The Climate Emergency and #BlackLivesMatter

I’m writing a series of articles for Exeter Cathedral’s monthly News, on the changes we can make in our own lives, and how we can encourage governments and business to make necessary structural changes. I don’t know when this one will actually go in the News, but I wanted to publish it now. We have til the end of 2020 to ‘save the planet’. So that’s less than six months now.

All articles in the series »


How can we work together to save our life-support system and cherish God’s good creation? In May I considered the links between COVID and climate and suggested we reframe what we consider ‘normal’, and I followed this in July with the suggestion we ‘tread more lightly’ in our transport choices. At the same time, we have discovered that COVID has disproportionately affected black people and other people of colour, and #BlackLivesMatter has gained widespread recognition. But what does this have to do with my usual title for articles in this series: What can I do about the Climate Emergency?

9. Sacrifice your privilege

“White people say they want to be an ally to Black people. But are they ready for sacrifice?” ran the headline of a recent article in the Guardian by a black queer person:

Social justice practitioners often point to allyship as an opportunity for sympathetic White people to get involved in the fight for social equity – to use their privileges to call attention to injustice by utilizing the channels which are generally inaccessible to people of color without penalization…

Unfortunately, good deeds will not dismantle systemic oppression…

The truth is, genuine allyship is not kindness, it is not a charitable act, nor is it even a personal commitment to hold anti-racist ideals – it is a fall from grace. Real allyship…means a willingness to lose things… I mean palpable, incalculable loss… Refusing a pay raise at one’s job and insisting that it be reallocated to co-workers of color who are undoubtedly being underpaid. The loss of potentially every close relationship with other White friends and family members who refuse to acknowledge or amend their behaviors that reinforce systemic oppression. The loss of bodily safety, by way of physically intervening when violence is being inflicted on to Black bodies.

Kelsey Smoot (author’s emphasis)

…and I will add to the list in that last paragraph: the willingness to make deep sacrifices in our lifestyles, and to live simply so that others may simply life.

It was 2008, and I’d been getting increasingly jaded and cynical about climate and church and world. In both, there was a general lack of interest in the climate and the urgency of taking action to safeguard our future. Moreover, ecotheology seemed to have a total focus on ‘caring for God’s good creation’, and its outworkings were often nothing but twee platitudes.

Then I read Paula Clifford’s paper for Christian Aid entitled “All creation groaning – a theological approach to climate change“. In her introduction, she laid out the obvious. I paraphrase:

  • Rich countries through their economic activity have caused the climate crisis. [Much of this economic activity has been on the back of colonial and post-colonial exploitation of poor countries.]
  • Poor people in poor countries, though they have done least to cause the climate crisis, are the most vulnerable to its effects.
  • Poor people in rich countries are also more vulnerable. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, it was the poorest people who suffered the most. [These were typically people of colour.]
  • Rich countries can afford to adapt to climate change and maintain their current levels of economic activity, while poor countries cannot.
  • Rich countries do not want to give up their lifestyles, and at the same time are denying poor countries the right to get on to the development ladder, because of the possible resulting increase in emissions.

Rich countries and rich people are typically white western. Poorer countries and poorer people are typically black people and other people of colour. So pulling these two strands together, #BlackLivesMatter also means #ClimateJustice. White people say we want to be an ally to Black people. But are we ready for sacrifice?

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