Research shows that climate change disproportionately affects minority ethnic and working-class people. So why aren’t these voices being heard in the Western environmental movement?
In the UK and the US, environmentalism is very largely dominated by the white, middle-class. When looking at climate marches across the UK such as the People’s Climate March in 2017, or even Extinction Rebellion, it’s a vast sea of the same faces. In 2015, Craig Bennett (Chief of Friends of the Earth) referred to the green movement as a “white, middle class ghetto”. This condemnation of the green movement was widely acknowledged, however, 4 years later, little has changed in the movement to make it more inclusive and relevant to a broader and more diverse variety of people.
Take Extinction Rebellion. They have taken great steps towards popularising the fight against climate change, holding our state leaders accountable and urging them to take notice of the world around us. Their tactics so far have been a mixture of peaceful protests and civil disobedience. However, their tactic of civil disobedience also aims to draw attention from law enforcement in order to raise awareness.
It’s a well-known fact that minority ethnic people – black people in particular – are over three times more likely to be arrested as white people and are heavily overrepresented in the UK prison system. Extinction Rebellion’s tactics of arrests and jail-time have been criticised for showing a lack of sensitivity to the socio-political landscape of the Global South diaspora in the UK. Some of their tactics mean that minority ethnic people have less access to the movement and can be deterred from engaging because of the potential consequences. The movement then becomes exclusive to those of racial and socio-economic privilege.
On the other hand, we have seen youth-organised movements do a better job of reflecting the diversity of the world we live in. The student-led protests over the past few months have been praised for the presence of many voices. It seems young people have been able to achieve the level of inclusivity that NGOs and global organisations have been trying to achieve for years. Today’s youth are not only concerned with the environmental contexts of climate change, they’re also shining a light on the social, economic and political aspects of climate change that have dire consequences for minority ethnic and working class people.
The young students’ ability to bring the much-needed intersectionality to the movement in a way that other organisations have failed to, means we need to ask ourselves – what can we learn from these world-changing school children?
Here are a few first steps or more thought-starters that we can consider and practice to make the movement for a better world more inclusive of the people in it.
THINK MORE THAN JUST THE ENVIRONMENT
“One of the biggest downfalls of the mainstream climate movement in the UK has been its incessant focus on pure environmentalism. In order to effectively deal with the climate crisis, we must simultaneously confront the economic system. The same system that has kept us in austerity for over a decade.” (Fatima Ibrahim, i-D)
Climate change isn’t only about the life of the earth, it’s also about the lives on it. So when designing our protests, we should also bear in mind socio-economic problems that make people more vulnerable to climate change. Issues like housing, healthcare, wages etc, without also fighting for these issues, people will continue to be marginalised and excluded from the movement.
REMEMBER, IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT YOU
Acknowledge your position in society as well as the position of others. When developing methods and tactics for protests, be sure to bear in mind people of varying ability as well as socio-economic privilege. Employ methods that don’t put a particular group of people at a larger risk.
For example, one of the reasons the UK Student Climate protests have been so successful in having many voices, is their consideration of protest methods. Their target members are school students, and their methods involve taking time off school. They acknowledge the barriers to participation for potential members and address this through their website which outlines how and why permission is necessary to be able to join in with the strikes. They state clearly that they are not encouraging students to break the law and provide alternative methods of social media campaigning for those who want to get involved but are not given the permission to participate.
BRING IN NEW VOICES
Not only do we need more diverse voices within the environmental movement, we need diverse voices leading it. There needs to be more leaders from working class and ethnic minority communities at the forefront of the movement in order to put their struggles at the heart of climate campaigning. These are the communities that that are disproportionally affected by climate change, so these voices should also have their hands on the megaphone.
If you’re looking for where to start, here are a handful people/organisations to look at:
Honorary Chair and former director of Black Environment Network (BEN) which works to integrate environmental, social and cultural issues in the context of sustainable development.
A city and urban place strategist specialising in placemaking, cities, green spaces, environment, planning, well-being, funding, local economies, regeneration and community inclusion.
A multimedia group and platformworking to redefine the environmental and outdoor narrative through providing a platform to empower BIPOC (“Black and Indigenous People/Person(s) of Colour”).
An alliance of indigenous peoples whose shared mission is to protect the sacredness of earth mother from contamination & exploitation.
Wretched of The Earth is a grassroots collective for Indigenous, black, brown and diaspora groups and individuals demanding climate justice and acting in solidarity with our communities.
The truth is, environmentalism is more impactful when it’s inclusive. We must raise all voices if we want to be heard. There is a wealth of other things that can be done to address this long-standing diversity issue in the movement, but hopefully those stated in here can act as thought-starters for better progress.
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