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04 April 2024

Theatre of Climate Action: Amplifying Youth Voices for Climate Justice in Guadeloupe and South Africa

Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)

Theatre of Climate Action is an exciting new project by the Feminist Centre for Racial Justice at SAOS, University of London in collaboration with the HSRC.

Young people make up a fifth of the world’s population (United Nations, 2019), and are disproportionately experiencing the worst consequences of the climate crisis. Climate burdens are the heaviest for those who have contributed the least historical emissions – particularly across Africa and the Caribbean, and is a matter of both intergenerational and racial/imperial injustice. In this context, young people of Global Majority communities are exercising collective agency and resisting oppressive systems to envision and enact just and equitable futures. Our participatory project contributes to this work of radical imagination by bringing together an interdisciplinary team of researchers, creative practitioners, and young people to create youth-led theatre performances on climate justice in South Africa and Guadeloupe. The participatory project will be guided by a politics of feminist racial justice which centres on marginalised ways of knowing (artistic, youth-led) and spaces (Africa and the Caribbean) to respond to issues of inequity (climate injustice).

Sixteen young people aged 18-25 from South Africa and Guadeloupe will collaborate in designing, producing, and performing theatre pieces that reflect their exploration of climate justice through lived experiences. Online workshops with guest speakers, including academic researchers and practitioners, will support their exploration, and monthly in-person workshops will be facilitated by creative practitioners in their respective locations. Producing two scripts and six performances, the young people will share their lived experiences around climate justice as part of a broader objective to ensure that Global Majority youth experiences of climate injustice are platformed. They will also develop their skills in storytelling through theatre while articulating their political responses to local and global issues.

Photo by Lawrence Makoona on Unsplash

The project fosters knowledge exchange between the two groups in Guadeloupe and South Africa, enabling them to learn from each other’s experiences of climate injustice and create their own narratives. The researchers and creative practitioners will also learn from the collaborations with young people, developing meaningful dialogue with Global Majority youth perspectives. The project also contributes to transnational learning, bridging research, academia, the arts, and civil society. Additionally, it will produce resources that can be used as climate education tools in various settings.

Existing research currently focuses disproportionately on high-profile, White, and higher socio-economic-status youth climate activists. This has resulted in the underrepresentation of those who experience intersecting inequalities, especially those from racially minoritized and Global Majority communities. Our project counters hegemonic narratives around climate action by centring diverse youth voices in South Africa and Guadeloupe on these issues. Moreover, much of the available mainstream climate education is highly technical, science focused. It is criticized by academics and activists for its emphasis on political impartiality which leads to an omission of intersectionality, justice and the social, economic, and political causes of the climate crisis. Our project takes a politicised approach to the theme of youth-led climate justice education. It promotes youth-led learning processes, driven by commitments to climate and feminist racial justice. It explores the ethical, political, and economic aspects of the climate crisis, and uses creative methods to do so.

Young people are the demographic most affected by the climate crisis – especially those in Global Majority communities, who will carry the burden of its social, economic, political impacts into the future. Youth-led climate action is on the rise worldwide, with initiatives such as Fridays For Future. Another form of youth climate action is telling stories as experts-by-experience. This is known as everyday environmentalism (Pulido, 2000). Guadeloupe, a small island, is already experiencing the harmful effects of the climate crisis, including rising temperatures, changes in rainfall, and the prospect of rising sea levels and intensified hurricanes. It was recently hit by a large earthquake. Additionally, the island has been affected by environmental scandals at the hands of the French state and private companies – particularly around the use of toxic chemicals in banana plantations, which can be found in the bloodstreams of >90% of the island’s population today. Civil society has responded with vigour across the island, connecting these issues to histories of colonialism, reproductive rights, and climate justice. South Africa, too, is experiencing significant exposure to climate harms, with the national average temperature having increased twice as fast as global temperatures since 1990. But it has also been a dynamic hub for climate justice organising – with the emergence of coalitions which seek to advance a vision of climate justice that brings environmental, energy, gender, racial, immigrant, climate, and economic justice together. Our participatory project will be facilitated by researchers and creative practitioners using youth-centred feminist and creative methodologies.

From the HSRC, this project will be led by Dr Alude Mahali, Chief Research Specialist in the Education and Equitable Economies division. Learn more about the project partners here.

Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)

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