CW: discussion of ableism, climate change, colonialism, environmental racism, and white supremacy.
I’ve been asking myself what I can do about climate change. The Global Climate Strike happened last week and my feeds were full of articles, videos, and photos of people striking and yelling at people in power. This is great. This issue deserves all of the attention it’s been getting. Critiques have been circulating as well. The official face of the Climate Strike is Greta Thunberg’s, a sixteen-year-old climate activist from Sweden. Greta is doing great work, important work, impressive work, especially considering her age. Hell, I was nowhere near that powerful at sixteen. Greta is scaring men in power enough that they’re lashing out at her with pathetic insults and conspiracy theories. That means they feel threatened and that’s what we want. I stand behind Greta. I’ve been participating in the Climate Strike in whatever ways I can. However, it is also important to acknowledge that Greta is being centred as a leader in a movement that has been largely led by Indigenous peoples for a long time, who have been ignored, criminalized, and even killed for their work. Climate change is also an issue that disproportionally affects BIPOC all over the world. That the representative of a major movement to fight climate change is white should make us uncomfortable. This is a form of white saviourism and centring which upholds the system of white supremacy. This is not a criticism of Greta, but rather the ways in which we have responded to her. Many of us, along with the media, have centred Greta even though she is not the only young activist fighting for climate justice out there.
White supremacy and the interrelated systems of colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism are why we’re here in the first place. We cannot have an effective movement if it upholds any of these oppressive structures. They must all be torn down. Our environmental activism must be decolonial, antiracist, and anticapitalist or else it does little to dismantle the status quo. A few hundred solar panels and wind turbines will not save us. We must dismantle the very systems that are hurting our planet and so many of its people.
Our environmentalism must be intersectional or it risks perpetuating harm and reinforcing power imbalances as they are. Just look at how straw bans have affected disabled folks… Is this justice? Is it decolonial? Is it revolutionary? When you have a large number of corporations enthusiastically embracing a new policy like banning plastic straws, chances are far more likely that it is a form of greenwashing, which deceptively bolsters rather than challenges capitalism.
Critics often accuse intersectionalists of being divisive. Some assume it is easier to act effectively on single issues, that intersectionality complicates, convolutes, and dilutes our movements. Intersectionality certainly complicate things. It can be a lot to take in, especially if you’re new to the concept, but I believe it’s an essential ingredient for strengthening our movements. I think it’s actually the opposite of divisive, the only way we can truly be united. These supposedly “single issues” are deeply connected. Sexism is a product of colonialism. The gender binary is a product of colonialism. Racial injustice is a product of colonialism. Capitalism is a product of colonialism. Climate change is a product of colonialism. We are all connected. All of the issues we are fighting for are connected. Intersectionality is a tool to help us map out these tangled connections, to help us draw the map of this messy web. Our movements must utilize this tool to be effective. There are no single issues. That is an illusion.
I am overwhelmed by the magnitude of the hundreds of tangled issues that make up the web that is climate change. I frequently spiral into feeling hopeless and helpless. It all feels so vast, complicated, and terrifying. I don’t know where to start a lot of the time or how to keep going after I do. Then I feel frustrated with myself for not acting more effectively.
It is important to make space for feelings of overwhelm and grief. It is important to practice self-care. It is also important, particularly for people with multiple layers of privilege like myself, to take stock of the resources we have and the actions we can take. I did this recently and would like to share some of my process with you below.
If you’re like me and you know that you have resources to devote to this issue but aren’t sure where to start because of how overwhelming it is, try asking yourself the following questions:
- What fiscal, physical, mental, emotional, creative, educational, etc. resources do you have at your disposal?
- What privileges do you carry? What do you have to un/learn?
- What have you been doing? What could you do? What could you do better?
- How can you make these changes and actions manageable? How can you make them concrete rather than aspirational? What limitations do you or may you face in doing this work?
- How can you practice self-care along with your activism? How about engaging in community care?
I made a lot of notes during this exercise, but some of the resources I listed were my writing (i.e. my voice), a supportive community, and a relatively stable job situation at the moment. Some of the privileges I listed were white privilege and able-bodied privilege. Some of the limitations I listed were to do with my time and mental health.
I then came up with lists of the following actions I can try. These lists are not exhaustive. They are ones I will add to and change over time. They are also not prescriptive or general, but reflective of my specific situation. None of these actions on their own are enough, but together they can amount to something. If this exercise resonates with you, please feel free to copy, steal, share, alter, or otherwise make it your own!
(Some) Actions I Can Take
- Amplify the voices of BIPOC on environmental issues (and in general, for this stuff is all connected) via my writing and social media platforms.
- Continue to educate myself by seeking out the work of people who experience different marginalizations than I.
- Use my own voice by writing about these issues and sharing that writing.
- Vote for representatives that give a shit about environmental and other forms of justice.
- Write letters and/or call all levels of government to keep nagging them about these issues.
- Disrupt the status quo through acts of civil disobedience.
Individual Consumption Habits
- Think about consumption before consuming.
- Do I need this? Why do I want it? What is its environmental impact?
- Buy fewer foods with plastic packaging.
- Cut down on animal by-products.
- Buy wax seals to use instead of plastic.
- Buy used, rather than new, clothing.
- Don’t order stuff online I don’t need.
- Cut back on how often I eat out.
- Grow food in my apartment (I have a zine on this!).
- Check out my local farmer’s market.
- Donate to environmental organizations and causes, particularly grassroots ones that are run by BIPOC and underfunded/underrepresented.
- As much as is possible, make sure that I’m putting my money where my mouth is by supporting local and/or environmental organizations rather than major conglomerates.
- Participate in rallies/marches/actions in my community.
- Get involved with a local environmental organization.
- Pick up garbage in parks and green spaces to keep them clean.
The next phase I will work on is breaking down the above lists into concrete steps so that I can actually integrate these things into my day-to-day life.
My hope in sharing the above is that some folks in similar positions to myself may find it helpful, but please don’t just listen to me! I’m a baby activist who still has a lot to learn and a person who carries white privilege. Please also seek out other perspectives. Here are a few suggestions:
Intersectionality: “Intersectionality, also called intersectional feminism, is a branch of feminism asserting how all aspects of social and political identities (gender, race, class, sexuality, disability, etc) discrimination overlap or (“intersect”)–for example, race with gender in the case of a black woman… It is a qualitative analytic framework that identifies how interlocking systems of power affect those who are most marginalized in society… The term was coined by black feminist scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw in 1989”. Read more here.
Greenwashing: “A form of spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception of an organization’s products, aims or policies are environmentally friendly… Many corporate structures use greenwashing as a way to repair public perception of their brand… However, a growing body of social and environmental accounting research finds, in the absence of external monitoring and verification, greenwashing strategies amount to corporate posturing and deception”. Read more here.