Winnie Byanyima

Early exposure to injustice in her home country of Uganda drove this diplomat to fight for equality everywhere.

Winnie Byanyima wasn’t afforded the blissful ignorance of a normal youth. As a young girl in the ’60s, she watched as Uganda was cast into a cycle of violence by then-Prime Minister Apollo Milton Obote and military general Idi Amin. For more than two decades, the dictators smothered their opposition with brute force and oversaw an era in which hundreds of thousands are believed to have been killed. Byanyima can still recall those persecuted by the government showing up at her front door, seeking help from her politician father and transforming her home into a salon of dissent. Out of a sense of moral and civic duty, he would take on their cases—a woman dispossessed of her land by the military, a man fired from his job because he didn’t support the ruling party—and argue for their rights in court.

“I don’t really know when I ‘woke up’ [to the idea of] social justice,” she says, tilting her chin to the ceiling, as if searching for that one event that flourished into the call for personal revolution. “I grew up with it.”

Since then, Byanyima has certainly followed in her father’s activist footsteps. As executive director of Oxfam International, she oversees social justice projects in more than 90 countries and is the first African to run a global civil society group. She acts as the face of the organization at monumental conferences like last year’s COP21 climate talks in Paris and the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Her role at these conventions is an arduous but spirited one. Somewhere between the bureaucracy of politicians and the money of big business, Byanyima must wedge her way into dialogues to make a case for the common citizen. That means trying to influence global treaties to come out a little more in favor of the millions of people back home who will be affected by them, though she concedes that often unearths more struggle than success.

At the 2015 Financing for Development conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where we spoke in an empty hotel hallway, she fought for global tax reforms that would ensure big corporations give more of their wealth back to the communities in which they operate. According to Byanyima, when Oxfam and other groups requested that the U.N. host a concurrent summit to discuss the issue, rich countries—the ones that stood to lose from the proposed changes—successfully pushed them to drop the proposal.

“Civil society sometimes has an uphill battle against governments’ determination to put short-term interests ahead of their citizens’ well-being,” she says. “But that’s part of our job.”

Globally, the relationship between the private sector and government is inflexible. Money and power have been making decisions hand-in-hand since time immortal.

But Byanyima’s idealism remains steadfast even in the face of that status quo, and her fighting spirit hasn’t changed since the tough youth that shaped it—fleeing her country at 17, seeking asylum in the U.K. while earning an engineering degree and working with Ugandan human rights groups, and returning home in the ’80s to help current Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni oust Obote from seizing a second attempt at rule.

“I grew up knowing that there was injustice, but you don’t have to accept it,” she says, her words seemingly as much a consolation for the dissidents of her past as an explanation of what motivates her in the present. “You can say no and you can oppose it, and it is risky. It can cost your life, but it is still a life well spent.”


The global climate change strikes on Friday are said to have been the largest protest for climate change in history. An estimated four million people participated in 2,500 events across 163 countries on all seven continents. That included an estimated 300,000 Australians, but a total of zero were in Hyde Park in Sydney, despite a viral photo that claims otherwise.

Australian Youth Coal Coalition, a pro-coal Facebook page, posted a photo showing trash strewn across a park after what appears to have been a large event. "Look at the mess today's climate protesters left behind in beautiful Hyde Park," the photo was captioned. "So much plastic. So much landfill. So sad." The only problem is, the photo wasn't taken after a climate change protest. It wasn't even taken in Australia.

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via GOOD / YouTube

Last Friday, millions of people in 150 countries across the globe took to the streets to urge world leaders to enact dramatic solutions to combat climate change.

The Climate Strike was inspired, in part, by Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old girl from Sweden who has captured worldwide attention for her tireless work to hold lawmakers responsible for the climate crisis.

The strike gave people across the planet the opportunity to make their voices heard before the U.N. General Assembly Climate Summit in New York City on Monday.

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Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

As world leaders meet to discuss new ways to tackle climate change at the U.N. Climate Action Summit, they might miss one very big part of healing nature – nature. In a new short film, youth climate change activist Greta Thunberg and George Monbiot, a writer for the Guardian, talked about how we need to use nature as a solution to climate change.

There's a huge push to curb emissions, but it's not the be all end all of handling climate change; we also need to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. While we don't have technology to do that for us, there is another solution. "There is a magic machine that sucks carbon out of the air, costs very little, and builds itself. It's called a tree," Monboit says in the film. Researchers found that we could get rid of two-thirds of the carbon dioxide that we've emitted during the industrial era just by growing trees. That amounts to 205 billion tons of carbon. Right now, deforestation of tropical forests is responsible for 20% of current greenhouse emissions.

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Climate Action Tracker

In 2016, 196 countries signed the Paris Agreement, pledging to combat climate change by taking action to curb the increase in global temperatures. The Paris Agreement requires countries to report on their emissions and what steps they're taking to implement those plans. Now that the countries are coming together again for the U.N. Climate Action Summit in New York City, it's worth taking a look at what kind of progress they've made.

The Climate Action Trackerkeeps tabs on what each country is doing to limit warming, and if they're meeting their self-set goals. Countries are graded based on whether or not their actions would help limit warming to 1.5 degrees C.

According to a recent article from National Geographic, The Gambia, Morocco, and India are at the head of the class. "Even though carbon emissions in The Gambia, Morocco, and India are expected to rise, they'll fall short of exceeding the 1.5-degree Celsius limit," the article reads. Saudi Arabia, Russia and the United States, on the other hand, get a big fat F. "Projected emissions in Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the United States are far greater than what it would take to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius."

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Screenshot via (left) Wikimedia Commons (right)

Greta Thunberg has been dubbed the "Joan of Arc of climate change" for good reason. The 16-year-old activist embodies the courage and conviction of the unlikely underdog heroine, as well as the seemingly innate ability to lead a movement.

Thunberg has dedicated her young life to waking up the world to the climate crisis we face and cutting the crap that gets in the way of fixing it. Her speeches are a unique blend of calm rationality and no-holds-barred bluntness. She speaks truth to power, dispassionately and unflinchingly, and it is glorious.

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