To Tell You The Truth, It’s Always Political
By Julia Kotziamani
By defining themselves as ‘beyond politics’, the justice is missing from the Extinction Rebellion (XR) discourse surrounding global climate justice.
Some recent XR events have been fundamentally classist, racist and moving in a very unsavoury direction. The targeting of electric trains in a working-class area of East London with a large black and minority ethnic population was never going to disrupt the banking industry – the motive XR members declared for this action. A much more likely outcome was that it would prevent people in an area already facing high levels of pollution and poverty from getting to precarious jobs. This may well be an unfortunate oversight from a few members, and it’s worth noting that the action has been widely condemned by XR, but, when we consider it more broadly within the movement, it starts to paint a more sinister picture.
At a rally in Scotland there was a chant of “Police, we love you, we’re doing this for your children too”, a woman of colour stood up to critique the chanting, only to be silenced by a white woman who took the megaphone from her. Police were sent flowers by grateful XR activists as part of the ‘love-bombing’ of officers at Brixton Police Station, a place where a disproportionate number of black men have walked in, never to walk out again. These are not remotely isolated incidents, but rather, ‘small-scale’ events suggesting a deeper systemic problem.
The fight against climate change is about decolonisation, race and fighting nationalism, as much as it is about reducing emissions and becoming carbon neutral. They are the same fight. It is a fight against protectionism and consumer capitalism.
The climate crisis and racism are systemic symptoms of capitalism and inherent to modernity; both are historical and future conditions that require transformational intervention. Without changing the very fabric of how we tackle these issues we could easily fall foul of an increasing threat of environmental racism, eco-fascism or ‘green nationalism’.
This green-protectionist strand of environmentalism would heighten the threat of global warming and harm further the very cause it purports
to be fighting against. The militarisation of borders and ensuing wars would cause an environmental catastrophe. After nation states, the US military is the next single biggest source of carbon emissions on earth, the US Department of Defence has a larger annual carbon footprint than most countries on earth.
As the planet warms, communities in the Global South are already facing the reality of extinction. As environmental catastrophe continues to spread north, naturally these communities will migrate to avoid the consequences of global warming. If we meet the increasing number of migrants with harder, more militarised borders, the problems will only be exacerbated. As such, the rhetoric at the very heart of the current, albeit fledgling, fight for climate justice here in the North needs to change.
XR as a movement is doing an excellent job of getting itself noticed and its narrative agendas are widespread and rallying. They appeal to our sense of duty, community, and a shared threat to our humanity, but who are “we”? It’s apparent that environmentalist movements such as XR are becoming increasingly nation-centred and focused on protecting “this nation, its peoples, our ecosystems”.
Consider for a moment historical and current international colonialism: how the ruling class sustain our society with economic systems that exploit workers globally. Coupled with the resurgence of far-right ideology, references to “swarms” of migrants, and increasing nationalism across Europe, it is no surprise that these permeate into the environmental movement as well. XR must remain vigilant of the political nature of their ‘non-political, non-centralised’ structure as a movement and work alongside groups such as Wretched of The Earth, Black Lives Matter UK and those many others trying to decolonise the discourse.
Climate justice means racial, economic and social justice. Metal straws and using ‘bags-for-life’ will not change the world. India recently decided to invest in a massive solar power farm, rather than coal-based power plants. This single move will reduce their annual CO2 emissions by a volume equivalent to the UK’s entire yearly output.
Our national ‘carbon footprint’ is bigger than the sum of its parts. Colonial industrialisation continues to be the greatest threat to the earth. We are not powerless and our greatest potential for creating a better world is within international relations, redressing our role on a global level and confronting the root-cause of climate change, which is capitalism.
Environmentalists need to put pressure on politicians to aid those already suffering from climate-extinction. We must ensure the safe-passage of refugees, help shape a global, open-border plan for migration, and invest public money in open-source green technologies. This is impermissible in the discourse of late-stage capitalism, so the discourse needs to change.
Only a holistic, international and intersectional solution will affect the changes vital for survival: it is political.
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