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Time to Listen and see Racism Globally as a Climate Justice Issue

Green Party MEP Grace O’Sullivan Speaks out as Ireland and the World sees Massive Anti-Racism Mobilisation

Watching the unfolding events over the last few days following on from the cold, calculated and brutal murder of George Floyd, has been truly heartbreaking to me. Of course I feel sadness for the family of George Floyd. Of course I want to express that sadness as well as other emotions including anger and disbelief. Like many others though, I’ve been left unsure of what I, as a white person, can do or say to help.

What has become abundantly clear, from the wider conversations about race, is that white people cannot stay silent on this; to do so is to exercise and uphold our white privilege. Now is the time to speak up and say we truly believe that Black Lives Matter.

I’ve seen a few placards saying White Silence = Violence, and while this is of course true, equally, if not more important, is the fact that we need to listen. We need to listen to blacks and people of colour in our communities. Particularly, for those of us with a platform, we need to do what we can to raise those voices up, whilst at the same time, listening.

We need to listen to people like those representing the Movement for Asylum Seekers Ireland (MASI) who have been campaigning for an end to direct provision, a system that effectively imprisons people seeking asylum, people who are predominantly, of colour. We need to listen to voices like that of Amanda Ade, whose video has been widely spread on social media, and has so effectively articulated what racism is, in an Irish context.

There are many many more voices like these, and they need to be listened to. For me personally, as an environmental and social activist for over 40 years, it’s hard not to see the links between racism, environmentalism, and the fight for climate justice.

The science has been clear on this for quite some time now; the global south, and as such, people of colour, will be, and are currently being hit the hardest by the effects of a warming planet.

As far back as 1985, while sailing as a crew member on the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior, we visited the Marshall Islands in Micronesia. These islands, part of a low-lying necklace of atolls inhabited by communities of colour, are currently one of the most vulnerable parts of the world when it comes to climate change, with some of the islands just a few metres above sea level.

Further South in the Pacific, are islands like Kiribati, whose former president, Anote Tong, has already bought higher land in Fiji so that his people can move as the sea levels rise. There are many examples of communities of colour that are currently bearing the brunt of our warming planet, and who have contributed the least to this problem. Examples like those of farming communities in Uganda, whose story has been told by Constance Okollet, or the disproportionate effect that Hurricane Katrina had on African-American people, whose story has been told by Sharon Hanshaw of Coastal Women for Change.

These, along with those in the Black Lives Matter movement, are the voices we need to listen to as this global conversation broadens. The research has shown us that not only will people of colour in the the global South be hit the worst, but communities of colour in developed countries, as with Hurricane Katrina, are more likely to be exposed to poor air quality, are often close to waste disposal facilities, and as a result have higher instances of pollution- related health problems. In our recent global pandemic, blacks and people of colour are at a significantly higher risk of being impacted by COVID-19, with higher death rates recorded in communities of colour.

What happened to George Floyd was a tragedy and an aberration, and the calls for justice for him and the many other victims of systemic racism at the hands of police and other forces must be listened to. If we can take some hope from this apalling situation, it’s that it has started a much wider conversation about race on a global scale. As we engage in this conversation, we must consider climate justice in this context, and once again, listen to those who have been telling their stories.

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