activism climate change race

Black Climate Week and why it matters

It’s a cliche to say that the environmental movement is too white, however true it may be. But when it’s repeated unthinkingly, it can obscure the contributions of people of colour to the climate debate. Because marginalised communities are at the forefront of environmental injustice, there has always been grassroots action against pollution, industry, logging or land rights. These actions don’t necessarily fit neatly into the ‘green’ box and can be overlooked.

Perhaps it’s more true to say that the mainstream environmental movement is too white, here in the global north. Or that the green movement is too narrow, defining itself around impacts on nature and wildlife, rather than on people – and thus excluding those fighting a common enemy from a different angle. I don’t know. What I do know is that white commentators like me need to be alert to our blind spots, and always looking to learn. And so I wanted to mention Black Climate Week, which is running right now.

Now in its second year, Black Climate Week is organised by The Solutions Project as part of their work to support and encourage people of colour in climate action, and partly a response to lack of representation in other climate events. The initiative “honors the innovative climate solutions and environmental justice work that Black folk have been leading for years, while simultaneously calling in philanthropy & the media to do a better job at investing in the communities most impacted by the climate crisis and centering Black voices from the bottom up and the top down.”

This year, Black Climate Week is highlighting people doing climate work that is rooted in Black history. For example, Soulardarity is building out community energy in the post-industrial Highland Park, including solar streetlights where public under-investment has left residents in the dark. Or the Descendants Project, which works with the descendants of slaves in Mississippi, in an area known as ‘cancer alley’ for the health impacts of its petro-chemical industry.

There’s more to discover on Instagram, where the Solutions Project and partners are posting all week. Look up their book recommendations. Visit Hip Hop Caucus, Green 2.0 or Intersectional Environmentalist if you haven’t come across them before. (And if you’re interested in how Black thinkers have influenced my own work, I’ve written about five key principles that informed my book Climate Change is Racist.)

I should add that this is an American initiative. The marginalisation of people of colour in climate change is a global phenomenon. I wonder if future years could broaden the scope, the way #BlackBirderWeek did a couple of years ago. For now though, this is a celebration of the US environmental justice movement, its climate leadership, and some transformative projects that are combining racial and climate justice.

“For decades,” says Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr., president and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus, “Black people have led the call for clean air, water, and food while disproportionately living with the effects of pollution and environmental hazards in their communities. Without a doubt, climate justice is racial justice. Black Climate Week is an opportunity to center Black voices and stories in the movement for environmental justice, and honor their creative approaches to build equitable and healthy communities.”

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