activism climate change

What intersectional climate activism looks like

One of the big messages in my book, Climate Change is Racist, is to take an intersectional approach to climate change and consider it in the context of global racial injustice. When I first started researching the book about five years ago, that felt like more of a niche message than it does now. Because on Friday there is the next global climate strike, and it has intersectional climate justice at the heart of it.

What is intersectional climate activism? Well, let Fridays for Future explain:

The climate crisis does not exist in a vacuum. Other socio-economic crises such as racism, sexism, ableism, class inequality, and more amplify the climate crisis and vice versa. It is not just a single issue, our different struggles and liberations are connected and tied to each other.”

An intersectional approach recognises that there are unifying factors across many different issues. The same unjust power structures that marginalise some regions in global climate talks are the same ones that keep people of colour at the back of the queue for vaccines. These power structures have their roots in colonialism:

“The colonizers of the north have a climate debt to pay for their disproportionate amount of historic emissions and that starts with the increase of climate finance to implement anti-racist climate reparations, the cancellation of debts especially for damage caused by extreme weather events, and providing adaptation funds that serve the communities.”

These historic roots and unjust power structures create obligations for rich white countries, and Fridays for Future include a call for climate reparations – something that I raise in the book:

“Reparations were initially demanded by the racial justice movement, and therefore one cannot exist without the other. Climate reparations imply that those with greater responsibility for the climate crisis must pay compensation to MAPA (Most Affected People and Areas) for the damages and losses of livelihoods, infrastructure, and communities’ lives caused by the impacts of climate change.”

For my generation of environmental activists, and I include myself in this entirely, we have had to learn to see race and privilege and how they affect our activism. That’s still an ongoing journey, and one that can be very uncomfortable at times. The next generation of climate activists seems to get it much more intuitively, and all the best examples of intersectional activism are youth-led movements: Intersectional Environmentalist, the Sunrise Movement, or Fridays for Future.

I find this very hopeful. Effective social movements have to build broad coalitions and find unifying principles. The environmental movement hasn’t done that, or at least not to the extent that it should have. A new generation of leaders is on the case. You can stand with them on Friday.

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