To avert climate collapse, governments must reorientate their economies so they support regular people and enable everyone to thrive.
At this critical juncture when literally everything is at stake the climate movement cannot succeed unless race, class and gender solidarity are at the heart of everything we do.
As the demonstrations rage on following the sickening police murder of George Floyd and so many others, all climate rebels and campaigners must understand that this cause is our cause too. We urge burgeoning climate movements to act now.
This is an ethical, strategic and pragmatic necessity. Here’s why.
Governments must intervene on a massive scale to slow global heating and weather chaos, and to prepare for the inevitable disruptions that can no longer be avoided. So what stands in the way?
In key polluting and fossil-fuel-sponsoring countries such as the US and the UK, the primary culprit is the reigning free market ideology that urges people to resent government and to see loosely regulated capitalism as the only route to shared prosperity.
In reality, this ideology prevents governments from acting forcefully on behalf of working families. It condemns the vast majority to chronic economic, health, and environmental danger, while our common wealth is stolen by corporations and family dynasties.
And yet this madness continues to hold sway not just in the halls of power but among broad swaths of voters, including vast numbers of those who suffer most.
But this just pushes the question back one level. Why do so many working families embrace an anti-government ideology that impoverishes them? We cannot build the political power to force the government to act on the planet’s behalf until we rebuild confidence in the idea that governments can and must protect people.
So what is standing in the way? Racism - or, more particularly, the plutocrats’ strategic manipulation of racial resentment to divide and rule.
The intense concentration of society’s wealth generates widespread social misery. How can the ultra-rich get away with maintaining their outrageous power and privilege while the great majority of us struggle to get by?
It is not just about telling lies and selling false hope about supposed 'free markets'. The corporate right wraps itself in a mantle of cultural conservatism. It seeks to undermine government intervention and taxation by smearing it as the transfer of jobs and income away from “the silent majority” and towards non-white immigrants.
Rather than adopt directly racist language, the right uses coded dog whistles such as “Make America Great Again,” “Take Back Control” or “the Hostile Environment.” The dog whistles are used by deeply corrupted politicians, sponsored by international corporations and billionaire oligarchs.
Up to now they have proved embarrassingly effective at breaking solidarity across working class communities and the left.
It is no coincidence that Trump’s Disunited States of America and Johnson’s Disunited Kingdom have suffered the worst death tolls from Covid-19, despite being among the richest nations in the world.
The humane economic transformation we are all crying out for is being resisted most forcefully by those who believe that no disaster is so bad that a good profit cannot be turned from it. And it is no coincidence that the impacts have been severest on racially marginalised communities.
Let us not delude ourselves that the George Floyd protests are bad timing for Trump in this election year. The success of his agenda depends upon us allowing ourselves to be divided and distracted by our differences, as we are pitted against each other. Our disunity enables him to relish in again presenting the GOP as the defender of white people.
Trump's first public remarks on Floyd’s murder was to call himself the “president of law and order", to denounce demonstrators as an “angry mob” endangering “peace-loving citizens", and to threaten to deploy the US military against citizens.
What if, in the face of this, the climate movements were to make it a core strategy to systematically oppose the use of racism to divide and rule?
To avert climate collapse, governments must reorientate their economies so they support regular people and enable everyone to thrive. This will not happen in the UK or US until large majorities of their populations demand it.
The biggest roadblock to creating those powerful majorities has been our inability to counter the strategic racism of the plutocrat class. Only by overcoming racism and other forms of politicised division, including class and gender, will we gain the political power to avert climate and ecological collapse.
The video of George Floyd’s murder showed the world the calm indifference of power when it brutally kills, and as people who value life we cannot - we dare not - dismiss this as an isolated tragedy.
But for climate activists, such as Extinction Rebellion, rising up in solidarity with those protesting his death is not just a matter of conscience - it is also a practical and strategic necessity. This has to go beyond lip service to solidarity.
We must do the hard work of building racial justice into the DNA of our movement. This will include organizing workshops to foster mutual understanding, actively working to help those communities most harmed by racism, making sure that the climate movement is racially just at every level as well as accessible and safe, and proactively linking social justice to economic fairness to averting climate collapse.
We must be honest where we have got things wrong. Extinction Rebellion activists have sung “We love you police, we’re doing this for your children". The intention may have been to recognise the common humanity of individual police officers, caught in the same interconnected crises as the rest of us. The result was to exclude so many who could never join such a refrain.
We can do better by embracing racial justice - today. We must not perpetuate or reproduce violence. Our differences can be sources of joy and mutual empowerment, if we can foster a robust understanding that the ultimate enemy is the deployment of racism.
Together we can build organised mass civil resistance to bring about the structural political changes that are now absolutely necessary.
Amidst the escalating crises we now confront - of health, widening inequality and climate breakdown - only one thing is certain: sudden and profound change is upon us.
That change could be a positive one that we build democratically and in mutual solidarity, or a change is driven by fascism and environmental collapse. The choice is serious beyond words.
We all know which outcome we prefer. But it is only going to come about if we confront the race-hate and xenophobia that is being deliberately and strategically stoked by plutocracy’s henchmen, foremost Donald Trump.
We face a fight against the haze of division and enmity that has let those in power hoard our society’s wealth and get away with murder since they first used race-hatred to spur the Atlantic slave trade.
It is the fight for all we love and all we hold dear. The fight for justice for George Floyd is also the fight to save all our futures.
Ian Haney López is the Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Public Law at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of Merge Left: Fusing Race and Class, Winning Elections, and Saving America. Nuala Gathercole Lam is a China-focussed journalist now working full-time for Extinction Rebellion. Roger Hallam is the co-founder of Extinction Rebellion and author of Common Sense in the 21st Century: Only Nonviolent Rebellion can now stop climate breakdown and social collapse.
Image: Katie Crampton (WMUK), Wikipedia.