Opinion

After Just Stop Oil, let’s remember the fight against environmental racism and colonialism

Photo credit: Feng Ho @fenghofashion

Young Just Stop Oil environmental protestors chained themselves to buildings and fuel tankers, Insulate Britain glued themselves to roads and buildings, and Extinction Rebellion protestors have gone on hunger strikes and blocked the Murdoch Press dynasty. I commend these protestors for all they do, especially given the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that reminds us that humanity is at the last stage to save the planet against irreparable damage caused by the continuing burning of fossil fuels. Yet, the deeper reality of climate change activism is that it remains pale and stale without a thorough race (and class) analysis, with Black people sparsely missing from the Whitestream climate conversation.

We must recognize that the refusal of governments and big oil companies to act against climate change, acknowledge the science, and tell the truth contribute to environmental racism and the continuing disproportionate effects of climate change on the global majority world. Yet, a few days after the IPCC report rang the final bell for planet earth… the UK Govt published its energy security strategy, saying that it would increase its exploration for oil and gas.

For the first time in 30 years, the IPCC finally named “colonialism” as a historical and ongoing driver of climate change.

“Present development challenges causing high vulnerability are influenced by historical and ongoing patterns of inequity such as colonialism, especially for many indigenous peoples and local communities”

 Climate Change 2022, Impacts, Adaption and Vulnerability, Summary for Policy Makers (SPM.B.2.4 R), IPCC 

Climate chaos will continue to hit our people of the global majority the hardest before it hits the White populations in the global minority world. Looking at events here and abroad illustrates this profoundly colonial framework.

Less than ten years ago, in the UK, Ella Adoo Kissi-Debrah was the first person in this country to have air pollution listed as a cause of death on her death certificate. It is no coincidence that Ella was a Black child who, like other Black and Asian people in Britain, disproportionately live in areas with higher air pollution levels.

In the US, after Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, Black people were disproportionately destroyed by this tragedy and still are over 15 years later. Our people getting hit the hardest is not a coincidence. It’s a direct legacy of the transnational trafficking of enslaved Afrikans, Jim Crow, and racialized segregation which places those racialized as Black in poorer areas with poor quality and overcrowded housing situated closer to moving traffic. The disproportionate effects of climate change on poor Black populations are the persistent acts of imperialism. These actions must be dismantled on purpose. 

“Climate change activism must be decolonized because climate change without a race analysis is just gardening”

Across the majority world, we see the same patterns of chaos. The landslides in Jamaica, the Australian bushfires of 2020, which resulted in hundreds of deaths, the loss of 1 billion native animals; the millions facing famine in Madagascar, the threat of Fiji, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Vanuatu, and the Marshall Islands going under in 50 years and the flash floods in Nepal and India that killed almost 200 people.

Climate change has been exacerbated by the West’s and China’s acceleration in consumption of fossil fuels beyond the consumption of the global majority world. Currently, Afrika is only responsible for 3.8% of global greenhouse gas emissions (in contrast to 23% in China, 19% in the US, and 13% in the EU). Yet, stores around 150 tons of carbon per hectare but they are also disappearing fast.

Climate change activism still endures the unbearable heaviness of coloniality, so we must ensure that these habitats and the people living there aren’t silenced. For example, Black communities often worry about climate change more than White communities. Still, their voices are silenced by the Whiteness of environmental activism. COP 26 exposed the need to center Indigenous wisdom, prevent the cultural loss, and highlight the disproportioned effects of climate change on Black populations as a product of neo-colonialism.

“Climate change activism still endures the unbearable heaviness of coloniality so we must ensure that these habitats and their are people who are most affected aren’t silenced”

Climate change activism must be decolonized because climate change without a race analysis is just gardening. Therefore to decolonize climate change and its activism, the legacies of Western imperialism have to be addressed. The genocide of the natives in the Americas, the enslavement and murder of Afrikans, and the stealing of resources through colonialism and neo-colonialism, specifically in Latin America. There will be an ongoing reproduction of coloniality through climate change until then.

As Barbados prime minister Mia Mottley asked at COP 26, “Will they mourn us on the front line?” We shall see.

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