Let's imagine a world with 100% renewable energy. Not a fossil fuel company in sight. Now, since this is all hypothetical, why not be optimistic? Let's imagine that this happens tomorrow.
Congrats! The environmental movement has succeeded. Now what?
Even if the environmental movement succeeds in having 100% renewables by tomorrow, they still will not save the world from climate change or global warming. The world will continue to warm even if we stopped using fossil fuels today. This popularized fact has been used to get even more support for renewables - which is ironic, because, again, the world will continue to warm despite renewables. Change is inevitable. Will we use this fact to transition to a just society that can care for those who are and will be most impacted?
What has the environmental movement done to mitigate the harms of inevitable warming? It is this string that we must pull on to unravel the environmental movement's lie that they are the saviors of humanity. The environmental movement has used frightening images of climate refugees, droughts, famines, and heat waves to endorse the necessity of renewables, instead of endorsing the necessity of pro-immigration, anti-prison, and anti-capitalist movements.
Solar panels will do nothing to stop Israeli and Indian forces from cutting off Palestinian and Kashmiri resources. Wind mills will do nothing to open borders to the estimated 200 million people whose homes will be threatened by 2050 and will not foster the health of pregnant people and unborn children living in toxic environments. While renewables would shut down coal factories and compressor stations that are predominantly in Black and Latinx communities in the United States, it is not hard to believe that those factories will simply be replaced by gentrifying solar panels and wind mills. In fact, this is already happening.
So what should the environmental movement do? Keep going.
Yes. Renewables are important, there is no doubt about that. There is hope for the environmental movement if they can position themselves as allies to more front-line causes while fighting for renewables. The environmental movement will not save humanity, and they have to stop pretending that they will. And while the anti-racist, anti-prison, anti-imperial, reproductive justice, and pro-immigration movements will save more people from climate disasters, a white environmental movement cannot co-opt and derail these movements in the name of intersectionality.
The road the environmental movement must march on is nuanced. The movement, comprised of a white Christian base, can organize for renewables while other more marginalized people lead the fights against issues that pose the most immediate risk to them.
This is a rejection of an "end justifies the means" approach to liberation; the way the environmental movement pushes for renewables matters.
In its fight for renewables, the environmental movement can accept the leadership of front-line communities, engage with its white base, force its white base to deconstruct its own oppression, and organize white people and resources to support immigration movements, reproductive justice movements, anti-racist movements, and more. (One good example is Cosecha.) The environmental movement can be a hub for helpful (although not central) white allyship.
I used to think such change would be impossible. However, I have some reason to hope after seeing a recent "People Over Pipelines" march where organizers raised a total of $1,300 in a single rally to give to Black Lives Matter Boston and Mass Action Against Police Brutality. The predominantly white, Christian, and elderly crowd also responded positively and supported a prison abolition teach-in and rally held outside MCI Norfolk.
But to sustain this hope, the environmental movement must fix itself without relying on underpaid interns of color, and this will be the movement's greatest and possibly impassible stumbling block. The movement can be comprised of mostly white people (since whiteness has the privilege of fighting for renewables instead of more immediate dangers) without being White Supremacist. The whitewashing, the racism, the oppression-blindness, the fear of being "too radical", and the simple arrogance that infest environmental activist communities help explain why many see environmentalists as oppressors. Environmentalists, you need to change. (If you think I'm not talking about you, then I'm definitely talking about you.)
This will start at the level of grassroots environmental organizations and college campuses. This means rejecting corporate sponsorships, the non-profit industrial complex, capitalist and imperialist strategies for "liberation", police escorts, and refusing to applaud governments and organizations that greenwash neocolonialism and genocide. The environmental movement must choose to support marginalized peoples instead "green" corporations, donors, and imperial governments. It can enact solidarity by utilizing the privilege of its base to funnel resources and bring out people to other more underfunded movements, not just by issuing toothless statements. It can - with consent - relay knowledge about organizing tactics, train community activists, and supply funds and resources to marginalized communities that are not strongly organized (since activists are often college-educated). People of color must not be treated with apologetic disregard.
The environmental movement has achieved unprecedented support from governments, international organizations, NGOs, academia, grassroots movements, and funding. This is due to deliberate whitewashing, "edge-softening," and silencing of the more radical necessities of environmental justice. It is this whitewashing that must now be deconstructed, and I'm not sure if it is possible. In a world where "green" rhetoric is being used as a cover for imperialist, capitalist, and oppressive agendas, the environmental movement must reject its reliance and support for oppressive structures.
A just environmental movement would be one to ensure that every person has the resources they need for healthy minds, healthy bodies, and healthy communities. Environment and climate means so much more than trees and solar power.
But does the environmental movement have the courage to make such a radical change in its operations - and possibly alienate some of its base, funders, and sponsors - for true liberation? Will the environmental movement will be able to drop its false worship of renewables as a universal savior and get behind front-line communities? These are questions for the environmental movement to answer; I'm just waiting to see if they continue to be our new oppressors or our new allies. The choice is theirs.