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The Climate Movement’s Racial Blind Spots

Across the Global North, one of the climate movement’s dominant narratives is that climate change will affect “future generations” and today’s young people over the course of their lifetimes. Yet this focus completely ignores the ravages that marginalized communities are already suffering, even in Europe.

BERLIN – Across Europe, the climate movement is dominated by middle-class white people, whether one looks to informal “peoples’ movements” collectives, such as Extinction Rebellion and Fridays for Future, or nonprofits, such as those united under the “Green 10” coalition. Inevitably, the interests of white, middle-class people determine the movement’s priorities and activities.

As such, one of the climate movement’s dominant narratives is that the climate crisis will affect young people over the course of their lifetimes, and that action today is necessary to save the planet for future generations. That, no doubt, is true. But the climate crisis and the emissions that are causing it are already killing people, and not only in Pakistan, where this summer’s floods have taken at least 1,300 lives, or in Latin America, where researchers estimate that extreme temperatures caused almost 900,000 deaths in major cities between 2002 and 2015. People are also dying in Europe, but the issue has not received nearly enough attention.

Consider Ella Kissi-Debrah, a nine-year-old black girl living in Lewisham (southeast London), who died in 2013 following repeated asthma attacks caused by air pollution. Her mother, Rosamund, had to fight a long legal battle for her daughter’s cause of death to be officially recognized. But she eventually prevailed, and Ella became the first person in the world to have air pollution listed on her death certificate. A recent legislative proposal – “Ella’s Law” – aims to establish access to clean air as a human right in the United Kingdom.