[OPINION] I can’t breathe: How racial justice is connected to climate justice
When we see society as structures of oppression rather than as clusters of people, it becomes easier to understand why the biggest battle is about changing how the system works instead of fashioning exemptions that work well within the system.
Violence in our culture and climate: All cops are bad, all coal is dirty
When we say “All cops are bad,” we hope to show how police brutality is central to the system. The killing of George Floyd captured on camera is not law and order in action, it is murder carried out by our state. The narrative that there are good cops makes not only justice difficult to chase, but removes the necessity of changing a system by citing a few exceptional performers.
Violence, however, is not only in the police system, it is entrenched, reflected, and largely reinforced in our economic system. When indigenous peoples claim that “coal kills,” coal corporations that take social responsibility seriously provide a counterexample only to debunk minorities. This is a reinforcement of the dominant violent system using the cloak of exemptions.
It is not a coincidence that petrol companies set up their plants near black communities. The coal plants and mines in the Philippines are owned by foreigners who erect them in underdeveloped areas. Garbage dumpsites are situated in urban poor communities. Capital expansionists target ancestral lands. (READ: Amazon indigenous land loss threatens climate – study)
Climate violence is linked to racial inequality. The violence inflicted on our environment affects us disproportionately, and it affects the culturally marginalized the most.
Racial supremacy is eco-imperialism
The idea that one race is superior than another can be traced back to the period of colonialism and slavery. In our context, the Spanish Mestizos and the “indios” were polar opposites in society. A high regard for white skin and blue eyes as measures of universal beauty are vestiges of the deep roots of colonialism in our consciousness.
Who should have access to resources?
The colonizers believed that their existence was more important than that of the slaves; hence, the resources of their colonies are all for them. Eco-imperialism goes hand in hand with colonialism as imperial powers control and manage natural resources outside of their own.
This dominant culture of eco-imperialism persists even in our modern times. Racial supremacy still bubbles up to the surface as evident in the Rohingya and issues of stateslessness in Southeast Asia, in the refugee crisis all over Europe, in the abuse of migrant workers in the Middle East, and in how white people’ trash are shipped to developing countries.
The global eruption of the Black Lives Matter campaign is an encapsulation of years of issues of racial supremacy.
While BLM and other racial issues are cultural, these are also economic (who has the access to resources) and these are also ecological (whose resources can they extract).
In the picture of how racial supremacy and environmental decay are put together, violence is front and center. A classic example is the case of blood diamonds mined in Sierra Leone and other parts of Africa.
The diamonds are mined by local slaves who are coerced to dig into the mud using their bare hands. In their uncut raw form, these diamonds are shipped to rich white people, often sold illegally to fund war chests of invading foreign countries, civil wars, or tyrannies such as those alleged of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe.
But more than this trade, the ecological cost includes damaged river systems that led to deforestation, forcing local populations to relocate, and killing its fish and other wildlife. Some river systems are re-directed into topsoil areas that causes their erosion, and later on when pits are created by this re-routed stream of water, it becomes infested with mosquitoes that causes malaria and other diseases.
“I can’t breathe” is a cry for help from black communities who are choking under colonial powers, capitalists, and military forces while affluent white people comfortably wear shiny diamonds around their necks.
No climate justice without racial justice
The concept of an "environment" was made to externalize the accountability of historical oppression in our ecologies so that environmentalism pertains only to making your surroundings clean and green. Environmentalism has historically been the agenda of white people to clean their parks, green their communities.
Climate justice, on the other hand, goes above that by calling to account white people for the damage they have inflicted on the ecology – not only our natural resources, but our culture, our history, our peoples. (READ: Indigenous peoples to world leaders: We carry burden of climate change)
The call to transition to renewable energy from coal is not just ecological. This also means ending the life-threatening health risks to indigenous communities where coal plants are situated, to start democratizing energy.
The call to divest in fossil fuels is also a call to prioritize the safety and health of black communities that suffer the most the harmful effects of coal yet benefit the least from fossil fuel industries in their communities.
Climate justice cannot be without racial justice. The cultural is ecological. – Rappler.com
Chao Cabatingan is a young socialist leader of Akbayan Youth and a founding member of the EcoSocialist Working Group. He is currently working in an NGO. All views in this article are solely his.