Climate change activism has a whiteness problem and a class problem.
Climate change is inextricably linked to other systems of oppression, like neoliberal capitalism and colonization. But mainstream environmental movements have historically failed to recognize the roots of the climate crisis; and partly because of this, climate change activism has a whiteness problem and a class problem.
The movement's hypocrisy has grown harder to ignore as the climate crisis has intensified. Environmental racism has left poorer communities on the frontlines of unclean air and dangerous pipelines, while largely shutting their voices out of the decision and policy-making aspects of change.
The problem is rooted in the way environmental activism has traditionally been defined. Early environmental efforts (at least the ones that received the most funding) often focused on preservation and conservation of untouched land. These efforts existed in silos, painting the Earth as a childlike entity—as if the planet was separate and somehow lower than humans. This Earth was treated like an entity that required saving, and the saving was to be done by corporate firms and guilty consumers.
Even during these early times, many groups were actively fighting systemic oppression in conjunction with environmental activism, from Latino farmworkers protesting pesticides to Black students in Harlem fighting to oppose city garbage dumps in their communities. Still, over the next several decades, the mainstream environmental movement failed to realize that the climate crisis was not merely a matter of spoiled rivers and suffering polar bears. The climate crisis was seen as something separate from human life and separate from other social issues. Large "big green" corporations focused on promoting small changes that people could make on individual scales, as if "going green" could save us. We could all take shorter showers, take the bus instead of driving, purchase expensive organic products, and shut up—nevermind that the super wealthy have always used up far more resources and energy than their fair share.
A Crisis of Understanding
"Our economic system and our planetary system are now at war," writes Naomi Klein in This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs. the Climate. "Or, more accurately, our economy is at war with many forms of life on earth, including human life. What the climate needs to avoid collapse is a contraction in humanity's use of resources; what our economic model demands to avoid collapse is unfettered expansion. Only one of these sets of rules can be changed, and it's not the laws of nature."
The climate movement will absolutely fail if it does not recognize the importance of its relationships with other social movements. The climate movement must stand in solidarity with organizations fighting for racial and class equity, for an end to the prison industrial complex and for reparations. It must stand in solidarity with people of color and particularly with Indigenous people, who have always been leading in the fight, and all climate movements must defer to leaders who are living on the front lines of the crisis.
If the climate movement continues to prioritize "an end to the climate crisis" over an end to capitalism, if the movement continues to languish in apocalyptic fears rather than paying attention to how climate actually affects people's lives, if the movement remains disconnected from actual life and the way that the climate crisis is already here for so many people around the globe, it will fail.
Just as we humans cannot survive if we view ourselves as separate from the earth, we can't view the climate crisis as unrelated to other issues of inequality and systemic violence. We need to understand that, just as everything in nature relies on everything else—rivers flow into oceans, tree roots create an underlying network of communication that stretches through an entire forest—the movement to stop climate change is the movement to end relentless capitalism, which is also the movement to actually address the monetary inequalities that still exist because of America's legacy of colonization, slavery, and other violences.
The Future of Environmental Justice
Activist groups are waking up to this, at least theoretically. Groups like the youth organization Sunrise Movement have rallied around Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal, a movement that aims to combine a massive reduction in carbon emissions with reforms that will make safe housing, affordable food, and health care available to everyone.
In some ways, Sunrise still suffers from the problems that have always plagued environmental groups: a pervasive level of whiteness and classism. But the movement has been discussing how to change this, initiating a hub restructure program and encouraging the development of smaller, more local groups that will facilitate local outreach. The next step is to put the voices of people who are already fighting for justice into power, people like the Indigenous climate activists who have been protecting the earth for centuries, often at great personal risk.
These are complex tasks that require deep thought and challenging conversations, but they are of the utmost importance. The environmental movement will fail unless it embraces its interconnectedness with all things–Embracing interconnectedness will only ever make us all stronger.
Climate change will inevitably result in tremendous change. If we somehow succeed in pulling the world back from the brink of climate disaster but fail to address other systems of oppression—if we merely keep the world as it is, favoring only the super-rich, allowing suffering on a massive scale despite the fact that we have the resources to address it—would the movement be a victory for anyone except those who were already winning?
Reduce your carbon footprint for Thanksgiving and beyond
Are you worried about your carbon footprint this holiday season? There's a limit to how much the responsibility for climate change individuals can take when industry is the true locus of the damage, and governmental regulation is necessary to reign it in. Still, with all the travel and the piles of food piled on top of other piles of food, it's easy to see why some people are taking note of the waste and pollution that results from these annual occasions. Does that mean we should give up these rare chances to celebrate and share with far-flung relatives?
Most of us aren't interested in that option, so how do we balance all the positivity of the holidays against the shocking environmental impact they bring? There's a number of methods you can add to your holiday traditions to help minimize your carbon footprint. Hopefully some of these options will fit into your holiday plans and reduce any stress about your carbon footprint.
Travel Less or Travel Better
Whether you're celebrating Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, or Hanukkah, travel is likely the biggest factor contributing to your carbon footprint, but there are a lot of ways you can minimize your impact. Obviously the best way to cut down is to stay local for some or all of the holidays. Many young people prefer to celebrate "Friendsgiving" in their transplant cities and set aside time for video calls with family, rather than trekking back to their hometowns. And if you just don't like your family, pointing to environmental concerns is a perfectly legitimate excuse.
If that's not an option for you—or if you really love your family for whatever reason—choosing buses and trains over cars and planes is always a plus, and selecting a location that is convenient to the greatest number of attendees can make a huge difference. And if you're thinking of travelling to New York City for the Christmas tree lighting or the New Year's Eve ball drop, don't. They're awful.
Winter heating is hugely wasteful. Any time you see icicles hanging off the side of a house or building, that's a clear sign of heat seeping out into the world. Insulation can go a long way to cutting down on both waste and costs, and signing up with an alternative energy provider like Green Mountain Energy can do a lot to minimize your impact, but there are other strategies that can help you do more while getting you into the holiday spirit, all of which can be summed up with two beautiful words: Get cozy.
Bundle up in your warmest sweater and a pair of thick socks. Share a blanket and some cocoa on the couch with your loved ones. Keep each other warm in one cozy room, rather than heating the whole house. A space heater can be a great way to cut down on your emissions and encourage your whole family to get a little closer.
Get Creative with Your Gifts
Green and eco-friendly gifts are a nice idea and can be really great if they're taking the place of a more wasteful purchase, but there is no ethical consumption under capitalism, and the waste that goes into the manufacture, shipping, and packaging of green-branded goods generally outweighs their benefits.
The greenest option is probably the one you haven't gotten away with since you were ten. A book of coupons for chores and favors doesn't cost you or the environment anything. But if you lack the courage to try pulling off a scam like that, there are some pricier experience-gifts that are a lot more eco-friendly—and a lot more memorable—than an solar-powered phone charger or a pair of pants made from bamboo. A gift card to a farm-to-table restaurant, a voucher for a massage, or just a donation to the Human Fund (or, you know, a real charity) are all great options that don't require wasteful wrapping. Alternatively, if you can make a gift yourself, you'll be a real hero.
Cut Down on Your Meat and Dairy
Okay, this is a big one. After travel, the food that we eat—and the food we throw away—are responsible for the largest portion of our carbon output. Meat is generally the biggest contributor, but red meat is particularly bad. So if you usually have a ham or a roast beside your turkey, cutting that out is a good move. And if you can cut out the turkey itself—or even just choose a smaller turkey—that's even better.
There are obviously other factors to consider, like the distance your food has to travel, and the amount of water that goes into its production, but you may not want to get your PhD before your next meal, in which case, cutting out meat is a simple and effective way to drastically reduce your carbon footprint. Meatless Mondays are an easy step that more people are taking these days, but if you're really concerned about your impact this holiday season, you can offset the added emissions from travel by cutting out meat for a few days, a week, or a month at a time.
If we made that kind of practice a part of our holiday traditions—cutting out meats for some portion of December—we could go a long way toward pairing back holiday emissions. With recent advances in meat alternatives from Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, you might find the change easier than you would think. And if enough of us pick up the habit, the agricultural industry will have no choice but to shift toward more sustainable foods.
The world is both hotter and more overcrowded than ever before. Naturally, these things are intertwined.
World Population Day was established in 1989 by the United Nations Council in order to draw attention to population issues. Back then, the world's population stood at 5.198 billion. Thirty years later, there are 7.7 billion people in the world, with an estimated 360,000 more being born each day.
It's hard to think about overpopulation without thinking about climate change, which threatens the livelihoods of every single one of these new children.
Climate change's consequences have already begun to emerge, and needless to say, they will worsen exponentially if climate change continues at its current rate. Effects include rising sea levels, tens of thousands of heat-related deaths, polluted air, a spike in chronic illnesses, severe droughts, mass extinctions that ruin ecological systems and destroy agriculture, and many natural disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires that will devastate infrastructure and generate massive flows of refugees. We've already seen these things, in the devastating 2018 California wildfires, in hurricanes like Sandy and Maria, in the drought that was a root cause of the Syrian refugee crisis, and in so many other instances.
Image via Undark
These events are only the tip of the iceberg. A 2018 UN report announced that we have twelve years to reverse the worst effects of climate change; if we fail to essentially keep temperatures from rising above 1.5C, hundreds of millions of people will suffer the consequences.
Certainly, the vastness of our world's population is a root cause of this deadly warming. According to Business Today, "One of the greatest consequences of growing population, which is perhaps a great threat to our livelihood as well, is the quick depletion of natural resources." More people means more carbon burned, more resources consumed, more people falling through the cracks.
In a merely theoretical sense, it seems logical that humanity's population explosion would happen concurrently with exponential climate change and ecological disaster, because the way our population has grown is anything but natural.
Prior to the Industrial Revolution, human society followed a particular law: As populations grow, food supplies decrease, and so the population decreases, and the food supply increases. This is the same rule that keeps animal populations in check. However, since the dawn of industry, human beings have been producing more and more food and resources to support our burgeoning population, effectively placing ourselves at the top of the food chain, subsequently displacing animal populations, and decimating our natural resources.
Now, we are reaching a breaking point.
Image via MarketWatch
However, it's too simplistic to say that the amount of people in the world is directly proportional to the rate of climate change. It's true that the locations where the largest percentages of children are being born are the places that will be most severely damaged by the rising tides and hurricanes that are stemming from warming. According to Time Magazine, rapid population growth will only lock these nations into cycles of poverty, making it extremely difficult for these places to rebound from climate change's effects. However, these places are not the ones producing the majority of carbon emissions: That honor is reserved for developed countries, like the US.
The real cause of climate change is not overpopulation alone. It's the mentality that has allowed oil companies to grow into the massive corporations they are; and that has allowed Americans, who comprise 5% of the global population, to consume 25% of the world's resources, and that has allowed many childless couples in the US to consume far more resources than couples with children. That mentality has led us to accumulate endlessly without paying any heed to natural balances or equity.
Therefore, reducing the population is actually not the most important step that needs to be taken in order to combat climate change. This is because, according to Vox, it's not that the resources we have can't support a larger population: the US could successfully feed 400 million people simply by consuming locally what we are currently exporting. The problem is that we can't maintain the kinds of resource-guzzling, carbon-based lifestyles that we—and particularly, the extremely wealthy—have become accustomed to living. Simply reducing the number of people but not addressing our society's problem with carbon and consumption will have a negligible effect on the climate. In actuality, lower fertility rates can lead to higher GDP, as childless folks can accumulate more resources that they in turn spend on flights and other energy-guzzling activities.
Image via RT.com
Though population control would help, it's far more important that we figure out how to re-distribute resources in a sustainable way, rather than wasting such a vast amount of resources like we do in America. In the end, slashing carbon emissions—and, concurrently, shifting our cultural obsession with accumulation and individualism to an emphasis on egalitarianism—is still by far the most important thing we can do for the climate.
Even so, having fewer children and making education and birth control more widely accessible would be hugely significant overall. Furthermore, deciding not to have a child is totally a viable, impactful way to combat climate change (and it's possibly even the ethical choice, given the ecological mess that new generations will find themselves involuntarily subjected to).
Because if we remain on the path we're on? The population will just continue to expand, hitting a projected 8 billion by 2050. Soon enough, natural disasters will result in the deaths of millions; more people will starve or die in refugee camps; and then, as water becomes undrinkable and the planet becomes too hot for any growing thing, that will be the end of this whole experiment called life.
Federal land is diminishing at a frightening pace under Trump.
Much of Alaska has long been protected from oil drilling by laws intended to preserve the natural beauty of one of America's least populous states. But for as long as people have fought to keep parts of Alaska free from human interference, others have fought to profit from the land. Now, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is under threat of oil drilling. Unfortunately for the protected land, a GOP tax law passed by Congress a year ago and introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) requires the Secretary of the Interior "to approve at least two lease sales for drilling — each covering no less than 400,000 acres."
Ryan Zinke, the outgoing interior secretary, has openly lauded the development, saying, "An energy-dominant America starts with an energy-dominant Alaska, and among the scores of accomplishments we have had at Interior under President Donald J. Trump, taking these steps toward opening the 1002 section of Alaska's North Slope stands out among the most impactful toward bolstering America's economic strength and security."
This move is in line with other initiatives by the Trump administration to alter Obama era regulations and expand fossil-fuel acquisition all over the country. According to The Chicago Tribune, the interior is also "trying to scrap wildlife management plans for the Mojave Desert in California and for sagebrush habitat through much of the rest of the western United States."
Mark Salvo, vice president of landscape conservation at the Defenders of Wildlife, emphasized how reckless these decisions are. "These are examples of the Trump administration stealing defeat from the jaws of victory," he said. "These plans took years to produce and tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer resources to arrive at these carefully crafted compromises to conserve public lands."
Trump is far and away the US President who has most significantly shrunk the size of protected land, notably reducing Bear Ears National Monument by 85% — a loss of 1.1 million acres. This was a part of a major push in 2017 by interior secretary Ryan Zinke to shrink the size of 10 different areas of federal land or open them up to things like oil drilling, lumber farming, and commercial fishing.
So just how much protected land have we lost under Trump? According to a study conducted by the Wilderness Society — a not-for-profit organization advocating for the protection of public lands — shared with The Guardian, the tally is as follows:
- "13.6m acres onshore have been made available for leasing by the Trump administration, far more than in any two-year period under the Obama administration."
- "More than 153m acres of ecologically sensitive habitats – from the California desert to the Arctic national wildlife refuge – have seen conservation protections rolled back in some form."
- "More than 280m acres have been made available for offshore leasing in the Gulf of Mexico and along nearly 90% of the US coastline."
Cumulatively, that is approximately 433 million acres of land that is no longer protected under US law. What this will mean for the ecosystems and tourism that exists in these places remains to be seen.
It's much easier to certify the free-range, grass-fed provenance of a hamburger than it is to guarantee that tourmaline gemstone is conflict-free.
"Knowing the lineage of a crystal is somewhat akin to knowing where the meat you're eating came from," LA-based energy healer Colleen McCann told Goop in an article on the eight crystals every follower of the new New Age should know.
But there's a hitch. It's much easier to certify the free-range, grass-fed provenance of a hamburger than it is to guarantee that tourmaline gemstone is conflict-free. Crystals aren't just shrouded in mysticism; often their source is shrouded in straight-up mystery, as the New Republic recently reported.
"Imagine if someone who owned a burger joint had to figure out the entire agriculture meatpacking industry," Julie Abouzelof, owner of Hawaii's Moonrise Crystals, told the magazine. "Except there's 1,000 different meats, and nobody's farm is listed online, and even when you meet the farmer in person, they don't want to talk to you."
Crystals and gemstones are mined on every continent on Earth, and the process isn't universally bad news. In the U.S., you can dig-your-own crystals, just as you can pick-your-own strawberries. There are also small family- and state-owned mines with environmentally friendly operations. Among crystal sellers online, some are transparent about where their rocks are from.
Others just don't know.
"It's not like this is some big conspiracy cover up," Abouzelof told the New Republic. "The sellers just don't always know."
What they don't know could hurt many people. Some crystals come from large-scale industrial gold, copper and cobalt mine; the crystals aren't what miners are after, they're the profitable byproduct on the hunt for gold. In the US, these mines have had a deleterious effect on the environment, including groundwater contamination. In New Mexico, both the State and U.S. Department of Justice have filed natural resource claims against the Tyrone Copper Mine for damages to water and wildlife. It's the same mine that produced this large blue chrysocolla—a "supportive goddess energy stone," reported The New Republic,
And that's in the United States where the industry is regulated. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, children as young as seven work the cobalt and copper mines in the country's Katanga region that contain deposits of minerals like tourmaline, amethyst, citrine, blue and smoky quartz.
At the annual Gem, Mineral and Fossil Showcase in Tucson, Arizona, Abouzelof chose not to buy a relatively cheap supply of jade when she learned it had been mined in Myanmar. The New York Times has compared Myanmar jade to blood diamonds; its extraction has "helped finance a bloody ethnic conflict and unleashed an epidemic of heroin use and H.I.V. infection among the Kachin minority who work the mines."
Those are the kind of bad vibes that can't be cleansed from a gemstone bathing in the light of the full moon.
But should the murky provenance of crystals keep you from getting your goddess on with the stones? If it's human rights your worried about, your cell phone is probably a bigger ethical dilemma than your crystal collection, writes crystal healer and seller Hibiscus Moon. The so-called "conflict minerals" in our electronics fund human atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo, she writes, and "are the ones we need to concern ourselves with." Tony Nikischer, president of Excalibur Mineral Corporation, told Emily Atkin at the New Republic that crystal mining "certainly is not a 'despoiler of the earth' activity as some large scale mining operations in foreign countries may be."
Maybe your rose quartz really will help usher in true love. But if you can't be sure you're not causing suffering of another human spirit to praise something pretty in pink on your altar, it might not be worth it.
"You could give up the habit and leave those pretty rocks where they belong," writes Katie Herzog at The Stranger, "in the earth."