Why #BlackLivesMatter Should Transform the Climate Debate

The annual United Nations climate summit is wrapping up in Lima, Peru, and on its penultimate day, something historic happened. No, not the empty promises from powerful governments to finally get serious about climate action—starting in 2020 or 2030 or any time other than right now. The historic event was the decision of the climate-justice movement to symbolically join the increasingly global #BlackLivesMatter uprising, staging a “die-in” outside the convention center much like the ones that have brought shopping malls and busy intersections to a standstill, from the US to the UK.

“For us it is either death or climate justice,” said Gerry Arances, national coordinator for the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice.

What does #BlackLivesMatter, and the unshakable moral principle that it represents, have to do with climate change? Everything. Because we can be quite sure that if wealthy white Americans had been the ones left without food and water for days in a giant sports stadium after Hurricane Katrina, even George W. Bush would have gotten serious about climate change. Similarly, if Australia were at risk of disappearing, and not large parts of Bangladesh, Prime Minister Tony Abbott would be a lot less likely to publicly celebrate the burning of coal as “good for humanity,” as he did on the occasion of the opening of a vast new coal mine. And if my own city of Toronto were being battered, year after year, by historic typhoons demanding mass evacuations, and not Tacloban in the Philippines, we can also be sure that Canada would not have made building tar sands pipelines the centerpiece of its foreign policy.

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