Climate change affects everyone, but it does not impact everyone in the same way or at the same time. That is why the fight against climate change should not be separated from the fight for justice and equality.
BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) are disproportionately affected by climate change, which is a consequence of global power structures with deep roots. White people are so used to this system which gives them almost limitless privilege, that it’s embarrassingly easy to assume that “it’s just how it is”. Opening our eyes to this profound injustice is not only well overdue, but an obligation if we want to have any chance of creating a sustainable society.
We all have our different entry points into the field of environment and climate change. For white people, some are genuinely convinced that this is a tragedy of large scale which needs to be addressed. But for many BIPOC, this is not some potential future threat – it is already lethal. And yet, it is so much harder for the affected communities to do work on these issues because firstly – they simultaneously have to work on fundamental justice issues. Secondly– their work and their testimonies are not given the same validity as those of white people, as a result of a global system built on white supremacy. This is not even considering factors like unequal access to education, discrimination when applying for jobs, etc. etc. All of these factors have to be acknowledged and changed.
It seems like black lives don’t matter, when you look at global climate policies. When we act like 2, 3, 4, 5 degrees global warming is ok, we are condemning people primarily in Africa, Asia and Small Island Nations to immense suffering and death. The message the policies send, is that indigenous lives don’t matter, when we prioritize to build oil pipelines across the last crumble of land they have. Likewise, it seems like immigrants’ lives don’t matter, when we build highways cutting through their communities (but make a tunnel under the affluent areas).
Black lives matter as much as anyone else’s, and we have to start acting like it. Not only when it comes to the justice system and police brutality, but on all levels of society. The climate movement has to become intersectional and we have to do a lot more to enable that change. We have already lost too many lives, wasted too much time, to white supremacy.
One concrete thing we need to become better at, is to let BIPOC voices be heard so they can represent themselves. We need to hear them out, in all spaces. So, if you want to know more about the intersection between climate change, racism and justice, we recommend the following articles:
Black environmentalists talk about climate and anti-racism by Somini Sengupta (NY Times)
I’m a black climate expert. Racism derails our efforts to save the planet. By Ayana Elizabeth Johnson (Washington Post)
Black Lives Matter in a Changing Climate by Andre Floyd (Greenamerica.org)
Yes, Climate Change Does Kill People of Color More by Asad Rehman (Newsweek)
Also Naomi Klein (notably white, but presumably a good ally) presented a good analysis in 2014: Why #BlackLivesMatter Should Transform the Climate Debate (The Nation)
Now is the time to start doing better.