A group of tenants fighting for decent housing rights might not automatically be who comes to mind when you think of resistance to the climate crisis. But in a corner of east London, it’s exactly these campaigners who are making connections between their struggle and those of communities in the Global South. “The financial system which turns our homes, markets and social spaces into investment opportunities, is the same system funding fossil fuel infrastructure which displaces communities close to sites of extraction – like in Nigeria,” says Kieran from the London Renters Union Hackney branch.
People in the UK increasingly understand the global impacts of the climate crisis. In part, this is because they now see what’s been playing out around the world for years happening at home: people’s houses flooding year on year and average temperatures soaring across the country. What’s talked about less, though, is that it’s not just the effects of the climate crisis that connect us, but the causes too.
If you want to understand the way the fates of working-class people from Newham to Ogoniland are intertwined, look at one of the main players at the centre of that connection: Britain’s banks. Barclays, for example, continues to fund global fossil fuel infrastructure – essentially accelerating the climate crisis that is wreaking havoc in parts of the Global South. At the same time, several local councils claim that the bank’s manipulation of interest rates through the LIBOR scandal led to them paying millions more than they should have done, though their efforts to sue Barclays were thrown out by a High Court judge earlier this year.
Working-class people in the UK, who are often brown and Black, are exposed to higher air pollution than the rest of the population and are hit harder as the public services they rely on to live are decimated by austerity. At the same time, swathes of people in the Global South are living in countries so indebted to banks in the Global North that they can’t invest in some of the mechanisms they desperately need in order to respond to the climate crisis – such as health, care, flood defences, housing and community-owned renewable energy. Meanwhile, the biggest polluters – the fossil fuel and agribusiness industries – have, during the COVID pandemic, essentially been paid to pollute through UK government subsidies. This is money that could be supporting the fuel and housing poor, investing in retrofitting infrastructure that addresses precarity and climate breakdown. Instead, those most complicit in driving emissions are being supported and upheld as part of the solution.
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The ties between people who are exposed to poverty and the climate crisis are complex but they are very real. In many ways, they are at the heart of the grossly unjust results of environmental degradation. Many people in east London have far more in common with communities whole continents away than they do with the politicians just nine miles down the road in Westminster. These connections show an often hidden element of what we mean when we say the climate crisis is a global crisis.