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How colonialism f*cked up the climate...

Updated: Feb 28, 2023

This inflammatory title is one of the conclusions we made along the way of our journey. The beginning of our journey started with the question: “Is there a relation between colonialism and climate change?” But before we start there, let’s clear up a few terms to get on the same page:

What is colonialism?

Colonialism is a form of direct control over a territory and its people by an external power. Modern colonialism has its beginnings from approximately the 1500s till about the 1960s. European nations wanted to expand their land, and use, and exploit resources and labour. These imperialist efforts ended up with about 85% of the world’s landmass being under European influence by 1935.

What does this have to do with today?

The repercussions of colonialism can still be felt today. This can be seen through racist systems and ideologies, economic imbalances, globalisation, and the climate crisis, or through the continued exploitation of land and people in the Global South. The consequences of colonization are still relevant and continued today. This is due in part because the Global North does largely not acknowledge and accept responsibility for their (past) actions.

The question if there was a relation between the climate crisis and colonialism was therefore answered with a resounding: “YES” by all our stakeholders and our research. As we dug deeper into this context, we talked to indigenous representatives which led us to the Indigenous Liberation Festival. As we listened to the stories of those impacted, we realised that the ones most affected but also least represented globally in the discussion of both the climate crisis and colonialism were indigenous communities. Many indigenous communities are living nature-based taking most of their resources from their environment and many religious and cultural practices are based on their land.

We were full of fire to advocate for this injustice, wondering about how to include their crucial perspective on climate adaptation. However, just as swiftly we started considering: We are a student team of three women from Germany, being predominantly white, doing this work for one semester. We started asking ourselves if we are the right people to do this. Organizations like the ICCA consortium, an association of indigenous peoples advocating for their rights and the UN’s indigenous people’s day, were already working on these issues with more resources, knowledge, and a larger area of impact. Who were we to consider doing this?

Then the idea came to us glaringly obvious, which had already been mentioned repeatedly by our stakeholders: Education. We are students and have access to a resource that other stakeholders are lacking: students and lecturers, the decision-makers and taxpayers of the present and future. We decided on a seminar, including an introduction workshop, to bring everybody to the same level of knowledge followed by a panel discussion in which several of our stakeholders throughout our project could participate.

Moving towards a decolonised future?

However, this journey had led us to much more than just creating a seminar for our university. It has led us to question our beliefs, question the systems we live in and question altogether. It led us to examine every “This is just how it works” “This is how it has always been” or even worse “This is how it will always be”. It also led us to look at ourselves and to wonder what we are doing to further perpetuate these issues and what we can do to move towards change. Our eyes have been opened to the consequences of colonialism glaring us in the face everywhere we go and justifying the necessity of decoloniality. By the end of this journey, we were changed in interminable ways.

We, therefore, leave you with this and hope you can also take something away from it:

We cannot turn back time, however, we hope that by examining the brutal past and questioning the justification of the current actions of the West, we can actively move towards a more equitable future where we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.

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