Five foundations

As you will know if you have read the book, I stand on the shoulders of giants. There is a rich legacy of thought that I draw on, both on the environmental side and on race. While I’ve taken inspiration from many different areas, there are five main fields that form the foundations for the book. All of them have been pioneered by people of colour. My task has been to listen, learn, and combine ideas in new ways in response to the climate emergency.

Environmental justice – I first read Robert Bullard‘s work at university in the early 2000s, and it was his work that first got me thinking of environmental issues as matters of justice. His work on Hurricane Katrina and disaster response generally, written with Beverley Wright, are foundational texts for understanding environmental injustice in America. Dorceta Taylor is another important scholar in this field. I draw on her work on conservation and access to nature in the chapter on representation.

IntersectionalityKimberlé Crenshaw coined the term intersectionality, giving the world a useful way to think about how injustices combine and reinforce each other. Her work is quite academic and focuses on race and feminism rather than the environment. It is a new generation of activists that have really taken hold of these ideas and applied them to climate change, including the Sunrise Movement or the Intersectional Environmentalist project.

Neo-colonialism – American experiences can sometimes dominate global discussion around race, but neo-colonialism is a distinctively African intellectual tradition. I have been inspired by the pan-African thinkers Kwame Nkrumah, Thomas Sankara and Walter Rodney in particular. All of them were writing before climate change became apparent, and Nimmo Bassey’s work on fossil fuels in Africa shows how neo-colonial thinking still prevails. Amitav Ghosh and Kehinde Andrews helped me understand how empire has shaped climate outcomes.

Climate justice – While the environmental justice movement has often focused on local inequalities, global injustices around climate change have been highlighted by a closely related and more recent movement around climate justice. The driving forces here have been voices from the world’s most vulnerable places, such as Mohammed Nasheed of the Maldives, Tony de Brum and Kathy Jetn̄il-Kijiner of the Marshall Islands, or Anote Tong from Kiribati. Meles Zenawi was a leading African voice, Mohammed Adow in Kenya, and a whole generation of African youth activists (to whom the book is dedicated.)

Restorative justice – in searching for constructive responses to the multi-national, multi-generational injustice of climate change, I pulled together a variety of strands that could be roughly summarised under the heading of restorative justice. I draw on the work of Fania Davis on restorative justice, and Peace Studies as articulated by Johan Galtung. I also touch on the broad movement around reparations, described most eloquently by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I am indebted to Kevin O’Brien for his book on climate change as violence.

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