Minorities in the South bear the brunt of the current development model that threatens to make the human species extinct. One movement determined to stop the hecatomb is Extinction Rebellion, and youth leadership is crucial. A movement that celebrates diversity and amplifies the voices of Black, Latin American, South Asian and Coloured communities living in London.
“Our ancestors stood up, fought and dreamt of a world where we didn’t have to do the same, but they knew that we would probably have to stand up too. So we need to keep going because there is no time”.
This is how Sara*, a 23-year-old immigrant and member of XR Unify, explains the “climate symptom”, the real root of which is a model of economic, political and social development based on hydrocarbon consumption and the depredation of the earth by human activity. A couple of years ago, Sara joined Extinction Rebellion (XR), the well-known international movement born in the UK in May 2018, which uses non-violent civil disobedience in its struggle “in an attempt to halt mass extinction and minimise the risk of social collapse”.
She did so by recently joining one of the more than 600 groups that make up XR, more precisely XR Unify, which works to connect racial, social and climate justice movements and brings together different cultures, ethnicities and colours: a Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (Bipoc) Youth. As minorities are at “the epicentre of destruction”, industrialised countries, through dialogue with others, through critical pedagogy that creates an informed citizenry, can understand the very conditions of their existence.
In the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), scientists asserted that climate change is irreversible. This made several citizens decide to organise themselves because, as Sara says, “it is unrealistic to think that governments are going to save us. Corporations invest billions in disinformation campaigns to maintain their connections with political elites”.
One example, she explains, is the UK government, which will host COP 26, invested £40 billion in subsidies for hydrocarbon companies during the Pandemic. “Governments are acting as if this is not true, they are still on the same track of unsustainable development.”
Climate change has been talked about for more than 30 years, but it continues to increase at an accelerating rate. “92% of cumulative emissions come from the Global North, the industrialisers, which are the countries that were the colonisers. The richest 10% of the world produces half of the world’s carbon emissions, while the poorest 3.5 billion account for only a tenth, and the carbon emissions of the richest 1% are more than double the emissions of the poorest half of humanity. Based on that, we know that climate change is a symptom of a profound inequity in the way we organise our society and our global family”. In her view, a Citizens’ Climate and Ecological Justice Assembly is really decisive, because “by understanding the power of an informed citizenry making decisions for themselves or by themselves, we begin to understand how we can restructure the political process to survive, and that is what thousands of communities have done in resisting these symptoms of denomination and destruction”.
That is why XR Unify joins this struggle in its “Carnival for climate justice” in Finsbury Park in London on 29 August. This event (of citizen demands, accompanied by dancing, music, food and community action in Haringey, London’s most diverse community), is part of the Impossible Rebellion, two weeks of mass mobilisations taking place between 23 August and 4 September.
This rebellion aims to get the British government to halt all new fossil fuel investments immediately, with a global majority awakening that “the politically impossible can become inevitable”.
The Prisma spoke to Sara about XR Unify, legacies of resistance, global citizens’ assemblies and the importance of an informed and active citizenry to reverse the causes of inequality and the climate symptom.
Why is XR Unify organising the “Carnaval for climate justice”?
The inauguration of the Impossible Rebellion, on 23 August, takes place on the anniversary of the Haitian Revolution of 1791. It is a space where we celebrate diversity and where individuals and communities come together and take action at a time when we need to act and mobilise now.
Locally, we want to denounce how the Black, Asian and Minority Asian community, known as BAME, is the most affected by air pollution in London. They are physically affected. For example, in Edmonton, there is a project to build an incinerator that will create immense pollution for the people who live there and will also have an impact on climate change.
Likewise, the experience of the diaspora and the global majority lets us know that climate change is already affecting our own families. In 2020, there were 355 extreme environmental disasters due to climate and 69% of them were exacerbated by Climate Change, the impacts are happening right now.
How serious is Climate Change?
Very serious, but there are very specific reasons that show that Climate Change is a symptom of a geopolitical, economic and social development model that creates it and that can be changed.
Climate change is an environmental issue that affects all aspects of human life, specifically the viability of drinking water and the availability of food.
For example, 40% of all the food that was planted in the UK last year never grew and that deficit was covered by imported food, but what will happen when those countries do not produce either?
How are we really going to feed 7 billion human beings? With climate change, we face worsening social and environmental problems that already exist. If we already have a water shortage (785 million people – 1 in 9 – lack access to safe water and 2 billion people – 1 in 3 – lack access to a toilet), the situation is going to get worse. The same will be the case with food shortages.
What is the role of ethnic communities and minorities such as the indigenous population in the restructuring of the policy?
The role of indigenous communities is absolutely central, in the ecological sense. They make up 5% of the world’s population, but 80% of the world’s biodiversity is conserved in indigenous territories. In other words, there can be no response to climate change and the ecological crisis that does not include indigenous people around the world, who have been the most marginalised and oppressed under neo-colonialism. It is these communities who, through historical lines of resistance, have maintained principles and practices that the rest of us now need. We need to get out of the current development model, and what better way than to learn from the people who have resisted it for so many years?
What role do Latino communities have in places like London?
Their role is to make the centre of destruction visible. For example, it is UK companies based in London that benefit from extractivist projects, such as the world’s largest open-pit mine, Cerrejón, located in La Guajira in Colombia, which destroyed the ecology and culture of the Wayuu people. So, first, we need to make visible the connections in global geopolitics and geo-economics, to see who benefits from the destruction. Second, we need to engage these communities in a dynamic of reparations and justice. Decisions cannot be made without the people most affected by this system at the table.
Do you think the restrictions on protest that are being put in place in countries like the UK are a risk to protesters?
The criminalisation of protest is the criminalisation of the truth and of the importance of protest for democracy. In the end this is a symptom of a regressive state in democratic terms. The bill has not been passed yet, it was presented to the Parliament and is still in the legislative process, but in the end there is no option, this has to be a mass movement.
As a Colombian, it is not coherent to say that at this moment protesting in London is very risky, because in my country there is no guarantee for protest.
What do you think of symbols such as anti-Greta and the impact it has on the work of environmentalists?
We are at a time when anything goes and there is no such thing as truth, because that is a way of seeing the world that benefits particular economic interests. The real damage done by elements like anti-Greta is to take energy away from people who have the capacity to communicate how all economic, political and social injustices are connected to environmental injustices. The anti-Greta movement represents a range of fascist and white supremacist attitudes, sometimes manifested on the conservative side of the far right, which exploits this anti-life and hateful idea as a political strategy.
Do young people have the conscience and spirit to face this struggle?
Of course, and if we don’t, you should be worried. Young people around the world are leading the transitions of citizenship, as is the case, for example, in Colombia today. We are informed, active youth who understand what we are facing and that this is the great challenge of our generation, which must look at the destruction caused and not try to change the world but to heal the world in order to change it. Within the transition, youth leadership is absolutely crucial.
Young people understand the importance of connecting with the legacies of resistance that have been around for a long time and that is a baton that we will have to pass on at some point as well. We have to understand generational lifecycles and that what we face today is very different from what the generation of ‘69 faced.
(*For security reasons and at the request of the interviewee, the full name is not given).