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Opinion: People of colour need to be included in Bristol’s environmental movement


Jasmine Ketibuah-Foley argues that it’s not that Black people aren’t green – it’s that the green movement is too white.

Photo caption: Jasmine Ketibuah-Foley speaking with Bernie Sanders at St Georges Hall as a Green and Black ambassador

We need to move away from the idea that the sustainability conversation is reserved for yummy mummies and middle-aged white people. That’s wrong. And the fact that there just simply is not enough people of colour being invited into those conversations is worrying: it gives off the impression that people assume we’re not interested.

We are communities who are already doing things sustainably, who may have friends and family who come from rural backgrounds. It feels as if people think that people of colour who live in the city do not know the land, the countryside, how to grow things and care about the planet. This assumption is so far from reality. And sadly, the lack of representation and inclusion in the environmental sector in Bristol is a reality.

“Environmental racism is a visible reality in Bristol”

I’ve researched diversity in the environmental sector with the Green and Black initiative, which is supported by Ujima Radio, Bristol Green Capital Partnership, UWE and Bristol University. And one thing is clear: Bristol has a long way to go to make sure its fight to support a culture of environmental sustainability is something that includes and benefits everyone.

Bristol was named by a Runnymead report on inequality as “the most segregated core city in the UK”. We know that those high levels of inequality in education and employment seriously affect the aspirations of those who live here. But how do these realities affect Bristol’s shiny dream of being a sustainable city?

Environmental racism – and the need for a holistic approach

We have to start answering that question by first acknowledging that you can not fight environmental injustice without recognising the intersectionality of race, gender, socioeconomic disparity and every other nuance that lends itself to the term ‘injustice’.

If we want to talk about environmentalism and sustainability, why are we not looking at things like changing the environments people are forced into because of their economic status, and creating low-cost sustainable environments? Because of systemic wrongs, many ethnic minority communities find themselves born into environments that are typically not the best places the UK has to offer. This has a knock-on effect.

Recently we saw Alex Beresford, a presenter on ITV’s Good Morning Britain speak out about knife crime saying, “if you don’t change the environment it won’t change anything”. Of course, his response has a very complex meaning, but on the surface of it there’s something there about the environmental inequalities that people find themselves in and the negative effect that can have on people. This kind of thinking needs to be in the sustainability conversation.

“A sustainable Bristol has to also to be one of diversity”

Environmental racism is a visible reality in Bristol. How can we ignore that the wards that have the highest numbers of ethnic minority populations are at the highest risk of pollution-related illnesses? Lawrence Hill has the highest rates of childhood asthma in Bristol related to pollution because of the close proximity to the roads and little green space.

It is clear that sustainability should be a required part of the planning process: Not just for the well off masses that can pay for it but a right that all have access to.

A holistic approach is needed if we are to work towards a sustainable future in Bristol. As Naomi Klein said in her 2016 London lecture titled ‘Let them drown’, environmentalism needs to move forward in “ways that don’t ask suffering people to shelve their concerns about war, poverty and systemic racism and first ‘save the world’ – but instead demonstrate how all these crises are interconnected, and how the solutions could be too.”

We should be actively trying to understand environmental racism. We have to start questioning it and understand, why does it exist? Not ignore it with the attitude of, ‘they are just unfortunate’.

There are people of colour in Bristol trying to make a difference through environmental activism, engineering and science. There are people in ethnic minority communities who already adopt sustainable thinking, sometimes as part of their culture. But, we must ask ourselves: are they being invited to sit at the table with everyone else to be part of the wider discussion, and being paid for it if appropriate? Or are they a token of fleeting representation to meet a quota?

Are we actively making sure sustainability and diversity are upheld equally? Are we making sure we tackle things holistically enough to allow everybody the time, space, the finance to be able to think about environmentalism in the same way that a lot of privileged people are able to?

A sustainable future is a future of equality. A sustainable Bristol has to also to be one of diversity.

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  • Richard Beresford

    You are invited to take part in the movement. Rise up.

    We are all invited. Rise up.


    • I would love for everyone to feel they are part of the movement too but at the moment I’m not sure that’s the case. I don’t think enough is being done to make sure people feel invited and are not just….invited.


      • I personally wasn’t invited . . . I sought it out. I know that this is the case for most individuals joining environmental movements. XR for example would welcome with open arms any BAME citizens wanting to join

      • Making people of the global majority feel invited rather then having to seek it out is the problem spike.

        In Bristol the environmental movement has a massive cultural appropriation problem that actively excludes people of color.

  • I think you are missing the point (spike and Richard). If a poc is writing from their lived experience I wouldn’t be so quick to undermine it. I don’t know you, but maybe you need to check your privileges whatever they may be, and how they make you feel welcome or not welcome in a particular space.

    there are many reasons why some people don’t currently feel welcome in these movements which are not to do with the movements having bad intentions to exclude them, more with misguided understandings of how to include poc (for example), I think.

    systems, groups, organisations and movements, generally work in a way that works for/reflects the people who started them/built them up. This can mean that many subtle seemingly small parts of the movement suit; men or white people or middle class people etc. we all need to try to be aware of these issues in order to make sure all voices are being heard.

    the environmental movement needs everyone to have a seat at the table


    • Frustrated Ambivalance

      Pssshht, stop it. People’s feelings need to fall at the wayside when we’re talking about a literal existential threat to human life. People need to get involved and act regardless of whether or not they feel particularly welcomed and catered for.
      I for one welcome the first capitalist swine to make a successful business venture out of saving the planet (and all those therein); all of which is completely at odds with my personal world view but there is bigger fish to fry at this current point.

      Yours sincerely,
      A Black man.


  • Isn’t it great then that we’ve got a mixed-race mayor Marvin Rees showing fantastic leadership on this… oh, wait, Rees has ‘unlawfully failed to comply with the direction’ on clean air for our city, ( and has shown he is well and truly under the thumb of the car lobby rather than taking the health of his citizens seriously.


  • Can’t help but wonder if it might be painful for POC to contemplate ‘clean air’ and ‘options for off-grid living’ when the majority of places where black faces can blend in are all inner-city.
    Let’s face it, as a white person, if you wanna go off grid it’s always an option to move to a cheap countryside place and plant some vegetables… I couldn’t honestly say that I’d feel comfortable moving to a predominantly white area if I weren’t white.

    Surely that’s the biggest problem.

    For example, I wouldn’t move my child to Wales even though it’s the only place we could afford to buy land and live off, purely because it’s well known that Welsh kids bully English kids…

    Imagine that but with just anywhere countrysidey….

    Is that really so hard for the middle class white XR folk to get their head around?


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