Originally posted on the Center for New Community’s blog Imagine 2050. I am writing on a monthly basis for their series on Race, Migration and the Environment. You can find my first two posts here and here.
A big thanks to my friend Ashley Trull for her input on this piece.
Environmentalists and social justice advocates are linking struggles across borders to fight the transnational forces causing climate change. The work of global activists is countering arguments put forward by white nationalist groups that claim immigrants are an environmental threat.
The claims that immigrants are causing climate change are rooted in overpopulation arguments that disproportionally target people of color and the Global South.
The most recent U.N. climate talks in Cancún, Mexico, brought together thousands of activists from around the world. While some were accredited to enter the U.N. conference center, many more attended the concurrent independent gatherings of Klima forum and La Via Campesina. Largely ignored by the mainstream media, these independent gatherings made space for grassroots and indigenous perspectives and facilitated dialogue across traditional boundaries.
U.N. climate change treaties impact our relations with our neighbors in Mexico and Latin America. But many groups do not acknowledge the burden of these treaties on the Global South. The United States’ delegates continue to dominate the treaty process and engineer outcomes to their liking. The Copenhagen Accord, a document drafted mostly by the United States with little involvement from the Global South, was the primary item on the table at Cancún.
The civil society gatherings in Cancún allowed activists from across the Americas to hear the stories of their allies in Latin America and other parts of the world and learn the impacts of U.N. climate change policies.
Ashley Trull, of Worcester, Mass., traveled to Cancún to attend La Via Campesina Alternative Global Forum for Life and Environmental and Social Justice. La Via Campesina is an international movement that represents “peasants, small- and medium-sized producers, landless, rural women, indigenous people, rural youth and agricultural workers” and had representatives at Cancún from 29 Mexican states and 36 countries.
In speaking with Mexican attendees, she heard stories of families separated by immigration and communities devastated by policies such at the REDD- Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. She reflected, “I had breakfast one morning with a man from the Mexican state of Oaxaca who had his forest lands bought up through the REDD program and is no longer allowed to use or harvest from them.”
The international gatherings at Cancún created a space for activists from across the Americas to hear the stories of impacted communities and see where environment, social justice and immigration intersect. Ashley came away from La Via Campesina with a new perspective on environmental and social justice: “We must transcend the walls and borders that are being built up between us by government and corporate interests and see the struggles of migrant workers, immigrant rights and environmental justice as unified.”
Proposals to mitigate climate change must account for all people in all countries, and anything to the contrary will not provide a systemic solution. By coming together across borders, activists in the United States can see that the struggles for environmental justice and the rights of immigrants are inherently linked.