A climate change protest at Trinity College Dublin

This article is part of a series – The Decade We Must Win – examining the successes and failures of social movements and the left since the financial crash, and exploring how we can win transformative change by the end of the 2020s. You can read the rest of the series here.

Showing solidarity and building relationships with other grassroots social movements is vital in the fight for climate justice.

I have often come across an attitude in climate activism – the belief that we should first tackle environmental concerns, then we can deal with other issues in society. The climate crisis is, of course, an existential one which receives far from enough attention in politics and media. However, this attitude of overlooking other crises which people are currently experiencing, such as in housing and healthcare, does not benefit the environmental movement. Different groups of activists should not be forced to compete against each other, as it merely serves to distract from the political and corporate entities causing or exacerbating these issues. Instead, sending solidarity and aid wherever it is needed could further each cause and present a unified front of radical groups.

It can seem like many people are willing to accept the climate crisis, and do not treat it as a major issue facing society today. The reason for so many holding this attitude was summarised by the 2018 Gilets Jaunes protest movement in France, following Macron’s carbon tax increase amidst a background of austerity measures. One protestor claimed ‘while the elites are talking about the end of the world’, they were talking about the ‘end of the month’.

Since, discussions around a just transition, and how climate action can ignore the concerns of the working class and more marginalised groups have entered the mainstream climate debate. This dissonance between climate action and other social struggles cannot be ignored by the environmental movement. The environmental movement has thus often been criticised as existing in a vacuum, isolating itself from class and social struggles. This has led to the perception that western environmental movements are white and middle class, and failing to acknowledge the need for an intersectional approach. We cannot campaign for a form of climate action which negatively affects entire groups in society, and we must recognise how integral workers rights, migrant rights, gender equality, racial justice, and countless other movements are to the struggle for climate justice.

In the summer of 2020 a Climate Justice Coalition began in Ireland. Though it is not currently active, this alliance was formed of grassroots environmental, social justice, migrant rights and anti-racism groups, along with political parties. It showed a need for solidarity and collaboration amongst all groups affected by environmental issues, as well as those whose current inequalities would be exacerbated as climate change worsens. The coalition united under a banner of “no to eco-austerity, yes to climate justice”. This meant a rejection of environmental policies in which the brunt of the problem was borne by working class communities, rather than the corporations which directly contribute to climate change, and a call for radical, equitable climate action.

As a new coalition government was being formed in Ireland in the first half of 2020, a draft Programme for Government was published, entailing the issues this government would tackle and some goals it would set. Despite environmental targets being vague and noncommittal, it was stated that this coalition sold out social issues for environmental progress. I and many other other environmental activists felt that, even if environmental goals were substantially improved in the programme, we could never support it due to its failure to tackle social crises. Calling for climate action while ignoring all other societal issues is not a step towards climate justice.

As terms such as “climate justice” and “just transition” become commonplace in environmental discussions, the environmental movement must commit to building connections and showing solidarity with movements representing those who will be most affected by the climate crisis. While many environmental activist groups are speaking more openly about anti-racism, class struggles, and feminism within environmentalism, there is still much scope to show solidarity and collaborate with these movements. This can be done without removing focus on environmental issues, through sharing knowledge and resources, platforming other activist groups, and through simple acts of solidarity. These acts can garner wider bases of support for all movements and highlight a need for broad social and climate justice. When groups campaigning for social and climate justice collaborate and are unified, they have the potential to be so much stronger than when they act alone. The environmental movement, moving forward, should seek not to exist so much in isolation, but to become the environmental wing of a broader radical movement.

The struggle for climate justice is the struggle for workers’ rights, women’s rights, and asylum seekers’ rights. Climate action that ignores housing crises, that ignores the inhumane nature of many global asylum systems, that ignores institutional racism, is not climate justice. We must recognise that there can be no climate justice without victories for other social movements too.

This article is part of a series – The Decade We Must Win – examining the successes and failures of social movements and the left since the financial crash, and exploring how we can win transformative change by the end of the 2020s. You can read the rest of the series here.

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Image credit: Mark Stedman – Creative Commons