The Climate Emergency and #BlackLivesMatter

This was intended to be the last in my 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 wrote it a bit out of order, but I wanted to publish it here now anyway. We have til the end of 2020 to ‘save the planet’, so we’re nearly out of time. [Update: The Cathedral News editorial team turned it down for publication in the November edition, and a revised version focusing on Climate Justice down in December.]

All articles in the series »

How can we work together to save our life-support system and cherish God’s good creation? Back in May I considered the links between COVID and climate and suggested we reframe what we consider ‘normal’. A month later, we discovered that COVID disproportionately affected people of colour, and #BlackLivesMatter gained widespread recognition. I want to consider the link between the two in this my last article on: What can I do about the Climate Emergency?

10. 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)

I will add to the list in that last paragraph: the willingness to make deep sacrifices in our lifestyles and, as Gandhi said, live simply 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“. It revolutionised my thinking. Here is my recast of her introduction:

  • 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 people of colour. So pulling these two strands together, #BlackLivesMatter means #ClimateJustice.

To the privileged, equality feels like persecution, whether the privileged are white, male, heterosexual, rich, educated, etc. It’s not easy to face, and those who should read this probably won’t, but I’m fed up with pussy-footing around. The issues are systemic. So among all my suggestions, keeping up the pressure on Government is key and doing our bit in our own lives shows we’re serious.

White people may say we want to be an ally to Black people. But are we ready for sacrifice? Are we ready to do what we can about the Climate Emergency?

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