Decolonising Climate Activism and Education

Maya Hoare
July 5, 2022

Recently decolonisation has become a bit of a buzzword bandied about by different institutions of higher education after calls for them to reckon with their relationship with institutionalised racism. But what does it mean to decolonise something and why is it important? Decolonisation is considered to be the process of confronting the legacy of colonialism, which centred and prioritised the Western perspective. 

Decolonisation of the curriculum is a profound project that is concerned with addressing the devastation and ongoing violence that European empires have perpetuated against people, mostly but not exclusively in/from the global south... It is about highlighting ways in which all aspects of the imaginary western superior modes of thinking, being, doing and living are privileged over indigenous knowledge and histories, which are deemed to be primitive, irrelevant to modern life, and irrational. 

Singh, 2018

Decolonising Climate Education

The climate crisis perpetuates these age-old colonial relationships, with people in the global south suffering disproportionately from the over-consumption of the West. Likewise, the reckless individualism of oil and gas companies, which prioritises the short-term enrichment of the West at the detriment of less-developed countries, is distinctly colonial. Any decolonised climate education must broaden the conversation around the climate crisis to equip students to recognise these historical forces at play and understand the intersection of climate injustice with other social injustices such as racism, sexism, and classism. For example, minority groups are more likely to live in areas exposed to toxic waste, landfills, and other environmental hazards. 

For too long, indigenous voices are silenced in climate education and climate activism despite being among the people worst affected by the climate crisis due to their close relationship with the environment. We need to shift from viewing indigenous people as passive victims of the climate crisis to agents in their future. For example amplifying the work of Helena Gualinga, the 19-year-old activist protecting the Amazon and the indigenous rights of the people living there. She is fighting the oil companies drilling in indigenous communities in the Ecuadoran Amazon and calling for divesting from these destructive practices. 

Ultimately I believe there needs to be a shift from the sole priority of climate activism being to reduce carbon emissions to learning to live sustainably and respectfully towards the environment, with an equitable distribution of resources. Climate education should rid itself of performative, surface-level analysis of the cause and effects of the climate crisis, and instead provide students with an intersectional perspective.

Picture: International Indigenous Peoples' Forum on Climate Change