In May when the videos of George Floyd’s brutal murder started leaking out on social media, triggering global protests about racial injustice and police brutality, it felt like there was a renewed drive to actually address these overwhelming and awful issues. There was new talk and new action about how we can all challenge the structures that we live in and strive to be not just “non-racist” but actively “anti-racist”.
Last night I attended a “Black Lives and Climate Justice Workshop” held by Scottish Communities Climate Action Network. We were given a short talk from Professor Sir Geoff Palmer, where he talked briefly about historical oppression and slavery.
He read us an excerpt from a document from 250 years ago from an Edinburgh lawyer making the assertion that black people “could work in the sun” whereas the white man could not. Black people historically were framed for slavery in this way as well as through the concept that they are a different species. Professor Palmer talked about how people are assigned to a climate situation based on race. In 1834 with the emancipation of the slaves in Jamaica, £20 million was given to the slave owners as “compensation” for losing their “property” and yet now Jamaica is suffering huge economic burdens due to the mismanagement of their land and water at the hands of colonialists.
Watch the speech below:
What are the links between climate change and racial justice?
It can be easy to overlook the links or to shy away from talking about issues of race in relation to climate as it can feel like adding extra layers of complexity onto an already difficult and confronting issue. However we must start seriously addressing these problems to have any chance of making things better.
We know that people of colour experience more of the negative consequences of climate change whether that be extreme weather events (both in a physical and economic way), food insecurity issues, or geographic displacement.
We also know that those of us living high consuming lifestyles in developed nations are responsible for far, far greater emissions than those in developing nations. There is also a very worrying rhetoric emerging right now where global population levels are being blamed for climate change, rather than understanding that it is the affluent and consumerist lifestyle behaviours of developed countries that bear far greater blame.
Take a moment to consider the amount of time people have to spend fighting racism, that is fighting for something that should be a given – basic equality. This is a topic discussed by marine biologist Ayana Elizabeth Johnson in this podcast “The Inseparable Link Between Climate Change And Racial Justice” where she talks about racism, not only being a terrible human rights abuse, but also an incredibly wasteful diversion keeping huge swathes of society from meaningful advancement of humanity.
So what can we do?
During the workshop we were split into separate groups where we could discuss our feelings on the issues of climate change and racial injustice and what we could do to address them. A lot of people spoke of their feelings of helplessness, being overwhelmed, guilt and general frustration at how little progress has been made.
There also were many suggestions of action that can be taken to actively address climate change in relation to racial injustice. Many of these actions begin with acknowledging our past and educating ourselves on what can be an uncomfortable and confronting issue.
Other big things that we can do include:
- challenging racism when we witness it
- talking to others about race and climate injustice
- lobbying your MP/MSP
- consider race and climate issues when you vote
- use your spending power to affect change – don’t support companies that use slave labour, commit human rights abuses, or behave unethically
At Eco Savvy climate injustice is an issue that we feel very strongly about. We are committed to keeping this on the agenda and supporting the community on Arran to find ways to take action to address it. We would love to hear your thoughts, comments and ideas on how best to achieve environmental justice for everyone.
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