October is Black History Month, which celebrates and recognises the impact that people of African and Caribbean descent have on society. To mark the month, we highlight the work of Black scientists and campaigners who are tackling climate change – from Africa to the UK to the US.
Dr Warren Washington, Nobel Prize winner & climate science pioneer
Climate science as we know it wouldn’t exist without African American atmospheric physicist Dr Warren Washington. Joining the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in 1963, he co-created groundbreaking computer models that allow scientists to study future states of the atmosphere – crucial for understanding the impact of climate change.
Dr Washington continues to study the likely impacts of climate change during the 21st century. His work has underpinned assessments by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which provides policymakers with guidance on climate risks and how to mitigate and adapt to them.
Vanessa Nakate, Ugandan climate campaigner
Image credit: REUTERS/Esther Ruth Mbabazi – stock.adobe.com
From Kampala, Uganda, Vanessa Nakate started a solitary climate strike after becoming concerned about the unusually high temperatures her country was seeing. She has since founded Youth for Future Africa and the Rise Up Movement, and was appointed as a UNISEF Goodwill Ambassador in 2022.
Nakate is particularly vocal on the injustice that African people are bearing the brunt of the climate crisis, despite only being responsible for 4% of all global carbon emissions. Alongside others, her campaigning has led to a Loss and Damage Fund being agreed at COP27 last year.
Fatima Ibrahim, Co-Executive Director of Green New Deal UK
Ibrahim is co-founder and co-director of non-profit organisation Green New Deal UK – which campaigns to trasform the UK economic system to fight climate change and social inequity. Her activism stems from her family’s experiences as refugees coming from Somalia. “Climate change is the biggest threat to people everywhere. If you care about injustice or refugees, all of those things will be 100 times worse if we don’t deal with the climate crisis.”
Dr Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, marine biologist & conservation strategist
With a degree from Harvard in environmental science and a PHD in marine biology, Ayana Elizabeth Johnson is committed to highlighting the importance of the ocean for a stable climate – and leading on policy to fight the climate crisis.
From New York City, Johnson is the founder of Urban Ocean Lab, a research organisation focused on how coastal cities can adapt to rising sea levels and increasingly severe storms. With a TED talk on coral reef ecology to her name, Johnson also writes on climate issues for national and international publications.
Image credit: Ryan Lash 2019 – ayanaelizabeth.com
Sandile Mtetwa, PHD graduate at University of Cambridge
Highlighted in the University of Cambridge’s feature on Black Researchers Shaping the Future, Sandile Mtetwa is a scientist researching sustainable energy conversion and storage systems.
She wants her work to support access to clean energy alternatives in parts of the world with abundant sun, such as Africa. Mtetwa says “I hope my research will make a significant contribution to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 7, which is to ‘ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all’”.
Mikaela Loach, ethical living influencer and blogger
Edinburgh based Mikaela Loach is a climate justice activitst, podcast host and bestselling author of IT’S NOT THAT RADICAL: Climate Action To Transform Our World.
From wide ranging articles delving into intersections of the climate crisis, racism and human rights – to TV appearances discussing the Government’s lack of action – Loach highlights how engaged younger generations are in fighting for a greener fairer world.
For more female activists’ work, read our blog for International Women’s Day.