Let’s play word association. I say melting ice caps, you say polar bears. I say climate activist, you say Greta Thunberg. I say name a cause of climate change, you say burning fossil fuels. All valid responses. Equally, all missing a vital part of the picture. We need to talk about colonialism.
Contrary to what we tend to believe, climate change is not really a problem for Planet Earth. You only have to look at recent photos of the site of Chernobyl, where a nuclear accident in 1986 resulted in the death of 30 people and the evacuation of 350,000 others due to radioactive fallout, to appreciate that although the area is still uninhabitable for humans, life has resurfaced.
No, climate change is a human issue
No, climate change is a human issue. The effects of our actions are detrimental to our ways of life, not just our planet. It follows that since our lives differ extensively, depending on our race, gender, culture, nationality and class, the effects of the climate disaster will be experienced in varying severities across the world.
It’s those in the lowest paid jobs who work in the most polluting industries, those living in the cheapest housing who live closest to busiest roads and those whose countries have done the least to contribute to global warming who experience the greatest threat from the climate disaster.
Racial injustice remains a heavily ingrained systemic issue in Western society. Meaning that time and time again, it’s Black people and People of Colour who are disproportionately affected by the effects of climate change.
white people in positions of authority have tried to push that aspect of our history under the carpet
The colonial past of the country I call home is not something white people, myself included, like to dwell on. However, it must be addressed. Colonialism is unfortunately not something I’ve ever been formally educated on either, which highlights to me how white people in positions of authority have tried to push that aspect of our history under the carpet.
We often blame the billion-dollar oil and gas companies for the mess we’ve found ourselves in, who ignored the warning signs and continued to pollute and extract regardless of the environmental effects. Of course, they are highly responsible. But how often do we take this further, and consider that, as MP David Lammy puts it, “the exploitation of natural resources has always been tied to the exploitation of people of colour.”
Climate change is “colonialism’s natural conclusion.”
Racism is inextricably linked to the climate disaster. Centuries of white supremacy have led to a world where the rich and powerful have become so through exploiting People of Colour. Climate change is “colonialism’s natural conclusion.”
An example of this injustice is that Black Americans are exposed to 56% more pollution than they cause, whilst White Americans are exposed to 17% less air pollution than they cause. The consequence of this is that BIPOC disproportionately suffer from asthma and respiratory diseases, giving a whole new level of meaning to the desperate outcry, “I can’t breathe.”
As if it weren’t bad enough, the truth is that where injustices are present, disaster exacerbates them. We’ve seen it recently during the COVID-19 pandemic. Death rates in the UK were highest among people of Black and Asian ethnic groups.
it’s the communities living in the poorest areas that will be most impacted
As global average temperatures rise, we will continue to observe arctic melting, droughts, flooding and acidification of the oceans. These phenomena will only increase in severity and frequency as the climate crisis worsens and it’s the communities living in the poorest areas that will be most impacted.
Climate justice can’t happen without racial justice. We must elect more Black leaders, publicise the work of Black activists and listen to Indigenous communities. We must work to eliminate systemic racism in our society and to ensure those most vulnerable are protected. And at the imminent COP26 talks, racial inequalities must be discussed as part of our solution to the climate crisis.
Featured image courtesy of Mihai Surdu via Unsplash. Image license found here.
This article is part of Impact Nottingham’s COP26 series. For more articles on the conference check out the link here.
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