It is time to understand the real victims of the sluggish plan for climate action and what will be lost if we continue at our current rate of consumption
This past Christmas, many of us saw scenes of the devastating flooding that took place in Yorkshire. Bridges collapsed, buses floated down the roads and families had to be evacuated. Events like these are becoming all too frequent. January 2014 saw flooding in Somerset, where local people were initially left to fend for themselves, as the devastating effects of the floods took hold. Extreme weather events like these will continue to increase as we continue to feel the effects of climate change. Overall temperatures on the planet have risen by 1°C. The world is currently on track to rising to 3°C.
What effect will that have on our planet? More importantly, who are the real losers in this situation? It’s important to note that the communities in the UK who have suffered the worst effects of flooding all hail from working class areas. This is by no means an accident. From Hurricane Katrina to the flooding in Somerset and Yorkshire to the communities devastated by fossil fuel extraction, environmental destruction and government responses to climate catastrophe are highly political. It is always the working class and people of colour who suffer the most.
This is most illustrated in the wake of the recent climate agreement. The 21st annual Conference of Parties (COP21) concluded at the end of December 2015 in Paris to a wave of fanfare from the media. “Finally,” some said, “we are taking action on climate change!” Others declared that it was the end of the fossil fuel era. But it’s only on closer inspection of the Paris agreement coupled with scientific facts about the current state of the planet that we realise this agreement was just business as usual, and that the losers will continue to be working class communities and people of colour.
While it is admirable that governments across the world agreed to curb their greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 to ensure that the planet only warms by 1.5°C, it’s very important to note that this agreement is not legally binding. This means that there is no legal mechanism to hold countries to account if they do not meet their agreed upon targets in cutting greenhouse gas emissions. This failure to reach a legally binding agreement means more flooding in Britain, and a death sentence to the many communities being forced off their land, and in some places killed, to further fossil fuel extraction. It also means that we have tacitly agreed to allow communities, like the island nations of the Pacific, to disappear into the ocean – making them not only climate refugees, but also disposable. This climate agreement has literally decided that some communities are not worth fighting for. They are sacrifice zones.
In a way, none of this should be surprising. The western nations who are responsible for producing the majority of the carbon emissions that have led to global warming obtained their wealth and power via the exploitation of black and brown people – the same communities who have now been labelled collateral damage and are suffering the worse effects of climate change. It is these very land grabs that created many western nations. It is the exploitation of resources on colonised lands that built the wealth of western countries. It is also the consumption habits of westerners that is driving climate change by exporting greenhouse gases via factories in China. The land grabs continue today either for fossil fuel extraction or in an act of neocolonialism for renewable energy projects.
While the challenge to fight climate change is enormous, it does provide us with an opportunity to create a new world. And despite the many obstacles faced by indigenous people and those on the front lines of climate change, there is renewed vigour in the climate justice movement. There have been many victories for indigenous groups fighting for climate justice, from the shelving of the Keystone XL pipeline in North America to Ogoni of Nigeria winning the right to sue Shell for the deadly pollution caused by their oil extraction. Groups are also speaking out and demanding to be heard. From the indigenous groups kayaking down the Seine in protest of their rights being stripped at the COP21, to the indigenous fighting for their rightful place to lead the London Climate march. Their spirit is indomitable. They will not be silenced. Their lives are literally on the line.
More and more, regular people around the world are standing up and fighting for climate justice. Grassroots organisation led to the overthrow of apartheid in South Africa, the passing of the Civil Rights Act in the United States and helped women get the right to vote in various countries. Although the COP21 was an abject failure, it is the frontline communities who will have the final say. Despite the white-washed image you may have of the environmental movement, it is these working class, black, brown and indigenous groups who will have the final say. They are the first to march, the first to fight and the first to die. Will you join them?
Image from: http://upliftconnect.com/indigenous-cry/
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