Climate catastrophes, social injustices, extreme wealth inequalities, the deterioration of the planet, the extinction of species - we are daily bombarded and frightened with negative news and prognoses of an upcoming apocalypse. To see it differently, in a way, it is good if we don’t close our eyes to it but instead engage and act - in solidarity, communally and consciously.
We need to realise that we are all linked globally. Every single action has consequences, whether that is in the long run, such as flying that contributes to global warming but also each daily action, for example buying chocolate for Christmas from companies that put employees in dangerous, unethical, slavery working conditions or our excessive use and disposal of plastic bags and packaging that ends up on the sea, or as often photographed, in a bird’s belly. Excuse me of perhaps my strident use of examples but I wanted to show that the prophesied apocalypse and collapse of Earth has actually started a long time ago.
But I don’t want to give the impression that as long as you don’t use the the airplane, only buy fair-trade organic chocolate, everything will be fine. We need change not at an individual level, but at a systemic, collective level. We cannot discuss climate crisis by ignoring the economic, social and political structures that make it possible to exploit people, labour and land. In an article called ‘5 Reasons not to be an Environmentalist’, D. Gebrial and C. Hymer argue that many environmental narratives focus on a ‘love for nature’ or ‘saving the earth’ - which abstracts the struggle from the people who are mostly affected by it.
Forcibly decoupling the climate crisis from the histories of imperialism, capitalism and geopolitical power that made it possible depoliticises the nature of climate change – and the radical transformation necessary to curb its devastation.
Communities that are affected most by the climate crisis are often those who are oppressed because of their race, class and gender. The article continues to say:
At its heart, European colonialism was the first mass-scale extractivist movement; it extracted human and natural resources in the Global South for the economic benefit of elite classes mainly in the Global North.
Climate change is caused mostly by human activity, through burning coal, oil, gas, deforestation and increased livestock farming. A report on deforestation and degradation by WWF lists the most threatened forests, almost all of them in the Global South: South America, Congo, East Africa, South-East Asia, New Guinea and Eastern Australia. Deforestation is the permanent destruction of land for agriculture, logging, large-scale mining and infrastructure projects. It is notable that it is mostly palm oil and other crops for export (timber, paper, coffee, sugar, rubber, biofuels) that play a main factor in deforestation. The consequences of these practices are increased flooding, loss of species, soil erosion and destruction of homelands of indigenous communities.
The effects of palm oil industries is synonymous with other conventional, mass-scale agricultural practices. Notably, the demand for palm oil rose with the British Industrial Revolution.
With plantations systematically destroying the rainforest land that the local people depend on, communities are continuously finding themselves with no choice but to become plantation workers. Faced with poor and degrading working conditions, some earn barely enough income to survive and support their families. Instead of being able to sustain themselves, indigenous communities become reliant on the palm oil industry for their income and survival, leaving these villagers incredibly vulnerable to the world market price of palm oil which they have no control over. (SayNoToPalmOil)
Amitav Ghosh, an author who writes on climate change, argues that we are faced by collective problems that cannot be solved through individual actions, but through collective actions and institutions and mass mobilisations.
The article by Gebrial and Hymner also urges for transformation and action on a global level:
In order to face up to a challenge as big as the climate crisis, we need a response that matches the scale of the problem. This means systemic transformation and a complete break with the current global order: an end to the fossil economy and a just transition towards cheap, publicly-owned renewable energy in both the Global North and the Global South – and with it an end to the violence the fossil economy perpetrates, particularly on women, people of colour, migrants and indigenous communities.
Sources and more to read