This Activist Is Calling Out How Climate Stories Are Told

Indian activist Disha Ravi says a history of Western-centric reporting on the climate crisis has ignored the most affected.
Disha Ravi
Disha Ravi takes part in a digital strike this year. Photo courtesy of Disha Ravi

With wildfires ravaging the American landscape, heatwaves tearing across western Canada and the US, and floods inundating German towns, climate change awareness has been at an all-time high in recent months. But for 22-year-old Indian activist Disha Ravi, climate change has been a reality for years, even decades.

As one of the founders of Fridays For Future India, Ravi is calling out this ignorance. For her, like many others from the Most Affected Peoples and Areas (MAPA)—a term that has emerged to centre narratives of those who are most impacted by the climate crisis—becoming a climate activist wasn’t so much of a choice as a necessity. 


Spending her early childhood years in the coastal city of Mangalore, Ravi recalls her home regularly filling up with water during monsoon season. It only got worse as the years went by, but was considered so normal she didn’t question it at the time. When Ravi later moved to Bangalore for college, she found the words to talk about her experiences: the culprit was climate change. 

Even in Bangalore, a landlocked city, she couldn’t run from the flooding. Heavy rains and floods seriously damaged public infrastructure and endangered communities, especially in recent years. “I live in an area that no one cares about. People here are generally from marginalised communities, and we aren’t economically well-off. The drainage system is so bad, and yes, the government refuses to do anything about it, but it floods also because it rains so heavily that the drains just can’t handle it,” she told VICE World News.

“One time, we woke up in the middle of the night to water up to the desk I’m sitting on right now. Now, every day we wake up, we pray that it isn’t going to happen again. It’s really scary.” 


Disha Ravi at the Asia Climate Rally in Bangalore, India in January 2021. Photo courtesy of Disha Ravi

For Ravi, it feels like half the year is monsoons, while the other half is just insufferably hot. “We’ve had the hottest summers in the country for consecutive years now,” she said, adding that on top of the oppressive heat, the air quality is never good either, with India ranking as the worst-polluted country in the world. “Living in India…we get all of the climate calamities.” 


Similar to the monsoons, the summers have gotten much worse because of climate change in a place where resources were often scarce. Ravi remembers experiencing water crises when she was a child. “[My grandparents] didn’t have enough water," she said, "they'd have to carry water in buckets." While the situation has improved somewhat, Ravi said to this day, her grandparents still hoard groundwater whenever it is made available. "They'd fill up every single bucket there is in the house, to the brim."

Her grandparents were one of the reasons Ravi was drawn to climate activism since the water crises deeply impacted them as farmers. Today, farmers in India still struggle to make ends meet, and climate change is one of the reasons: as temperatures rise, rainfall becomes more erratic, meaning longer periods of drought on one hand, and short periods of floods on the other.

But as Ravi became a climate activist, she realised that the voices of those most affected, such as her and her grandparents’, weren’t being heard. To her, this explains why many mainstream reports on climate change amount to headlines like “the climate crisis is here,” blatantly disregarding long standing realities for communities across the world. “It’s not like we haven’t been speaking,” Ravi said, “it’s that we’ve been very intentionally suppressed. We have been unheard.” 


Ravi said journalists, corporations, governments, and people of the Global North—a term often used to refer to the more privileged in Western nations—are aware of the reality of the suffering of those in the Global South. Yet she believes “they choose to ignore it, and they somehow think it’s okay, because it’s not affecting them.” 

“That’s environmental racism,” Ravi said. “Climate justice shouldn’t just be about the white child’s future. It should also be about the brown child’s present.”

Even the name of the movement she’s part of, “Fridays For Future,” she said, is evidence of the problem. “Why isn’t it called Fridays For Present and Future? It’s about our future, yes, but it’s also about the fact that millions of people are living it now.” This frustration was part of what motivated Ravi and other activists when they conceptualised Fridays For Future MAPA. MAPA, a less derogatory alternative to “Global South,” was applied by some youth activists within the Fridays For Future movement, who were looking to change the way stories about the climate crisis were being told. 

“Journalists and the media mince words so much,” Ravi said. “They’re supposed to be unbiased, but they’re not.” Citing the example of the Indian multinational conglomerate Adani, which continues to come under fire for their coal projects, Ravi said that despite “clear evidence and data” that coal kills, media outlets are not doing enough to report on the problem.


The lack of truth-telling around the climate crisis has tangible impacts on climate action too. Despite countries having agreed on keeping global warming to no higher than 1.5°C six years ago, recent climate policy analyses show that none of the major economies in the world are on track. “I think the fact that they consider 1.5°C as ambitious is ridiculous,” Ravi said, noting additionally that there have been 25 COPs, the global climate summits in which the UN brings together almost every country on earth. “If all climate conferences happened in a heated room, up to the temperatures we’ve experienced, and with the air quality that we’ve breathed, then we can revisit whether this is ambitious or not.” 

Centring MAPA voices at climate conferences and allowing them to tell their own stories would likely change the course of climate action, according to Ravi. “COP is full of world leaders, big businesses, and even Big Oil, but where are the people who are impacted by these decisions directly?” 

Meanwhile, those who do get to COP, and those who can change the narrative, need to “talk about us, about our stories, and uplift our voices”, said Ravi.

Ultimately, she said, “MAPA have to be the ones leading the conversation on climate, because it’s our right to.”

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