How Racism and Colonialism are the Cause of the Climate Crisis by By Ahmad Ibsais
How Racism and Colonialism are the Cause of the Climate Crisis - Affecting communities of colour disproportionately.
Before I lived in Sarasota, Florida, I was born in Jerusalem, a city plagued with constant political conflict. I saw the suffocating impact that smog, excess carbon emissions, and droughts have on a population – especially one of suppressed socio-economic status. There, children wake up feeling like they cannot breathe, drowning under the heavy air. When I immigrated to America, I assumed that my new government would care, care about our dying planet, care about the people of colour disproportionately affected by climate change – but they did not and still don’t. Each day, our global temperature increases. Each day, our ice caps continue to melt. Each day, animals, people, communities are dying. Each year, like this year, storms are getting worse and worse. This is why so many young people today, especially youth of colour, who are most impacted by climate change, are fighting. Unimpressed with political sound bites, and politicians merely grazing over climate justice topics, young people everywhere are refusing to settle for anything less than transformational change.
Racism is built into the fabric of America. And as long as we turn a blind eye to those suffering under its oppression, we will never escape. Researchers found an increased correlation between climate change and decreasing health of communities of colour; even primary healthcare is denied (https://www.racialequitytools.org/plan/issues/environmental-justice). This means that the promise of America has never been fulfilled. People are still living under the aggressive terms that colonialism created; climate change is just that, the culmination of colonialism and the subsequent results of displacing people to factories for profit.
If we try to solve the climate crisis through the lens that created it, we are doomed to fail and repeat the same mistakes.
Many cite that the start of climate change began during the height of industrialization when the use of fossil fuels surged, and we began mass-producing products. However, it started thousands of years before that through colonialism and the greed of capitalism (http://climatesociety.ei.columbia.edu/2019/06/06/why-we-need-to-confront-climate-changes-colonial-legacy/). As settlers deforested native lands, displaced people, and hunted species to death for trade and crop, they systematically silenced indigenous communities and brought about the beginning of the end. Colonialism by the empowered White Man brought about the idea that the Earth was there taking, that everything could be used at their disposal. This mindset caused the climate crisis. When people think nothing is sacred, they start to believe that it is free and unlimited - but war, air, and land do not act this way.
As colonists returned to their home countries in the new era of revolution, they left behind underdeveloped lands and consumed their resources without remorse. The effect of this process is still seen today, as formerly colonized countries experience the worst of climate change even though they contribute the least (https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/each-countrys-share-co2-emissions). Some may propose that China is the enemy in this battle, but it is countries like the United States, that outsource the production of cheaper goods to China, that are to blame (https://baysourceglobal.com/benefits-of-outsourcing-manufacturing-to-china/). Often, marginalized people of colour produce these products and suffer while the rich get richer. This is the same colonial system that forced slaves to create products but priced those products out of their range. Those in power never really lost it, colonialism just evolved.
Intertwined with colonialism and the climate crisis is the lasting presence of racism. The rate of increasing social inequality has been linked to environmental degradation and decreased access to healthcare - leading to sicker communities of colour in poverty greater than that of their white counterparts (https://www.naacp.org/issues/environmental-justice/). When companies plan on building new plants, emitting toxic waste, they often place them in gentrified areas to push out residents, again, enforcing the same racist and colonialist agenda.
When we are kids, we learn about good and evil. Heroes and villains. The heroes are those who fight for justice, and the villains are those who would reinforce racism and colonialism. Youth have become heroes, and our oppressive uncooperative governments are the villains. But I have hope. I hope that once we vote out the current establishment, or even become elected ourselves, we can fight unapologetically to save our burning home.
About the Author
Ibsais is an 18 year old, first generation Palestinian American who is currently studying Political Science and Public Health at the University of Florida. He has been involved in activism for several years and is currently working on climate justice, gun reform, and human rights.