Mya-Rose Craig is a leading British youth activist, also known as Birdgirl, who has been blogging about birds since the age of 11.
As a British-Bangladeshi, she noticed that there weren’t many people like her in the environmental movement, or among the birdwatcher and naturalist circles that she moved in. This led to the founding of Black2Nature, a charity that runs outdoor camps for young people who may not usually have access to nature, and raises the visibility of ethnic minorities in environmentalism. (Her work gets a shout-out in my book.)
Mya-Rose’s first book has a similar mission: “black, indigenous and people of colour communities are disproportionately affected by climate change” she writes, “and yet they are under-represented in the environmental movement.” The book sets this right by profiling 30 activists from around the world. It’s a book written mainly for children, and so most of them are young people, though some are adults who became activists early in life.
It’s a wide selection of inspiring people, from Kenya, Ecuador, Samoa, Korea, Brazil, the Philippines and many more. The best known is probably Vanessa Nakate from Uganda, whose global profile is rising at the moment (Her first book is out in October. It’s fantastic and you should pre-order it.) Most are not well known, because their work is quite local or they aren’t working in the English language. Archana Soreng advocates for indigenous forest rights in India, as well as acting on global climate change. David Esteban was displaced from his home in Colombia after a soft drinks corporation opened a plant nearby and drained the water table, and advocates for indigenous rights and mental health.
There are a range of interests here too, from school strikers to plastic campaigners, water and forest protectors, protestors and organisers. Scarlett Westbrook is working on climate change in the UK schools curriculum – or rather, it’s absence. There are nature photographers, biologists, and those combining their interests in creative ways: Lesein Mutunkei started planting trees for every goal he scored in football, and runs Trees4Goals in Kenya.
Mya-Rose gives each activist a single page, describing what they did and what motivated them, with a couple of quotes from the interviews that were conducted with each of them during lockdown. What I particularly liked is the way that almost everyone here started small, with a pro-active step towards making a difference. Sagar Aryal, for example, became aware of climate change aged 10, in Nepal. He wanted to know more about it, and was disappointed at how little those around him seemed to know. So he started a reading group, and a saturday discussion club that soon had a library of 3,000 books. He now works for Trillion Trees. Or Ariel Chen, who started a birdwatching club at school in Beijing, aged 13 at the time.
As well as widening representation of ethnic minority and indigenous activists, the stories here each show how you can get started, how you don’t need to wait for the adults. Small actions can become bigger ones. A good idea can grow into its own charity or organisation. An early interest can become a career, and the opportunity to make a difference on a wider scale. It’s exactly the kind of thing you want passionate young people to read and take inspiration from.
Alongside Craig’s words, the book is richly illustrated by Sabrena Khadija. She’s done a portrait to accompany the profiles, portraying each activist in dynamic blocks of colour. It’s vibrant and celebratory and it’s an attractive book that wants to be browsed.
If you know children who are interested in climate action, pick this up for them. Introduce them to the wide and inspiring diversity of people who, like them, care about people and planet and know they can make a difference. And before you give it to them, take an hour to read it yourself.