The climate crisis is spoken about today by almost everyone – academics, scientists, civil society, activists, intellectuals and so on – as the greatest crisis facing humanity. It’s always described in global terms: a universal crisis facing humanity as a whole.
Juan Pablo Gutierrez is a human rights defender, activist, decolonial teacher and international delegate of the National Indigenous Association of Colombia (ONIC) and the Yukpa indigenous people. In 2018, he fled to France after two murder attempts.
Juan recently took part in one of Just Stop Oil’s Drill Deep series of events titled ‘No Justice in a Racist Climate’. Here is a transcription of the emotional, challenging talk he gave.
But this reading is superficial in many ways, obscuring deeper inequalities and divisions. Here are two really important points to bear in mind.
Firstly, most people in the North speak about the climate crisis today as a cause – the cause of all the catastrophes present and future that we’re facing. That’s why alarm bells are now going off in Europe and North America.
Secondly, seeing it only as a cause obscures an awareness of its deeper roots. As an indigenous person, I see the climate crisis as a consequence, not a cause. It’s a consequence of 530 years of colonial history, which depended on stealing from indigenous people in order to sustain daily life and ‘progress’ in the North.
To be absolutely clear, it is this colonial model, this logic, this unequal, unfair distribution of power, imposed by Europe from 1493 onwards, that’s responsible for the crisis we’re facing today.
We have to remember that Europe only became a global powerhouse because it sacked the countries of South and Central America from the 16th century, and the countries of Africa from the 18th century. Without plundering the resources of these countries, Europe could well have remained stuck in the Middle Ages.
And, in truth, if the alarm bells are going off in the North now, it’s because these countries have been overwhelmed by the Frankenstein they’ve created – a Frankenstein that is totally out of control. The colonial powers are now threatened by the very system they created: a system which, in order to function, must destroy Mother Earth and her inhabitants.
If this crisis were confined to Africa, for example, or Latin America, or South Asia, we can be fairly sure the Global North would not be pushing the panic button right now. It’s sad, but true. The alarm is being raised now only because the survival of the North is in question.
For 530 years, indigenous people, Black people and rural people of the South have been fighting the root causes of the crisis: the plundering of resources, the exploitation, the colonial logic imposed by Europe. This struggle left millions dead: children, mothers and fathers, grandparents. No-one cared about these people; no-one raised the alarm in their name.
For five centuries, they’ve been screaming at the top of their lungs: “We have to look after Mother Earth! Destroy her at your peril!” But no-one listened. Not until now, not until the North itself started feeling the consequences of its destructive behaviour..
This reflects the hierarchy the North has imposed upon humanity – the racial hierarchy in which some lives are worth more than others, in which we mourn some and not others.
To finish, this is the key question that comes up for me. Why is the North only talking about protecting the South now, when it has become vulnerable itself? And why not before, when we were being murdered in our millions?
For five centuries, we in the South have struggled against the root causes of this crisis. But in the North, people have been out on the streets for just a couple of years, fighting the consequences of this crisis. And only now the world is panicking.
In its deepest sense, this isn’t a climate crisis. It’s a colonial crisis. It’s about a small handful of countries making the whole world pay for their brutality.
Equally, it’s not a global crisis. It’s a crisis created and fuelled by those countries who call themselves world powers – and who are actually still colonisers under a different name.
Today, in the global North and South alike, we’re facing the same enemy: the colonial system that’s at the root of all this. And it’s time to listen to the people who’ve been fighting it for five centuries. Because there, for sure, is the answer.
Finally, I’ll lay out the first step we need to take in our struggle today. We need to accept that the monologue of the global North is over. The time when the countries of the North only listened to themselves has come to an end – and the time for dialogue has arrived.
A hug of harmony and resistance,
After Juan gave his talk, yet another murder was added to the horrific tally he talks about. Eduardo Mendua, an indigenous defender from Ecuador, was shot dead by gunmen on Sunday 26th February after campaigning against the oil company Petroecuador.
See the full event Juan spoke at here: No Justice in a Racist Climate
View Juan’s talk here
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