Climate crisis and racism. It’s the same fight

This story was originally published by High Country News and appears here as part of the Climatic desk collaboration.

Guardians of the Wild Land, a nonprofit organization that cares for wildlife and wild places in the West, recently named its first new CEO in three decades. Hop Hopkins, a former member of the Sierra Club and LA River Keepers, has spent more than 25 years organizing in the West and is one of the few black leaders in the US conservation establishment. He is perhaps best known for drawing attention to the connections between the environmental and racial justice movements, particularly through his viral article, “Racism is killing the planet.” We caught up with Hopkins to learn his vision for WildEarth Guardians and the environmental movement in general.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

High Country News: What attracted you to WildEarth Guardians?

Hop Hopkins: I appreciated their blatant stance on how they are going to defend the planet. To people who say it can’t be done, they say, “We’ll find a way.” It’s the same type of fabric I’m cut from.

HCN: In a previous interview, said it plans to take an “intersectional approach to how we protect the wild future of the West.” What do you mean by that?

Hopkins: (We) need to not bifurcate the human environment from the wild environment. In my article, “Racism is killing the planet,” the slogan that everyone remembers is: “You can’t have climate change without sacrifice zones, and you can’t have sacrifice zones without disposable people, and you can’t have people disposable”. without racism.”

The same harmful systems that enable environmental degradation to occur are some of the same systems that affect communities of color. The ideology of extraction and the ideas that support it of domination, sacrifice and disposability must give way to a concept of regeneration.

HCN: Can you offer an example?

Fight climate change by fighting racism. #ClimateChange #Racism

Hopkins: When we seek to adopt a more holistic and intersectional approach, one of the critical points revolves around this false dichotomy: it is either jobs or the environment. The people who work in these extractive industries also deserve justice and they also deserve that their livelihood is not linked to the destruction of the environment.

We have to be in relationship with the community to figure out how we can make the transition in a way that is principled, so that people don’t just hear a big sucking sound when that industry shuts down. That framework is not always present in conservation communities when it comes to shutting down oil pipelines, coal plants or mining. (In a follow-up email, Hopkins noted the Guardians’ work supporting frontline communities harmed by oil and gas development in the Gran Chaco area of ​​northwestern New Mexico.)

A 2019 demonstration and sit-in at the New Mexico state office of the Bureau of Land Management to protest the lease sale of 11,000 acres of ancestral and public tribal lands in the Gran Chaco area. Photo from Guardians of the Savage Land

HCN: You’ve been fighting this fight for a long time. Can you talk to us about how the conservation movement has changed over the course of your career?

Hopkins: Ten years ago, you couldn’t even say the word “racism” or “justice” within a conservation space. As we become more aware of the intricate nature of the climate crisis and how it is interconnected with social and economic crises, that lack of awareness has faded. There are still organizations that have their niche, and that’s fine. If they do it in coalition with organizations that take on other parts of the pie, then we can work together. You do it, you do it and I do it, and together we do it better.

Do you like ice cream, for example?

HCN: Oh yeah.

Hopkins: What is your favorite flavor?

HCN: Today I’m going to say mint chocolate chips.

Hopkins: I like vanilla. If we say, “Who likes mint chocolate chips?” We could get a third of the audience. If we say, “Who likes vanilla?” we could get two thirds. We’re not going to catch everyone. But if we say, “Who likes dessert?” All hands in the room will go up. I know it’s an analogy, but do you understand how I think about the scenario?

HCN: I think so. But just to make sure we’re clear, can you break down how that applies to your work?

Hopkins: When we look at the polls, particularly in the Western region, people of color have a lot of overlap with our agenda. But they are not a big part of our electorate right now. That doesn’t mean they aren’t committed to their communities. The thing is that we have not been able to craft a message that resonates enough for them to become part of our movement and organizations.

HCN: Is there anything else that the environmental movement needs to remedy to move forward?

Hopkins: At the scale at which (change) must occur – moving from a movement of 1,000 to 10,000 to millions – to protect fragile ecosystems, endangered species and frontline communities, we must speak to a different chorus than we have been speaking for the last 20, 30, 40, 50 years.

The environmental justice community taught us that the environment was much bigger than just nature: it was the places where we eat, play, sleep, work, and go to school. Taking that broader approach would include much larger communities, both human and animal, and allow more people to participate in our work. Because they would be included and their problems would receive the kind of attention and urgency they need.

HCN: You have said before that we cannot succumb to pessimism. How do you find optimism in everyday life?

Hopkins: It’s very easy not to do it. But there is as much beauty in the world if we look for it, and as much wonder in our daily events as there are things that cause us pain or distress. So I choose to live in that space, instead of looking at the devastation and destruction. (I think) about my ancestors and what they went through and yet they persevered. There are things about my existence that I disagree with, that truncate my ability to be free, and there is a higher level of justice and democracy that we have not yet reached. It’s that belief that there is more: that we can reach greater heights than we have as a society. I’d rather be in the space of working collectively to achieve it than get stuck in what doesn’t work.

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