The urgency of the climate emergency is very real and threatening. With every day without concrete climate actions to tackle the environmental collapse we are seeing, this planet loses invaluable flora, fauna and land, a wealth of life which can’t be recreated and whose loss will take hundreds of years to recover from. This is a fact everyone in the climate movement is acutely aware of, and no self-respecting environmentalist would dream of denying.
However, despite 50 years of activism and research proving that a wealthy minority is at the heart of the ecological and political collapse we find ourselves in, we are still seeing a denial of the socio-economic issues at the heart of the movement. From using population growth myths to demonise struggling Southern countries to overly trusting green technologiesto push ‘us’ through the crisis at the cost of the lives of racialised peoples, activists with a social justice perspective are facing an increasingly hostile environment when calling for climate action based in social justice solutions.
The idea that the ecological breakdown can somehow be decoupled from the social issues driving it is gaining ground, as seen in the recent split within XR in the US where a faction has broken off to create ‘XR America’, a group whose rallying cry for ‘one people, one planet, one future’ makes invisible the marginalised, racialised poor communities at the forefront of the fight against climate collapse. Organisers call for climate action at any cost, forgetting that the burdens of environmental racism and inequality are always shouldered by the silenced, marginalised majority of the world.
If the movement is to have any chance at slowing down the collapse we are seeing, it needs to be a broad church – appealing to as broad an audience as possible. This does not mean sticking to a status quo that feeds into the systemic collapse, in fear of alienating those who are better off by bringing social justice into the equation. A broad church can only be achieved in a radical reimagining of the future that could be, one where humans are equal partners in shaping a future that is viable for both people and planet. This is done through ‘solidarity’ – the a*bility to create a widespread understanding of common interests and objectives across a wide group of people and geographies. *
Brazilian educator and organiser Paulo Freire defines solidarity as ‘an act of love’, a practice in which oppressors view oppressed people as equals who have been dealt an unequal lot in life and then act together with them for liberation.(1) Freire contends that those who benefit from unequal power systems are oppressors, whether knowingly or unknowingly acting as such, as the socio-economic system values the lives, experiences, and knowledge systems of oppressors above the oppressed.
Freire also emphasises that oppressors are harmed by this system, who sees them rejecting humanity, including their own, in favour of short-term profits and fleeting material happiness. Liberation can therefore only happen when a broad church, in solidarity, brave the unknown to break the cycle of violence done to both oppressed people and oppressors alike, creating a more equitable and habitable world for all.
The distinction between social and climate justice is therefore a false one. Social movements are climate movements are justice movements for all.
(1) Paulo Freire (1970) Pedagogy of the Oppressed.