Racism, Genocide, and the Environment

Environmental degradation endangers everyone. However, certain populations will continue to be impacted more heavily and sooner than others. People in frontline nations (nations that have long been targeted by colonialism, genocide, and imperialism, in which the majority of the population is targeted by racism) have been devastated by colonialism, genocide, and imperialism over a long period of time. These nations are more heavily impacted by pollution, climate change, and other environmental degradation. They have been the dumping ground for the world’s toxins and waste, including the waste from war. People living in these frontline nations generally lack the resources to move out of harm’s way (at best a temporary solution) or adapt to the damage climate change is causing.

The globally dominant, more industrialized nations (that have colonized, dominated, and exploited the labor and resources of other nations) consume the most resources. They put the most carbon in the atmosphere and have polluted the Earth the most. They are clearly responsible for the growing disaster. Many of these nations, however, resist stopping these damaging practices. They also refuse to finance efforts to address and repair the damage that their polices have inflicted on these frontline nations—nations that have contributed far less to climate change. Some people in the dominant nations can still ignore the impact of the environmental crisis and debate its existence.

The perspectives and voices of the people of frontline nations and communities have been largely marginalized or excluded in the mainstream environmental movement in the globally dominant nations. Unchallenged racism and classism in the environmental and other movements make these organizations unwelcoming to these populations. (In recent years, the mainstream environmental movement has been trying to address the marginalization and exclusion of these groups. Those efforts move slowly because we have not yet faced our role in these oppressions and done the necessary personal healing work.)

In the frontline nations, women bear a heavier burden from the impacts of climate change. Their communities are particularly vulnerable. They rely upon natural resources for survival and often live in places that lack the infrastructure to adequately support their lives. Drought, flooding, and unpredictable temperatures make life extremely difficult for women as they try to provide food, water, and fuel for their families. They also bear primary responsibility for the care of children and elders, two other extremely vulnerable populations.

Women have unique and essential thinking to offer at this turning point in history, a time when humanity is making decisions about our future on the Earth. Women do play leadership roles throughout environmental movements. But racism and sexism, and the accompanying disrespect of women’s thinking, have not been eradicated. These oppressions must be acknowledged and addressed for women to play a full role.

What people can do to address oppression and its impacts

Those of us in the globally dominant nations or from globally dominant cultures can do the following:

  1. become aware of the history of environmental destruction and the theft and exploitation of resources that has devastated frontline nations and communities,
  2. learn about the unequal impact of environmental pollutants and climate change both globally and locally,
  3. learn about and support the work already done by the Indigenous and environmental justice movements,
  4. insist that our governments address how much more frontline nations and communities are impacted and how few resources they have,
  5. heal from and address the emotional damage from racism, classism, and other oppressions and the ways these oppressions are acted out within the environ­mental movement and the broader society,
  6. encourage and follow the leadership of people from frontline nations and communities,
  7. address and change the organizational structures, policies, procedures, and culture of environmental and all other organizations working for a just and sustainable society so that they are more welcoming to and inclusive of people from frontline nations and communities, and
  8. build alliances with all others working to end environmental degradation and climate change.

Those of us in the frontline nations and communities can do the following:become aware of the history of environmental destruction in frontline communities and nations (our own and others),

  1. advocate for good policies in these nations and communities,
  2. demand global, national, and local assistance to repair the damage suffered by frontline communities and nations,
  3. address and heal from the individual damage of internalized racism, classism, and other oppressions,
  4. seek unity within our own group and with other groups of oppressed and exploited peoples,
  5. raise our voices and insist on full and meaningful inclusion in the environmental movement,
  6. take leadership everywhere, and
  7. build alliances with all others working to end environmental destruction and climate change.

Every person and every group—both those who have been put in the oppressor role and those in the oppressed role—need to do their own personal healing work. Those in the oppressed role and those in the oppressor role often need to meet separately at first to do this work. We can increasingly come together as we heal. We become able to communicate with one another and develop a common program for action.

There are many of us, and our numbers are growing quickly. We can bring about the necessary changes. Our personal healing work is essential for us to accomplish these goals.

For more information on our care of the environment work, see: www.rc.org/sustainingalllife.


Last modified: 2015-09-10 11:24:03-07