Climate Change And Colonialism
The past year has opened our eyes to some extraordinary revelations and home truths about the world we live in. Cracks in the system have been exposed to the masses, including the disparities of social injustices, vulnerabilities across populations and the need for environmental change. The fight for equality becomes synonymous when pushing for a progressive future, and activists, more determined than ever, have been harvesting the power of social media in a movement for change. 2020; a year where your diary may be empty, the history books are full. We are witnessing a number of substantial events leading to global movements in a fight for both climate and social justice.
“2020; A YEAR WHERE YOUR DIARY MAY BE EMPTY, THE HISTORY BOOKS ARE FULL.”
When talking about climate change, one has to acknowledge colonialism; the overlap between the start of ecocide and the UK's imperialist past cannot be overlooked. With land exploited and destroyed, and inhabitants subjugated and oppressed, the two come hand in hand to begin the journey into planetary and societal destruction. As voiced by Eyal Weizman, “The current acceleration of climate change is not only an unintentional consequence of industrialisation. The climate has always been a project of colonial powers, which have continually acted to engineer it”.
What is happening is a direct result of the ‘engineers’; from colonialism to capitalism, the people and the planet are exploited. The need for profit overriding the need for change, and with a mere 100 companies responsible for 71% of global emissions. Unfortunately, whilst the rich exploit, the vulnerable suffer, a repeated narrative that needs to change. With developing countries already facing severe droughts, water shortages, extreme weathers, fires and soil deterioration, how much longer do we have to wait for action to take place? A recent report from the World Economic Situation Prospects, 2020 stated, “…the climate crisis is deepening, the number of people suffering from food insecurity and undernourishment is rising, and there is increasing recognition that inequalities in income, education, health and opportunity underpin profound social discrimination.” We live in a continuous cycle, how many times do we have to go round until change is made.
“UNFORTUNATELY, WHILST THE RICH EXPLOIT, THE VULNERABLE SUFFER, A REPEATED NARRATIVE THAT NEEDS TO CHANGE.”
Climate change will affect us all, however, it is those populating the global south that faces the biggest impact, showcasing the global injustice of it. The countries causing the least impact, are those that face the biggest hit. Burundi is an example of this; with the world's smallest carbon footprint, it has the highest prevalence of chronic malnutrition. It calls out for urgent action, in hope that the land and its inhabitants can be saved from the advancing climatic changes before it is too late.
Through the COVID pandemic, we have witnessed injustices on a more localised level. Uncomfortable truths about our political and societal system have been exposed, with people no longer able to look away. Statistics are staring us in the face, as fires burn the world we live in. People are rising up, getting angry at a system built on prejudice and discrimination that endorses environmental destruction. Following this uprising is the shift in activist voices, with climate activism previously being led by white voices, and now the spotlight being put on those from BIPOC communities. “Historically, the environmental movement comes from a white privileged background, but climate change mostly affects people in the global south, so it’s fair to elevate those voices,” Suzanne Dhaliwal, University of Brighton.
Speaking with Ella L’etang, a co-founder of the collective AIR, she notes, “True environmental advocacy must involve amplifying black, brown and indigenous voices. Globally, and in the UK, People of Colour contribute least to causing climate change but are most likely to be affected by it. Yet environmental activism still lacks representation and diversity. People in the global south often get the blame for climate change when it’s main cause is overconsumption by big businesses and the wealthy. Of course, the impacts of British imperialism and the industrial revolution are key when considering this. BIPOC voices often go unheard within climate movements and until that changes, climate justice cannot be achieved. Check out Wretched of the Earth and Greens of Colour for some inspiration!”
To understand and acknowledge the ever-evolving fight for justice, one has to appreciate those on the battlefield. As a white female, I understand my privileged position when writing this piece, and that I must continue to listen to those inspiring BIPOC voices around me and continue to educate myself. I can and want to showcase my support as an ally, standing with the BLM movement in the fight against racism. Aligned with this fight, comes the fight for climate change. For too long, these movements have been portrayed as separate entities, however our history deems us guilty of both their beginnings. It is time to change the narrative lived for years; to redo the mistakes made, and provide an equal world that hosts all communities, populations and species.Watch – YouTube: Black Community Rising, Climate Justice
Read – Wretched of the Earth (recommended by Ella)
Listen – Climate 2020 (Episode 42): Making The Climate Movement Anti-Racist w/ Dr. Robert Bullard
To follow – Air Collective UK (Against Institutional Racism)
By contributing writer Scarlett Buckley