“The climate crisis wasn’t solely caused by empowering an exploitative logic, it was caused by disempowering the very communities which could counter this logic.”
The concept of ‘Anthropocene’ argues that humans (Anthropos) are altering the earth on such a scale that we have left the previous geological epoch (the Holocene) and entered a new one. The pervading narrative around the climate crisis, this age of Anthropocene, is that all humans have contributed to creating a crisis which we must now come together to solve. Blaming all of humanity might seem benign but it’s important to emphasise that we have not all played an equal part in bringing forth this crisis. As Jairus Victor Grove explains, this “apocalyptic era has been unequally created by a minority bent on the accumulation of wealth and a self-interested political order” that affirms the humanity of some and denies the humanity of others. The Jamaican writer and cultural theorist Sylvia Wynter explains that she will not miss the concept of the anthropos “because, among so many things, she was never considered human to begin with.”
The climate crisis was caused by a European project, one in which slavery, the genocide of indigenous peoples, the globalisation of an insatiable extractive economic model, species loss, ecological destruction and climate change are all part of the same global ordering. In other words, the same logic that enslaved human beings and robbed people of their resources under colonialism continues to forcibly extract labor through privatised prisons while pillaging natural resources for profit from a planet in crisis. This exploitative and extractive economic model that has historically emanated from Europe has been with us for centuries and continues to cause unspeakable violence. The climate crisis we are witnessing today can be read as the accumulation of all the death and destruction that brought the modern world to bear.
The need to contextualise the climate crisis isn’t about assigning blame, it’s about being clear about who we ought to be listening to in our search for solutions. The climate crisis wasn’t solely caused by empowering an exploitative logic, it was caused by disempowering the very communities which could counter this logic. This is what we must redress.
In her book A Billion Anthropocenes or None, Kathryn Yusoff states:
“If the Anthropocene proclaims a sudden concern with the exposure of environmental harm to liberal communities, it does so in the wake of histories in which these harms have been knowingly exported to Black and brown communities under the rubric of civilisation, progress, modernisation and capitalism. The Anthropocene might seem to offer a dystopic future that laments the end of the world, but imperialism and ongoing (settler) colonialism have been ending worlds for as long as they have been in existence.”5
When Black, brown and indigenous communities suffered, when their worlds ended, it was deemed an acceptable price to pay for a version of progress that continues to rely on the destruction of environments, livelihoods and communities. As we face this unprecedented crisis, we must empower communities on the frontlines of climate breakdown, we have to listen to colonised people because this isn’t the first time they are contemplating the apocalypse. We have faced it before – and time and time again our ancestors found ways for us to survive. I count myself as one of the survivors. We, the descendants of Black, brown and indigenous communities, have survived by finding new ways to live under a global system which sees the end of our lives and ecologies – our literal genocide – as a sign of our weakness and its right to dominate and oppress us.
We can survive this crisis because we’ve survived other endings of worlds through a multitude of small ways: holding onto values, traditions, arts, languages and ways of connecting and relating with one another which are deemed primitive, backward and antithetical to ‘progress’. We hold onto our faith, our families, our food and our lands because our existence depends on our resistance. Solving the climate crisis doesn’t need a big overarching solution. What we need is to listen to the millions of answers that are offered every single day by colonised communities who have found and continue to find intergenerational ways to survive the ending of worlds. As Grove reminds us, “the end of the world is never the end of everything”.
This piece explores themes that Arwa Aburawa has been working on for an archival film commissioned by the Liverpool Arab Arts Festival 2021.
1 Jairus Victor Grove, Savage Ecology, War and Geopolitics at The End Of the World, 2019, pg49
2 Jairus Victor Grove, Savage Ecology, War and Geopolitics at The End Of the World, 2019, pg11
3 Jairus Victor Grove, Savage Ecology, War and Geopolitics at The End Of the World, 2019, pg38
4 United in Struggle by Nick Estes, Ruth Wilson Gilmore and Christopher Loperena, August 2021, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10714839.2021.1961444
5 A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None by Kathryn Yusoff, 2018, preface xiii.
Arwa Aburawa is a London-based documentary filmmaker and writer with an interest in the environment and race. She is also co-founder of Other Cinemas, a community project which shares the films and stories of Black and non-white people in spaces and ways which aren’t alienating to these communities.
This piece was commissioned as part of the Contextualising Climate Crisis series.