COVID19 has pushed climate change off of the public agenda, and made campaigning difficult. But the crisis is still the largest we face as a species. Ken Agatumba caught up with Vanessa Nakate, a leading climate activist based in Uganda to see how the movement is coping.
Uganda has been on lockdown since March, how are you spending your time?
As a climate activist, I am spending most of my time organising digital actions online. I am taking part in the climate strikes online every Friday, joining webinars, interviewing fellow activists and joining digital actions that are organised by various activists from different parts of the world. I have also done quite a lot of interviews and joined online climate-related events with other people.
As a busy climate change young activist; how has this pandemic affected your work?
I can no longer go out to the streets to do the climate strikes with fellow activists in Uganda. We have been going into local communities and doing clean-ups, talking to people but that is not possible now because we chose to stay at home in order to stop the spread of the virus. I have been working on a project of installing solar and institutional stoves in school. That is not possible right now because of the lockdown. Many activities have been put on hold until further notice because of the pandemic.
The media is full of COVID19 news. Are there stories related to climate change that you have been following in your country and beyond?
We are at a time where it is hard to talk about climate change because many people including the media are focused on this pandemic. A lot has been happening in my country, for example, the rise of the water levels of lake Victoria. These have displaced many people while claiming lives as well. 32,000 people were displaced in Kenya after the heavy rains that caused flooding and 194 people were killed. We are in a crisis. Many people are going to keep suffering if no climate action is taken.
Many peoples farms, homes have been destroyed and washed away by the floods. In Kasese, people are dying and losing their property as well because of the bursting of river banks. We are seeing climate change affect so many people and we still don’t see these things on the news.
Climate change is here. Climate change is not in lockdown. Climate change is still destroying peoples livelihoods and we are not seeing that in the news. If we don’t talk about these things, people will think that we are not in a crisis and yet we are facing the greatest threat to humanity right now and that is climate change.
All governments are paying full attention to COVID19 but they have not given the same attention to addressing the potential effects of Climate Change; how can one explain this?
I think this is mainly because no one has been left out when it comes to the Covid19 pandemic. This pandemic has shown the vulnerability of everyone regardless of who they are and what position [they have] in society. This is why governments are doing everything to stop the spread of the virus because it affects everyone. When it comes to the climate crisis, not everyone has faced the impact of climate change, climate change is hitting the most vulnerable communities with the least heard voices. The voices of the most affected communities are not given an opportunity to speak louder. We clearly need to treat every crisis as a crisis. We need to fight every crisis. We need to listen to every voice. We need to solve every crisis.
What can activists like yourself do, ensure that the climate change agenda gets the same attention from leaders, as they are currently giving to COVID19?
Activists can just continue doing what they have been doing. Speak up and demand action from the government leaders without giving up and doing it with more strength than ever before. Young activists need to go out and vote for the future, vote for the leaders who will listen to our demands.
Finally, what do you think will be the legacy of COVID19 on humanity? What lessons can we learn from it moving forward?
This pandemic has clearly shown the vulnerability of all of us and it has shown that we are all the same regardless of where we come. This pandemic has shown that leaders are able to listen to the science and take the necessary action to stop a crisis. It clearly shows that the leaders are able to work together collectively to take action, they have the ability, they are capable of taking action if only they will do it. We can learn that when science speaks and warns, there is the reason and we need to listen to it. We can learn that there are many things that need to be done to build a society that caters for everyone where people have access to basic needs such as shelter, food, health facilities among others. We can’t go back to what life was because it was a disaster, we need to move forward with a green recovery. We can’t afford not to be sustainable.