What Does a Police Shooting Have to Do With Climate Change? Everything.

to-change-everything-photo-by-pia-ward.jpgThis blog post by Quinton Zondervan is one of a series of posts written by staff, volunteers and board members reacting to the death of Mike Brown and the failure of the Grand Jury to indict Darren Wilson. We welcome further reactions and reflections! Email [email protected] if you have a response of your own that you would like to share.  

What does a police shooting have to do with climate change? Everything. Climate change is not about the science. It’s not about the melting ice and rising seas. It’s not even about the climate. Fundamentally, climate change is about us. It’s about us not being treated with the respect and the care that we demand and deserve – just like the police shooting.

Sometimes, in an effort to connect climate change to human suffering, we like to point out that “those who have the least will suffer the most”, or that “those who contribute the least to the problem will pay the heaviest price”. These things may be true, but they are also ways to put some distance between “the victims” and the rest of us. Just like casting the police shooting as a story about a young black male being shot by a white police officer can serve to put some distance between the victims of police brutality and those of us who are not young, black, and male.

And just as the persecution of black people in the US by the majority white establishment has been a longstanding problem that dates back to the days of African slavery, so too, does climate change. It turns out that climate change, by which we mean the modern, human caused rapid warming of the Earth, really took off with the perfection of the coal burning steam engine in England by James Watt in the late eighteenth century. The same steam engine that dramatically increased the demand for American cotton, which could now be more efficiently processed by the textile mills in Europe. A demand that helped build and support the slave labor based economy in the US that still reverberates through our streets today, centuries later.

Ultimately, climate change, like police brutality, is not about far away victims. It is about all of us living in a society that prioritizes profits over people, comfort over consequences and fantasy over fact, thereby breeding injustice, which manifests itself in many ways, from lack of access to healthcare, education, food, housing and employment opportunities to increased exposure to pollution, traffic, flooding, extreme weather and yes, police brutality and other forms of violence – all of it caused not by some abstract climate or abstract police force but ultimately by us!

Just as the abolition of slavery rid the world of a grave injustice, the elimination of fossil fuel burning will rid the world of another grave injustice that is impacting all of us. It impacts me now, as I am forced to reflect on the dangers my family faces as a result of climate change. Just as the police shooting affects me, here and now, even though I don’t know the victim. Both are the result of a shared carelessness that is infuriatingly unacceptable and frustratingly difficult to eradicate.

However, emancipation did not solve our race issues, and so too, elimination of fossil fuel burning will not solve our climate issues, though it too will help greatly. Like racism, climate change will continue to affect us for centuries to come. Like racism, it is forcing us to look deep into our hearts and find ways to eliminate the injustice that allows us to put our own needs above those of another. We are making progress on race, despite the shootings, and we will make progress on climate despite the oil companies. As long as we continue to battle injustice, in all its pernicious and destructive manifestations, we will make progress towards a better future for all.

Quinton Zondervan is a no longer young male of mixed racial heritage living in Cambridge and working on organizing small, local business to respond to the climate crisis by building a new economy that is local, fair and green. He is a 350Mass volunteer and member of the Better Future Project’s board. 

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