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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.

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).

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.

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.

Dan Glass, So We Stand

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