These are CIEJ’s guiding principles for Green New Deal supporters who believe in expanding the GND cosmovision beyond US / Global North-centric techno-optimism.
Don’t reduce the problem to temperature and CO2.
Climate change refers to a long-term change in weather patterns, including temperature, precipitation patterns, and extreme weather events such as droughts and hurricanes. The earth has moved through various climate changes over time; yet today, this issue is associated with human-made pollution that puts current lifeways and ecosystems at risk of collapse from the overall warming of the planet due to the burning of fossil fuels for industrial development. Carbon and temperature are powerful data currencies, so the data exchanges of policy, science, and economic industries reaffirm these points as a distraction from the deeper causes of climate change: colonialism and extraction. Climate action plans, reports, and statements typically start by citing the 1.5°C warming threshold given by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as motivation for their proposals to reduce carbon emissions. Statistical projections, led by software companies like Microsoft that profit on extractive industries, focus narrowly on carbon and temperature. These statistical projections are used to control climate policy through future generations, until at least fifty years from now. But simplistic CO2 reduction “solutions” and statistical modeling fail to deconstruct and heal the abusive relationship—characterized by colonial and capitalist-driven extraction—we have with the earth. An exclusive focus on CO2 and temperature as the core problems to mitigate, which comes from a decontextualized reliance on the IPCC report, sidelines the historical, dynamic, and cultural roots of climate change. It fails to address the oppressive systems that perpetuate not only climate change but also related destructive problems like contamination, extinction crises, water wars, and so on. We need to move from decarbonizing to decolonizing.
Don’t confuse “radical” with “large-scale.”
The state of California recently mandated that by 2035, only electric passenger vehicles will be sold in the state. This large-scale plan to limit access to non-greenwashed technology is not a climate solution nor an environmental solution. Plans claiming to implement “radical” climate action generally mean that their actions—widespread electrification, renewable energy production, and other green technologies—are more directly related to reducing carbon emissions than to blatant capitalist schemes that avoid carbon reduction like carbon trading. But describing a “radical” relationship between carbon emissions and technology limits the potential scope toward an analysis of technology and capitalism. In the case of the electric vehicle, because the manufacturing of the vehicle and lithium-ion batteries is so environmentally destructive, and because both the manufacturing process and the electrical grids the cars depend on will continue to produce massive amounts of carbon emissions, the cars will not have a significant enough impact on carbon emissions to prevent global warming. Changing the energy source or production technology still does not change the fundamental causes of climate change: ever-increasing energy and material consumption examples fueled by ongoing colonialism and capitalism. Because they leave the roots in place, these superficial solutions—even and especially when implemented at a large scale—allow consumption and extractive practices to morph, with unknown rebound environmental effects. We agree that we need radical change—but by radical change we mean tearing out the colonial capitalist foundations of climate change via land back and abolition.
Don’t use extraction as a solution to extraction.
Anti-imperial environmental justice is not just about divesting from fossil fuels; it’s also about divesting from extracting other damaging materials in other regions. Climate solutions must be wary of using selective analyses that only critique one resource extraction in order to make claims to provide “good,” “new,” or “green” consumer options. Extracting more and different natural resources to create new consumer options to offset the extraction of another resource just increases extraction. For example, mining lithium for electric car batteries only destroys the water sources in the driest and most ecologically vulnerable regions of the world; it does not solve climate change. Electric cars are false solutions that continue extractivism and overconsumption. They do not actually reduce carbon emissions when you take the entire manufacturing process and electrical grid impacts into consideration. Extraction is a problem because it creates pollution and destroys the environment. There is no such thing as a clean mine, a clean factory, or a clean plantation; mines, factories, and plantations—and the accumulation and consumption that drive them—are the problems. Helium and hydrogen, for example, are being promoted as “clean energy” sources—yet hydrogen is a greenhouse gas that contributes to the same global warming problems as fossil fuels, and helium is often obtained as a byproduct from oil mining. The solution is reducing accumulation and consumption, not accumulating and consuming something else.
Don’t displace impacts onto others.
We can’t center only US-frontline communities at the expense of other communities around the world in line with the genocidal logics of environmental racism and toxic colonialism that drive displacement and migration. Our consumption of “green” technologies, like our consumption of fossil fuels, negatively impacts communities of concern down the supply chain domestically and abroad. The large-scale development of solar panels as a new energy grid component is an example of this problem. Solar panel production requires intensive mining of rare minerals, which is devastating the African environment and oppressing African peoples through coercive child labor, enslavement, and exploitative mining labor practices. The wide-scale implementation of home and business solar panels and solar energy fields in the desert comes at the cost of Black and brown lives abroad. Imperialism disconnects marginalized communities across geographies that bear the burden of environmental destruction and labor exploitation in order to produce and consume these goods and resources. Instead, we need to center transterritorial Indigenous, Black, colonized, and impoverished communities in our movement for climate justice. Protecting the earth requires global accountability and resistance to the greenwashing of imperialism. Selective protection means collective oppression.
Don’t let today’s demands make tomorrow’s justice impossible.
Abolition requires us to imagine a world that is not yet here, a radical futurism beyond bondage, incarceration, and disposability. Similarly, addressing the full extent of climate change requires us to imagine beyond colonialism, capitalism, racism, and extraction. Policy and advocacy goals accommodate capitalism, colonialism, and extraction and limit us to a reactionary defensive stance where we are always compromising and losing ground—even as we “win” policy campaigns. This undermines our ability to move proactively toward liberatory and healing futures. The colonial state is not our solution. Consumerism and work are not our solutions. Don’t structure your resistance around capitulating to the powers from above; instead make power from below—beyond consumerism, beyond work, beyond the state. Make sure that what you ask for today is not contradictory to the decolonial abolitionist future.
Do decolonize and rematriate everywhere.
Capitalist and colonial relations exploit peoples and land. A Western philosophy enforces a binary separating people from land, but for many Indigenous cultures and communities, people and land are one and the same. Multiple forms of colonial, capitalist, and heterosexist exploitation of people/land has commodified and made resources out of peoples/lands. To decolonize is to rematriate lands/waters and to break down the foundations of the nation-state: the military, which both pollutes and violently maintains imperial, colonial, and extractive relations over people and resources, borders, prisons, police, education, and so forth. To restore life and to value the dignified relationship among peoples/lands is to take back the lands/waters that have been distanced from our communities in service of capital. To rematriate is to nurture a sacred relationship among original caretakers of the lands through nonpatriarchal roles and leadership. To defend autonomy is to honor those who still live and thrive on their ancestral territories and who continue to defend their autonomy in the face of encroaching theft. Land back.
Do abolish the conditions that create energy demand.
We are not addicted to fossil fuels; we are addicted to energy, whether it’s converted from tar sands or solar cells, whether it’s stored in hydrocarbons or lithium-ion batteries. Moving from fossil fuels to supposedly green/renewable energy will not transform the extractive nature of a capitalist economy, nor will it reduce ever-increasing energy demand, whose root cause is the need for ever-increasing production, consumption, and profit, including the capitalist construction of wage-labor jobs. In fact, mining industries that still cause emissions are now benefiting from transitions to different types of energy. As abolitionism calls us to abolish the conditions—social, economic—in which harm occurs, we must identify the conditions that structure energy use itself. Only by challenging those conditions can we build new social discourses shifting from energy demands toward equitable energy relations.
Do transform what labor means.
Labor demands are often in conflict with the environment because jobs are conflated with extraction. Work under capitalism extracts from and dehumanizes the worker through systems of ableism, racism, and sexism. Jobs should be abolished. Workers should be liberated from jobs so that our activities are not centered around making profit, but rather around making life possible and meaningful for ourselves, our families, and our communities. Decolonization requires us to abolish jobs and reimagine dignified labor as individual and collective efforts and activities beyond extraction, beyond profit and benefits, beyond inclusion and assimilation into colonial, capitalist, and white supremacist projects, and beyond work. Instead of jobs, we want a relationship with our tools and environment that is convivial—that cultivates our creativity and our interdependent autonomy.
Do be accountable to our local, regional, and global connectedness.
The GND focuses on US policies, yet associated transitions in US labor, technological, and economic sectors impact communities around the world. Climate change resistance strategies must go beyond nation-state policies and limited US-centric electoral solutions because the sprawling reach of energy and resource extraction persists beyond borders and beyond fossil fuels. While many intend to be inclusive of transnational and transterritorial communities in their organizing, greenwashing often obscures how US imperialism continues to wage violence in pursuit of mineral resources. Organizing for environmental justice only within a settler-colonial fraction of the globe will devastate the rest of the world on its behalf. We must transform the boundaries of what “environment” means and extend a localized consciousness to a global interconnectedness.
Do cultivate local systems of interdependence.
As Nishnaabeg activist scholar Leeanne Betasamosake Simpson states, the alternative to extraction is “deep reciprocity. It’s respect, it’s relationships, it’s responsibility, and it’s local. If you’re forced to stay in your 50-mile radius, then you very much are going to experience the impacts of extractivist behavior.”1 We must turn toward local systems and resources to break the cycle of globalized extraction-based consumerism and to truly build interdependent, sustainable relationships with the environment and people around us. In essence, this hyperlocalizing means we need to stop consuming products from outside our communities so we can then create local work to meet those needs while sustaining our communities. From a decolonial stance, this also means recognizing whether we are settlers and working to return land to the original peoples. If we are where we are because of bondage and fugitivity, then we also must support land back and develop anticolonial relationships with original peoples. We believe decolonization is also abolitionist, antiracist, antiheteropatriarchal, and anti-ableist; we believe decolonization centers sacred and nonhuman beings, and can be created locally in ways that connect to others globally in transformative ways. Cultivating interdependent, sustainable relationships with the local environment and people around us breaks the destructive cycle of globalized extraction-based consumerism. We can and must form both local and global relationships that break colonial and extractivist cycles.
- Naomi Klein, “Dancing the World into Being: A Conversation with Idle No More’s Leanne Simpson,” Yes! Magazine, March 6, 2013, https://www.yesmagazine.org/social-justice/2013/03/06/dancing-the-world-into-being-a-conversation-with-idle-no-more-leanne-simpson ↩︎