Why Greenpeace Speaks Out on Racial Justice

by Annie Leonard

July 21, 2016

For more than 45 years, Greenpeace has worked to protect life on our planet against the powerful, corrupt forces set up to destroy it. We have believed from the beginning that collective action by strong communities is the most effective way to bring about environmental protection.

Greenpeace US activists walk a large Black Lives Matter banner down 16th NW toward the White House. Activists on the streets adopted the banner chanting "Make Way For The Flag" as they moved it through the massive crowds to the fence in front of Lafayette Square near the White House. On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a black man, was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States. During an arrest, Derek Chauvin, a white American police officer, kept his knee on the side of Floyd's neck for almost nine minutes while Floyd was handcuffed and lying face down. During the last three minutes, Floyd was motionless. After Floyd's death, demonstrations and protests against racism and police brutality were held across the US and the world, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the movement and gathering restrictions put in place by governments to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

© Tim Aubry / Greenpeace

Throughout Greenpeace’s history, we’ve gone to the furthest reaches of Earth’s oceans and forests to fight for the environment; however, in our own neighborhoods and communities, we have not done enough to fight for racial and social justice. When we do, we often get asked why, as an environmental organization, we are speaking or taking action on racial justice issues.

To us, the answer is clear.

We speak out because environmental and racial justice are inextricably linked.

We can’t have a green and peaceful future without racial justice, equity, civil rights, and empowered communities. We believe the systems of power and privilege that destroy the environment also strip vulnerable communities of their humanity — and too often, their lives.

That’s why we speak out. That’s why we take action. And that’s why we will continue to do so as long as it takes to create the future we believe in. Black people should be able to walk through any neighborhood, drive down any street, and work anywhere without the threat of being killed by the police.

This year we’ve already experienced a number of incidents in which black people have been gunned down by law enforcement. In each new moment, our hearts break for the victims and the victims’ families. These moments expose the systemic racism and inequality that link these tragedies to others around the country and around the globe.  

Institutional racism causes these individual tragedies.

Our society has been structured to benefit some people at the expense of others. Together, these systems, which thrive on race, class, and gender injustices, also rely on the destruction of the environment. In pushing back against the structures of racism and injustice, we are inevitably pushing against the structures that deplete and degrade the Earth’s natural resources.

However, our commitment to racial justice goes deeper than what we stand against—it’s also about what we stand for. We stand for peace, and peace is only possible when the structures of our society do not enact implicit and daily violence on people of color.

Take climate change. We all know climate change is big enough to affect every human being on the planet; however, the injustices that run through our society ensure that the climate crisis hits communities of color hardest right now.

Black and brown communities from Houston to New Orleans have been living with the toxic legacy of the oil and gas industry for generations, only to see climate change begin to take away their homes and land.

Indigenous communities in Arizona and Alaska have seen new waves of oppression unleashed on them through mining and extraction, and now many of them, too, are being hit by climate effects, from disappearing coastlines and wildlife, to disastrous wildfires and drought.

And poor families in so many American cities and rural communities have been the historic targets of power companies, which have strategically placed their coal-fired power plants in low-income communities and communities of color. The health impacts of that history, from high rates of asthma and early mortality, to mercury poisoning that disproportionately affects women and children, are only being compounded by climate change.

The foreshadowing of Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, and the historic heatwaves of the last 20 years suggest that, as climate impacts continue to escalate, it will be these communities who take the brunt of the injury and pain. Climate change makes manifest the intersectionality of environmental crises and racial crises that has been clear to communities facing discrimination for decades.

If we stand for peace, we must stand for a redefinition of how we treat each other, removing the violence that is too often locked into the fabric of our society.

Only equity, including racial equity, will bring that about.

Greenpeace stands in solidarity with the victims of racial violence who deserve justice, understanding, and healing. We stand in solidarity with those who seek peaceful and strategic solutions to systems of power and privilege and their violent expressions. And we stand in solidarity with our Black Lives Matter allies demanding accountability for the victims of police and other forms of state sanctioned violence. We believe that the success in Greenpeace’s work is deeply interconnected with the success of those working for racial, social, and gender justice.

We encourage our supporters to advocate, educate, and show up for social and racial justice.

We also encourage our supporters to help us with this work, and share with us ways in which you see social and environmental justice working together. One way we can all help is to raise the topic of racial justice in our communities, churches, workplaces, schools, and homes. One of the most powerful forces blocking progress is silence.

By speaking about these issues, encouraging people to explore interconnections between issues important to them, and by being ready to respond constructively to those who resist change, we help create change.

There are many places to learn more about and join the call for justice, including Black Lives Matter and Showing Up for Racial Justice.

Annie Leonard

By Annie Leonard

Annie Leonard is the co-Executive Director of Greenpeace USA. Leonard began her career at Greenpeace in 1988 and has returned to help the organization inspire and mobilize millions of people to take action to create a more sustainable future together. She is based in San Francisco.

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