As we broadcast from the U.N. climate summit in Madrid, Spain, we speak with climate activist Vanessa Nakate, who was Uganda’s first Fridays for Future climate striker. “I wanted to do something that would cause change to the lives of the people in my community and my country,” she says. “My country heavily depends on agriculture, therefore most of the people depend on agriculture. If our farms are destroyed by floods, if the farms are destroyed by droughts and crop production is less, that means that the price of food is going to go high. So it will only be the most privileged who will be able to buy food.”
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re joined right now by one of the climate activists who joined yesterday’s protests, both in the afternoon, ejected by the U.N. and local — not clear who the security was — and who rushed the stage after Greta Thunberg spoke, in solidarity with her, but addressing world leaders with their chants, “Shame!” and “Keep the oil in the soil!” Vanessa Nakate is with us. She was Uganda’s first Fridays for Future climate striker.
It’s great to have you with us. Thanks so much for joining us. When did you get involved with the whole climate issue, Vanessa?
VANESSA NAKATE: After my school last year, there is a period before graduation. I wanted to do something that could cause change to the lives of the people in my community and my country, therefore I started carrying out research about the main problems that are faced by the people in my country. And I found a number of problems. But what striked me the most was the climate change being a problem, because it is not really taught in schools, so we don’t really know that it is a challenge to us. So I decided to read more about it and understand its causes and impacts that are making it a threat to humanity and to the lives of the people in my community. So, when I realized that it was such a big threat, I found out ways to bring it to public awareness in my country. And that’s how I found out about the Fridays for Future strikes. And I decided to start the climate strikes.
AMY GOODMAN: And what was the response in Uganda? Where did you first strike?
VANESSA NAKATE: My first strike, I actually had four locations, because I really wanted everyone to know about it. I think it was excitement. So, I went to four stages. One was in Kitintale. It was a stage. Then the other was in Bugolobi. Then I also had one at a mall. It’s called Village Mall. It’s a big mall in Uganda.
AMY GOODMAN: In Kampala?
VANESSA NAKATE: Yes, in Kampala. Then I had another one in Nakawa.
AMY GOODMAN: And how did people respond?
VANESSA NAKATE: Well, people found it very weird that I was on the streets. And some of them threw some negative comments, like I was wasting my time, and the government will not listen to anything that I have to say. But I just kept going.
AMY GOODMAN: And talk about the effects of climate, the climate crisis, specifically in Uganda.
VANESSA NAKATE: Specifically in Uganda, we’ve seen the impact through torrential rainfall that has destroyed a number of things in my country. It has been raining since September up to now every day. It doesn’t miss a chance. And each time it rains, these rains are so heavy, in that they cause floods that kill people. Every time you watch news, you have to expect to see that someone died as a result of the floods. You will have to see that people’s homes have been destroyed as a result of floods. You will have to see that farms have been destroyed as a result of floods. And this is a crisis to the people in Uganda.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you have extreme weather. You have the torrential rains every day.
VANESSA NAKATE: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And then you have the drought.
VANESSA NAKATE: Yes. There are areas that experience extreme drought. And this is affecting the crop production in those areas. In my country, most people depend on their farms and crops for survival. But with all these droughts and floods, people are left with no hope for the future.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, we’re at the U.N. There’s a lot of U.N. speak. And one of them that has been around for a long time — I don’t know if it’s U.N. speak or a way to dilute the feeling — we talk about “food insecurity.” But when a kid is hungry, they don’t say, “Ma, I feel food insecure.” They say, “I’m hungry.” Can you talk about how hunger relates to the climate crisis?
VANESSA NAKATE: I will speak with a example of my country. My country heavily depends on agriculture, therefore most of the people depend on agriculture. So, if our farms are destroyed by floods, if the farms are destroyed by droughts and crop production is less, that means that the price of food is going to go high. So it will only be the most privileged who will be able to buy food. And they are the biggest emitters in our countries, the ones who will be able to survive the crisis of food, whereas most of the people who live in villages and rural communities, they have trouble getting food because of the high prices. And this leads to starvation and death. Literally, in my county, a lack of rain means starvation and death for the less privileged.
AMY GOODMAN: Vanessa Nakate, can you talk about the climate crisis? What did The Guardian newspaper — how did they put it? A headline, “Why climate change is creating a new generation of child brides.”
VANESSA NAKATE: Still I will speak about Uganda and Africa. Most of these things happen with the rural communities, because as they depend on farms, they really don’t have any other hope. So, if their only hope is destroyed, that means they are left in total poverty. And it’s the girl child who suffers the most, because when the family has no hope for the future, that means they will have to give away their daughters for marriage at young ages, like 15 years old, 16 years old. It is really terrific to see parents give out their children. It is not because they want to. It is because it is the only way of survival. And of course the children do not agree to this. They cry because of that. No, no child, no 15-year-old wants to get married to one old man, because it is these old men who get married to them. And this all points to the climate crisis. When their only hope, that is the farms and the crops that they have, is destroyed, they are only left with giving up their daughters for marriage to get something in exchange.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the media coverage of your climate activism?
VANESSA NAKATE: The media is so biased by the climate crisis. Its focus is on selling news. I will have to appreciate a few media that has been — that has tried their best to try and cover the activism of people from the Global South. But then there is media, especially the much bigger media, that is so biased. They want more selling news instead of selling the stories that really matter to people. They keep talking about climate change being a matter of the future, but they forget that people of the Global South, it is a matter of now. And they have to help us report these things, because if they don’t report these things, our leaders won’t understand the importance of these strikes that we are holding.
AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about the strike even yesterday? As hundreds of you gathered right here in front of the U.N. climate summit, the plenary session, you were pushed out, ejected by the U.N. security. Can you talk about your voices being heard inside this summit and what you demand of countries like the United States, the historically largest fossil fuel polluter?
VANESSA NAKATE: First of all, I still can’t believe that we were kicked out, because when you listen to them speak, they keep saying that they are very supportive of our actions and they are glad that we brought awareness to them about the climate crisis. But it doesn’t make sense for them to support — to say that they are supporting us, and then throw us out and leave the very polluters in the building. They were left in the building. They are protecting them instead of protecting us. We are the children in this, and they are the adults in this. So, it was really — they really contradicted themselves by saying that they support our actions, and then they throw us out and take away our badges.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you so much for being here. I’m glad that you got your badge back today to be on the show, being able to be inside the summit, as well as outside on the streets and as you head back to Uganda to continue your climate strike. Vanessa Nakate, climate activist, Uganda’s first Fridays for Future climate striker.