Racial Justice is Climate Justice

This March we put our plans for training and action on hold due to COVID-19 and threw ourselves into mutual aid and resiliency work while also pivoting into the pandemic future. In our last big email we asked our friends who are financially stable to use their stimulus checks for reparations. In June we turned our attention and time to the fight for Black lives in the streets sparked by the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, the most recent in a 400 year history of oppression and death. In response we have been helping train, organize and act at the invitation of Black leadership where most of us live. Why? Because Black lives matter.

Racial Justice is Climate Justice

The fight for Black lives and the fight for climate justice are related. It has been evident forever that the front lines of the climate crisis are run across the bodies of Black, brown and Indigenous people in this country and around the world. The communities on the fence lines of refineries, oil rigs, power plants, tar sands mines, toxic waste dumps, polluting industries, and the people on the receiving end of the worst diesel exhaust and particulate pollution are not white. With perhaps the exception of Appalachia as a sacrifice zone for coal and fracking, the impacts of the fossil fuel industry fall along racial lines. And of course it is well established that those most directly impacted directly by the ravages of climate change in the US and around the world are the Black and brown people who have historically suffered under the boot of Western economic and environmental colonization, genocide, and exploitation.

But it goes deeper…


It’s common today to hear and use language about the intersectional nature of this reality: that all these issues are connected. But rarely do we talk about how they are connected. It doesn’t really fit on a protest sign. When we say the fight for racial justice is the fight for climate justice, we don’t mean simply that climate change has serious racial implications, or a vague notion that being serious about climate change would have positive results for communities of color, or that climate activism that puts frontline communities first is a racial justice cause. What we actually mean is that dealing with racism and white supremacy is climate work.

The ways racism and climate disruption are connected go deep. The desire for the comfort, convenience, and supposed security that comes from control and domination are the basis of the philosophical and mental constructs of white supremacy. And a worldview grounded in white supremacy justifies taking over continents through the genocide of Indigenous people and building burgeoning empires on the backs of enslaved Africans. And today in the United States, this worldview encourages white people to be comforted by the control and domination played out by militarized and lawless police enforcing the subjugation of Black people through murder, constant surveilance and a New Jim Crow prison industrial complex.

It is this same desire for comfort, control, and faux-security that relentlessly pushes the expropriation and domination of the land – extracting and taking (regardless of who “owns” the land) without regard for the effects, whether it is coal, oil, trees, rare earth elements, grassland, bays and whole oceans. And this taking is enabled by the same mental and institutional structures that are the foundation of white supremacy. As Ibram X. Kendi has said, “the actual foundation of racism is not ignorance and hate, but self-interest, particularly economic and political and cultural.”

This is a system that has been developed over millennia where the haves take more and more from the have-nots. I learned to call it the domination system, a term borrowed from theologian Walter Wink, but we can call it white supremacy or the Empire, it’s the same idea.

Nonviolent Direct Action

In doing racial justice work, we strike at the root of the domination system, a system designed to denigrate and divide groups of people, and co-opt them and their labor. This system which devours people and devoured the North American continent is now devouring all of the ecological gifts that sustain vibrant life on earth and unfolding a climate catastrophe across the globe. So it is not surprising that when people rise up to resist the domination system’s environmental injustices, they are met with the paradoxical mix of cooptation and militaristic police repression. States across the US continue to pass anti-protest legislation aimed to protect the assets of the fossil fuel industry and to cast it as a public good, criminalizing protest because climate denial and lying cannot keep people from rising up to fight for their communities and their futures. The force used to coopt or crush an uprising often varies with the color of the dissidents’ skin.

As a white person I am complicit in white supremacy and complicit in the systems of consumption that drive the climate crisis. I have to both do the inward work to liberate myself from my mental dependencies on the domination system, and I have to take action to disrupt and dismantle those systems outwardly. For me that’s why the path of nonviolent direct action is so powerful; a path of doing both the inward and the outward work and aligning our whole lives to disrupting systems of domination and oppression while working out our collective liberation.

Racial justice is climate justice. Wherever you are called in these complex times I hope that you are striking at the root, finding new ways to exorcise the patterns of domination within and finding new and powerful ways to resist the enforcers of the status quo without.

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  • Jess bess
    commented 2024-02-05 11:03:08 -0500
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  • Jay O'Hara
    published this page in Blog 2020-07-01 17:16:10 -0400