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What do we mean by 'green'?

Monday 13-02-2017 - 13:57

This week and the weeks following, students’ unions, colleges, universities and students mark Go Green Week and other similar sustainability-themed weeks. There’ll be all kinds of events, initiatives and campaigns going on to work towards a healthier world.

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It’s interesting to think about what we mean when we think ‘green’. This Go Green Week, I’m reflecting on how we can – and must – make our organising, campaigning and activism joined up. Most of us know that building an environmentally sustainable world involves renewable energy, recycling, buying less and reusing more, changing diets. But different people have different experiences and abilities relating to these ‘green’ transitions, and environmental challenges are always linked to social, economic and political struggles.

The fight for an environmentally sustainable world is also a fight for a socially, economically and politically just one. Power and privilege play out in ‘green’ issues, too. Every environmental problem and solution is intersectional – that is to say: people have different relationships, depending on their multiple identities, with issues and responses to them.

Let’s start by thinking about something that’s long been associated with environmental living: recycling. For some, recycling is accessible and straightforward; they have the facilities, time and education necessary to recycle their rubbish. They have little-to-no excuse not to recycle. For others, recycling may be more challenging. They may be working long hours on low wages; they may live somewhere with poor recycling provision; they may be excluded from the knowledge networks that make recycling accessible.

What about if we think big? Climate change is the biggest threat facing the planet and all life on it. Surely we’re all equal in the face of something so monumental? Not exactly. Firstly, it is not a coincidence that the apparently ‘most powerful person on Earth’, Donald Trump, is a white, heterosexual man – and that he is doing pretty much everything in his power to stop action on climate change. Indeed, white men are historically culpable for most of the greenhouse gas emissions since the industrial revolution.

Today, Britain is the biggest contributor to global temperature change per capita – and yet it is not as vulnerable to the effects of climate change as communities in the global south. This is an injustice, and, among other reasons, why Black Lives Matter argued last year that climate change is a racist crisis.

Indigenous communities across the planet, too, are campaigning about the unique ways environmental degradation and climate change impact them.

We live at a time when climate change is set to create huge numbers of refugees. And yet borders are tightening and whole groups of people are being ‘banned’.

In our solidarity for a greener, healthier environment, we must never forget that power, people and politics are at the centre of it all.

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