Imperialist environmentalism and decolonial struggle

Climate crisis is framed by these forms of environmentalism as a moral problem that affects all of us in equal measure. Shifting from providence to eschatology, their focusing on apocalyptic and extinction narratives is extraordinarily powerful in silencing social differences and conflicts by ‘distilling a common threat or challenge to both Nature and Humanity’. The “people” as political collective are bound together – not by shared political views or lived realities – but as victims of a universal crisis. According to XR co-founder Roger Hallam, this kind of universal strategy cannot be inherently reactionary. But, it occludes imperial histories of extraction, violence, and indebtedness, and contemporary calls for justice and recognition of vulnerability. The problem of universalism is not just exclusion – it is also power, in particular who wields power, who can deploy power, and who can amass power. For example, whilst many now understand that climate change most affects the global poor, we also need to analyse strategies that produced those harms, centering them in calls for climate justice. Climate crises have been manufactured through, and are the material embodiment of, disregard for black and brown people’s lives. This is clear at Heathrow, where a third runway is set to be sanctioned even after the parliamentary declaration of climate crisis as a “state of emergency”. Heathrow is the single biggest contributor to carbon emissions in the UK, with aviation set to contribute more than any other sector by 2050. The materials used to build new infrastructure and aeroplanes will be extracted from exploitative “development” projects like Mozal in Mozambique, where Cyclone Idai devastated lives and livelihoods. These were made possible by a combination of financial liberalisation and fiscal austerity put in place by structural adjustment programmes that required huge reductions in state spending whilst opening up access to the natural resources of the Global South.

Anupama Ranawana en James Trafford in Imperialist Environmentalism and Decolonial Struggle (Discover Society)