February is Black History Month, a movement which started small in 1915 in the USA. Gradually links with Africa were re-forged , by the 1940s there was expanding study of black History in schools and in the 1960s the great struggle for civil rights led by Martin Luther King. Today a wider movement has been forged as indigenous activists are allied with African Americans in their fight for real liberation and at the same time, climate justice. This movement is growing and spreading worldwide, until today it is a veritable river in spate with numerous tributaries; it will be unstoppable.
But you may ask what has climate justice to do with Black Lives Matter protest? with George Floyd killed in broad daylight, `I cannot breathe’? We are becoming conscious that the two are inseparable. First there was the crime of the Atlantic Slave trade which continued for 400 years, the theft of people. Then there was the historical colonisation of mainly black and brown people and their exploitation, and the theft of natural resources. This too, was the root of the pernicious assumed racial and cultural supremacy of the West which remains embedded in white consciousness. It was also the root of the vast economic inequalities which are part of today’s world. Today climate vulnerability is largely in the global South, even if eventually all of us will be affected. `History,’ if there is any, `could, therefore, well judge climate change to be racist phenomenon, like slavery and empire before it.’ ( Jeremy Williams, `Racism and Climate Change’)
Recently the struggle of water protectors over the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock, brought together over 100 native American tribes and many others. This was despite the UN Declaration of the rights of indigenous People in 2007. The tribes were defending their right to clean water, a land free of oil spills which are inevitably connected with oil pipelines. It was an iconic struggle between an exploitative economic system reliant on fossil fuels and a people fighting for the rights of nature and the dispossessed, on behalf of us all.
We need decolonisation of our mindsets so we truly build solidarity. In recent history economic colonisation continued in structural adjustment programmes, which let to cash cropping for export rather than feeding local populations as well as the continuing exploitation of natural resources by TNCs; these destroyed social bonds and did nothing for the development of local populations – ask the Ogoni in the Niger delta! Now the need to keep fossil fuels in the ground and leave alive complex ecosystem such as old growth forests, is being replaced by offsetting schemes devised by the global North, usually leading to displacement of communities and destruction of localised livelihoods;- an example is 10,000 people displaced through a carbon offsetting scheme in Uganda, or 20,000 of the Masai in the Serengeti through development of eco- tourism and the necessity for airstrips. There are many other examples. There are also landgrabs; and climate warriors, local people fighting the impact of resource depletion, pollution and injudicious carbon offsetting, are often in danger of being criminalized and killed. It seems the cost of bringing `development’ and `fighting climate change’ is being borne by the poor black and brown communities. At the same time there is no great effort yet, for the North to change its life style, curtail consumerism and economic growth. The immediate effect of climate chaos is killer floods, droughts and sea level rises mostly felt in the global South.
Health, wellbeing and a sustainable environment go together. Covid has taught us that until we are all safe, no-one is safe. But more and more there is an understanding of the link between climate justice, the BLM movement and racial struggle, youth strikes, Trade unions and the radical rethinking of our economies and societies. There is hope in these interconnections. We need a Global Green New Deal. And we need to remember the words of Martin Luther King, ` But amid all this we have kept going with the faith that as we struggle God struggles with us’. `We shall overcome. The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice’.
Jessica Gatty ra