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Thousands of demonstrators gather at the Jungfernstieg in Hamburg during one of many Global Climate Strikes in September. (Photo: Axel Heimken/Picture Alliance via Getty Images)

Individuals Cannot Undo Colonialism

I'm convinced the only way to effectively deal with climate change is to build the power of Black, Brown, Indigenous and low-income communities who are first and worst impacted by climate chaos and have suffered the most from colonization.

Taari Coleman

The most recent report from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has finally named the connections that frontline communities have been pointing out since the inception of the climate justice movement. This report once again warns we're rapidly running out of time to "secure a livable future," but for the first time since the IPCC began issuing its global climate assessments in 1988, it goes on to establish a direct relationship between colonization and climate change.

Colonialism inspired the devaluing of human life for the sake of owning property, which became synonymous with power.

Colonialism inspired the devaluing of human life for the sake of owning property, which became synonymous with power. Conversations about climate change with people who look like me–Black, from and with family still living in under prioritized communities–often involve very tired people who are aware that climate change is not their fault. But they also are under the impression that it is so out of their control that they can do nothing to change it, or that their contributions won't matter. Conversations about climate change with people who don't look like me tend to involve lifestyle activism and green consumerism. It used to confuse me, but this report pulls the situation into clearer focus. The mindset driving colonialism prioritizes individual benefit over collective well-being, human comfort at the detriment of all other species.

Many people are now considering how they can get involved in the climate movement, which makes me think of the IPCC report that came out in 2014. At that time, people were getting really jazzed about saving the turtles. Ads came out about these reusable straws intended to cut down on plastics that end up in the ocean, which would, in turn, save the turtles. There was a viral video of the turtle with a plastic straw stuck through its nose and everyone felt really bad. I felt really bad, so I bought reusable straws. I'm certainly not alone in choosing more sustainable habits. Well-intentioned people have been taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint; they've been carpooling, purchasing reusable water bottles and buying local upcycled products. Yet here we are, with thousands of scientists from the IPCC sounding every alarm because we're in worse danger than ever.

Focusing on individual actions keeps us distracted from the real culprits and confused about the real solutions. Despite the countless actions individuals have undertaken, those who are actually responsible for this crisis–corporate executives and the governmental decision-makers they fund–have not made any fundamental changes at the scale that is required to avert a cataclysm.

I'm convinced the only way to effectively deal with climate change is to build the power of Black, Brown, Indigenous and low-income communities who are first and worst impacted by climate chaos and have suffered the most from colonization. These are the communities where loved ones are dying from preventable pollution and disasters that lifestyle changes won't fix. We need more collective action that holds decision-makers accountable.

If you're wondering what you can do to help deal with the climate crisis, join an organization that's a part of the climate justice movement. Here's a letter from 1,140 organizations across the nation that are part of the Build Back Fossil Free Coalition which recently called on President Biden to use his Executive powers to immediately 1) ban all new oil and gas contracts on federal areas, 2) stop approving fossil fuel projects, and 3) declare a climate emergency under the National Emergencies Act that will unlock special powers to fast track renewable projects that will benefit us all. We know that the situation our world is in is not any one individual's fault, and we should also know that the path forward is one that must be taken together. Regardless of how climate change is discussed, the conversation should always consider accountability, responsibility, and collective action.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Taari Coleman

Taari Coleman

Taari Coleman is the Director of Community & Cultural Engagement at the North Carolina Climate Justice Collective and is an artist living in Durham, NC and focused on storytelling, spending time in nature, thinking about connection, relationships, learning, movement, and truth in all its forms. 

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