Achieving Climate Justice: The link between climate change and structural racism
Welcome and good morning good afternoon or good evening depending on where you're dialing in from today thank you for joining us for this edition of nesta talks to. These events are put on by nesta and designed to be a conversation with today's most interesting thinkers focusing on the big topics that define our future i'm really pleased to be welcoming Thanu Yakupitiage and Jeremy Williams today to discuss climate change and structural racism this discussion is extremely timely and important given the growing calls for climate and racial justice coming from across the world these issues are also really important to the work that nasa is doing particularly in the sustainable future mission which is working to accelerate the decarbonization of the uk's household activities by the year 2030. nesta has also been working hard to address the exclusionary practices and systems that have too often characterized innovation through the integration of a really robust equity diversity and inclusion lens across all of the organization's work and internal policies for those who are not very familiar with nesta's work i really encourage you to have a look on the website where you can find more about both of these streams of work as well as nesta's two other missions one of which is a healthy life which aims to increase the average number of healthy years lived in the uk while narrowing health inequalities and the other is a fair start which aims to narrow the outcome gap between children growing up in disadvantage and the national average so before we dive into the discussion today which will be i think really really thought-provoking and interesting i'll introduce myself and then just cover a couple of quick housekeeping points so as you will have gathered by now my name is chantel and i'm a research fellow based at the university of oslo's center for technology innovation and culture where i currently work on a joint project with nesta on how to embed societal values in research and innovation by employing our moral imaginations i have a specific interest in questions of the intersection between justice and data science and prior to relocating to oslo i spent around four years working in nested data analytics team working on projects covering a really wide variety of themes including inclusive innovation and new approaches to evidence-based policy making so in terms of the structure for the session today we'll start off with sort of a conversation between myself and our two guests and we'll be turning more towards uh audience questions and comments towards the second half of the discussion uh but that being said we're really keen to have it be sort of a conversational medium so if you can post questions reflections um in the chat throughout then we'll do our best to draw those into the conversation and we'll also try to get to some of the questions that were submitted ahead of time if you would like to use closed captions these can be accessed via a link in the session description so please do use that um and so without further delay i'd really like to introduce today's guests so we have tanyu joining us from new york and she is interested in the interconnectedness of climate change and other forms of justice including racial and migrant justice she spearheaded the growing fossil fuel divestment campaign and co-organized the largest climate march in history which is the people's climate march and in addition to work on climate justice she is a long-time immigrant rights activist we're also joined by jeremy who's joining us today from luton in the uk and is the author of the book climate change is racist where he argues that climate change is structurally racist and disproportionately caused by majority white people in majority white countries with the damage unleashed overwhelmingly on people of color in other words his book aims to show um how the climate crisis reinforces and reflects racial injustices and i can just say i can highly recommend the book um to anybody who's interested in this topic it's it's a really good read um so i'm going to now just turn it over to our guests uh to give maybe a more thorough introduction to themselves into their work um and so maybe we'll start with jeremy to give daniel a couple more minutes for the coffee to kick in since it's very early uh where she is so jeremy over to you certainly thank you and it's great to be here with you all thanks for tuning in yes my name is jeremy i'm a writer and a campaigner on social and environmental issues my uh my early childhood was spent in madagascar and then in kenya and so right from early age i've been quite aware of environmental problems and also got to see poverty and development issues up close and and i always saw how those things interconnected and then when i went to university and learned about climate change for the first time i could straight away see how climate change was a justice issue so i've been working on that for a few years really the specific element of climate change and race came much later in the cycles i move in that wasn't something that was discussed very much although in other circles it is discussed um and so when i kind of first realized that there was a racial dynamic to climate change i wanted to read a book about it i couldn't find a book about it and kind of over the next couple of years i kind of talked myself into writing that book and then talk myself out of writing it and then ended up doing it and and it's out now so that's that's this one here climate change is racist um it's only a little book you can definitely read this one so that's me and i write other things as well but this is something that i've been really focusing on and talking about in the last year or so thank you so much jeremy and over to tani
hi everyone um so my name is tanu yakupitia once again and i'm the director of communications and digital at 350.org and i'm the co-director of our um us team and um how i began working on climate work um so i i started working at 350 in 2017 but um a lot of my entry into climate and sustainability work is actually from a migration lens um a lot of my work prior to working at 350 was in the u.s immigrant rights movement um and doing racial justice work and so um and i i grew up in asia i grew up in sri lanka and thailand my my dad does a lot of work around like sustainability environment environmental justice so like i grew up in that setting but um a lot of my work on migration really came from being an immigrant myself here in the us i moved here when i was 18 and also just seeing the stark just contrasts and differences from what it meant to be a person of color living in the west living in the u.s and also particularly being an immigrant and just like the inaccessibility um to um opportunities um and as an international student to the u.s i in fact had more opportunities than um undocumented youth for example who had come to the us with their parents when they were very young and still weren't able to access scholarships and whatnot and so um a lot of my uh trajectory in immigrant rights work actually came post 9 11. um i was a researcher on a book called the accidental american by rinkusan which is which was about the undocumented workers who worked on the restaurant on top of the twin towers and how none of their families got access to any support or aid after their loved one died and a lot of the sort of anti-immigrant sentiment in the u.s that sort of ebbs and flows and mostly recently you've heard about it likely with trump um but the reason why i um shifted into doing climate work is that um at the beginning of the trump administration i thought it was really important to be doing intersectional work and for me there's such a an interconnection between climate and immigration the most vulnerable communities across the world will and are already moving because of a complex set of factors including including climate change um and so i i in particular think it's important for folks from different intersectional social justice movements to be working on climate and you know speaking in the us a lot of you know people of color myself included often you know kind of stay away from the climate movement because it's super white um and so it was a real culture shock even for me like entering the climate movement and so a lot of my aim in doing climate justice work working on fossil fuel divestment um is to actually demonstrate the connections between climate and race climate and migration because those most impacted are black and brown and communities of color across the world
thank you so much for that introduction um yeah so i mean there's obviously so many different directions that we could take this conversation and so again really encouraging people to to put your comments um and your questions and we'll try to get to those um and i think you've already both kind of touched on some of the the basis for the interconnection between um these issues in your introductions but i thought just maybe in terms of setting the groundwork maybe it would be helpful to just get into some of the really kind of specifics around the connections between climate change and sort of migration and the refugee crisis as well as between climate change and structural racism and so it would be great to sort of maybe get a little bit more specific about those intersections as you mentioned uh just now but then also i wanted to maybe bring in um at even at this early stage one of the questions that came in before the session which is sort of related to this question about why we might want to address these questions in an interconnected way rather than address them sort of separately and this question was from isabelle uh demello and apologies if i've mispronounced that um but isabelle wrote that she read that white supremacy um was as the at the root of a number of injustices a racial sexual gender identity and could all be linked back to the concept of superiority and the need to divide or break in order to control and so isabel asked do you agree and if so how can we use this narrative to tackle these issues holistically so a number of different uh points there to pick up on so i'll pass it over to you to decide so maybe we can hear from thanu first and then we'll hear from jeremy sure um wow how did we break down white supremacy and all of the issues of being justice and and sorry for the um the noise it's it's new york city so there's a lot of um yeah so um i mean yes white supremacy is at the heart of a lot of a lot of issues of injustice and um when it relates to climate like i'll take it from a sort of a a top sort of overview lens like if you look at um climate change and extraction and the burning of fossil fuels and i imagine this is in jeremy's book um it really is related to the history of conquest to the history of imperialism um and colonization um i am from a former british colony um you know i mean we could even talk about like the uk's role and europe's role in particular in sort of perpetuating uh a climate crisis and of course the us canada et cetera but um a lot of it is is rooted in white supremacy and this idea that you can conquer other groups of people uh particularly black and brown people that you can take their resources that you can take their land that you can build other things on it and so like as pertaining to the fact that the the people most impacted by climate change right are from the global south are from communities of color um when it comes to the impacts of climate change even over the next like 10 to 20 years if you look at small island nations like the pacific islands we are seeing um islands like tuvalu tonga fiji that are only 10 meters above above sea level that are going to that are already experiencing um like massive sea level rise and this is because of the burning and fossil fuels perpetuated by the extraction from um from colonizers and so there is a link between white supremacy and extraction white supremacy and climate change in the sense that like like it is no no secret that it is you know white peoples of um you know the uk and europe that have colonized most parts of the world and so you know that on sort of a base level of like colonization is one of the linkages and i think one of the things that we need to think about when we think about when we talk about climate is like oftentimes like in a lot of the work that i do i see people saying asking why are you even talking about race what does that have to do with climate change and it has a lot to do with climate change because of who is impacted so even when i'm looking at migrants who are you know moving to parts of um of the west like if you look at the u.s mexico border and who's basically a refugee on the on the the mexico side of the border we're talking about people from haiti um we're talking about people people from guatemala and nicaragua we're also talking about people from other parts of the world africa south asia who are trying to come to the us um for safety and they're doing it through the u.s mexico border and if you actually in in some of the research done in some of the interviews in interviews done with folks you know migration is a there's a complex set of um factors that lead to migration it's often not just one thing it's not just climate change it's like climate change and political strife and poverty etc it it basically is around like not having opportunities and if you really dig dig into it that's actually like connected to a history and a past that it is connected to like colonization and colonialism and why it is that people don't have the resources in their communities and countries um i'll stop there and hand it over to jeremy and probably we can have a conversation about this yeah thank you yeah i think sometimes especially if people aren't familiar with anti-racist uh debates then hearing white supremacist or white supremacy can can really kind of be a bit strange because for all people i think the first thing we think of is like the kkk and people in whitehoods and stuff but obviously that's an explicit a part of that movement what we're really talking about is that conscious or unconscious unconscious hierarchy that used to be much more pronounced and explicit and you know people would write books explaining why white people like me were at the top of the tree and everyone else kind of had their place and um those sorts of ideas were used to justify things like colonialism and why it was okay to turn up in other countries like sri lanka or like madagascar and kenya where i grew up and for white people to plant their flag and say this is mine now and you could say it's because you know we're more smart we have a greater history a greater culture greater religion you know whatever card you want to play to justify that when actually what you're doing there is you're there to exploit and to take what you want that's what we're talking about when we talk about white supremacy is that that justifying logic which we know to be entirely false but is very well developed and it's all there through history to see um that legitimizes that extraction including fossil fuels and and what what we have with climate change is we have climate change unfolding in a global context where white supremacy through things like slavery and colonialism are all there in the history and there's a very direct through line from colonial power through institutions like the un for example where you still have former colonial powers uh who are still you know hold the most power within those institutions uh within the world bank and the world trade organizations and of course in the global economy if you if you take a a map of countries that were colonized 100 years ago in 1920 1921 and you compare it to a map of the countries most affected by climate change today you realize that they look almost identical and the power structures have formally changed but the the flows of money haven't and the power structures uh the actual how power is used in the world is still pretty much the same even though people technically have independence so that's the thing to remember really is that even though the formal and legal structures of the world have all changed this is all happening in a context of post-colonialism and within the legacy of white supremacy and that can be hard to get your head around if you've only grown up in a country where you think that empire is in the past colonialism is in the past we've kind of got over that stuff now but it's that's not how it looks too much of the world yeah and the other thing that i'll add is like you know trying to erase that past doesn't actually shift things and so even in the uk when you look at the last couple of years and you know the debates around like brexit and like why why the uk is trying to brexit actually it's a very anti-immigrant narrative right and it actually is very very rooted in um in in britain's colonial past and the fact that a lot of people from former colonies moved to the uk and like but but the the fundamental crux of what people you know don't want to talk about is like why is that why is it that people are moving to um places like the uk other parts in europe the us canada it's because of their lack of resources and so yeah i agree with jeremy like you know people sort of balk at like white supremacy and um i think we really need to recognize that like sure like certain things have shifted and also like we have um particular white people in particular have have to reckon with this legacy you can't bury it um and we can't actually resolve things like climate change by considering these separate issues i think one of the things that's like frustrating to me about the climate movement which oftentimes is very white is like there's this idea that like well climate change affects everyone we're all impacted and like yes to a certain extent and also no to another extent it very much has to do with power it very much also has to do with who's impacted first and the most vulnerable people are communities of color and that is very much related to what um jeremy is talking about in terms of um structures of power um that um you know have a real like connection and flow um from you know hundreds and thousands of years ago yeah that was great thank you so much jeremy was there something else that you wanted to come in on there i just saw you well just just to say in terms of the climate movement being very white i think one of the the problems that we have is if i go to an extinction rebellion protest in london it's not far away from where i am and often go down there you'll often have people saying you know i'm acting for my grandchildren or you know i'm acting for the future and yet there are people in other parts of the world and this is a matter of survival right now and they're not being represented and so if you're from that diaspora you're thinking what's this got to do with me these people are much more concerned about their grandchildren they might even have grandchildren yet they're more concerned about theoretical future white people than people of color who are suffering now and i can understand how it can feel like a space that doesn't reflect people's kind of real fears and dangers
yeah absolutely jeremy and that's actually a really great sort of segue i guess into the next question i guess that i was i was curious to cover with both of you which is around sort of activism and social movements so uh sort of more generally um and actually for anybody who's interested i went to a pre-book launch uh earlier this week by the philosopher michelle moody adams who is has written a book called making space for justice and she gives an overview of sort of social movements um over a long period of time and talks about how uh social movements have been really sort of essential in advancing um social change but also sort of defining justice and what we mean by justice and more concretely what what sort of demanded in order to achieve justice and so i would just say i would highly recommend that anybody who's interested but yeah i was i was curious to know uh given both of your sort of involvement in social movements you know what you think um these sort of movements what kind of role they play um and also given that we have sort of representation from a couple of different places um and obviously the uk and the us are two of many many countries that we could uh get into but given your your experiences in um those countries do you think that there's anything that um can be learned from one another um in how those movements have been developed how they've grown over time and where they should be headed um so maybe we can start with jeremy and then over to tanya yes i think the the movement the social movement thing is really interesting when you look at who's in charge in britain and who has been in charge for the last 10 years you think there's not really much hope of this current government really getting it on on either climate change or racial justice and if you're a follower of british politics if you read things like for example the sewell report that came out earlier this year that was looking at the whole uh idea of structural racism within britain and it basically concluded that there's nothing to see here you know that's all in the past um it's more complicated than that but basically you will have a an official position that's basically denial from from our current government it's um it's hugely frustrating but you can also see how social movements do make the difference and it's interesting particularly on climate change when um britain was at one point kind of a leader on climate change back in about 2008 2009 one of the first countries to put in place proper carbon targets and then nothing happened for a decade pretty much it kind of coasted on that early action and then you had the school strikes movement you had extinction rebellion and within a matter of three or four months all of a sudden britain had its net zero uh by 2050 target um and all the sudden stars decided to take action again and that was partly because theresa may was leaving office with very little to show for it and what is some kind of legacy i think but that's that's fine and that movement i think did make the difference even if that's not what we were asking for exactly so you you know we can see how those things do bring change you know it's always complicated change comes through multiple different pathways at the same time but sometimes it can it can cause the breakthrough it can just bring things up the agenda enough to get that political attention and kind of you know the boulder starts to roll downhill if you like
danny did you want to jump in on that yeah can you just repeat the question so this is on just like activism and social movements in general yeah so i was trying to back up a little bit because we started getting into that so i wanted to maybe just set the context around you know what role you think these play in advancing climate justice uh racial justice and protect perhaps the intersection between them um and then also just the comparative question between the u.s context and the uk context right yeah i mean you know i think i think it's really really important that social movements are intersectional and i think that you know at least from the u.s context like i've i think more and more they're becoming intersectional but uh but i've also experienced like you know a decade ago um you know things were very separate it was like we're working on racial justice over here we're working on immigration over here and we're working on climate over here and um more and more that's shifting but um there's a lot of work to do and it's hard right because i think a lot of social movements are also like you know they're putting they're putting band-aids on very structural issues so for example you know the immigrant rights movement in the u.s like over the last couple of years i've been trying to do like sort of intersectional work on climate and immigration but like you know over the last decade um and you know not just within the trump administration but the obama administration certainly now in the biden administration like um immigrant rights organizations are spending time like stopping people's deportations so when you're like stopping people's deportations like you don't necessarily have time to think about like oh yeah also climate change you're just trying to like stop someone's deportation you're trying to support people in being able to get sanctuary or safety and so um you know on a on a fundamental level there's um there's um just like a need for actually like more support for our movements that are like tangibly doing things on the ground um you know in in the racial justice movement in the us like certainly like when it comes to like police violence and the the killing um of of black black people in the us and this is not specific just to the u.s this happens in the uk and in the europe as well in the europe in europe as well um it's you know there's there's like a crisis that's happening to communities of color and so it's i there's definitely like a lot of work that's being done like i see the movement for black lives now doing work on climate um and one of the things that i am hopeful for is that i am seeing communities of color actually redefine what it means to do climate work and to not do it from a white lens i've been reading some of the comments and i see that there's some like um real extinction rebellion supporters i'm like yeah extinction rebellion is cool and also i disagree um i do not think that extinction rebellion talks about race enough i think that extinction rebellion over the last two years has kind of been forced to talk about race and um but they've done that because groups in the uk like black lives matter have really pushed it um but like extinction rebellion rebellion when it started did not talk about race um they talked about other forms of of justice but um they often didn't do it from a racial lens and the extinction rebellion i think in the u.s also still doesn't do that and i saw some comments around like you know privilege and who can be on the streets absolutely like you know there is a reality around like who can get arrested who can't get arrested but the thing that i really need for people to understand that if you want to create inclusive movements there are different ways to do that as an immigrant to the us for many many years i couldn't get arrested like i i had to like basically like skirt around issues or literally i'd be in a march and the minute there were cops i would go into the subway because if i was arrested there were dire consequences for me but inclusive movements find ways to include communities of color to include immigrants um extinction rebellion and other other organizations if they've really had a clear racial justice framework um they could do it in a way where like you could make it safer for communities of color to come out and the thing around like inclusive social movements is that there also need to be leaders of color in those movements like you know folks of color are not going to come out if they don't see themselves represented and they don't see themselves represented in the leadership of these movements and that's one of the things that needs to shift in a lot of um social movements and and it's beyond just representation because when i talk about representation i'm very very careful around tokenism we don't want black and brown people as token leaders in these movements we want authentic movements that are multiracial that um that you know um speak to all of us and that includes speaking to black brown white and indigenous peoples um all together and so i would say that there's like a lot of work that needs to be done around um inclusivity and intersectionality and then in relation to um you know the difference in the us and the uk i haven't been in the uk context for a long time um you know certainly in the us context races something that is um very you know visibly talked about um and i would say that um there's a lot that can be learned by that i think sometimes um people think of um the u.s is like oh they're always talking about race but in fact it's because of the history of this country which is based on extraction and slavery and the taking of lands from indigenous people and so that really has to be when we when we talk about anything whether it's racial justice immigrant justice um climate or even reproductive rights if some of you are following there's a major case in the supreme court um right now where abortion rights are basically about to be completely dismantled um we really have to think about that from a root of who who are the most impacted people and the most impacted people um when it comes to justice issues are the most vulnerable and those are people of color and low-income communities
yeah thank you so much for that um and it's been thanks so much for everybody kind of making comments and stuff in the chat it's uh trying to keep track and also keep track of the conversation but this is really fantastic and um yeah we're getting into lots of questions i think about you know actions that people can take and what are the kind of concrete things that can be done in sort of specific situations and so fanu i think you you've done a great job just now of of kind of trying to give some concrete ideas of within social movements what can be done um and so you know obviously we can feel free to add anything else into that moving forward but um one thing that i thought was was really helpful actually in jeremy's book and i wanted to maybe ask him to sort of draw this out a little bit um to kind of underpin the discussion about actions moving forward um is this idea around sort of blameworthiness and responsibility um and who's actually responsible for addressing structural issues um when it's not exactly the same as you know this person did this one thing um so i'd be really curious to have you you draw that out for us jeremy yeah thank you and just to mention one one thing quickly uh whereas i didn't answer the second half of the previous question about the us and the uk and what we can learn so just really quickly on that one one thing that i've found quite inspiring about what's happening in the states at the moment is that there is a much better developed environmental justice movement we don't really have that in britain in the same way but you've got this long history of scholarship people like robert bullard and decetter taylor who've had decades of really good research and analysis into environment and race and how those things go together and honestly i couldn't have written the book without that legacy of scholarship behind it so i really appreciate that and how that's feeding in to social movements like sunrise movement or the movement for a green new deal there's loads that we can learn from that in the uk so think specifically about um yeah blame and responsibility i think we've touched on this just now as well about how race in america you know is much more visible one of the things in britain i think is that denial is much easier because you know britain is also a country that's built on slavery and extraction it's just that that happened elsewhere so it's much easier to say well you know we had nothing to do with that um but you know that the legacy of of slavery reaches all the way you know into my neighborhood there's a road uh just two streets away i walk down it almost every day on the way to school which is named after a local guy who who owns slaves crawley green road um you know it reaches right to our doorsteps but it's it's always kind of one step removed because it happened you know in the caribbean and in other places um but there is this long legacy that reaches all the way through but of course i wasn't around in colonial times and so when people start saying you know we have to take responsibility for that people do get defensive i can understand where that comes from okay it wasn't me what am i you know why am i being blamed for this and i always say well um there's a difference between blame and responsibility i don't have to accept the blame for empire because i didn't make those decisions but i can accept responsibility for that and i can look around and look at how people like me and my family have benefited from that white supremacist extractive mindset in the past and that means i need to now think about things like reparations and and being proactively anti-racist rather than just saying well i'm all right i'm not racist i'm not a white supremacist i don't accept this kind of thing anymore we have to actively undo those unjust structures and that's where there's an opportunity to play our path i think it's when we get proactive it's very easy to say well look i'm not racist i'm gonna i i don't perpetuate this stuff but if everybody said that nothing would ever change you have to proactively dismantle those structures and that's where yeah that's where we have to begin to really undo that stuff yeah danu anything to add on that yeah i mean i think just like tangibly like every plus plus to everything jeremy said but then on a on a tangible level like i think it's also around dismantling institutions right so um when we talk about the climate crisis like 350.org works on fossil fuels and um you know we're in a very sort of interesting time right now politically where you know the cop just happened the climate talks just happened in glasgow um you know the g20 and all of these countries whether it's germany the uk the us every like these politicians have this rhetoric now around climate change like the thing that the climate movement has done is definitely like elevate climate to this like crisis issue where you see politicians talking about like the climate emergency and also it's all talk because a lot of these politicians are still taking money from the fossil fuel lobby they're still allowing oil and gas extraction from fossil fuel companies whether it's shell or exxon or whatnot and we the the best thing that people can do on an institutional level to dismantle those structures is to really push back on banks on institutions um and you know like demand divestment from fossil fuels but also demand that these governments really invest in things like a green new deal um you know i mean i think one of the things that's the most flabbergasting to me about um the last two years it's um you know the fact that we've been in a pandemic we have seen how interconnected we all are right that what happens when um a pandemic spreads like right now we have this new variant a micron and i'm sure a lot of you saw in the news suddenly like everyone was blaming south africa for it but actually it came from europe ironic but um the point is that like in order to resolve global issues we need to work on it together and the pandemic was a perfect example of a time when we needed to work together and yet we're seeing um vaccine inequity across the world where places like the us and europe have the most access to vaccines when places in the global south do not you cannot resolve a global crisis like a pandemic without um without ensuring that people can get vaccinated all around the world like for for no cost and it you know very much with the climate crisis there's so much to learn from the pandemic um and and pandemics are just gonna get more and more frequent because it actually is linked to to climate right so sorry where am i going with this my point is that um um when it comes to to blame like you know like when it comes to the climate crisis like it's not it is also specifically like fossil fuel companies um you know governments in the west who have perpetuated this crisis and so like i very much agree with what jeremy says and also the best thing that white people can do in in terms of supporting those most vulnerable to climate crisis is actually pushing on governments actually um taking actions against fossil fuel companies um so that we can transition to uh to renewables and the key part is equity because one of the things that is very very dangerous about um about the ways in which um you know these global crises um play out as we've seen is that even in a crisis the people who will be the most protected are not not people from the global south right and that will be the same with cl with climate so as stronger storms as there's you know more rising sea levels and heat waves and whatnot the people most protected are the people in the west including including wealthy people including white folks and so equity has to be key in any sort any policies that are that are around um climate um and social justice um yeah and so like for me it's like i want us to like we can't just sit and just like oh like when it comes to who's responsible we actually have a role to play and we've seen this right so social movements are the most successful when people are mass taking action and um i i want to see that more and i know that it can feel it can feel really hopeless like i definitely felt really hopeless after the cop like it's like we have seven years really to turn around the climate crisis and you know the g20 can't even agree on like the best path forward or go beyond the paris climate goals and so how this is connected to um race and social justice is that we can't continue to have these theoretical conversations like i want for people to stop like like sort of like being in the guilt of like what it means to be white or um sort of you know people's responsibility around white supremacy and actually do something about that and that means like creating like inclusive movements so that we can um actually fight for the most vulnerable it means actually going like moving away from just a narrative of like this i'm doing this for my children why are we not doing this all for each other and each other's children um not just for like a small slice of what we've decided to protect yeah absolutely i think you i mean you hit on a lot of really really important points there but there was one question that came in um ahead of our discussion today which actually i think was was kind of related to what you were saying and i'd be curious to sort of hear your your views on it and so the question uh was from don dublin um and don said it and i'm condensing a little bit here but if the harmful processes of extractive wealth building is the engine of climate change how do we penalize the source of the problem the governments and corporations who are pioneers of the green washing revolution how can they help find sustainable solutions to climate change if they continue to be the cause and so this i think again is a question that comes up in so many different ways in different areas um and this question of and then you were saying sort of about like pushing back and the need for social movements but do you think that for example corporations can play a legitimate role um in coming up with solutions or by being kind of part of the problem are they just you know sort of excluded from that so be curious to hear your view yeah i mean first of all i think all of this is gonna take political will and so something that that's been happening over the last like you know five years is that there's been a lot of lawsuits against um fossil fuel companies in in both europe um and um the us um and really it's around like holding these companies responsible and so i do think that these companies have a role to play because um companies like exxon like shell actually since the 80s 70s and 80s have actually been lying about climate change they actually knew that the burning of fossil fuels would lead to a shifting climate and they deceived the public and kept that information in order to make money so these so these companies have made trillions of dollars off of the backs of people who are now being impacted by um by the climate crisis and so we really need to start thinking about a reparations framework a climate reparations framework um in um it's also called loss and damage um as well um so and i do think that like in the phasing out of fossil fuels a lot of these companies need to actually be paying for a green new deal um but instead um you know what's happening is there's a lot of greenwashing right so like if you look at a bp ad or a shell ad you actually see that a lot of them are talking about their sustainability practices and how they're you know shifting to renewables and there actually needs to be a whole accountability process um first and even when we talk about climate reparations we need to talk about reparations due to the global south south the global south from um from europe from the uk from the u.s um which are the largest emitters of um i mean the us in particular um the largest emitters of um of um carbon emissions and so there needs to be a framework also where we're thinking about like actually which um which countries and which communities need need aid um and and and and we also need to get out of this framework of aid where you know like where the global south then owes like trillions and billions of dollars to the west right so i'm not talking about like an imf framework of aid i'm talking about a reparations framework where there is recognition of um where the most damage has been done so these companies have companies and governments have like a huge huge role to play how to get that to happen however requires political will and it's that's where um a really intersectional climate movement that's taking you know really creative and bold actions um can really i believe shift that yeah thank you so much uh jeremy did you want to build on any of that or come in with anything else yeah yeah just a couple of things i suppose certainly when we know that fossil fuel companies have lied to us and deceived us in order to make profits there's i think there's a real human rights case to make there um that i think probably we will come around to although maybe not quite yet i think i think that will happen at some point um i think that almost needs to be like a truth and reconciliation process around uh who's profited from fossil fuels not just you know the ceos and the people that work for them but the shareholders um you know people who've made their money all through their lives from fossil fuels um how you get the fossil fuels fossil fuel companies to to pay into the process of climate change there's different ways i mean you could have at the more radical end you could uh you could nationalize them and close them down um or radically transform them from them you could have windful taxes which would be slightly less radical one of the most practical ways to do it politically practical would be to have a tax on fossil fuels which is then directly redistributed through a kind of tax and dividend system something like that different places have experimented with those kind of things where it gets tricky as we've just said is when it goes when it goes international so how do you get these companies to pay back to the countries most affected by climate change and there isn't at the moment a robust international mechanism for doing that the nearest thing we have to it is the loss and damage process that's part of the un but we saw in glasgow how reluctant the rich countries are to deal with that and i think part of that is a psychological thing and you know we can't even get countries to pay for adaptation um they haven't promised all this money and haven't been able to deliver it so far but even with adaptation you're kind of the hero you're that you're the donor you're giving to these poor vulnerable people loss and damage says you did this and you need to compensate these people and that's quite different all of a sudden you're not the hero you're the villain and you know you made this happen you caused this to happen and that's where countries and leaders get kind of really nervous because they can see if you accept responsibility how far is that going to go i think it will happen one really interesting thing that happened in glasgow was that the scottish government said we recognize the need for this and as a small country it's not even kind of nationally representative of the uk but as the scottish government we will put a billion on the table right now who else wants to join us and there was a deafening silence because nobody wanted to join them but it is still a first step and well done to the scottish government for doing that because this is going to be a debate that will roll on for the next 10 20 30 40 years
yeah absolutely um and so maybe picking up on that idea of sort of you know the maybe the people who need to start coming in and doing more more kind of actions there's been a couple of questions in the chat around i guess schools and universities and specifically about what tools or resources might exist for educators who want to decolonize climate change um discussions maybe in in those settings and so um it would be great to hear from either of you so maybe whoever wants to jump in on that any suggestions yeah i mean i think that it's really important to have like a you know a really diverse set of things that people are reading like oftentimes like when people read about climate change like they're reading a cert like a very specific group of people including probably 350's founder bill mckibben who i love bill but like there's a lot of um scholars and you know writers and thinkers and you know people from you know all parts of the world um black and brown folks people from the global south who can also contribute to those conversations so for me decolonizing climate change education is also about like really thinking about like you know who are people reading when they um read about climate change how are you also making sure that people are reading different kinds of voices um you know like watching things from like people who are actually impacted ensuring that indigenous um indigenous education and knowledge is being incorporated into climate change education and universities and colleges um that that i think is a really important approach to decolonizing climate education climate change is not a white issue like like if we really are going to talk about how climate change impacts all of us then let's talk really about who it impacts first and foremost yes it impacts all of us but it impacts all of us into different degrees and so i would like to see climate change education actually um you know bring in the voices of those most impacted
yeah i think what you read is a really important thing the book that i've recommended most this year is a bigger picture by vanessa nakati and as someone who's kind of come from thinking about climate change in africa there are so few books and so few kind of voices from africa on climate change even though it's the continent that will be most affected it's almost invisible in the kind of global dialogue so go and read a bigger picture by vanessa nicardi i think that's i think it's the most important book climate book of the year and bill gates can wait his turn um or last year the book all we can save another great one with loads of different voices from people of color from indigenous women and particularly that's all women in all we can save and edited by ayana elizabeth johnson and catherine wilkinson and a really good book for just diversifying the number of voices we're exposed to in terms of resources for educators that's not really my field i'm afraid so i know that i know that my wife was here she would know something because she interviewed some recently um who are working on the curriculum in britain because right now depending on which subjects you do you can get all the way through school without ever learning about climate change which is ridiculous to be bringing young people up with no awareness of like this issue that will define their lives in many ways um there is really good work happening on that i'm afraid i can't kind of name all the organizations that are doing that there are also people working on um kind of decolonizing the curriculum and at the moment i'm not seeing those being tied up so i i don't see a lot of work happening around climate change and race and putting those together in the curriculum um that's that's something we need to work on is getting those two conversations talking to each other i think yeah i can recommend a couple of other books um there's a book on um indigenous communities and climate um called braiding sweet grass um i'm forgetting the name um
yeah like that's a that's a really great book um definitely um ayanna's work is amazing but also like you know i don't think that climate change curriculum just has to be books on climate like people should be reading about race they should be reading about indigenous communities like like it you know you should be reading like arundhati roy's like work on like colonialism and imperialism that's all very connected and so i don't think in building a climate change curriculum that that means that every single like book or piece of writing has to be on climate specifically you should be you know reading books about like the black lives matter movement around structural racism um you know read um you know read books like written by members of the black panthers like it's all relevant um in in creating like a holistic curriculum yeah yeah absolutely um great so i mean this has been flying by and again thank you so much for for all the questions um i i fear that we're not gonna have time to get to all of them um and i think we maybe wanna start wrapping up in a few minutes so maybe just one last question and um i see that rushi sharma posted and asked can the speakers elaborate a little bit more on how such talks on white supremacy postcolonialism translate into action and policies that address global climate justice and so this is maybe a nice one for us to sort of wrap up on um so who would like to jump in first
i'm happy too if you like go ahead yeah so i i think the most important thing and this is kind of the key message in the book um really is that when we look at who has caused climate change especially historically it is disproportionately majority countries but when we look at who is most affected by climate change today and in the decades to come it is going to be majority black and brown countries and so there is a racial dynamic to climate change already and that racial dynamic reflects existing power structures and power inequalities that we already see in things like the global economy or in global institutions and in decision making and so on so i think in terms of how we begin to translate that into actions and policies it has to be about proactively moving power away from those traditional colonialist white power structures so that's going to include things like reforming global institutions like the un like the imf it's going to involve transfers of money and wealth as well as transfers of power that's going to happen locally and it's going to have to happen internationally to be honest it's a long process you know we're talking about things that have taken hundreds of years to develop to where we are you know the evolution of the fossil fuel industry and our dependence on it we're looking at you know the next 50 to 100 years to begin to dismantle those things as well so this is a long-term process but ultimately it is going to be about diversifying the voices that we're listening to and moving power away from those traditional power centers and getting more people involved in that what that looks like locally i think some of the most positive expressions are going to be things like community owned energy for example a really practical example of how we move power away from big energy companies burning fossil fuels to locally owned sometimes in owned by indigenous communities and get producing their own energy and sharing that wealth within the community it can be a really practical example of of how what that can look like to share power more practically over to you daniel yeah i mean i would say that like in response to this question like these talks shouldn't it's not just about like having these theoretical thought talks about like how white supremacy and colonism are related to climate it's around like like for those of you who are you know interested in policy or policy makers or educators or you know working on these different issue areas like i want for these talks to translate to people asking tangled questions who is in the room who who is like who is like leading the space how can we tangibly like take some of some of this understanding of like who is the most impacted by climate change and actually push for equitable policies and so um you know a lot of this like you know work and education around like the linkages between like race and climate and migration and climate can't exist um in a vacuum it's it's because we want it to influence policy so when um you know inevitably there will be you know loss and damage policies around um you know ensuring that those most vulnerable get resources um we want to make sure that it comes from a framework where race um and white supremacy is actually being considered and so that requires like really pushing on on governments because a lot of western governments feel very very hesitant um um and and can and are very sort of protectionist around like their resources versus others and so we really need to be make creating like a global movement that is aware of the interconnections between race and climate and other social justice issues in order to push for equitable policies that really do elevate the most vulnerable um and i think people need to get out of this mindset that like this individualistic mindset around like well what's gonna happen to me and my communities if you elevate black and brown people and those most most impacted by the climate crisis you're elevating all of us and um that's that's what's necessary in terms of policy change well i think that is a perfect uh way to close down the conversation today this has been really really fantastic i think you know i've learned a lot um from from both of you and and i hope everybody tuning in has as well and again thank you so much for all of the the questions and comments in the chat um i hope that this really kind of spurs the the conversation to continue uh moving forward in other other venues um so just very briefly kind of before we uh close down i obviously want to say thank you so much to both of you for being here today it was really invaluable uh there will be a survey um if you have a couple of moments to spare uh so the link i think maybe has already been shared or will be shared and so please do fill it in it would be really helpful for us um moving forward and then just to uh briefly say that the next uh nesta talks to event will be happening on the 16th of december and it will be looking at um the question of will our cities survive the future and so in the sort of post-pandemic world how has our relationship to the city changed and how might we tackle really important questions around sort of health educational and social inequalities that exist in urban areas um so that will be hosted by nesta's chief partnership officer vicky selleck and the authors of the new book survival of the city um ed glaser and david cutler so would really encourage um everyone to join that discussion as well so thanks again everyone and enjoy the rest of your days thank you thank you thanks
"I was taught about the impacts of climate from a young age. But I don’t think I understood that it disproportionately impacted people of colour until working with immigrant rights communities"Thanu Yakupityage
"‘The climate crisis reflects and reinforces racial injustice"Jeremy Williams, Climate Change is Racist.
As the effects of climate change intensify, it’s vital to ensure an intersectional approach to global climate action. Jeremy Williams and Thanu Yakupitiyage both argue that there is an indisputable link between climate change and racial inequalities, that must be overcome to achieve climate justice. Thanu and Jeremy joined Nesta's Research Fellow at the University of Oslo, Chantale Tippett to discuss this.
In his book, Climate Change is Racist, Jeremy Williams argues that climate change is disproportionately caused by mostly majority-white countries, and the damages unleashed overwhelmingly on people of colour.
For activist Thanu Yakupitiyage, climate change is also inextricably tied up with the migrant crisis, with climate change disasters provoking widespread migration.
How can we ensure climate action empowers and provides for the communities most affected by climate change? How can the fight for racial and climate justice work hand in hand?
The recording will be made available shortly after the event if you’re unable to attend - register now to have it sent directly to your inbox!
Jeremy is a writer and activist for environmental and social justice. He is the author of Climate Change is Racist: Race, Privilege and the Struggle for Climate Justice (Icon Books, 2021), and writes The Earthbound Report, twice recognised as Britain's leading green blog. He grew up in Madagascar and Kenya, and now lives in Luton, UK
Thanu Yakupitiyage is the U.S. Communications & Digital Director at 350.org, an organization tackling the climate crisis by ending the age of fossil fuels and building a just world powered by community-led renewable energy for all. She's also a long-time immigrant rights activist, media professional, cultural organizer, and multidisciplinary artist/deejay based in New York City. She previously worked for the New York Immigration Coalition for close to seven years where she headed the organization's communications and media relations strategy. Through her work at NYIC, she became an immigration policy expert, using her skills in media and communications to shift narratives on immigration and immigrants themselves. She was a lead organizer in recent efforts to push back against Trump's executive orders in his first week in office that mandated a Muslim Ban and increased enforcement and raids against immigrant communities. In 2017, she decided to move on to 350.org and bring a migration perspective to the critical work of climate justice. At 350.org, she has led communications for the largest climate mobilizations and helped popularize and shift the narrative on climate as a critical social and racial justice issue. In 2018-2019, Thanu held New York University's Asian Pacific American Institute Artist-in-Residence, which she used to curate critical conversations on migration, climate, and the arts. She also was selected to be part of The Shed's Open Call 2019, where she produced an audiovisual piece on migrant stories. She has an MA in communications from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a BA in critical media studies and international development from Hampshire College.
Nesta Research Fellow at the University of Oslo