Reframing Race And Climate Change
We should never succumb to racial or climate injustice. We should never forget those lost in the battle. We should fight on, as a unit, for a better generation. Dan Glass from the Plane Stupid crew reports…
The convergence between racial equality and environmental justice is becoming clearer every day. As runaway climate change intensifies, every hour people from overseas continue to knock on UK immigration office doors. They do this not because they have damaged their own homes or are bored of their cultures, but because the nations in whom they seek solace have disrupted their way of life (in one way or another).
‘In order to tackle the almighty task that is environmental injustice, everyone must be supported to take action they need’
Carbon-intensive lifestyles in the West have caused floods, droughts, resources wars and continued exploitative exploration throughout communities in the Global South. In my own opinion, non-white communities in the developing world bear the brunt of environmental injustice. Meanwhile, at home in Britain, communities who work in high emission industries also face the worst. Before runaway climate change really hits home in the UK, as it has done already for people all over the world, we have a tiny bit of breathing space to understand the interlinked nature of its impacts. In the age of the ‘Big Society’, when it is supposedly our duty to help our neighbours, how do we begin to understand these issues and mould society into what we want it to be?
In the UK, fresh evidence highlights that ethnic minorities are more exposed to low air quality – a social consequence of carbon heavy industries. As research develops, the battle-lines are being drawn. Whether we’re talking about communities living daily with pollution from London’s major airports, witnessing the building of gas plants in many major British cities, or referencing inner-city poverty in areas of multiple deprivation accross the UK, non-white communities often come off worse. What’s more, the poor are being hit ten times as hard as the rich during the imminent budget cuts which we are told are ‘across the board’.
Every day, people are being violently oppressed when trying to stop the impacts of environmental exploitation.
We remember Ken Saro Wiwa and others who bravely challenged Shell’s oil exploration in Nigeria, who received the death penalty instead of being listened to. We remember those people all over the developing world caught in the firing line for challenging environmentally destructive ‘development’.
It can be disheartening to witness the continuation of a carbon-heavy, and psychologically unstable system. I wish it was simpler. For me, it is almost possible to wade through the congealed mass of society and see the isolation which is tearing apart its collective spirit. It is, however, still possible to wade through and pick up floating pieces of community cohesion, of youth support, celebration of ethnic diversity, of dignity. But the beauty lies in the interconnected nature of environmental justice – once you unravel one string in the massive tangle that is the problem, it makes it easier to understand the rest.
And how exactly can we hope to agitate, radicalise and empower ourselves for our common goals? Our strength will come in understanding the consequences and implications for those taking action to counteract structural oppression and injustice. Many people experience exploitation, environmental or racial, because certain social structures and policies that interweave their lives are controlled by and benefit disproportionately elite groups at the expense of the masses, limiting people that want to take action on their concerns.
‘In the UK, fresh evidence highlights that ethnic minorities are more exposed to low air quality- a social consequence of carbon heavy industries’
Whenever you hesitate to open the newspaper for fear of fresh daily diagnosis of environmental and social problems, when your stomach churns at the racial or environmental injustice perpetuated by those in power, there is something you can do.
Patrol the police, hold them to account and help them swerve their line of vision to the real corrupt criminals, those lining their pockets with profit at the expense of people and the planet. For us all to stop carbon heavy industry expansion, state repression against environmental refugees and more, we have to understand and support where people are coming from.
Movements mutate and develop by engaging in each others struggles. Fighting for climate justice becomes the same battle as fighting for racial, class and gender equality, through struggling for the right to voice our concerns, to protest and ultimately – to exist in peace and dignity.
There’s your Big Society. There are hundreds of projects out there and a lot to be excited about, from anti-racism projects in your local community to UK wide networks for environmental justice. These interconnections and links are our starting ground in addressing injustices that have raged for generations.
Words: Dan Glass
Reframing Race and Climate Change – How can we organise?
Joining dots between those who cause climate change, environmental problems and social inequality can be very informative – but can this lead to action? Amidst the increasing speed of consumerist society that is supposed to bring all manner of blessings for our generation and the next, an unsettling stench is seeping out through the cracks in the walls of the information super-highway- and people are beginning to smell it. What kind of life is it when cultures are so segregated we don’t have a chance to see the benefits of sharing our concerns, our stories and our desires?
It doesn’t have to be this way.
A chat with a neighbour over a garden wall, with a stranger in the chip shop or down the market is sometimes all it takes to boot us out of our comfort zones and be opened up to a whole new way of living. Building a movement that addresses inter-secting issues of injustice, such as race and environment, may not happen overnight. But it can come through lending an ear and standing in solidarity with peoples concerns in their daily realities. You may find yourself occupying a community swimming pool late at night to save it from turning into fancy flats , standing in-between police and a group of Black boys when they are being stopped on the street or in white activist circles engaging in discussion on the problems of ‘recruiting’ Black activists in an attempt to ‘diversify’ movements.
The point is, this is just the start.
Striving for a society where everyone can live in a clean environment, regardless of colour, age, ability, sexuality and gender creates a diverse and beautiful world which most can’t deny they would like to inhabit. Embodying a framework in our community organising which celebrates multiculturalism and actively works to shift power structures on race, class and gender grounds will challenge the root cause of the problem at hand – individualism. ‘Individualism’ a nasty by-product of capitalism is the very reason why many people are scratching around in the back yard, wondering how to beat each other down to get to the dazzling solutions to climate change; environmental justice. In times of gobsmacking environmentally unfriendly corporate practices, projects which foster a culture of community self-defence against the racial inequalities of capitalism serve to eradicate these interconnected systems of oppression that capitalism feeds and needs. Every conversation, training and issue we address through taking action together and reflecting on its effectiveness will help build a united movement. Reflection on the beneficiaries of action for environmental justice is critical.
Amongst this it’s important to remember to celebrate the magic created through the cross fertilisation of skills – through our art, music, creativity, militancy and the sharing of resistance strategies. Training in self defence, challenging anti-Islamic sentiment, legal advice for photographing the police for state accountability, addressing police misinformation, challenging media spin, activist legal support and sharing lessons learnt from local and global environmental injustice struggles will only serve to reach our goals.
Take to the streets.
Energy is too often lost inside four grey walls. Hold institutions to ransom and demand from Scotland Yard and the Home Office answers on police and state misbehaviour, or face continuing pressure. Drive these points home by being there on iconic dates in history of structural oppression in the fight for environmental justice. Be there on November 10th when 15 years ago Ken-Saro Wiwa and others were murdered when challenging oil exploration in Nigeria and since inspired people across the world to stand up to oil companies. Be there too on April 1st when Ian Tomlinson was caught in the whirlwind of police violence at the G20 anti-poverty protests, and left for dead. Keep at it – by strengthening dialogue with families affected by state repression and simultaneously with communities living with environmental injustice – will ignite the desire for accountability and punishment. Exposing state repression with other people involved in tackling the unfair distribution of burdens from social and environmental exploitation will prevent people from being intimidated or deterred to seek retribution.
Twenty three years ago, Margaret Thatcher told us ‘there is no such thing as society’ and today we are meant to believe we are one ‘Big Society.’ It’s important to be critical, look at the root cause of injustice and support one another to our right to protest. Share successes, from the race riots of the 80s to the street occupations of the 90s to the factory strikes and carbon-heavy industry shut downs of the noughties and the state will find it difficult to compartmentalise passions, concerns and divide struggles. Refuse to believe the simplified myths of ‘violence vs. non-violence’ and that if you question state behaviour you’re a ‘domestic terrorist’, a ‘community of suspicion’ and the government are the law-keepers and, laughably, that ‘we (anyone who challenges the law) are all domestic extremists now’ [http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/oct/25/police-domestic-extremists-database%5D. Nothing scares the authorities more than unexpected alliances between resistance movements. They don’t know where we are coming from and don’t know where to start.
Words: Dan Glass