMuslims is a community group working within the Canadian Muslim community around questions of environment and sustainability. The Books-Art-Music (or BAM) Collective is a youth-led collective based in both Ontario and New York that empowers equity-seeking youth through art and community engagement. And the Community Climate Council is a youth-founded not-for-profit organization in Ontario’s Peel Region engaged in advocacy and education work related to the climate.

Riaz is a climate change consultant who is involved in all three of the partnering organizations. Edem is a policy analyst with Environment and Climate Change Canada. And Prabaharan is active with the Community Climate Council and works for a conservation authority.

Prabaharan argued that projects such as this are crucial because “it’s just important to have a varied set of voices, especially when we’re facing such an overwhelming problem.” He encouraged racialized youth to “be more involved” and “make your voices heard” when it comes to the climate crisis.

Edem is particularly keen to see more marginalized voices given space in political and policy processes related to climate change. She said, “At the end of the day, for me, it’s important that we have everyone at the table. And it’s important to realize we don’t actually provide invitations to everyone to be at the table. So we have to do extra work and additional action to ensure everyone’s at the table.”

She continued that if creating that inclusion means “providing more spaces for Black, Indigenous, and people of colour youth Canadians, then that’s what we have to do – and until everyone is included in our transition to a more sustainable future.”

The People Planet Pages Book Club will be using the book in the coming months as part of climate-focused conversations with Black, Indigenous, and racialized youth audiences. And the partnering organizations intend to continue doing similar work in the future.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out our website here. You can also follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or contact to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

Image: Used with permission of Our Climate, Our Stories.

Theme music: “It Is the Hour (Get Up)” by Snowflake, via CCMixter

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