Issues like climate change and race are usually framed individually but they are part of a connected system.
The link between climate change and race may not be immediately apparent, but at least one organization is doing something to connect the dots. In light of the racial tensions stemming from the killing of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, 350.org’s Executive Director May Boeve stated, “We believe unequivocally that working for racial justice is a crucial part of fighting climate change.”
The reasons behind such a statement are many and varied. For one, organizations advocating for racial justice, “could use some of environmentalists’ passion around conservation and the preservation of life” Brentin Mock writes for Bridge the Gulf.
Additionally, climate change has and is expected to disproportionately affect people of color both domestically and internationally. In cases like Hurricane Katrina, the disaster quickly became an issue of race and racism, ranging from accusations of “looting” to at least 11 shootings of African-American men by white men in the days following the storm. In at-risk countries like Bangladesh, the potential for climate change “acts as a threat multiplier” wherein people face food and housing insecurity, as well as social and political instability. At the center of these situations is an imbalance of power where those with the most resources (including money, weapons, and connections) usually win out.
Furthermore, in many ways, the two issues are related by economic priorities which tend to favor profit over everything else—the environmental, the ethical, the future of our communities. Oil companies profit despite disasters such as Deepwater Horizon (where Vietnamese communities in the Gulf who relied on the fishing industry took a particularly hard hit, not to mention the environmental and health effects), corporations like Halliburton contract out armed guards to protect their extraction sites abroad, weapons companies profit in the billions from police departments that acquire tanks and teargas (like the kind deployed in the Ferguson protests), and privatized prisons make money off of discriminatory drug laws.
Lastly, a threat of suppression or actual violence to one group is a signal to anyone else who may want to speak out. In the U.S., such acts can have a “chilling effect” which is intended to quiet the use of our First Amendment rights including the right to free speech and the right to assemble.
So what can be done to bridge the divides between movements? Deirdre Smith, 350.org’s Strategic Partnership Coordinator says it will take a deeper understanding of institutional injustices, a drive to develop stronger alliances, and an acknowledgment of privilege. And although she recognizes that, “we have a lot of learning to do about how to come together,” in doing so, collectively, our voices will reach farther, be more resilient, and do more to tip the balance of power.