These are frightening times, and whilst it is easy to feel despair, there is hope to be found.
In the Global North, we’ve relied too heavily on addressing the health and sustainability of our environment with a one-dimensional approach. The climate crisis is often referred to as a problem of the past forty years, and one we have twelve years to address. Or that to tackle the crisis we merely need to move towards low-carbon energy systems. But that’s far from the truth, and denies us the chance to understand the multi-faceted ways in which the system that has put us here, is also responsible for many other injustices.
Decolonising the climate conversation moves us to have a deeper analysis of the climate crisis. One in which we hear stories of a shared global problem that has been in existence for many hundreds of years, starting from the days of European colonial exploration. These stories exist in communities of colour across the UK, many of whom have been resisting and surviving in the face of environmental adversity for many years. Through their wisdom and practice, they share their strategies for survival that have been built on the actions of their ancestors, or their own lived experience. People who have moved to Britain for love or freedom, or simply from a history of being displaced, can offer us the vision for what a climate-just world looks like.
Resistance in song
From the freedom struggles to Civil Rights movements, song has held an important role in building resistance in the black community. Nawi Collective is a black womxn and non-binary femmes vocal collective based in London. They sing for justice, sing to reclaim their time and raise their voices to honour our ancestors.
Last year, when Malawi was hit badly by Cyclone Idai on 14 March, Nawi Collective set out to raise £4,000 for Kachipanda village in the district of Dedza. Decades of dictatorship and unrest followed British colonisation in Malawi, and its neighbouring countries Mozambique and Zimbabwe. All three countries are amongst the poorest as a result, and all three countries were the most heavily affected by this cyclone and continued climate impacts.
Nawi Collective used their performances and social media to tell a deeper narrative of climate disaster missing from the mainstream media. Thousands struggled to meet their basic needs because of food shortages and a lack of access to clean water, which caused further risks to people’s health. The group discussed this disaster and their work in an episode of the NTS Radio show Floating Roofs.
Resistance in dance
Dance has long been a political platform. And, in UK history, the most significant example of this is the liberation sound system movement of the 1960s that influenced the culture and purpose of the Notting Hill Carnival. Sound systems were a place in which many of the Windrush Generation met their wives and husbands. It’s where migrant communities found space in an otherwise hostile environment.
We do not easily connect the climate crisis to migration, but the relationship is important for two reasons. Firstly, many countries who are suffering the worst of the climate crisis were formerly colonised by Britain or other European nations. The Windrush Generation saw Britain as their second-home, and were referred to as British subjects. Their family’s labour is what brought Britain its wealth: reliant on their displacement from Africa during The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, and generations working plantations. Through that history of enslavement and displacement, they made it here, surviving those horrors and making Britain their home. But Britain has never made this home safe for them.
The second way in which migration and the climate crisis relate is seen in how border enforcement is used to police migrant communities, both here and for those living in hostile and vulnerable states – making movement to a safe place an impossible task.
Black Obsidian Sound System (BOSS) Collective run events that aim to prioritise the expression and safety of Black and of colour women, femmes, queers and trans folk, with accessibility as their priority. They recognise the history of resistance in sound system culture, and are bringing it to the streets of London for those communities that still experience the hostility of British colonial thinking.
BOSS was established in the summer of 2018, with the intention of bringing together a community of queer, trans and non binary people of colour involved in art, sound and radical activism. Following in the legacies of sound system culture, they wanted to learn, build and sustain a resource for their collective struggles. Like many emerging black queer led music collectives, they hold a no tolerance statement on racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, homophobia, transphobia, fatphobia or hatefulness in order to create a welcoming space for everyone. Other notable groups championing this ideology include Pacific Island DJs, Collective Joy Collective and Resis’Dance.
Resistance in growing
Land justice has a deep and radical history in Britain, particularly the Peasants Revolt of the 14th Century, which saw the beginning to the end for Feudalism. But what does land justice mean to communities who were either forcibly displaced from their homes abroad, or who have had to move here for a safer life?
In the UK, BAME communities are 60% less likely to be able to access green space and natural environments than their white counterparts. We have had to exist with the pain of moving away from land that we called our own, and are restricted from building a relationship with land now we are here. This is something that groups such as The Ubele Initiative, Black Growers Group, Colonial Countryside and Land in Our names are working to address.
Having the land to grow crops and nurture animals is a real gift, and one that Willowbrook Farm in Oxfordshire uses to explore their experience of being people of colour land workers. Willowbrook is the UK’s first halal farm that focuses on organic, low-impact sustainable land use practices in order to tie together the ethics and values that put us in harmony with nature.
The farm is run by Lufti and Ruby, and their extended family, all of whom hold various roles to help the farm keep running. They believe it their duty to take seriously the role of steward for God's creation (Khalifa), to produce food naturally and sustainably (Tayyib) – and to be grateful for the food we receive (Halal). In practice this means they adopt a responsible and holistic approach to all aspects of food production, from the farm to fork.
As demands on our food production change as a result of the climate crisis, farms such as Willowbrook are essential to bring a diverse approach to land work, farming and food production which reminds us that caring for nature comes through all faiths and practices.
Guppi Bola is Co-founder of both Working On Our Power, and Big Society NHS
The show must go on(line)
Sadly, for everyone’s safety, our venues are currently closed. But you can still get your Southbank Centre fix online. We will continue to share inspiring and thought-provoking arts stories through our website and social channels.
As a charity, we rely on ticket sales for a huge chunk of our income. But now they’ve stopped. And it's a huge worry to us, and the people we work with. We all need the escape of art and culture; it can inspire and unite us. So please – if you can afford to – consider a donation to the Southbank Centre today, to help us be there for you in the future.