NOII Van Environmental Justice Statement

Posted by admin on Jan 12th, 2009


In light of the devastating reality of environmental destruction globally, there is an urgent and critical need to expose the root causes of environmental injustice as stemming from systems of domination. Predatory capitalist expansion and imperialist militarization has devastated the lands, resources, and communities of primarily people of colour locally and globally. Toxic industries are largely located on Indigenous lands and closest to people of colour communities. While people of colour communities are disproportionately victims of environmental degradation, they are often scapegoated as responsible for the environmental crisis and excluded from the leadership of the environmental movement.


Environmental degradation, with climate change as one obvious manifestation, is intimately linked to the forced displacement and migration of people. By the year 2050, an estimated 1 billion people will be displaced from their homes because of global warming and stated-sponsored climate terrorism.

Populations of the global South and indigenous communities in the North have been ravaged by centuries of colonial-corporate theft and environmentally-destructive “development”.  Colonization brought with it not only the displacement and genocide of peoples across the world but also an exploitative view of the natural world. Early colonial imagery of nature presented it as something to be tamed, conquered and exploited; in the same way that indigenous peoples were.

The colonial project centred on gaining access to natural resources in order to fuel the growing capitalist industry. This continues today. For example the top five mining companies of the world are run out of the UK, Australia, Canada, Switzerland and the USA (with many of their headquarters in Vancouver). The mining industry is responsible for causing severe environmental devastation including loss of food supplies, flooding of entire communities, releasing lethal concentrations of acid into water supplies, and displacing millions of people.

Other industries such as fishing, cattle and dairy, farming, oil, and lumber are also responsible for displacement, the destruction of entire ecosystems, emission of toxic substances, and intensifying deadly natural disasters such as landslides, hurricanes and floods.

Within displaced populations, indigenous people – particularly women and children – are the most affected as their resources for survival, such as subsistence farming and hunting, rapidly disappear and they are driven to urban slums or refugee camps.  For example in Canada, the Inuit who have lived harmoniously with nature in the Arctic North, are now facing reduction of their stocks of walrus, seals, and whales,  and erosion of their coastline. In Mexico, farmers struggle to grow food as highly subsided US corn is dumped into their economy.

Yet the colonial and racist underpinnings of the nation-state system, is quickly revealed by the lack of response of those states who in reality have the most resources (as a result of theft) to protect environmental refugees. Indeed, these people are not even legally recognized as refugees. The borders of Western countries have remained tightly guarded against refugees of all stripes, and particularly so against those who have been displaced by environmental destruction.

This is despite the fact that such states hold the most responsibility for the global environmental crisis and hence the creation of soaring numbers of environmental refugees. For example, Australia, which has one of the highest rates of carbon emissions per capita in the world, refuses to open its borders to citizens of Tuvalu, a Polynesian island facing catastrophe from rising sea levels.

Racialized peoples in the First World are also victimized by this ideology, as witnessed in the handling of Hurricane Katrina. Most disgustingly, Katrina facilitated the government’s injection of funding into compliant NGOs to legitimize the current world order under the veneer of charity and awarded corporate contracts for “reconstruction”. Katrina made clear that beyond state lines, we are still thoroughly crisscrossed by borders of race, language, religion, gender, class, age, ability, sexual identity – borders continue to be socially, politically, culturally and violently enforced to divide us and discipline us into believing that some lives are worth less than others.


Unfortunately within the environmental movement, we have seen a rise in the “greening of hate”. This ideology blames environmental degradation on poor populations of colour.

For example, the rhetoric of governments and many environmental organizations in the North place the blame of excessive CO2 and other pollutants on countries from the South such as India and China. This is done in order to shift the blame from the real culprits to those countries that have been exploited by the imperialist project for centuries. In reality, much of China’s pollution is generated by the North’s demand for cheap manufactured goods. Approximately 30% of industry in China is foreign-owned by companies such as Wal-Mart. And, greenhouse gas emissions are 1.2 tonnes per capita in India compared with 23 tonnes in the US and 18 tonnes in Canada.

Within the Western world, certain environmental movements propose restricting immigration in order to control population growth. The most well known example of the pervasive nature of such discourse is in the 1990’s when a large anti-immigrant bloc within the Sierra Club pushed for a ballot initiative supporting a reduction of net immigration as part of a “comprehensive population policy”.

In addition to promoting racism, such measures obscure the reality that the fundamental cause of environmental degradation is not overpopulation of the Earth by humans but overpopulation of the Earth by pillaging state and corporate interests! While policing borders, such measures regulate women’s reproductive choice by blaming women – predominantly poor indigenous and racialized women – for having too many children.

One of the most significant ways in which racism is perpetuated within the environmental movement is the invisibility and marginalization of those most directly affected by environmental degradation. Indeed, in
stereotypic fashion the environmental movement often traces its origins to the efforts of visionary white men to protect the natural world from industrialization, rather than acknowledging the historic ties that most people of colour communities globally have had to the natural world. They readily ignore the wealth of traditional knowledge that land-based peoples have on how to live harmoniously with the land and how to appropriately steward the land.

The mainstream environmental movement has also perpetuated a mythology of the environment as separate from humans (the man vs nature myth). In Canada this has often meant the pitting of indigenous peoples against environmentalists as environmentalists become complicit in the displacement of indigenous peoples in order to support “conservation efforts” that ignores the ways in which indigenous peoples relate to the land. For example anti-fur activists do not recognize that non-commercial trapping is one of the main sources of livelihood for indigenous peoples in the North.


The ideology that capitalism and colonialism can co-exist with genuine social and environmental justice is disproven when we recognize that it is a social, economic and political system that is fundamentally and
necessarily rooted in exploitation and expansion.

Sustainable development and creation of “green industries” within capitalism continues to remain heavily resource-extractive and costing the lives of millions of people. The production of bio-fuel, for instance, is directly linked to the food crisis in the global South.

We reject the developmentalist framework that guides so much of economic policy, including in Third World states. While the impoverishment and destabilization of the Third World has been one of the primary
consequences of First World imperialism, so is the imposition of an environmentally-destructive capitalist social organization (a.k.a. “liberal democracy”) in the Third World.

Such development is not designed to alleviate the poverty and inequality of the Third World vis-à-vis the First World. It is designed to give corporations access to land, natural resources and cheap labour; to grant power to the state to police and regulate human beings as economic units and Mother Earth as a commodity; and to alienate people from their connections to the Earth, to themselves and to each other.

It is absolutely not meant to develop people’s ability to build self-sufficient and self-determining communities in harmony – indeed in reverence – of that which gives us life and sustains us day by day, the Earth itself.


In our struggles for social and environmental justice, we must insist on striving for a holistic understanding of issues and the complex ways in which they are interconnected; it is this understanding that must ground our visions for the future.

We demand that residency status be given to all migrants who have been displaced by environmental destruction. We are speaking especially to First World states that have through violence and exploitation reaped the most benefits from – and therefore bear the most responsibility for – the pillage of our earth.

We believe that indigenous women must be placed at the centre of the environmental movement as they are the most impacted by environmental degradation and they also possess generations of knowledge on how to protect the Earth.

We desire a world where people can move freely and no one is forcibly displaced. We envision a future of joyful and truly sustainable communities that are held together not by domination, but by a deep connection to each other and to the Earth.

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