Teksti: Selina Diaby
Kuvitus: Amy Gelera
While the consequences of climate crisis are global, they do translate differently to life biographies of every being. For long, climate crisis has revealed itself as a disaster of injustices and inequalities. In a just fight for life, decolonial feminist thoughts and actions provide a radical framework towards liberation for all.
Inventing Race & Gender for Colonial Capitalism
Decolonial feminisms oppose the narrative of the climate crisis as ‘human-made’ by questioning the category of humans and (human) race itself. ‘Humans’ and ‘humanity’ do not exist as naturally given and clearly defined entities, but are colonial inventions intending to exclude, separate, and oppress. With this in mind, the lives and regions that are most affected by the climate crisis were not put into harm’s way by coincidence, but as an intended outcome of those actors that still hold power and exercise it from often distant places.
For European colonists, the invention of race was central in demarcating and differentiating themselves from those living on the violently claimed land. Racialisation served the material organisation and the binary of the relation. Certain groups were turned into matter, thus non-beings, to reason and justify their exploitation similarly to and as nature. Everything deemed as non-human became a resource that was ‘harnessed’ for the growth, development, and accumulating power of the European empires.
In addition to race, decolonial feminist approaches reveal gender as central in the establishment of colonial subjugation and exploitation. Decolonial feminisms dissect the idea of a gender and a sex-gender binary by historically placing it within Western modernity and thought. In so doing, they argue for gender to hold a more prominent place in any project concerned with the deconstruction of colonial conditions.
Heteronormativity in particular was one of the building elements for colonial inventions of gender. It established heterosexuality as a social norm and assumed a gender binary, with (cis-)men and (cis-)women as the naturalised gender and sex. By doing so, the colonial concept of gender in conjugation with race enabled a violent arrangement of political, economic, cultural, and social relations. One that is borne out of a desire for power and links to the dominant obsession over the planet and matter that brought about the current climate crisis.
In many contexts, such as amongst the West African Yorùbá, the introduction of a binary and hierarchical gender imposed a construct that did not exist to such extent prior colonialism. Pre-colonial understandings of what is nowadays summarised under the terms gender and sexuality were violently overridden. In Yorùbá communities, gender did not inherit an organising purpose in the society. Instead, positionings were constituted through social relations. Gender was dynamic and relational, not static and bound to fixed categorisations. Yet, the invented superiority of white European, bourgeois, heterosexual, Christian, modern male colonisers legitimised the domination of others.
Patriarchy worked and still does alongside capitalism and colonialism to uphold a hierarchy of life. The colonial order enforced mutually exclusive, strictly hierarchical categories which produced simultaneously gendered and racialised subjects. Black and Brown gendered beings became like coal, gold, and copper – extractable and commodified goods.
Today, the climate crisis does not only exacerbate historically grown social inequalities and vulnerabilities, but its most devastating consequences are also experienced by the ones subjected to centuries of violence and thus resistance. People and regions in the Global South, Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPoC) women, youth, people of low socio-economic class, and those not complying with heteronormativity are disproportionately affected. At the same time, these groups are often the ones least responsible for its occurrence. If climate and environmental justice is not understood as a decolonial feminist action, these inequalities and injustices will persist in the future too. For a just remodelling of living, it is central to investigate and subsequently abolish colonial tools of domination, including gender and race.
Environmental racism as colonial violence
While nowadays ‘humanity’ might have been formally regained through anti-colonial resistance and struggles, the dehumanisation and exploitation of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color as well as nature as matter persists across borders. Equally, race and gender still hold a central place in the making of the human/non-human binary based on dispossession, exploitation, and non-humanisation.
The concept of environmental racism aims to capture racial injustices in the context of the climate crisis. Its origin is closely linked to the 1980s environmental justice movement in the US. It initiated an examination of the racial effects of the unequal distribution of environmental risks. Especially Black activists addressed the intersection of polluting landfills and industries where historically racialised and dehumanised communities lived.
Such circumstances are, however, not exclusive to the United States. In my hometown Berlin, districts and neighbourhoods where mostly racialised and gendered workers live hold fewer green spaces, and are thus more prone to air pollution and more vulnerable to heatwaves. In Emalahleni, translating to ‘The Place of Coal’ in isiZulu, South African colonial apartheid policies continue to confront Black bodies with a deadly environment composed of toxic air, contaminated water and land, as well as poor housing infrastructure and energy provision.
While the concept of environmental racism was coined only recently, its realities have been endured for centuries. Life circumstances like the ones above must be understood as results of colonial violence: a violence that can be traced back to the human/non-human divide and subjugation under a capitalist, racist, and patriarchal logic. Through a decolonial perspective, disrupting such racialisation and the closely linked labour and resource exploitation within globalised capitalism becomes non-negotiable. Yet climate justice framed within decolonial feminist understandings goes even further. It aims to demand justice based on a model of care towards one another, a relation-based approach that transcends binaries and continues centuries long practices of various resistances.
If race, gender, and ‘human’ are colonial inventions, the climate crisis cannot be a result of humans, but of violent inventions and inventors. In light of this, simply relying on reducing greenhouse emissions, calling for the reduction of individual consumption and aiming for climate neutrality (not to even mention geoengineering) do not prove to be enough. While these measures might only in best case scenarios have a positive impact on the change of the climate and environment, they will also certainly serve as loopholes for apolitical and managerial approaches to the crisis as a result of their ignorance towards decolonial feminisms and climate justice efforts. Thus, such ‘green’ approaches systematically ignore and downplay the root causes of the climate crisis and leave systems of oppression and violence intact.
Nothing Green about Economic Growth
Detached apolitical and managerial approaches to the climate crisis are built on the historically established legitimation of violence and domination. The current discourses on the compatibility of economic growth and climate justice provide a telling example for such origins.
One argument pushed by capitalist actors is the need for free market optimising and sustaining policies. If businesses adopt environmentally friendly practices, and clean technologies and renewable energy sources are promoted, the argument goes, it is possible to achieve economic prosperity and fight the climate crisis at the same time. Often, such arguments are decorated with discourses about governmental and international efforts towards a ‘just transition’.
Through decolonial feminist lenses, such approaches promote rather violence than justice. This is particularly true when recognising how exploitation and the climate crisis historically conjunct with the advancement of capitalist extraction of matter.
Colonialism introduced an economic model of profit, material extraction, and capital accumulation with the aim of securing existing positions and constellations of power. It closely intersects with the establishment of plantation economies and the introduction of a global system of abduction, enslavement, and exploitation of people, plants, and ecosystems. It is a system that is built on the growth of certain economies at the expense of violence and death endured by others. Racialised and gendered bodies as well as ‘nature’ became resources and a symbol of infinite consumption and endless availability, which enabled the kind of economic growth and prosperity envisioned by capitalist actors. As tracing back these colonial ties between the climate crisis and capitalism illustrates, economic growth and climate justice attempts do not go hand in hand.
Through the colonial understanding of human and non-human, a capitalist evaluation took and takes place. The non- and lesser-human matter continues to produce the value for the selected humankind and accelerate the advancement of (post)colonial empires. Perhaps tellingly, the capitalist argument above reveals how the fight against the climate crisis is envisioned as a green’ing of that inherent violence.
The Europeans Dash for Gas as a prime example of Green’ing (colonial) violence
The current European Dash for Gas illustrates how such green’ing of violence unfolds. Equally, it exposes the colonial continuities it feeds off.
Since the 2022 war of aggression in Ukraine, gas supply from Russia to European states decreased drastically and new sources of the fossil were sought after. European actors are increasingly turning to Africa, the Americas, and the East Mediterranean to secure energy resources. They are assisted by fossil fuel companies – notably Total (France), ENI (Italy) and BP (UK) – which are able to capitalise on the crisis by increasing resource exploitation.
To legitimise such activities, the need for Europe’s energy security is frequently highlighted alongside the false understanding of gas as a transition fuel from fossil to renewable energy. Often, gas is promoted based on the narrative of having fewer polluting effects compared to other fossil fuels. Looking at the 100 years’ timeframe this might appear to be true. Yet, the greenhouse gas methane, a primary component of natural gas and emitted during its production and transport, is extremely damaging in the short run. Over the span of 20 years, methane is 86 times more potent than Co2. Additionally, during the process of releasing natural gas (and oil), hydraulic fracking requires immense amounts of water mixed with chemicals and sands which are blasted into the earth for rock formations to fracture. This practice is of extreme danger to the health of beings on earth and results in devastating destruction of ecosystems, beyond repair.
Thus, with an understanding of the climate crisis as one of injustices, power, and subjugation, the war of aggression simply triggered the imperial and colonial muscles of the European states and economic actors. It provided a justified ground to further, promote, and reward a way of living that builds on colonial actions and logics of resource and land domination under the frame of environmental protection. For those promoting gas and those who are in favour of continuous economic growth, i.e. green’ing violence, the climate crisis is being used to justify displacement, exploitation, and infliction of suffering on particularly gendered and racialised groups. To make lives built on exploitation impossible, enacting on climate and environmental justice in decolonial feminist terms becomes inevitable.
No decolonial feminisms, No climate justice
In investigating how and why consequences and responsibilities are unequally distributed, and moreover, how current power structures feeding injustices can be dismantled, decolonial feminisms and climate justice promote care and aim to (re)build a prosperity based on community, solidarity, and love. Decolonial feminist engagements require an understanding of the climate crisis not as a simple ‘problem’, but as an outcome of violence that must be understood in its respective (historical) contexts. Thus, decolonial feminisms are not singular in their form.
At the heart of the climate crisis lies a well-established and protected colonial, capitalist, and patriarchal hierarchy of life on earth. If this hierarchy is not being teared down, there will be no justice. Decolonial feminisms challenge and reimagine the current systems underpinning the climate crisis. Inequities, inequalities, and injustices connected to the categories of race and gender need to be understood in relation to the central role these invented categories played in establishing and upholding systems of oppression and violence as well as their connection to class, material realities, capitalism, and colonialism. The green growth narrative then becomes nullified through its inability to address the crisis’ root causes. Attempts for ‘just transitions’ that do not intend to abolish violence but rather perpetuate the status quo of power are revealed as green’ing violences in integrating solutions that are not the end of the climate crisis but its extension.
Decolonial feminisms and climate justice call not only to centre – without compromise – the experiences, participation, and perspectives of the most marginalised on the earth, but further, to acknowledge how the climate crisis is a crisis of many. Generally, decolonial feminist perspectives and actions move away from dichotomous understandings of being and thus of multiple divisions: human/non-human, gendered/non-gendered, colonisers, whites/colonised, Black, Indigenous, People of Color. Instead, decolonial feminisms continue a praxis of plurality and fluidity of relations and call for an alternate living, away from violent hierarchies. The climate crisis cannot be fought without tackling (neo)colonialism, capitalism, and patriarchy.
With life, death, and violence ingrained into life biographies in the context of the climate crisis, resistance continues. Through resisting, there is a chance to rebuild multiple (new) ways of engaging and living on, with and of the earth, too. Combining decolonial feminist approaches and climate justice efforts enables to do so; through building on love as a process of nurturing ourselves and others, building communities bound together and guided by the desire to fight the crisis’ origins and consequences, as well as through solidarity which translates into unconditional support – for every being on earth and earth itself.