Global sacrifice zones and why ‘we’ are not in this together
22 October 2018
This September, I had the pleasure of attending The World Transformed for the first time with my dear comrades from Global Justice Now’s youth network. For those of you unfamiliar with the festival, it is a 4-day celebration of leftist ideas organised by Momentum activists which runs alongside the Labour conference, with the general aim of opening leftist discourse and inspiring political change. The festival had a fantastic line-up ranging from Labour heavy-weights Dianne Abbott and John McDonnell to intellectual powerhouses David Harvey and Naomi Klein. All the talks and workshops I attended left me in awe of the strength, beauty, and resolve found in left-wing movements in the UK and beyond, but there was one event which really struck a chord with me.
Chaired and organised by the inspiring Asad Rehman of War on Want, Sacrifice Zones: Colonialism, Neoliberalism, and Climate Change challenged the neoliberal whitewashing of the climate crisis. For those unfamiliar with the concept of sacrifice zones, it refers to entire geographic areas which have been relegated to environmental damage and/or economic disinvestment due to neoliberal policies. In this panel discussion, the damage these areas face were discussed in the framework of the neoliberal mantra of ‘we are all on the same boat’, which transformed into an interrogation of how the metaphoric boat is in fact the sinking Titanic. The infamous ship’s wealthier passengers represent the Global North, safely in the upper decks enjoying their dinner with lifeboats on standby, while the rest of the world are quite literally battling rising tides for their survival. The talk further crystallised that what we are witnessing today is not a ‘crisis’ but a full climate breakdown due to neoliberal politics threatening our existence.
More than 30 years of climate policies gone awry has shown that we can only deal with climate breakdown if we use an intersectional lens. This means the living manifestations of colonialism, sexism, classism, and other forms of oppression should be confronted head-on to underline how the global north's neoliberal hegemony has made the global south a buffer zone for its ecocidal zealotry disguised as ‘market orthodoxy’.
Environmentalists, myself included, have been too preoccupied with preaching a 1.5°C increase limit, without considering how little we know of the catastrophic consequences the current 1°C degree change has had on our ecosystem already. Countries like Bangladesh and the small islands of the Pacific are already facing the climate breakdown many of us see as ‘future scenarios’ for the global north. People are already being displaced, indigenous lands are already being lost to rising sea-levels, yet we continue to think of climate change as if it will only effect future generations, forgetting that it is happening now in ‘sacrifice zones’ created by the global north. While we rightly speak of the devastating effects climate change will have on future generations, we forget those who are already living through the trauma of a politics of hunger, displacement, and wilful negligence by the same global elite behind much of the climate breakdown we are facing today.
Hearing incredible scholars and activists like Vijay Prashad and Zita Holbourne talk about how neoliberal powers choose who lives and who is to be ‘left to die’, I was reminded of the fragility of this discourse we are being sold today, and how it must be resisted at every turn. Only by increasing the urgency of the climate debate and challenging the idea that some lives can be sacrificed, we can start forming a new kind of politics which will help us tackle the oncoming storms. With the recent IPCC report underlining just how little time we have left, it becomes clearer than ever that climate change is an issue of global justice, and one which must be fought for now rather than later.