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Why we can’t go back to the way things were in Grand Rapids: Part IV – Climate Justice, Environmentalism and White Supremacy

June 23, 2020

In April, we posted an article arguing that in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we could not return to normal. In early May, we posted Part II in this series, focusing on the Food System and then in late May, we wrote Part III, which focuses on labor and a new economy. One common theme in each of these posts was that the pandemic exposed the serious flaws in Capitalism and how millions in the US are clearly considered expendable by the systems of power and oppression.

Then, the Black-led uprising happened, which exposed how White Supremacy is woven throughout society. People, especially white people, have been confronted with the brutal realities of White Supremacy and the ongoing resistance has signaled that what is happening is not just a response to the police murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, but a movement that seeks to dismantle White Supremacy in all of its manifestations.

This Black-led resistance has demonstrated that there are a growing number of people who will no longer tolerate police violence against Black people, will not tolerate the Prison Industrial Complex and will not tolerate how White Supremacy impacts every facet of our society, whether we are talking about the economy, education, health care or the environment. Today’s post we focus on how to utilize the framework of anti-White Supremacy to talk about why we can’t go back to normal in terms of how we deal with ecological issues, particularly Climate Change.

It is important that we come to terms with the fact that the US environmental movement, since the first Earth Day in the early 70s, has primarily been a white movement. This is not to say that the mainstream environmental movement has not done important work, but the white-led movement has not made the lives of Black, indigenous of latinx people a priority. And it’s not a question that environmental groups need to start recruiting Black, indigenous and latinx members, since that is definitely an inappropriate response, indeed, it is a racist response. What environmental groups need to do educate themselves about how larger ecological issues are impacting communities of color, listen to Black, indigenous and latinx voices and then ask what they can do to support the ecological concerns of those communities.

A good place to start would be to learn about the Environmental Justice Movement, which began in the early 1980s, and was specifically a response to the white environmental-led organizations and their failure to see structural racism as an environmental issue. Read the statement and principles that came out of the Environmental Justice Movement, which is radically different than what white eco-groups were/are about. The preamble to the Environmental Justice Movement state reads: 

WE, THE PEOPLE OF COLOR, gathered together at this multinational People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, to begin to build a national and international movement of all peoples of color to fight the destruction and taking of our lands and communities, do hereby re-establish our spiritual interdependence to the sacredness of our Mother Earth; to respect and celebrate each of our cultures, languages and beliefs about the natural world and our roles in healing ourselves; to ensure environmental justice; to promote economic alternatives which would contribute to the development of environmentally safe livelihoods; and, to secure our political, economic and cultural liberation that has been denied for over 500 years of colonization and oppression, resulting in the poisoning of our communities and land and the genocide of our peoples, do affirm and adopt these Principles of Environmental Justice:

The Environmental Justice Movement is rooted in the struggle against Settler Colonialism, White Supremacy and Capitalism, thus any white-led environmental group needs to be about the same kinds of things.

Within the past few days, we have learned that there was once again a leak in the Enbridge owned and operated Line 5. The State of Michigan asked for a report, but Enbridge decided to ignore that and start Line 5 up again. Groups like Oil and Water Don’t Mix are asking people to send a message to Gov. Whitmer to shut down Line 5. Whitmer, along with Attorney General Dana Nessel, campaigned in 2018 on the promise to shut down Line 5, yet that has not happened. White-led environmental groups put too much faith in government to make the changes we seek. How can we realistically expect governments, at any level, to actually fulfill the will of the people? Governments are too compromised by the power of the fossil fuel industry and business in general. All one has to do is look at how much money corporations give to candidates and how much money they spend on lobbying to realize that local, state and federal governments are help captive by the power of these corporations, plus they are compromised by their allegiance to the economic system of capitalism.

Again, we need to learn from to global climate justice movement, which is primarily led by Black, indigenous and other communities of color. We need to see how the resistance at Standing Rock and all other indigenous-led struggles against fossil fuel companies are using Direct Action as their strategies for resistance, not collaborating with big business, like most of the mainstream, white-led eco groups, often referred to as Gang Green

Another critical issue with the mainstream, white-led eco groups is their failure to take a stand against militarism. US militarism and US imperialism is one of the main driving forces behind Climate Change, according to a recent report from the National Priorities Project and the Institute for Policy Studies. 

Virtually every week there is a new study that comes out about human-caused climate change and the need for radical structural change before it is too late. Unfortunately, most of the white-led environmental groups are still spending most of their energy trying to either get people to change their personal consumption habits or appeal to governments to enact change. We have to stop being fooled by these approaches, start coming to terms with the seriousness of climate change and start learning from Black, indigenous and other communities of color that are rooted the struggle against White Supremacy, Settler Colonialism and Capitalism.

We need to radically imagine a different kind of future. We can no longer afford to think that we can maintain our current levels of consumption and our way of life, by simply using green energy. This is a false solution and it is a lie. We cannot return to normal after the pandemic, since before the pandemic, the systems of White Supremacy, Capitalism, Heterosexism, Ablism and Patriarchy were the norm. If we want a future as human beings, then there needs to be serious, radical and revolutionary goals to work towards. Here is a short list, all of which are connected to Climate Justice, if we are willing to do the intellectual, emotional, social and cultural work to see how these things are connected.

  • We need to acknowledge that we are all living on indigenous land.
  • We need to ask indigenous communities what they want from us moving forward.
  • We need Defund the US military. The US military is one of the largest consumers of fossil fuels and its primary function is to occupy other people’s lands and protect the interests of global capitalists.
  • If we Defund the US military ($850 billion for 2020), then if make sure that money goes to Black, indigenous and latinx communities to decide how to use it, imagine how that could radically alter lives in those communities.
  • Defund the Police. Again, it would reduce violence against, Black, indigenous and latinx communities and re-direct police budgets to those communities.
  • All environmental groups must incorporate into their mission an anti-Settler Colonial, anti-White Supremacy and anti-Capitalist framework.
  • Abolish the Prison Industrial Complex.
  • Abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
  • Abolish the Agri-business system of food and practice Food Justice and Food Sovereignty.
  • End all Fossil Fuel Subsidies and demand reparations from the fossil fuel industry for decades of ecological destruction, the murder of countless Black, indigenous and latinx people and the role that the fossil fuel industry has played in deny climate change.
  • Make all utilities publicly controlled, and by public I mean community-based control.
  • Make public transit free.
  • Make housing free for everyone.
  • Make health care free for everyone.
  • End wage slavery.
  • End representative government and move towards direct democracy and local control.

Another World is Possible!!!!

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