When it comes to protecting our planet and solving the climate crisis we are in, we can’t forget all of those who have come before our generation. We can’t forget those who have put their lives on the line long before Greta Thunberg started sitting outside the Swedish Parliament. The climate movement as it exists today stands on the shoulders of those fighting for their communities. Despite the media’s focus on a few individuals, the climate movement is broad and full of people who do not fit into the mainstream narrative.
Looking back on the struggle against climate injustice leads us to Robert Bullard, who is often coined as the father of environmental justice. His wife, an attorney, was working on a lawsuit which claimed that a major factor in deciding where to put a landfill in their community was race. To contribute to the case, Dr. Bullard conducted a study of where trash management facilities in Houston, Texas were located in relation to race. His results were telling. Disproportionately, communities of color were chosen to take these damaging facilities. This work calls upon us to recognize the broad intersectionality of climate injustice. It also reminds us that climate injustice is not just an international problem, but also a local one. Corporations in our communities are producing large amounts of waste, which eventually ends up in landfills or the ocean. Luckily, this means it is easier to work with these businesses and challenge them to change their bad habits.
Another person of interest is Autumn Peltier, who has been fighting for water conservation in Canada for several years now. She is a Wikwemikong First Nation member who has witnessed the effects of pollution on her surrounding communities and decided to take action. Once again, it is clear that minority communities are forced to live with the consequences of corporate pollution. This mirrors the colonial relationships that have existed centuries and continue to exist. It is in the interest of colonial powers to extract as much value — be it raw materials, human labor or knowledge — without concern for the people they are exploiting. Corporations have stepped in to maintain the great injustice perpetrated by colonialists.
In order to create a world that is just and fair, as well as one that will still be able to sustain human life, this abusive relationship must end. Production must be decided by the communities things are produced in. No longer can international companies rob communities and leave them with only polluted waste. Those who work and live in a community must stand up to those who exploit them by unionizing and demanding change. Climate change can be stopped, but as the saying goes, ‘it takes a village.’ As students we must listen to and fight alongside marginalized communities who are often the first to be exploited, and recognize that despite our education, no knowledge is more valuable than lived experience.