Black History Month
October is Black History Month in the UK. (It is February in the US.) It was first launched in London in the 1980s, with the aim the local community challenging racism and educating themselves and others about the British history that was not taught in schools, and to recognise the contributions that many generations of people of African and Caribbean backgrounds have made to the UK.[i]
With this is mind, I didn’t want to let October pass without acknowledging Black History Month. And as The Contented Company is focussed on the environment and how we can all help combat the climate crisis, I wanted this blog to focus on how the climate and other environmental crises are in inextricably linked to social and racial discrimination; and how we can’t, and shouldn’t, try to address environmental problems without also addressing the inequalities and injustices marginalised people suffer.
One term that describes this linking of social, racial and environmental discrimination is environmental racism. So what exactly is it?
Environmental racism is a form of systemic racism in which people of colour are more likely to be exposed to toxic waste, such as sewage works, mines, landfills, power stations, major roads and air pollution. As a result, these communities suffer greater rates of health problems
For example, did you know that Black British children are exposed to up to 30% more air pollution than their white counterparts?
Learn more via this video: www.instagram.com/tv/CDeuBPIFJs6
As the video tells us, the campaign to end environmental racism is known as Environmental Justice[ii].
Leah Thomas, an Environmental Justice advocate, explains how Intersectional Environmentalism helps move us towards environmental justice:
“Intersectional Environmentalism is an inclusive version of environmentalism that advocates for both the protection of people and the planet.
It identifies the ways in which injustices happening to marginalised communities and the earth are interconnected.
It brings injustices done to the most vulnerable communities, and the earth, to the forefront and does not minimise or silence social inequality." [iii]
Any solution that is advocates for the planet, absolutely must also advocate for (marginalised) people, and vice versa.
So what injustices are we talking about? The climate crisis is perhaps our most pressing environmental issue and shows us these injustices clearly.
It won’t surprise you to know, that, sadly, those that are the least responsible for emissions of greenhouse gases and the climate emergency are the ones already starting to suffer consequences. The most brutal impacts of climate change and extreme weather are concentrated in countries least well prepared to deal with them AND have done the least to create the problem.
Compare the maps of those contributing the most greenhouse gas emissions versus those emitting the least, and then look at how risk those countries are:
It's almost a reverse isn't it?
Moreover, the UN predicts that by 2050 there will be one billion climate migrants – people having to leave their homes because the effects of climate change have made where they lived unliveable.
However, as we have already started to see, with the rise in popularity of Populist and Nationalist movements, countries (predominantly in the Global North) who have the capacity and resources to help these climate refugees, are more likely to close their doors than open them.
What has caused climate and environmental inequalities?
How have we gotten to this state of environmental and climate injustices? The truth is historical and current economic success of the Global North, and the higher standard of living of its citizens, has come at the fate of the Global South.
- Colonialism led the Global North to travel to countries in the Global South, rich in resources, including oil and gas; exploit those resources and the indigenous communities; and take the riches back to the North
- Those resources provided the raw materials, the oil and gas provided the power, and slavery and indentured labour provided the labour force for the Industrial Revolution to take off – with the profits and wealth only going to the rich, white company owners in the Global North
- The Industrial Revolution super-charged the release of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, kick-starting the Climate Change trajectory that we’re on today
- All at the cost of the natural world and Indigenous and marginalised communities.
How do we move forward? Climate Justice is a movement that is demanding we address these inequalities. It recognises that climate change comes from the interlocking systems we've seen above:
- Resource extraction
- Labour exploitation
- Commodification of nature
And it also sees:
- the climate crisis as a social and political problem, as well as an environmental one;
- different communities feel the effects of the climate crisis differently, and that the responsibility for the crisis rests with some countries and companies more than others;
- the lives of those already facing injustice and oppression, for example the LGBTQI+ community in Jamaica, are made harder by the impacts of the climate crisis.
And so, due to the interconnectedness of these struggles, fighting for solutions to the climate crisis that not only reduce emissions but create a fairer and more just world in the process.
Indian activist Disha Ravii says:
"Climate justice is about intersectional equity. It is about being radically inclusive of all groups of people, so that everyone has access to clean air, food and water.
As a dear friend always says 'climate justice isn’t just for the rich and white.'
It is a fight alongside those who are displaced; whose rivers have been poisoned; whose lands were stolen; who watch their houses get washed away every other season; and who fight tirelessly for what are basic human rights."[iv]
Environmental & Climate Justice Solutions?
What are the solutions to environmental racism, climate inequalities and the very urgent climate emergency?
One proposed plan is the Green New Deal. It aims to deliver climate justice by writing policies that include human rights, racial justice and gender equality; write these policies in collaboration with those who are the most marginalised to endure no-one is left behind; and at the most fundamental level, ensure everyone has access to a liveable, healthy environment.
It has five main goals:
- Decarbonise, fast – build an economy based on 100% clean energy
- Jobs and a just transition – create millions of new well-paid, future-proofed jobs, and a guarantee of a decent livelihood for anyone currently working in a high emission sector
- Transform the economy – so that the financial system serves the needs of the people and the planet, and the government is accountable to people, not corporations
- Protect and restore – vital habitats and carbon sinks, including forests and wild areas, ensure nature friendly food production, and clean water, air and green spaces for all
- Promote global justice – help the reset of the world build fair, clean and healthy economies, accounting for the UK’s historic and ongoing role in exploiting communities and resources across the world
How can you take action?
Find out more about the Green New Deal here: www.gndrising.org/take-action/
And why not take the Intersectional Environmentalist Pledge:
The problems of racial in equalities on a daily level and global level are intertwined with the problems of the climate and environment. We can't solve one without solving the other.
This is something we must all understand, think about and act upon as we continue with our environmental action.
As always, with love, from my family to yours,
Resources & Further Reading
Leah Thomas: Founder of @intersectionalenvironmentalist, Climate Optimist, Writer + Eco-Communicator
What is environmental racism and how can we fight it?
What is Intersectionality? (Kimberlé Crenshaw, Applying it to Environmentalism, + the Start of IE)
The Breakdown – Climate Justice in an Unequal World
50 BLACK VOICES IN THE GREEN SPACE: Herbalism, Environmental Justice, Ecology, Zero Waste, Farming, Climate, Fashion, Outdoors, Foraging, Food Security, and more.