Climate change is profoundly racialized in its causes and consequences. Anchored in relations of extractivism and in logics of disposability, the climate crisis is produced by a global economic system that places wealth accumulation of the few above the human flourishing of the many. At the planetary scale, the unfolding climate catastrophe has created unbearable conditions for Black, Indigenous and people of colour in many parts of the world. In the global south, extreme weather events including droughts, fires, massive storms and flooding have created loss of life and livelihood and forced many people of colour to migrate, often colliding with inhumane border regimes. Around the world, Indigenous peoples contend with toxic forms of extraction and their invasive infrastructures. Cities are divided along the lines of race and class and it is overwhelmingly BIPOC communities that have been saddled with environmental nuisances and deprived of access to clean water, fresh air and affordable, nutritious foods. Ecological crisis translates into crises of health and the body, as toxicity curtails life expectancy. Racism, as geographer Ruthie Gilmore famously wrote, is “the state-sanctioned or extralegal production and exploitation of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death” and thus the climate crisis is thoroughly racist.
Environmental movements furthermore have a legacy of reproducing white supremacy and investing in colonial visions of humans and nature; the creation of parks and protected areas was often achieved through displacement of Black and Indigenous people. Historically, eugenics and environmental conservation arose together, with clear echoes in the ecological investments of white nationalist movements today. Environmental injustice is vital to the very production of racism and these entanglements remain deep and intimate. There can be no climate justice without racial justice.
A few sources for further reading
- Race, Class, Gender and Environmentalism (Dorceta Taylor)
- The Evolution of Environmental Movements: Responding to Impending Threats (Karin Otsuka)
- Environmentalism’s Racist History (Jedediah Purdy)
- The Environmental Movement Needs to Reckon with Its Racist History (Julian Brave Noisecat)
- Environmental Justice: A History/Timeline (NRDC)
- Climate Justice Alliance: Frontline Communities (CJ Alliance)
- Climate Justice Means Justice for Black Lives (350.org)
- Environmental Justice Means Racial Justice (The Guardian)