Racial justice and climate change: How artwork can show their overlap

Our changing climate reproduces and maintains existing racial inequalities…

Climate change is making communities vulnerable to issues such as frequent extreme weather events, food disruptions and forced migration. Not all communities are impacted equally by climate changes. In fact, poorer communities are shown to be most vulnerable to the climate crisis (see our article on ‘Economic Injustice’) The fact that indigenous communities, black communities and people of colour (BIPOC) make up a large proportion of the world’s poor shows the link between race and the environment. There are various factors that contribute to this, and we are highlighting how climate justice activists and artists narrate these factors. 

These inequalities are rooted in a history of racism and power…

Some argue that today’s environmental emergency stems from a history of white supremacy and colonialism. As written by brilliant thinkers, such as Kathryn Yusoff (see A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None), both the spatial distribution of BIPOC communities and historically increasing carbon emissions can be traced to the colonialist actions that held white communities in their privilege. Recognising this major connection allows for an understanding of the racial frameworks of today’s society and its link with climate vulnerabilities. 

…which effects persist within Indigenous communities

Carmel Whittle’s work draws focus to Indigenous culture. Their visuals highlight the devastation brought by colonialism to Indigenous communities; exposing the innate link between environmental issues, colonialism and Indigenous people. In return, the artist shows the community’s distance from contemporary unsustainable practices yet their disproportionate vulnerability to climate impacts.

Carmel WhittleLeaving is Not an Option, mixed media on canvas, 91.4 x 91.4 cm, 2017.

Not only do BIPOC communities suffer disproportionately due to climate changes…

Married with vulnerable geographic placement, BIPOC are most often on the front lines of the climate crisis. Jenny Blazing’s artwork Trickle Down registers the disparity that affects these communities. With its imagery of black and brown figures amongst the catastrophic landscape, Blazing draws attention to structural racism as focusing environmental harm onto BIPOC communities. 

Jenny Blazing, Trickle Down, acrylic and collage mixed media painting with stamped and mono-printed original papers).

…but huge inequality exists between the victims and exploiters of climate change

Rogers Ouma’s striking series A Sacred Future is a representation of the black man and their relationship to nature. Ouma’s beautiful visuals highlight this relationship as sitting opposite the white man who exploits the earth, while black communities sought to protect and preserve it. 

Rogers Ouma, A Sacred Future IV, photograph, 2021.

This is a prominent phenomenon, even in the developed world

The 2014 Flint Water Crisis shows how even in America, a wealthy nation contributing largely to the climate crisis, black communities are at greater risk of experiencing environmental degradation. It is common for the areas impacted most by climate change to home BIPOC communities: Mozambique’s population, an area shown in the 2021 Global Climate Change Performance Index to be at most risk, is made up of over 98% Indigenous tribal groups.

We should call for international collaboration

COP27 saw discussions on climate compensation with countries, such as Scotland and Austria, pledging millions. However, the money pledged is not far-reaching enough - nor promised from enough countries - to aid vulnerable BIPOC communities in the intense upheaval, damages and loss that they have, are and will continue to experience. We should call for greater compensation, while pushing for developments that make richer nations legally liable for their environmental damage. It is absolutely imperative to be intersectional with our approach to climate justice. Understanding the way in which climate change maintains and reproduces inequalities will allow for a focus to shift toward necessary modes of racial justice within the environmental issues of today. 



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