Congratulations to Arwa Aburawa, who won the recent essay contest organised by Manchester Climate Forum. The question people were asked to address is “What are the current problems/future opportunities for climate campaigners in Greater Manchester.” The judge was Dr Brian Doherty of Keele University.
All the entries can be seen at www.manchesterclimateforum.org.uk/whatistobedone.html
Here is Arwa’s entry:
Looking around at the participants of any climate change meeting, one thing sticks out for me: they are racially unrepresentative. It is widely acknowledged that environmentalism and climate change in the UK attracts far more people from white, middle-class backgrounds than people from Asian, Black, Muslim or Jewish backgrounds. Whilst there is nothing wrong with this in itself, climate change is the biggest threat that this earth has faced and we need everyone on board to have a real chance of tackling it and avoiding the worst effects. So we can introduce more diverse people in Manchester’s environmental scene, I think it’s important to consider the following issues:
A. The history of the movement has set-up stereotypes about who is/isn’t involved that need to be actively tackled
British environmentalism originated from an interest in natural history, specimen collection and conservation. As the movement grew its predominantly white, middle-class supporters continued to focus on countryside issues and wildlife preservation at the expense of working class and ethnic minorities whose experiences centred around an urban environment. This historical background set-up clear stereotypes about what an environmentalist looks like, their demographic, their gender and what their interests are. These stereotypes not only excludes a vast amount of people who experienced the environment and climate change in an entirely different ways but it has also marginalised the contributions made by minorities in tackling climate change.
Clearly, the movement has come a long way from these beginnings but there needs to be a more active attempt to break from these powerful stereotypes. Actively and loudly acknowledging the contributions made by ‘poor’ environmentalists such as environmental justice activists in India and minority activists in America who emerged after major environmental disasters, even local minorities (Hulme/Moss Side) who are taking control of their impact on climate change is a really positive way to open up what climate change it about, who it affects and why we all need to be involved. It takes it out of ‘white’ hands and makes it a wider global issue in which everyone’s ideas are heard and respected.
B. Making links with wider issues which have a direct connection to ethnic minorities.
Environmentalism is a really broad topic and certain aspects can be highlighted to appeal to pre-existing interest. For example certain groups will already understand the importance of regeneration and so it makes sense to link up these aspects of environmentalism. Others topics could include religion, conservation and environmental justice. Here are some suggested steps for action:
Contact diverse groups on their ground, where they feel comfortable and open to debate
Spark their interest by making direct links to them, their religion, culture, history, families
Raise profile of campaigners, famous figures, national heroes, religious figures who espoused environmental respect
Eg. Gandhi, India’s vibrant environmental movement, Prophet Muhammed and Hadith, Jewish festivals such as Tu B’Shvat (Festival of Trees) etc
These steps makes it easier for diverse groups to relate to environmentalism, gives them pride in the issue and stops the issue from being alien to them/their culture. For this involvement to be sustainable in the long-term, people also need to be empowered, confident with their input and given ownership and responsibility of the issue. This means giving diverse people the skills, knowledge and expertise to take the movement forward in a truly representative way.
Empower them and provide a space for them to take their own ideas forward
Give them ownership over the issue and respect their ideas
Allow them to see the issues from a perspective which brings together different issues such as environmental justice, regeneration, environmental inequality and poverty.