Looking at how some people in the West use the term ‘climate justice,’ I wonder if we are seeing the latest in middle class Western instrumentalization of the suffering and injustices of the world, for the purposes of further self-appreciation. That can occur because of the way commentators within the contemporary Western environmental movement have been inculcated in the hierarchical ideology of the Professional Managerial Class. Within that ideology, there is an instinct towards what Professor Catherine Liu calls ‘virtue hoarding’ where any issue of moral consideration is material for adding to one’s story of being an ethically superior self, who needs to impose one’s ideas on other people, particularly the working class. As decolonial scholar Professor Vanessa Andreotti explained in her Q&A with me, there is a lot more ‘composting of our shit’ from modernity that we need to do first before being useful in promoting either justice or healing after centuries of colonial domination.
Perhaps an example of this phenomenon is the discussion emerging around a rather ‘uppity’ damning of the Deep Adaptation movement that was published in The Ecologist Magazine. In an open letter by one of the authors on the receiving end of their ire, Matthew Slater wrote the following to the author:
“[As you tweeted that the Deep Adaptation movement is] ”Anti-humanist. Primitivist. Immaterial. Defeatist. Incoherent,” it is difficult to witness you throw such accusations at the diversity of people in the Deep Adaptation field, such as the many women of colour who speak so eloquently on the subject, including the co-author of my chapter, Skeena Rathor. To judge the arguments she puts forward with me as ‘primitivist’ might even be regarded as racially insensitive. Given that you, me and the editor of The Ecologist are all white men, we should listen to how such statements come across to people unlike us.”
On twitter, this led to another man describing Matthew’s concern about possible racial insensitivity as a ‘cheap shot.’ I wondered if such a dismissive statement further illustrated the issue here – “we should listen to how such statements come across to people unlike us.” Therefore, I asked Skeena Rathor, as co-author of one chapter being criticised within The Ecologist magazine, to comment on this topic and the forms of discussion that are emerging online about it. In her statement, below, Skeena mentions the need for co-liberation. In the Deep Adaptation book, I summarised the concept of co-liberation as involving “an aspiration towards co-freeing each other from systems that differentially oppress all people within both dominant and marginalized groups in societies. Therefore, it includes co-creating our co-freedom with people in communities that seek to avoid systematic oppression.”
A statement from Extinction Rebellion co-founder and former Labour Councillor Skeena Rathor, in response to The Ecologist magazine’s damning of Deep Adaptation.
I am a brown skinned, British born daughter of Kashmiri ancestors. Our original homelands have been invaded by patriarchal colonialism and modernity and its brainchild patriarchal capitalism as described by the work of Vandana Shiva. The story of which Helena Norberg Hodge of Local Futures captures in her film on Kashmir. One of the ways in which we/ my family have ‘resisted’ is by continuing to use our hands to eat rather than accepting the “civility” of the technology of the knife and fork. It has been called “primitive”.
There are deeply meaningful reasons why we would consciously refuse technologies of the west that are not about our ‘lack’ or “primitivism” but instead our abundance of mind, heart and spirit. When people of non-western and whiteness cultures resist the technologies of the west, often people racialised as white and people programmed in whiteness will use a kind of gaslighting of our ancient cultures – and will make an assumption that what we ‘need’ and want most is the so called ‘progress’ which in reality is often the mal-adaption of the west.
What many of us want and need now is to invite the ‘woke’ yet slumbering culture of the left to do its decolonisation, deep solidarity and Co Liberation work with us. White supremacy is a programme that runs deep in our bodies and minds and as research bears out most anti racism trainings barely touch the sides.
The constant friction here on twitter of people with similar politics feels testament to that – our imprisoned (in scarcity and powerlessness) selves acting out over and over, dividing ourselves, othering and finding fault and blame. Brothers, especially of whiteness, take a breath with less speaking out and more listening to and in. Lift onto your broad and beautiful shoulders; women, mothers and women of non-whiteness culture – invite them to lead. Lift our whole human pluriversality, if anyone has the privilege to do so you do – our many ways of knowing and not knowing both countable and uncountable – this is so much more than ‘diversity and inclusion’ training.
I am done with watching us play out our divisions masquerading as intelligent debate on twitter feeds, especially my white brothers, your energy for it feels part of the “wetiko” – it is relentless – feeding and deepening our paradigm of scarcity, separation, powerlessness and soullessness. Can we bake biscuits and sing together instead and why might this not be sophisticated enough for you? Through anti-social media streams like twitter, we destroy our true human culture of curiosity, compassion and creativity and birth right to feelings and a heart-set of abundance, connection and power.
Let’s become free together. Let’s become safe together and maybe even find our flourishing together, for the very future of humanity and its cousins in the great web of life are depending on this work. Togetherness and the reunion of the whole human family is the only way – the true acceptance of our many ways of being. I call this work – Co Liberation.
Come Chris Saltmarsh and friends, come around the fire, let us swap our stories of these ways of being and becoming, let us heal the wounds and tears this paradigm and system has inflicted on us. Let’s make kinship, lets belong together and let’s love who we are and what we have left.
Love all the way
x Skeena Rathor x
I am grateful to Skeena for entering the fray of what might seem like a tiresome jousting of male egos online. When such jousting becomes the focus, it can mean the criticisms of a person or movement solidify a misrepresentation of what was being criticised in the first place! So, to conclude, I want to return to the powerful vision and call in Skeena and Matthew’s original writing, which I think could be the basis for a new kind of politics. They conclude their chapter by inviting a co-liberation ethic of global solidarity practiced locally every day:
“co-liberation invites us to consider how we can live in solidarity with people suffering from the impacts of climate change elsewhere in the world. That means working together to push back against both global neoliberalism and xenophobic authoritarianism. It means organizing across borders to promote national and international institutions and rules that support localization globally (Norberg-Hodge and Read 2016). A co-liberatory movement towards relocalization in the West needs also to recognize the implications of current and historic economic injustice. Local communities could consider how to contribute to other communities in poorer and more impacted parts of the world as part of reparations for the exploitation which has underpinned western privilege and power. If there is not this global movement for fair and just relocalization, as part of deep adaptation to our climate predicament, then local initiatives may be fragile in practice yet ideologically unhelpful in reducing othering and prejudice, which are the conditions for future conflict.” pg 252-253 of Deep Adaptation.
Whereas attempts at hoarding green righteousness will not get us anywhere, there is a critical need for open dialogue about the future of the Left in a climate-ruined world. How the Left can find a refreshed and compelling basis for organising without recourse to fairy tales of fixing environmental breakdown is something I will share some thoughts on in the coming weeks and months. Perhaps the unfortunate combativeness within The Ecologist magazine will produce the silver lining of important discussions and insights on this topic. Meanwhile, if you are interested in climate justice, then my humble offerings on the topic include the following:
A brilliant summary from Simona on some of the insights into an environmentalism from voices less heard today
My interview with decolonial scholar Vanessa Andreotti
My interview with Amnesty International Chairperson Dr Anjhula Singh Bais.
My interview with Nonty Sedibe, who participates in the Diversity and Decolonizing work of the Deep Adaptation Forum
My presentation on solidarity and climate justice from 2019, with Gehan Macleod
My blog on solidarity and climate justice from 2019
My blog on co-liberation and antiracism
My academic article on the existence of a different approach to dialogue to escape the influence of patriarchy/modernity on environmentalism and social change (called Deep Relating), which also informs my teaching (e.g. the short course this June in the UK).