By Chiara Badiali, Research and Sector Knowledge Lead at Julie’s Bicycle
I urge you to use that anger/energy/emotion you feel right now to channel into structural change. If you can afford it, make a donation: donate to support those on the streets, but also to any one of the groups tirelessly working away to challenge structural racism and support and empower Black communities and communities of colour in your own neighbourhood. If you need some inspiration, below are some of the organisations I’ve donated to:
Reclaim the Block – Minnesota
Resourcing Racial Justice – UK
Netpol – UK
Stephen Lawrence Trust – London
May Project Gardens – London
For the benefit of my white friends working on climate/environment:
**Please don’t just read this, but follow and read/listen to Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour on climate/environment directly. I’ve written this because sharing what I’ve learned and am learning about how we can make the environmental movement more anti-racist within my network of others working in this space seems, alongside donating and amplifying BIPOC voices on more public channels, the most useful thing I can do right now. I also hope some of you might share more reading and resources with me**
The climate and environmental space has a really big racism problem, dating back to the first conservation charities that sought to conserve a ‘pristine’ landscape for the enjoyment of rich White people and to the detriment of pretty much everyone else.
My ‘green’ White friends: as someone with white skin who has directly benefited from the structures of systemic racism, it is our responsibility to understand and challenge these structures in our professional space.
I am not claiming I always get it right: this is a process and I also need to do more. I have at times been uncomfortable about some of these conversations; thinking they might be too ‘radical’ to fly in discussions of how we address climate change – but the fact that anyone would even see some of this as radical is both cause and symptom. It’s up to us to change that.
Eco-fascism and far right environmentalism
We also need to be hyper-aware of the rise of eco-fascism and the way environmental arguments are starting to find their way into far-right discourse, make sure we don’t write and speak in a way that gives credence to these views, and be ready to stand up against them.
In the past year, there have been at least two mass shootings (in El Paso and Christchurch) whose perpetrators specifically targeted people of colour and used explicitly eco-fascist views to talk about their actions, like: “Everything I have seen and heard in my short life has led me to believe that the average American isn’t willing to change their lifestyle, even if the changes only cause a slight inconvenience. … So the next logical step is to decrease the number of people in America using resources.” We should be fighting with everything we have to make sure we do not feed that logic.
Read this: “The El Paso Shooter Embraced Eco-Fascism. We Can’t Let the Far Right Co-Opt the Environmental Struggle.” Natasha Lennard in the Intercept
And this: “The El Paso Manifesto: Where Racism and Eco-Fascism Meet” Alexander C. Kaufman in Mother Jones
Climate racism red flags
As a starter pack, below is a non-exhaustive list of climate racism red flags to watch out for and challenge. A lot of them relate not just to Black people – which is not intended to erase or conflate the different experiences of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour).
Red Flag # 1: “We can’t fix climate change because OVERPOPULATION”
This is nearly inevitably veiled White-People-Speak for ‘people who don’t look like me are having too many children’ and frequently said by people looking for a get-out-of-jail-free card that allows them not to consider inequalities in resource consumption & emissions per capita.
We can’t let this point stand in spaces and conversations we are in without bringing up consumption inequalities and challenging the person making it on who, exactly, they think should be having fewer children.
Read this: “I’m an environmental journalist, but I never write about overpopulation. Here’s why.” David Roberts in Vox
Red Flag # 2: “Climate catastrophe will result in millions of climate refugees who will end up on our shores”
Stop. I guess statements like this are supposed to ‘meet people where they are’ and give someone whose main worry is immigration a reason to also care about climate change but WE CANNOT BE FUELING THIS RHETORIC. Racists in the Global North have a plan for dealing with climate change, and it involves walls, closed borders, and millions of people dying. Climate change is displacing people who are least responsible for causing it from their homes all over the world, and we need our fight against climate change to also be a fight for their human rights.
Also, how can we “diversify the voices in the climate movement” in the UK if the movement is using arguments straight from the ‘go back home’ playbook?
Read this: “Climate movements and the hostile environment” Interview with Dr Maya Goodfellow in The Ecologist
and find other great resources on climate migration here: from Climate Outreach
Red Flag # 3: “Black people and people of colour just don’t care about nature/the environment/climate”
Some people seem to think that the environmental space is immune to the systemic discrimination that keeps the voices of Black people and people of colour out of certain spaces and professions, and instead conclude they just don’t care. Nope: it means we White people have not sufficiently challenged these structures in the environmental space, to our detriment.
Black, Indigenous, and other people of colour all have their own specific perspectives, histories, and lived experiences and at the moment we’re losing out on all of them. They are systemically under-represented in conservation science, climate science, environment and climate campaign groups, environmental and climate journalism, and public discourse about climate change in our spaces, meaning our science, understanding, and narratives are all the poorer.
Read this: “The Climate Movement’s Silence: On insidious anti-blackness in climate activism, and the rise of Climate Chads” Emily Atkin
And this: “No Environmentalism in a Silo: what it means to talk about race in our climate crisis” Yingbi Lee for Julie’s Bicycle
Because the history of the environmental movement is really the history of the White environmental movement, it’s dominated by an idea that ‘pristine’ nature needs to be ‘protected’ from humans in a way that erases millennia of indigenous peoples’ history and culture.
Read this: “Discussing cultural heritage in times of climate crisis” Yingbi Lee for Julie’s Bicycle
In the US, research has shown that people of colour including Hispanics/Latinos, African Americans, and other non-White racial/ethnic groups, are more concerned than Whites about climate change (and also more likely to support and vote for climate policies).
Read this: “Race, ethnicity, and public responses to climate change” Yale Project on Climate Change/ George Mason University for Climate Change Communication
And this: “Which racial/ethnic groups care most about climate change?” Yale Program on Climate Change Communication
In the UK, a survey of 3,403 UK citizens undertaken by Caplor Horizons/The Commitment also shows that ‘Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups have a greater level of participation in climate change activities and a stronger belief in government action’ .
Read this: “Climate Change: UK citizens want the Government to do more” The Commitment [PDF]
Red Flag # 4: “Addressing climate change is already urgent and complex enough, we can’t also bring race and justice into it or we’ll never get the critical mass we need”
The prior three red flags should already make it abundantly clear why this is, frankly, bulls**t. Ignoring race and justice also means we’re not interrogating the roots of the climate crisis and its links to imperialism and extractivism, which means we’re starting with an incomplete understanding of the problem (and therefore, solutions).
It also means we’re ignoring the reality that for many people across the world who are least responsible for historical emissions – and who are, not by coincidence, mainly people of colour – climate change is already here. We need to acknowledge that addressing climate change – who gets to keep emitting, how much, and who pays the costs – is at its heart a question of justice.
Read more: “A new chance for climate justice?” Nathan Thanki for Open Democracy
Read more: “The climate strikes are about so much more than green colonialism” Asad Rehman for Open Democracy
This is only a starter – we need to commit to doing the work of widening our perspectives and creating a climate/environmental space within our creative community that actively challenges racism and fights for greater equality every day.
In addition to the pieces linked above, below are just some of the voices and insights that have helped me connect the dots between what is happening right now, a history of violence against BIPOC, and the work I do day-to-day – we’re working on pulling these resources together in a more digestible format, but it doesn’t feel like this can wait.
Lastly, a specific big thank you to the indefatigable Farah Ahmed who I work with at Julie’s Bicycle (and who made JB’s The Colour Green podcast happen) and from who I have learned so much, who so often finds herself as the only non-White person in these conversations and will still call out bullshit (and on occasion I’m sure has also not said anything when I’ve put my foot in my mouth).
There’s always more to learn and do.
THINGS TO READ
‘The Climate Debt: What the West Owes the Rest‘ Mohamed Adow
PEOPLE TO FOLLOW:
Mary Annaïse Heglar
Dr Ayana Elizabeth Johnson
Paris Equity Check
Mya-Rose Craig, or Birdgirl
Climate Reframe: Amplifying BAME Voices in the UK Environmental Movement
Mohamed Adow, Power Shift Africa
Asad Rehman, War On Want
ALSO CHECK OUT:
The Colour Green – Baroness Lola Young is in conversation with artists and activists of colour including speculative fiction writer and pleasure activist, Ama Josephine Budge; artist and former director of the Black Environment Network, Judy Ling Wong; musician and founder of the Rural-Urban Synthesis Society, Kareem Dayes; and poet and creative facilitator Zena Edwards.