Climate justice is racial justice

Letter to the Editor Marietta Times Jun 12, 2020 by Aaron Dunbar

Today I’ve been privileged to sit among the citizens of Marietta as they held a peaceful demonstration honoring George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many other black and brown lives cut inexcusably short by police brutality.

I would first like to applaud all those who dedicated their time and effort to making this event happen. I am especially grateful to those people of color in our community who came forward to share their experiences, and make their voices heard. I’m not ashamed to admit I was in tears more than once throughout the afternoon’s events.

I’ve been giving a great deal of thought to what I, as a white male living in America, should write about our nation’s long-standing disregard for black, brown, and indigenous lives. I’ve found that for many months now, I’ve been unable to avoid viewing current events through the ever-widening lens of the climate crisis. And on June 5th, as people of color in America continued their centuries-long struggle for basic human dignity, scientists at Europe’s Copernicus Climate Change Service announced that May of 2020 was the hottest ever recorded. The confluence of these two seemingly disparate historical occurrences promptly brought to mind the words of writer Matthew Todd, who says the following in an essay for Extinction Rebellion:

“Unfortunately, many of us who are concerned with social justice and identity politics, including the wider left-wing movement (as well as, of course, the right), have made what is looking every day more like a fatal mistake. We have not given any thought to how the express train of ecological breakdown will smash through this delicate diversity we have spent so much time building brick by brick.”

This idea is not so much hypothetical as it has been an observable fact of our reality in recent years. Take for instance the twin migrant crises of Syria and Central America, both of which sprang, in no small part, from rising global temperatures and drought caused by climate change. The attempts by climate refugees to migrate to white majority nations such as the U.S. have unearthed explosive wells of racial animosity and anti-immigrant sentiment, in a society that far too often fancies itself some sort of post-racial utopia.

Speaking to the matter now at hand, one need only to think back to Hurricane Katrina, one of the first major storms ever discussed in relation to climate change, to predict how little regard our government is likely to show for black lives as myriad ecological catastrophes converge upon and upend civilization.

The climate crisis, as it pertains to race, is one fraught with grotesque ironies. Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities, at home and abroad, far too often find themselves the target of exploitation by the very same industries mutilating our planet. They bear the brunt of externalized costs for these industries in the short-term, from negative health effects to social and economic consequences. And despite contributing minimally to the climate crisis themselves, the people in these communities are the most likely to be hit earliest, and hardest, by disasters such as droughts, food and resource scarcity, violent weather patterns, geographic displacement, and in far too many cases, the vanishing of their homes altogether.

It is not enough to verbally reject racism. It is imperative that we work to build a sustainable world, and in doing so create an environment in which human beings from all walks of life can flourish, living out safe, healthy, and meaningful lives.