Sharona Shnayder is a young Nigerian-Israeli activist and founder of the global grassroots initiative Tuesdays for Trash. The movement encourages individuals around the world to dedicate Tuesdays (or any day) to picking up trash, while learning about the issues of waste management and demanding better environmental practices from big businesses.
The people involved aim to be responsible citizens, working towards a healthier planet for all. Shnayder also serves as the chairwoman of the social justice nonprofit Our Streets PDX and marketing manager of the climate tech startup Albo Climate.
Here she tells readers why she believes the growing climate change movement has a representation problem.
My name is Sharona Shnayder. I'm a 21-year-old Nigerian-Israeli environmental activist mobilizing for climate justice in the Middle-East. Like many women of color I know, I wear a lot of hats and play many roles in my community, which if I'm being honest comes with a lot of adverse mental and physical effects on my health. But if I were to simplify who I am, I'd describe myself as just someone who cares a whole lot about having a future on Earth, where people and the natural environment can thrive together.
I’m a minority, a woman, an immigrant, African, and Jewish all wrapped into one, but most importantly I'm a changemaker. Someone who doesn’t sit still and wait for someone else to swoop in and take action, instead I'm the someone who takes matters into their own hands and paves the way for the crucial actions, voices, and mechanisms needed to address the global emergency we’re facing.
A clean environment really matters to me, because when you ignore the health of the natural world, you are effectively creating a less habitable environment, which has detrimental impacts on human health and survival. Along with this, I care deeply about justice. Justice for those on the front lines of the climate crisis, who have their entire livelihoods disrupted, bearing the brunt of the consequences — while having contributed the least to the problem.
Justice for current and next generations who are being handed a future with an expiration date.
Justice for BIPOC leaders who have been active in the climate spaces for decades and continue to lay bedrock foundations for conservation and sustainability work with little to no recognition.
Justice for anyone on this planet who has no say or financial benefit in the decimation of our Earth’s most precious resources and yet are being forced to pay the price — with their lives.
Justice for the innocent animals, sea creatures, and ecosystems on this planet actively suffering because of humanity’s greed and lack of empathy or perspective.
"If I were to simplify who I am, I'd describe myself as just someone who cares a whole lot about having a future on Earth where people and the natural environment can thrive together," writes Sharona Shnayder.
Having breathable air quality, access to clean water, living without the fear of becoming a climate refugee, and a planet not on fire are what matter to me. World leaders who prioritize people and communities most vulnerable to the climate of our changing world matter to me. I just can’t imagine going about life without considering the moral and ethical implications of my daily actions both in the movement and on a grandiose scale. For instance, I often ask myself questions such as, "What’s a job without communities to serve, or good health without clean water to drink and air to breathe? How am I to achieve my goals if the Earth is destroyed?"
I became an environmental activist out of fear. It was after watching Greta Thunberg’s speech to the UN in 2018 that I realized the magnitude and urgency of the climate crisis. A truly pivotal movement for me because there I was as a sophomore in college with big dreams, goals, and my whole life ahead of me, but incoming was an existential threat that would effectively obliterate any hopes I had for a long-term future and home on this planet. My aspirations sat in the hands of ignorant leaders refusing to take action. I was crushed, depressed, but most of all, angry.
The anger fueled me to start doing more research and finding ways to take action, because I was terrified of looking back one day and knowing I could have done more. I became so desperate to hold someone accountable for the reality I was being faced with. Because climate change was not only robbing me of a future, it was robbing me of security, optimism, and peace of mind. Everyday I started to go to bed thinking about what the future might look like with business as usual and prayed that I could somehow dream a way out of it. Advocating in this space has caused me a lot of anxiety and trauma, I've lost valuable time fighting for something that should be assured: a home on Earth. The reason I've dedicated the rest of my life to being an environmental activist is because, in sort of a selfish way, I want to live. I want a future and home on this planet, and to see the beauty it has to offer.
However, the growing climate movement has a representation problem, and the first time I truly registered this was in 2020 when the Associated Press cropped Ugandan activist Vanessa Nakate out of a photo with three other prominent white activists. I was not only shocked, but appalled at the unprofessionalism and blatant racism being showcased. Not only did they crop her out, but failed to quote any of her comments or include her in the list of participants, and it was as if she was never there.
The reality is they didn’t just crop out Vanessa on an individual level, they erased the presence of the entire continent she represented and ignored her role as an advocate for a region most affected by the crisis. But it got worse, because the exact same situation happened again to Vanessa when press covering COP26 in 2021 actively ignored her presence at a high profile meeting with Greta Thunberg and Nicola Sturgeon — driving home the fact that this issue is very much still alive and well, and the perpetrators will never change unless there's effective training and consequences for such blunders.
Activists of color aren't spotlighted in the movement, especially when it comes to the media, in order to uphold the long-standing systematic nature of showcasing whiteness as equating to goodness. You see this in every aspect of our society from the Greta Thunbergs to Elon Musks and Mark Zuckerbergs. And don’t get me wrong, I have no issue with Greta and other incredible non-people of color (POC) activists in the climate space, they are truly doing needed and essential work. But where I do take issue is when they allow the injustice to occur, the silencing of BIPOC activists, and enable the centering of their privileged voices on a topic most critical and impactful for the marginalized. The truth is our society is uncomfortable with seeing people of color in positions of power or leadership and, as a result, not only actively try to push them out of these roles, but also go as far as attempting to erase their narrative entirely. The idea of a POC taking up space is intimidating for many groups in our society who profit and capitalize on their minimization.
The consequence of erasing Black and brown voices is a simplified, harmful, and misleading portrayal of complex societies/cultures. It also creates a culture of paternalism, which is a mindset of doing things to or for others, rather than seeking to empower and build local capacity. It also takes away the agency from the economically poor while contributing to ideas of helplessness, and creates dialogues centered on one authority "helping" the "powerless." The reality is governmental and political decisions are being made for those whose voices are actually listened to, and it takes protesters, such as those in Black Lives Matter and intersectional environmentalists, to advocate for those whose voices are actively ignored.
When it comes to reform and quantifiable actions our world leaders need to make in regard to climate change... I have a whole laundry list. At the top of the list is the prioritization and uplifting of frontline voices on climate in order to prioritize aid and decisions to save those already experiencing dire consequences of global warming.
The second is we need widespread education and infrastructure that creates a unified narrative on climate change mitigation and gets everyone on the same page about the need for innovative solutions to the global problem.
Thirdly, I would like to see robust and rapid implementation of adaptation mechanisms and financial aid to developing nations otherwise incapable of adjusting to the changing climate.
Next would be the passing of harsh and clear legislative consequences for businesses and manufacturers actively destroying the environment, trashing our ecosystems, and profiting on the suffering of vulnerable communities.
Last, but certainly not least, I'd like to see widespread recognition and platforming of those tirelessly advocating for the survival of our civilization on this planet with almost no resources, while also being continuously ignored, silenced, and uninvited to the places where their voices are needed most.
Sharona Shnayder is a Nigerian-Israel activist and founder of the global grassroots movement Tuesdays for Trash.
We are in a generational battle to determine the liveability of our futures on this planet. Climate change is causing extreme weather and it’s no longer a distant news story, it’s happening all around us, to our friends and our families. It’s causing wildfires, hurricanes, and tornadoes stronger and more powerful. Roughly one garbage truck of plastic enters our oceans every minute of every day, and it’s only getting WORSE. So, knowing this and the direct role human activities are playing in creating this problem, there's no time to waste.
We must imagine a future where younger generations no longer have to skip school to raise awareness about the reality that our home is on fire. Where children won’t have to fear the day where they walk outside and can’t breathe because the air is too polluted or are unable to swim in the ocean because of the plastic and toxins that have overtaken every depth. A future where underprivileged communities are not at an increased health risk from asthma, hypertension, and heart diseases caused by polluting industries setting up shop in their neighborhoods.
All it takes is world leaders recognizIng the power they have to revolutionize our ways of living and prioritize the people and planet over profit.
It’s time they wake up and take bold actions.