Decolonising Environmentalism- Re-thinking Solidarity + Centring Justice


While many are celebrating the rise of the likes of Extinction Rebellion in setting precedent on the streets, many climate activist groups including Wretched of the Earth, Black Lives Matter and War and Want can’t help but express their concerns with the ahistorical narrative and tactics adopted by the group. While for allies at XR, the police may be friendly figures just doing their job, many black and Asian communities domestically and abroad do not share this same sentiment. Decades of police brutality towards black and brown communities for resisting oppression clearly has not caught the attention of XR, which is one of the most significant issues other climate justice groups have with such techniques. Techniques that not only deny BAME participation but also do an injustice to the violence endured by non-white communities under contemporary policing strategies. It is with such recognition that climate action groups ask the likes of Extinction Rebellion to rethink their resistance tactics to encourage participation and to give a more accurate representation of the UK’ s policing strategy.

Internationally, the XR community needs to use its platform to verbalise that while we all need to come together to fight the climate crisis, it is, in fact, the West, including countries like Britain who have historically contributed most significantly to the climate crisis. While many middle-income and developing countries today are criticised for high levels of pollution, for what purposes this pollution is being created must further be considered. For instance, while it is said that in China that you can predict the next fashion season based on the colour of its rivers, who, in fact, is consuming and profiting as a result of garment production must be questioned. Only when such questions are raised will solidarity networks based on mutual understandings come into fruition.

You’ve all heard protestors chant “our house is on fire”. But for many black and brown communities, the house has been on fire for over 500 years. , therefore, urge you to acknowledge all of the indigenous communities that have been defending the natural environment for centuries and continue to suffer today. For instance, in a video shared by Black Lives Matter UK, the group described that the UK is one of the most significant contributors to global warming. However, seven out of the ten countries most severely affected by climate change are located in sub-Saharan Africa.

Politics Editor at Galdem magazine, Leah Cowan argues that the discrepancy between who gains and who pays the price is more real than ever:

“Climate change originates in the wealthiest and most powerful countries in the world, and the shockwaves are felt most dramatically in countries who, due to histories of colonialism and resource exploitation, are least resilient to its impacts.”

Arguably, the climate crisis is the most pressing issue of the Era. However, to suggest that the climate crisis is an entirely new issue fails to express solidarity with communities that have been fighting against the destruction of natural environments for centuries. For many, “the future” is not the only place where bleakness resides as pointed out in open letter from a coalition of climate groups to Extinction Rebellion which can be found here.

Globalisation has, for a long time, underpinned the destruction of the commons and it is now more than ever that we need to recognise this truth. Instead of endless negotiations between actors in the international community that typically end with toothless measures in attempt to tackle the climate crisis we should let indigenous communities who have been fighting against the destruction of their lands since time immemorial take the lead role while fundamentally providing them with the land, healthcare and food security that we take for granted.


To demand climate justice is to demand a structural change in the global political economy. This shift must account for those most severely affected by the climate crisis as well as low-paid workers in the energy sector who will ultimately be displaced if a just transition does not take place. One way of achieving this may be to set out a Green New Deal as led by the likes of Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez in the US or a Green Industrial Revolution as laid out in the Labour Party’s 2019 manifesto here in the UK. While recent attempts to bring sustainability into a corporate narrative, through the rise of conscious consumerism and CSR initiatives, have given many in the global north the feeling that they are "doing their bit" for the climate, such approaches fail to address the imminent need for global redistribution.

By the same token, while Sustainable Development approaches crystallised in the United Nation’s strategy to mitigating the climate crisis, do account for the need to help developing countries “catch up”, arguably, such approaches do not go far enough in addressing global imbalances of power. It is clear that sustainable development is far more progressive approach than a Deep-Ecology or Green Fascist approach, where it is argued that the natural environment is more sacrosanct than human life. Nevertheless, Sustainable Development has failed to deliver the radical equity that is required to prevent a colossal loss of life on a global scale and has instead aimed to achieve change within the logics of capitalism which for many is the fundamental cause of the crisis. To speak of climate justice is, therefore, to recognise existing forms of power at play in the international arena. It is to understand the lived realities of different actors and their need for diverse measures.

We all know that there is no planet B, but global actors continue to act as if this were the case, particularly with regards to the south which has become a waste dump for western consumption. The Global Commons Institute argues that there is an “assumption that the lives of people in developing countries are valued at 1/15 of those of people in the North”. With such worrying sentiments prevailing, it is fundamental that we talk about justice when trying to understand the problems caused by climate change.

The 2018 IPCC report stated that globally, we have less than twelve years to prevent climate catastrophe. While, for many indigenous communities, a climate catastrophe is felt to have existed for far longer than what the U.N states, it is evident that further damage will accelerate this reality to never before seen levels.

De-colonial theorist, Dipesh Chakrabarty validly argues that “unlike in the crises of capitalism, there are no lifeboats here for the rich and the privileged”. However, it is clear that the rich and the poor will be affected in dramatically different ways. Even small increases in the temperature of the global climate spell death and destruction for the world’s poorest citizens. However, it is yet unclear how the north will cope with such crises, when food security no longer remains a luxury and floods of climate refugees, quite rightly, attempt to seek refuge in countries which have played an instrumental role in destroying their homes.

The right to a just future, wherein no human life is seen as more valuable than another, has and will continue to be, the most desirable outcome for the whole of humanity. Although it seems like a bleak future for citizens in marginalised parts of the world, groups such as The Wretched of the Earth, Black Lives Matter and War on Want continue to fight for justice.

Love and Solidarity,



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