An Open Letter to Black Lives Matter: Why We Need to Pay Attention to Climate Change

South Africa condemns the lynching murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police Department. We extend our deepest sympathy and solidarity to his traumatised family and community.

We salute the thousands of Minneapolis residents who have come out in justified  indignation to demand justice for George Floyd. We are part of those protests in every city. despite violent police repression with tear gas, rubber bullets and clubs.

It took the tens of thousands of people marching in the streets across the U.S. and rebelling, to force the authorities to charge Derek Chauvin.

We believe that it is not just a few bad cops, it is the capitalist system itself and its apparatus of repression. The police, courts, prisons and the laws that value private property over lives. 

Africans were brought to America as slaves four hundred years ago and have been dying in disproportionate numbers ever since. African Americans have borne the brunt of the fossil fuel era, dying from air pollution, cancer from exposure to toxic chemicals, and severe weather at greater rates than the national average. And the system works to maintain this inequality. African Americans are killed by police at more than twice the rate  of white Americans. African Americans have died at more than twice the rate  as white Americans from the coronavirus pandemic.

Many African nations are living in a perverse condition because of the very same system , as they are vulnerable to various problems such as political, economic, and social risks. Also, they are vulnerable to the problems of environmental injustice, which negatively affect their livelihood and overall well being.

We believe that Climate change is racist because the system that caused it is racist.  Rainstorms don’t care about skin colour, but worsening weather worldwide aggravates the divisions in society that already exist because it hits people of colour living in poverty the hardest. The urgency of climate change is also an urgency for racial justice.

Greenhouse gases are predominantly caused by and benefit the rich and wealthy whiter global North individuals, corporations, communities and countries. The impacts, however, are disproportionately felt by the poorer, black and brown global South.

Increased racism will be one outcome of climate breakdown. Everywhere, the climate and ecological crisis will disproportionately affect communities of colour.

According to a recent study by Cornell University, 1.4 billion people could be forced to leave their homes by 2060 and this number could rise to two billion by 2100.

Extreme weather events are already devastating communities. In 2016, ‘weather-related sudden- onset hazards’, such as cyclones and floods displaced around 23.5 million people. In the first half of the year 2019, million people were internally displaced by such weather events, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. This is a record number, and it’s twice as big as the number of people displaced by violence and conflicts.

Study after study has shown that those on the frontlines of climate change, of pollution, and of harmful extraction are disproportionately black people. That is not a mistake or an accident of geography. The global economy is run on the devaluation of black lives and black land, often in the service of predominantly white capital and interests.

In the end, environmental injustice is in many ways an extension and continuation of colonial injustice. While colonial structures have mutated into new forms, they often still serve the purpose of exploiting black land and people to benefit predominantly the global North.

Climate change is a symptom of the same unequal system. It is a consequence of the same system run by people who think of Africa as a resource for imperialist expansion, not a continent filled with millions of families who deserve health and safety and happiness just like everyone does. It’s what happens when the lives of marginalised people and non-human species are viewed as expendable. That expendability, and the continuation of this system, is a choice. Nothing about it is inevitable or necessary, yet those in power choose to continue it every single day.

The end to racism is also an end to climate climate change. 

 

 

Contributor: Orthalia Kunene

Orthalia Kunene is a mother, activist, feminist and writer based in Soweto.

Orthalia

Her journey started as a activist fighting for service delivery issues in Soweto, with an Organisation called Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee/Operation Khanyisa Movement. Her writing  gave her strength to not shy away from the truth, it gave her strength to hold local government accountable and to advocate for access to information and  transparency through addressing socio-economic issues; inequalities around gender-based violence and climate change.

She is currently volunteering for an Organisation called keep left, as a working group member, keep left is a revolutionary socialist organisation that believes in workers control of society and the means of production. She is also a volunteer at an Organization called Extinction Rebellion, a climate change Organisation that seeks to fight the climate crisis. Her main focus is on Climate change issues, gender inequality and addressing issues of capitalism and how it feeds on inequality – particularly in South Africa.

Leave a Reply