An Interview with Anita Chitaya in The New Yorker Climate Newsletter

Anita Chitaya answered some questions from the legendary Bill McKibben in his climate newsletter. Read it in full here (and do subscribe – it’s excellent).

Passing the Mic

The film “The Ants and the Grasshopper” has been a long time in the making. In 2012, Raj Patel, a research professor at the University of Texas, went to Malawi with a film crew to follow the farmer and activist Anita Chitaya and document her work in ending hunger and gender inequality. “We wanted to show that the biggest innovations in the food system were being driven by frontline communities and people of color in the global South,” Patel said. But, “when Anita learned about climate change, and the role of the United States in furthering it, she was shocked. She asked whether she should come over to America, to school us on what climate change was doing to her community. We fund-raised, travelled in 2017, and documented the impact she had on communities from Iowa to Detroit to Oakland to Washington, D.C.”

The film about that trip—charming, infuriating, big-hearted—will début later this month at the Mountainfilm documentary festival, in Telluride, Colorado. You can watch the trailer here, and it’s worth doing to get a sense of Chitaya’s voice so that you can imagine her answering these questions, which Patel and his team forwarded to her in Africa. (They translated the answers from her native Tumbuka, and the interview has been edited.)

What message were you most trying to get across to Americans when you travelled here?

The atmosphere has been damaged because of gas and smoke coming from America. We came to spread the news about how climate change affects us in Malawi, and what we are doing to change how we live to address the problems. We needed to tell them about the struggles that we were facing because it seems they did not know and, if they did not know about us, how could they care about us? I also want to say that it was an honor for us to meet them.

What do you think they heard, and what do you think they didn’t hear?

A lot of people listened and nodded when we talked about climate change in Malawi, but many also didn’t understand. They agreed that the weather was different, but disagreed that it was something that was the result of humans. They said it was impossible for humans to do this to the weather, or said that it was God’s will. This means that, even if their hearts were touched when we told them of our suffering, they did not understand that the way they live is causing that suffering.

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