From white environmentalism to climate justice

by Nish Doshi

“Why is environmentalism so white?” With well over a decade in and out of the climate movement in the UK, this is a question I’ve often been asked, and it’s a question that makes me cringe a little. Climate change isn’t an environmental issue, in my opinion, it’s an issue of human rights. It’s borne out of a broken system – a system that has casually put profit and resource accumulation before people.

I became aware of climate change at a young age. I’d grown up in Kenya, and at 12, we were hit with a major drought. The result was devastating for the majority of the population. As a middle class kid growing up in Nairobi, I didn’t experience the worst of it – only water shortages and electricity rationing (due to Kenya’s dependence on hydroelectricity at the time). But for the rest of the country – this meant famine, poverty and mass displacement. The impact of climate change was visible. It was right in front of us.

Instead of centering the lives of those most impacted – like the destitution of the Turkana peoples – Kenya’s response was to protect the middle classes from further disruption. They built coal power plants. Aid poured in from the global north, with programmes designed to transform pastoral systems. Tackling the root causes of climate change was not on the agenda.

As a child, I couldn’t understand why. Why weren’t we talking about an end to fossil fuels? But I’d already witnessed the 1998 bombings of the American Embassy in Kenya, and that experience had taught me that all lives which weren’t protected by the global north were expendable in the eyes of the American Empire.

In Kenya, environmentalism meant National Parks. It meant protecting elephants from poachers hungry for ivory. It meant mass tourist safaris. It didn’t mean the lives of every day people. It didn’t mean the lives of groups like the Ogiek who had been removed from their lands so these National Parks could be built. And it certainly didn’t mean the lives of poor rural communities whose lives had been devastated by drought and flash flooding.

So when people ask me “why is environmentalism so white?” when referring to the mass demonstrations against climate change in the UK, I like to answer that it is because they see climate change as an issue of ‘environmentalism’ rather than an issue of social justice.

It is with ‘Climate Justice’ in sight that I have planned my journey as part of the Routes section of the Enough! project.

Through my travels, I hope to show you how our many social justice campaigns and struggles are interconnected with climate justice. From migrant rights to anti-gentrification and safe housing projects. My focus will be on People of Colour (racialised people) and their spaces of resistance and resilience, as we are so often left on the sidelines when it comes to any discussion of climate change in mainstream and activist spaces. I will also introduce you to groups who are actively trying to change that – centering race and global north/south divides in their work.

I am starting in Barcelona, where I have already started conversations on issues ranging from migrant rights, decolonisation, feminism, to housing rights and reclaiming public spaces. From there, I move onto the Czech Republic to share stories of Romani and Czech communities working together to fight gentrification in an old coal mining town which still faces toxic pollution from nearby chemical factories. After that I’ll be meeting folks from Berlin who have been actively working on creating spaces for people of colour in the climate movement. I’ll move onto the Netherlands & Brussels where we’ll hear from a number of activists working on decolonising climate change and reclaiming ‘climate justice’ as part of their movements.

I cannot tell you exactly what I expect to encounter in each of these spaces; I hope they will tell you instead. The stories I share – here and on Instagram – will be ones that the people have chosen to share with me.

Until then, feel free to send me tips and share stories!



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