Courage in Crisis

An image of white birds in green trees. The sky beyond is grey.
Social Income / Unsplash

WHEN I WAS YOUNG, my father would talk about the rain. How it usually fell during certain times of the year, and the farmers could count on it. Over a relatively small span of years, my father’s generation saw the rain falling less and less frequently—and when it finally did come, it would fall in great downpours, often flooding the fields and destroying the already weakened crops. Farmers started to lose their farms and their livelihoods. People were going broke. Food was becoming more scarce. Food prices started to escalate. And the situation was getting worse quickly.

As I grew up, I studied how the climate crisis was ravaging vast parts of the African continent. It’s tragic and ironic, because Africa is responsible for only 3 percent of global emissions but is suffering some of the most brutal impacts fueled by the climate crisis: devastating hurricanes, rising floods, and withering droughts. Many Africans have lost their lives, and countless more have lost their homes, funds, and businesses.

Meanwhile, our leaders continue to show up at climate summits and make empty promises. As the UN’s Secretary General António Guterres recently said, some government and business leaders are saying one thing but doing another. Simply put, they are lying, and the results will be catastrophic. But that doesn’t mean we can give up. Youth activists are not giving up. I see many of them feeling anxious, frustrated, and outraged, but I see them showing up. Over and over again, regardless of how dire the science gets, regardless of how often the promises of their leaders are broken, regardless of how devastating the floods and heat waves and hurricanes and droughts are becoming.

And that, to me, is courage. When against all odds you continue to stand up for what you feel is right. We must summon that courage. Our leaders will keep delaying until our voices become loud enough.

Vanessa Nakate is the founder of the Rise Up climate movement and was the first Fridays for Future climate activist in Uganda. In 2022, she received the Orion Jane Goodall Award for Inspiring Courage in Action.