The Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in the United States has awakened broader challenges to the current state of race relations – in particular in connection to environmentalism and climate change.
Like COVID19 and climate change, these too are intersecting crises that need to be dealt with concurrently and with urgency.
Within the race debate is a larger one of decolonising environmental and climate action – that is, moving the conversation away from predominantly white Western perspectives of how we should handle climate change and ecological sustainability, and listening to other voices and perspectives. No, not just listening in fact, we need to incorporate them and bringing them greater equality in the process.
Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, poor, non-white populations have been bearing the heavy brunt of the decisions made predominantly for Western colonial interests. They have benefited little to none from the policies of development that have sent our world into a downward climatic spiral. In fact, they have led to greater inequalities for Indigenous and non-white, primarily economically poorer populations of the Global South.
But the decolonisation of the environmental movement doesn’t end there. Away from the Global South, in the United States and the UK – two countries with tense race relations – race and class determine who suffers the most from the impacts of climate change and environmental destruction because of social and economic inequalities. It is not just about environmental protection, it is also about equity in access to a healthy environment, clean water and air, arable and unpolluted land.
The tensions between environmentalism and racial and ethnic justice are not new. However, the recent global uprisings against racial injustice in line with the Black Lives Matter movement have highlighted how these issues are intertwined with environmental injustices – not just in the United States, but worldwide.
Historically non-white, non-Western countries and peoples have been subjected to exploitation for the sake of Western-led development. They have been locked into inequitable and pretty much unilateral systems of resource flows, which have seen Western colonising countries enter lands foreign to them and pillage them for their precious resources which were (and still very much are) exported to countries in the Global North for their own economic development and wealth accumulation.
While many countries have theoretically been ‘decolonised’, that does not transpire into practice. The reality is that this inequitable system of resource extraction still exists today for the interests of Western development. These large-scale extractive industries have been the major driver of climate change. When the world began to realise this, Sustainable Development was introduced in an attempt to ‘green’ economic growth.
The Western neoliberal movement for Sustainable Development has done nothing substantial to ensure us a sustainable future with a healthy planet and healthy, harmonious and just communities. Development and its derivatives have, time and time again, been called a failure.
Western countries have hailed Sustainable Development for its universality – that is, being applicable to everyone, everywhere, regardless of their geographical, cultural or economic circumstances, or realities. The idea is to bring all societies up to Western standards of living, while addressing the environment.
This ‘single story’ of Sustainable Development is what we have to change if we are to successfully tackle climate change through sustainability.
Everything that is happening globally right now, from coronavirus, social inequalities, failures of health and political systems, systemic racism and the climate emergency, it is time to change the course of our human and ecological trajectory.
There is an impetus for change that we can no longer call radical, but instead it should be viewed as reasonable, logical, and most of all imperative.
Sustainability is about the emergence of multiple stories, within which the histories, situations and realities of Indigenous, Native, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, African, African-American, Asian, Hispanic, Maori, Masai, Bedouin, Arabic, Kurdish, Pacific Islander Peoples and all other non-Western peoples should not only have their stories heard, but also be part of the unfolding of the next generation of multiple stories. They also need to be respected. This means doing sustainability differently.
So what is one vision of what might this look like? My expertise as you are probably aware is in incorporating Buen Vivir into action for social and environmental wellbeing through a practical tool for change. This moves the debate away from the Western perspective to something practical that passes the baton of social and environmental justice to others in a sort of decolonisation of the environmental and social systems.
Although Buen Vivir originates in the Andes, and with Indigenous roots, it is far from being implementable only in Latin America. Its core premises transcend cultural and geographic boundaries, to be something that speaks to the good of all humankind and the planet we reside on. They are present in many different cultures around the world (particularly Indigenous) whose voices have been muted by those of Western development.
Buen Vivir doesn’t return to a pre-modern past, but rather embeds itself in different ways of living, different practices and viewing the world. These variances come together under a set of common core principles – not a prescriptive or rigid way of doing things, but rather as guidance. It incorporates others’ knowledge including technical and scientific in the ways that we can look after the environment and people.
It is about listening to all the multiple stories and letting those people determine their own path to sustainability and wellbeing. It is also about not letting outsiders determine that for them, or devaluing the lives and realities of others who might not conform to a certain economic, race, class or social status determined by Western developmental standards. Lastly, it is about equity in ensuring a healthy environment and healthy communities.
Watch Novelist Chimamanda Adichie speaks of ‘the danger of the single story’ in her iconic TED talk. We can apply these lessons to the way we approach environmentalism and sustainability. As she says, “it makes our definition of equal humanity different”, she says. “It is a story of power”, of whose story is told, of who gets to determine the plot and ending of the story.
The sustainability of the workforce has been one of the many issues that have been highlighted from the changes brought about by COVID19. I’m not talking about keeping people working, I’m talking about social and environmental wellbeing.
Many people are asking: but what if we never go back to the old ‘normal’? What if we embrace the new normal, the ‘newmal’? In capitalist societies, we have turned work from a productive activity for livelihood and improving quality of life, to a sprint for the gain of material wealth – many people spending a great deal of time commuting to urban centres for employment, and often at the detriment of leisure time.
One of the keynote speakers for this year’s OzWater conference Simon Kuestermacher spoke of the problems associated with the centralisation of the workforce. With a map of Melbourne he illustrated the areas of population growth, which were mainly central and peri-urban areas, contrasted to the growth of the workforce, which is primarily in the central CBD area. The problems then associated with a commuting workforce are multiple. It encroaches not only on work-life balance, but it also creates a sustainability conundrum.
What would be more efficient, Simon says (no pun intended), is for a commuting workforce to look more like an anthill than a star with a central point. This got me thinking about the ways we can utilise the changes forced upon us during COVID19 as an opportunity for a more sustainable workforce, and greater social and environmental wellbeing.
Instead of employers demanding employees to commute to centralised locations, they could support a more flexible employment environment by providing choice to employees to work from sustainable coworking spaces closer to home for those unable to work from home for logistical, space or other personal reasons.
The popularity and use of coworking spaces has been on the rise in recent years. They often serve as places where workers (and thus innovation) thrive. Many are based on principles of sustainability, in both their running and their architecture.
While most coworking spaces are member-based, state and local governments are beginning to support these projects by providing funding to community groups, local businesses and entrepreneurs to transform under-utilised or empty spaces, like Victoria’s Regional Coworking Spaces and Creative Places program.
Of course, there are always those who cannot work from home or decentralised locations, but flexible working arrangements for those who work in an office environment, and can work from a distance is beneficial to both workers and the environment.
In effect, you would create a decentralised workforce – clusters of decentralised work commutes, where employees could work either from home or close to home, decreasing emissions and high energy outputs related to both commuting to work and the running of large office environments; and increasing work-life balance, and therefore employee wellbeing.
The workplace commute is responsible for an average of 98% of employees work-related carbon output. According to a US study, a typical office for 90 people emits approximately 234 tonnes of CO2e per year, compared to a three person household which emits 1.39 tonnes of CO2e per year.
Creating local coworking spaces in peri-urban and rural areas also introduces more local employment opportunities, which can be based on local needs, and in turn forge stronger communities.
Stronger communities and higher levels of wellbeing amongst workers would be a win-win situation. According to a survey by McCrindle 28% of Australians would be willing to earn 5% less for greater working flexibility, and 14% of Australians would be willing to earn around 10% less if it meant access to remote working opportunities.
This finding supports the call by degrowth proponents for fewer working hours and more flexible working arrangements. These kinds of changes would mean a shift away from our growth-oriented society, towards one balanced on the wellbeing of people and the planet. After all, there has been substantial research into the fact that economic growth is not making us happier, it is instead turning us into “slaves of material things” – to quote one of my key informants in Ecuador.
Buchs and Koch (2018) said “In a co-evolutionary process, a range of institutions developed which are now coupled to a growth-based capitalist economy, including the nation state, representative democracy,the rule of law and current legal, financial, labour market, education, research, and welfare systems. These are based on philosophies which emerged to justify and give meaning to these institutions, for instance on individualism, freedom, justice, sovereignty, or power. The embeddedness of the growth-based capitalistic economic system in these co-evolved institutions and ways of thinking makes it difficult to transition to a degrowth system because the change of the economic system would need to involve a parallel transformation of those coupled systems.”
Here’s the thing: COVID19 has fundamentally challenged the workings of those institutions and questioned the basis of those philosophies. This leaves us with an unprecedented opportunity to change our approach to many aspects of society, including work.
To really think radically, what would this look like if governments extended the free childcare for working families introduced by the Australian government during COVID19 (or at least lowered fees to help more parents rejoin the workforce after having children) and provide more childcare options attached to these decentralised coworking environments?
We would potentially have more people in paid full or part time employment, working closer to home, with lower stress levels, more time to spend with loved ones, healthier and stronger communities, less environmental stress on urban environments, and fewer associated environmental emissions.
This is just one vision of what the future of work could look like for greater social and environmental wellbeing – a more sustainable workforce for a better future. I’ll leave this open for comment. I’d be interested to hear yours.
If you were to ask a classroom full of children to draw a picture for an environmental cause of any kind – whether it’s climate change or pollution or even littering – many of them will draw something that includes a blue globe with green continents on it. Or some green blobs roughly approximating the […]Colouring in the climate
I am honoured to be a panellist in The Conversation’s online event on July 2, with infectious disease and environmental health experts Dr Jean-François Guégan (Director of Research at the Institute of Research for Development, France), Fiona Armstrong (Executive Director and Founder of Climate and Health Alliance). Join us as we discuss why, for humans to survive, it is critical to connect human health, civilisation and the natural systems on which we depend. Facilitated by Misha Ketchell, Editor at The Conversation.
The COVID-19 crisis and the climate and biodiversity crises are deeply connected. All animals harbour viruses and other pathogens, and when environmental pressures force them into contact with humans, the results can be catastrophic. Environmental damage can also make humans more susceptible to the effects of infectious diseases.
Tasmania has some of the world’s most pristine beaches, but like all coastal regions they are subject to the ebb and flow of the tide, which often brings with it plastic debris and other garbage that has floated out to sea.
Yesterday I was walking at one rather secluded beach in Hobart’s east when I spotted a bright pink balloon complete with plastic ribbon entangled in a bush offshore. It had obviously floated there from a nearby party as it was still inflated.
What would happen if that party balloon made its way out into the ocean? Well, according to the CSIRO balloons are the “marine debris item that has the highest chance of killing seabirds if eaten, and 43 percent of short-tailed shearwaters have plastic in their gut.” What’s more, the CSIRO predicts that 95 percent of all seabird species may be ingesting plastic by 2050.
The Tasman Sea is a global hotspot for impacts of marine debris on seabirds.
This is not news, however. I’m sure you have heard about the major issues plastic and other debris cause to our marine life and coastal habitats. Yet, it continues to be a problem, as I witnessed yesterday.
What can we do about it? One effective way to tackle plastics debris in our oceans is to curb and eventually stop plastic use. This is dependant on a lot of factors including effective policy, education, and waste management. However, people’s attitudes and behaviours are the most important because mindful consumption of resources will lead to a plastic-free, and more ecologically sustainable society.
In the meantime, when looking for balloons for the next birthday party, Sustainability Victoria has put together a shortlist of some wildlife-friendly balloon alternatives, which includes bubbles for the kids, and flowers, which can be rehomed for decoration and then composted.
Changing habits is about keeping in the forefront of our minds, the impacts we have on our environment with our daily actions and decisions, and changing those accordingly.
It involves society as a whole rethinking our role in nature, so that we may effectively lessen our ecological impacts.
After all, these impacts are cyclical. Microplastics, plastic debris, and other contaminants are making their way into the food chain, and therefore having wide-ranging impacts on human health.
UPDATE: Website Balloons Blow (nothing to do with this article or its title) is a great resource for the impacts of balloons on wildlife, including education resources and a fantastic list of alternatives https://balloonsblow.org/environmentally-friendly-alternatives/
When I was seven years old, I visited my grandmother in Kenya. I remember a story my father told me, that he had built her a Western style house of bricks and mortar, and she outright refused to live in it. She was more comfortable in her traditional hut. She knew her land, how to cultivate it, how to rear her animals, all of this impacted by the seasons.
Nowadays, climate change has wreaked havoc on the seasons. Traditional knowledge has had to adapt, but Western knowledge relies on science and technology which often involves time and a steep learning curve through scientific research.
What if we decolonise knowledge and practices of ecological management and development, to incorporate more traditional knowledge into environmental practices, health and wellbeing, agriculture and disaster management? What if we really embrace traditional knowledges in mitigating and adapting to climate change related threats?
Traditional knowledges have been passed down for generations and include skills, practices, knowledge systems of particular local communities, cultures, and geographic and geological areas. They understand the challenges and have the capabilities to confront them.
Traditional cultures and Indigenous peoples globally have a complex interconnected and spiritual relationship with nature. The belief is that “if you look after Mother Earth she will look after you”.
For Indigenous peoples, the delicate maintenance of biodiversity underpins belief systems, wellbeing and cultural heritage. For generations their knowledge has sustained the biodiversity of their lands, but these practices are being lost through Western development.
Every year we are facing more intense and more challenging threats to our environments and wellbeing. Isn’t it time that we brought back these traditional knowledges as part of wider policies and practices for environmental management?
The 2019-20 Australian bushfires devastated World Heritage areas across the country. More than 6 million hectares of land has been burnt devastating lives, biodiversity and the environment. Up to 100 threatened animal and plant species were affected, and an estimated 1 billion animals were lost.
This was a tragedy of historical proportions.
Not only could the intensity and duration of the fires have been lessened by incorporating Indigenous knowledge and practices into policy, but cultural burning also enhances biodiversity. In the age of climate change we are facing new challenges; old ways of approaching sustainable land management no longer work. To come back to my earlier question: yes! It is time to incorporate traditional knowledge to better preserve our global biodiversity.
It is not only a question of ecological management, but also of climate justice. Traditional and Indigenous communities are likely to be the most affected by the impacts of climate change, yet they are the ones who have caused the least ecological damage.
“Climate justice recognises the wealth of Indigenous knowledge that exists in relation to ecological management, and the coping strategies that Indigenous peoples have already developed in order to deal with climate stressors over the thousands of years that they have managed the land” (IPMPCC 2011).
There has been much research into the decolonisation of traditional and Indigenous knowledge, particularly as both climate change and mitigation, and also for climate justice. Yet, policymakers are still failing to fully embrace them.
Since the bushfires this summer, there has been a renewed push to look to Indigenous cultural practices for bushfire management. So, this is starting to change…but, slowly. Last week, as reported by the ABC, Western Australian state government had made progressive steps in that direction. In a new program run by WA’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous staff and volunteers will be trained on Indigenous cultural burning techniques. It’s a great start, but we need more.
While indigenous knowledge in ecological management is vital, it is crucial that we also extend this practice to all parts of development practice and traditional knowledges. Traditional knowledges will be an important aspect of tackling climate change and related social injustices going forward.
The 2019-20 bushfires highlighted the fact that we must decolonise knowledge to achieve real change.
The neoliberal approach to the environment, to ecological practices, social equity and economic development has not and is not working. To ensure that we change the status quo, policy has to follow.
This type of hybrid knowledge and practice type approach is akin to what is advocated under Buen Vivir. It’s about decolonising knowledge and environmental practices, away from neoliberal and colonial mindsets about what is ‘right for the land, its biodiversity and it’s people for that matter.
Incorporating traditional knowledges into policy and merging them with Western scientific and technical knowledge can lead to not only safer, but also more environmentally and socially just outcomes.
Want to read more on traditional and Indigenous knowledge? Here are some resources:
International Indigneous People’s Forum on Climate Change http://www.iipfcc.org/home
Adapting Agriculture with Traditional Knowledge PDF
Protecting our Pollinators through Indigenous Knowledge CSIRO
Vulnerability and Resilience in a World of Change UNESCO
Gupta & Katti 2009, Indigenous ecological knowledge as social capital: How citizen science can help us replenish the bank in Nature PDF
Today, June 5, is World Environment Day. The theme for 2020 is “Celebrating Biodiversity”. What does that mean exactly?
Biodiversity is the complex web of more than 8 million species on this planet that are vital to our existence. One million of these plant and animal species is facing extinction if we don’t change our way of life.
Every species on the planet is important in maintaining healthy and balanced ecosystems. Every. Single. One.
Protecting this biodiversity is essential for our health, wellbeing, livelihoods, protection and security. We are part of nature. Our lives literally depend on it.
According to the IPBES, the five main drivers for biodiversity loss are: land use change; overexploitation of animals and plants; climate change; pollution; and, invasive species introduced through globalisation. These drivers are all human induced.
The UN says, “Nature is sending us a message: to care for ourselves we must care for nature. It’s time to wake up. To take notice…it’s time for nature”
Yes, it is time for nature. It is time then to start recognising and respecting that nature is not just a resource to be exploited exponentially for our own human wellbeing. There is a nature-society continuum at play. If we do not respect nature as equally as we respect ourselves, we throw out that delicate balance.
This is what we have been doing. One of the consequences is climate change and its related impacts.
In 2008, Ecuador made the historical decision to give Rights to Nature. This afforded a legal status to nature that recognised nature as an actor. The Rights of Nature has since resulted in a global movement to move away from the idea of nature as property under the law, towards a legal recognition that “nature in all its life forms has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles.”
Affording nature rights, is more than just a legal protection, and it is certainly more than just a symbolic gesture. It is also a call for civilizational change. In Western society, we are all so used to seeing nature as a resource for our own good use, that we forget what might happen if it no longer exists.
This means that at a societal level, we also must recognise the wellbeing of nature as equally as our own, and change our habits, behaviours, attitudes and practices accordingly. After all, we need nature, more than it needs us. It is impossible to imagine life on earth without clean drinking water, land to cultivate and harvest food, trees for oxygen…
We just have to look at how nature has started to recover during COVID-19 lockdowns to be able to imagine how nature would do just fine without us.
As the UN also says, “it will take not just one, not just a village, but an entire global community to change this trajectory.” It involves rethinking our role on this planet and what we can do to ensure sustainable change.
Want to learn more? Here are some resources:
Earth School http://www.ted.ed.com/EarthSchool
Reduce plastic pollution http://www.cleanseas.org
Reduce your carbon footprint http://www.anatomyofaction.org
Reduce waste http://www.myzerowaste.com
Learn about the Rights of Nature http://www.rightsofnature.org
This is not a post about environmental justice but it is about social justice.
I am an Australian of mixed heritage: Kenyan and English. The reality my black brothers and sisters are living angers me every time I think about it. I have lived racism, thankfully not often. I have seen my father live racism. I do not want to bring my children up in a world where this is real life. I don’t want other children to grow up in a world where this is real, where they may experience racism, hear it, see it, or heaven forbid take part in it.
This can no longer be ignored, something must be done, by you, by me, structurally.
Leaders must confront the uncomfortable truth head on and change must happen. Now! I like to believe that in 2020 racism exists in a minority, but that is not good enough. We have 400 years of the most disgusting hatred. It must stop now. Here. With us.
That people can be killed, humiliated, subordinated because of the colour of their skin, but also because of their religion or culture is beyond not being ok. It is a despicable act of hatred that must be addressed at both the highest and lowest levels. On the street. In parliaments. In the White House…in the White House!
What has happened to George Floyd is a pandemic of another kind. It kills. It hurts. It leaves scars. This should not be happening, and yet it is. At the hands of so called law enforcers, in a seriously ill criminal justice system.
There needs to be structural change, systemic change, societal change if we are to overcome this illness.
I stand in solidarity.
Last June Hobart City Council joined 623 other jurisdictions and local councils (including 22 in Australia) in 13 countries to declare a climate emergency, becoming the first Australian capital city to do so.
So what exactly is a climate emergency? Many political and climate scientists state that emergency policy measures towards zero emissions are a necessary measure to try and stay within the ‘safe operating space’ for the climate at around 1.5°C warming or 350 ppm of atmospheric carbon concentration. Declaring a climate emergency means making a commitment to radical carbon emissions reduction. It means that government puts climate and environmental policy central, rather than as an add-on.
Although there is no single definition of a ‘climate emergency’ making a binding commitment to an urgent speed transition to zero emissions is a significant step in climate policy. By declaring a climate emergency, local councils like Hobart City Council demonstrated leadership to act on climate change that is lacking at the federal level. Local councils can start the ball rolling on climate emergency initiatives, putting pressure on state and federal governments to do the same, proving a promising avenue for wide scale urgent climate action.
Declaring a climate emergency is not just a symbolic act of recognition, it requires making some tough decisions that break away from ‘business-as-usual’.
A departure from ‘business-as-usual’ means major shifts in policies (not limited to) for manufacturing, transport, land use, tourism, and economic investment; as well as vast changes in individual social and consumer behaviours, which in turn requires a focus on education. Including climate change and ecological values in curriculums is vital in educating our next generation of climate leaders. This policy and behavioural shift means not taking the most cost-effective option in public spending, but making choices that value the environment over the bottom line.
With so much political recognition of the need to put the environment and climate change front and centre of policy, a declaration of a climate emergency can be a pathway to make transformational change in the way local governments approach development, scaling that up nationally, and ultimately having an impact on the role the environment has in the human world.
A climate emergency requires all of us – individuals and governments – to rethink our relationship with nature.
The traditional approach of viewing nature as a commodity has proven itself to be far from sustainable. Take, for example, Buen Vivir which in Ecuador led to a world first development policy recognising the Rights of Nature. This approach steers away from the wellbeing of human beings at the centre of decision-making, valuing environment and human wellbeing equally.
In other words, we are no more important than our environment, and unless radical action to safeguard the latter is taken urgently, life on this planet is under severe threat.
The changes that need to be made are not necessarily going to be uncostly, but one just needs to compare the ultimate cost of not acting on climate change. Governments have the opportunity to integrate some of these costs into post-COVID stimulus plans.
It is no longer a radical utopic idea, but something that needs to happen – especially relevant under the declaration of a climate emergency.
There is a joint policy-behavioural responsibility to act, though governments, particularly at the local level must facilitate that through policy action including looking at the structures and spaces that allow for transformational change, not just rhetoric. The economic challenges related to the current global pandemic might result in the latter. It is up to all of us to push for change.
That said, we need a substantial amount of political will combined with people power to tackle the climate emergency; and it is the actions of both our political leaders, and of individuals thinking collectively that will help determine what this looks like in the coming years, especially faced with challenges like COVID-19.