In different Afrikan spiritual beliefs, the end and death are not actual states but rather cyclic successions of events. After death, there is always rebirth. After the end, a new beginning.
The past few years have felt wildly apocalyptic: from the 2006 Pangandaran earthquake and tsunami to the more recent pandemic and the age-old discourse on White supremacist capitalist-induced climate change. There’s a mixed sense of angst, hopelessness, urgency, and injustice. As Oliver wrote in an article for MIP, “the reality is that [the climate crisis] is not all our fault, certainly not everyone’s fault equally,” with the continent of Afrika and underdeveloped countries recovering from colonialism (and now green colonialism) and contributing the least to global warming. These underdeveloped countries face climate change’s most disastrous consequences while the West is still relatively climate safe.
Is it, though? Wherever we look at it, it will always be the poorest people, the masses who pay the greatest and highest price for the elite’s greed and selfishness. Yet, precisely for this reason, hope for change lies with the people.
A Burkinabe man named Yacouba Sawadogo single-handedly stopped the desert from further encroachment in the Sahelian part of Burkina Faso. He used a technique called “zaï” or tassa, which consists of digging pits to catch water. Yacouba makes the holes more extensive, then adds compost and manure to attract termites to help break the arid soil. In the rainy season, water gathers in the pits, retaining moisture, allowing the trees’ seed to sprout, and promoting the growth of young shoots in the dry season. Thanks to his work of now 30 years, many acres of land are now fertile and hospitable homes for ants, various insects, and birds.
Another person, Haidar El Ali, planted 152 million mangrove buds in southern Senegal over the past decade to combat climate change. And Indigenous communities across South America protect their precious environments with their lives.
COP “out” 26 as some have called it, supposedly a climate conference (for some young activists – more of a “greenwash festival”) has come to and end. Western powers, framing themselves as “leaders” in the fight against global warming, have auspiciously gassed about reducing CO2 and methane emissions, with Boris Johnson ostentatiously invoking the spirit of James “00-Eco” Bond. But, as the elite onlookers chattered, the people of the undeveloped world witnesses firsthand the rising seas, warming temperatures, widespread deforestation, and other dimensions of global climate change.
It has sharply been criticized as the “most exclusionary” climate summit ever for being so White, male, elite, and privileged. Hosts are using COVID-19 as the scapegoat and not the hostile UK Home Office immigration system refusing visas and failing to fulfil vaccines pledges, particularly to Afrikan countries. Climate activist Vanessa Nakate is quintessential proof of how “an entire continent” (and the rest of the Global South) is dismissed and cut out of the climate conversation. Last year Vanessa from Kenya was literally cut out of an Associated Press photo of her and four other climate activists at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The other four were White (including Thunberg). Vanessa tweeted the Associated Press and sparked an international conversation on erasure within the environmental movement. Instead, we’re left with politicians and their large delegations, celebrities, and billionaires walking green carpets to green summits to raise awareness and find solutions to climate change. They are simply PR stunts because they never actually do anything.
Don’t be fooled by the appearance of promising Black and Brown faces from underdeveloped countries giving speeches in between addresses by Britain’s top White saviors inside the World Leader’s Summit Opening Ceremony at COP. It’s tokenism. There were powerful speeches by Samoan Brianna Fruean, Kenyan Elizabeth Wathuti, and Amazonian Txai Surui. They were innocently urging leaders to “please open their hearts” and rightly pushing high-income countries to do more, and crucially reminding everyone to center Indigenous voices in climate change decision-making. Except, the points the activists are making are precisely the problem. Global leaders aren’t doing enough because the only prominent place an equitable amount of Indigenous voices have at COP was during the opening ceremony or outside the conference center. Higher-up in government officials, particularly from small island states, aren’t the ones negotiating after the ceremony, who are the ones who push hard for “aspirational” climate deals like the 1.5C ceiling. They aren’t even the ones at COP26. Only three (of 14) Pacific leaders – of Palau, Fiji, and Tuvalu – made it to the COP. They might never be heard at future COPs and other conferences. After their voices are drowned out by rising sea level risks that could swallow their small islands and coastal communities from the planet.
It’s the emperors in the new age of imperialism: the Bidens, Bezos, Musks, and Zuckerbergs who have all the stolen money, power, and hoarded resources of the world, yet are incapable of putting in place any practical change. It’s not because they don’t know how to; they simply don’t care. When they do, like Bezos’ ostensibly benevolent Earth Fund to plant trees and restore landscapes in Afrika, it’ll likely backfire. Any help becomes another form of green grabbing to offset their companies’ emissions – planting more trees instead of cutting pollution from their big businesses. Solving this crisis for them would be as easy as Thanos snapping his fingers. Look at how quickly they switched office-based jobs to a working-from-home system just so capitalism could continue on all fronts. Colonizers and their sympathizers argue that it could be done right by taking the time to consult local communities. Even then though these actions are essentially flawed because all they do is make declarations of good intentions while continuing to perpetuate eco-colonialism. There’s no institutional mechanism for accountability across much of the underdeveloped world due to the racial global imbalance in power. In the same way that Kehinde wrote in a MIP article that “Haiti doesn’t need foreign aid, it needs Garveyism,” Afrika doesn’t need assistance funding. If anything it deserves climate reparations.
What about the White masses? Will they usher in a radical new alternative to save the world? After the July floods that hit Germany and Belgium, Monica’s business was destroyed. During an interview, she inadvertently said the quiet part out loud, “You don’t expect people to die in a flood in Germany. You expect it may be in poor countries, but you don’t expect it here.”
Working-class White people are often a reflection of their White elite, and its “misleading” leadership because they’re loyal to Whiteness and believe that when things get tough and Black and Brown people are blamed, the elite will come and protect and save them. But, on the other hand, as poor Black and Brown folx in the West, we have been raised to be resilient. We struggle, we resist, we survive. We are used to it. But for them? Until nature hits White people as hard as White people hit us, we can’t rely on them. Until then, we can’t trust them to join a global revolution for freedom, justice, and equality for all and ensure a future for humanity on earth.
What happens when White people lose their global climate privileges (then schools can stop teaching White privilege as fact), become vulnerable and more homes, businesses, and lives are swept away? Will this incoming climate emergency and the destabilization it could/will do to the West be a perfect opportunity for an interracial coalition and revolution?
We don’t think so. Black people always get it worst first. Then, before it gets too bad for White people, White people will have adapted and mitigated themselves against the worst happening in the West. Western capitalist-led climate destruction is also pushing governments to seek ways to guarantee their access to natural resources, particularly water. Kamala Harris said wars were once fought for oil, but they will soon be fought over the precious life-giving liquid. She admitted that the US and other empires will do anything in their power to control water. Compare these maps as shared by Dave Ravicher: The first one shows Afrika’s water supply, and in the second, you can see how strategically placed US troops are. AFRICOM (US Afrika Command) is simply American imperialism at work. The US empire is ready to monopolize and control water and be sure that they will displace and kill Afrikans to do it. This war, to varying degrees, will primarily benefit White people and White majority countries. Where there’s a benefit, there’s no solidarity. Afrikans will, once again, have to fend for themselves.
When lockdowns started around March 2020, we immediately saw how quickly our earth recovered (at least on a superficial level, because the fact that humans who could afford it stayed indoors didn’t shrink the size of the ozone hole): water and skies cleared, and dolphins were swimming around the coast in Italy. It is, however, still a great sign and reminder of how simple and easily avertable the situation is. Earth is a bad b*tch. As a matter of fact, it is the baddest of b*tches. This blue planet has seen and been hit by asteroids, witnessed the ice age, several earthquakes, volcano eruptions, and is still here floating in space. Yet, the earth will always bounce back, so I’m not even worried about it.
The questions are: do we want to witness and bounce back with it? And how can this be translated into revolutionary thoughts and practices?
Green issues have consistently shaped a part of Black and Brown activism in the West and in the Rest because we are more vulnerable to their impacts. But while the Green New Deal offers a view on racial justice, it is a narrow one — as radically explored in Weyland McKenzie-Witter’s audio doc The Black and the Green.
Climate change is racist, except to many global leaders it is not. Any form of climate revolution consequently will unlikely involve an overturning of the racist structures. Climate change is a symptom of racial capitalism, so they can go some way to address the symptoms and achieve COP’s goals, while leaving the system intact. In other words, they can have racial capitalism without the pernicious effects of the climate crisis affecting the West while the Rest suffer unconscionably. As Jalal Afhim writes for MIP in What’s been missing in the climate change conversation?: “Solutions to the climate emergency need to be constructed with the understanding that we share a planet, and making the air cleaner in one part of the world by polluting another part is not good enough.”
The impact of climate change might disrupt the developed world’s extraction of resources stolen from the underdeveloped world. This disruption may not directly threaten the lives of those in the developed world; however, it may affect the resources the economies dependend on now for phones and luxury goods. However, those same raw materials in the Scramble for Afrika 2.0 are plundered in lithium mines for the green revolution’s solar panels and efficient batteries set to (first) power the West and wreak havoc on ecosystems in underdeveloped countries.
To our point, it’s businesses, not governments who the West is calling on to take the lead in transitioning them into a greener world. The private economy has the money at its disposal to radically transform the current fossil fuel-based economy into a genuinely renewable and sustainable one. In reality, though, it’s the Wall Street Climate Consensus: a strategic response to the climate crisis that reorganizes financial capitalism for Wall Streets’ own benefit. It ensures that financial capitalism, with the appropriate nudging, can achieve a low-carbon transition without radical political or institutional changes that would demolish racial capitalism. The climate crisis becomes an opportunity for carbon investors to make a “profit with purpose” through “subsidized greenwashing.”
Western world leaders don’t have the same sense of emergency about the climate situation because they are less impacted than the Rest. In negotiations, they talk universally about what’s best for the world, when in reality, they talk about the particular through the lens of White privilege. Take the 2015 Paris climate negotiations, where underdeveloped world leaders, particularly small islands, pushed industrialized countries to hit 1.5C degrees, not 2C degrees of global warming. Although initially, the UN’s goal was 2C degrees, the 1.5C ceiling was largely considered a stretch by the comparatively climate-safe developed world. Yet the difference between 1.5C degrees and 2C degrees to the climate-vulnerable underdeveloped world is the difference between life and death for more locals; from worsening climate-related disasters at scale, disasters they’ve already been dealing with for decades. Yes, the East, with Asian majority countries like China and India, are also culpable for climate destruction as a result of their remarkable economic growth; however, they operate on the same colonial logic of Western imperialism having ingrained themselves into the Western political and economic system.
Climate change and the response (or lack of it) from the elite should wake up those who, especially in the West, believe in an imagined alliance with the rich and the powerful. Yet while ending the climate crisis has existential precedence, doing so will not end the logic of empire.
There are limits to a climate revolution located in the West. As Kehinde writes in the New Age of Empire, “Once we locate the system as the problem, then it should be clear that no matter how many Extinction Rebellion protestors stage nude protests in the British parliament, the White elites will not dismantle the colonial logic of the world order. The concern for the underdeveloped world fits firmly within the framework of so-called universal rights, as developed in the Enlightenment. Sure, they have a right not to be flooded, burnt or starved out of their homes, but that remains the limit of their humanity.”
We’re dying and many folx in the Black diaspora are already dead. There is no alternative other than ending this world and ushering into a new, fair, just one for plants, animals, and humans.
The idea of death is a very dark but necessary one. Oppressive systems use and thrive on pessimism; they make us believe that the world and life have always been like this so that we don’t imagine new ways. They invest in negative propaganda because they know change is possible. As people, we will feel hopeless, and we will be willing to give up. Yet as humans, we are inherently optimistic. Our enslaved and colonized ancestors probably thought the slave trade and chattel slavery would never end, yet they still revolted. In the US alone, there was an average of one revolt every three weeks. Today we are still having babies, which is a testament to our profound belief that we will be alright.
If you feel hopeless, don’t suppress it, it is normal. Lean into it, feel it thoroughly and completely and when you have exhausted the feeling, become hopeful and act urgently as if it were too late. Malcolm X said in his timeless speech, The Ballot or the Bullet, “we need a self-help program… a-do-it-yourself philosophy, a do-it-right-now philosophy, it’s-already-too-late philosophy.”
Whether it be ancestral Kongo spirituality or Islam, death is not the end. It is a necessary and natural step that will allow us to access real life. It is death that makes us enters a different realm (the world of dreams when we experience minor deaths during sleep and the ancestral plain or heaven when we transition). A realm with infinite possibilities. Let’s kill this world, and may its death allow us to bring forth infinite alternatives and imaginations for a better future.