If there’s a buzzword for the global climate movement, it’s hope. Without hope, we’re told, movements die. Without hope, people see the issue as too big and too confronting, and they retreat from taking action. And so the movement reminds us relentlessly why we should still have hope. Every small win – governments taking action, corporations acknowledging climate change, new technology – is another reason for hope, another reason to believe we can beat this thing.
Even when my ngurrambaa burns relentlessly, destroying thousands of homes and killing over a billion animals, when flooding displaces hundreds of thousands, when twelve billion tonnes of ice melts in a single day, still, the climate movement tells me, I must have hope. Don’t be a climate pessimist. Dwelling in anger and despair is the easy way out. So often I’ve been asked, ‘Why even be in this fight if you don’t believe we can win?’
As Aboriginal people, we’ve been fighting the capitalist, colonial system that created this crisis for over 200 years. Forgive me if I find your brand of hope a little hard to swallow. As Murri writer Teila Watson puts it, our people are in an abusive relationship with the occupation of so-called Australia. For us, the climate crisis, and the destruction it is wreaking on our homelands, is just one manifestation of the abuse and violence fundamental to this occupation’s nature. Millions of acres of country burn while a young Aboriginal man is shot in his home by police: violence to country is an extension of violence to black bodies in the colony. We know that there can be no climate justice without justice for our people, and, no matter how desperately we wish it weren’t true, there’s still a yawning chasm that road to justice has yet to cross.
We know we’re in an abusive relationship with the institutions of power and capital that occupy our lands, but does the climate movement? Much of what the movement focuses its energy and resources on feels a lot like asking an abuser to change their ways. Indeed, the movement appears intent on preserving a way of life that depends on that toxic relationship for its very existence. Climate emergency declarations, green jobs, renewable energy targets, citizen’s councils – maybe they will stop the worst of climate change, maybe they won’t. What we know they won’t do is end the abusive relationship between the colony and us as Indigenous people. They won’t end the abusive relationships between capital and workers, between the rich and everyone else, between the exploiters and the exploited, here and around the world.
Telling people on the frontlines of climate change to remain positive, to retain hope, because a growing social movement is slowly getting our oppressors to change some of their behaviours is not true hope. Persuading governments that operate on stolen land and brutally oppress Indigenous people, refugees, the poor and LGBTIQ people to declare a climate emergency is not cause for hope for us. Corporations that ruthlessly exploit black and brown people around the world taking action on climate change because it threatens their bottom line does not inspire true hope. And educational institutions that suppress and steal Indigenous knowledges, prop up white supremacist ideologies and brazenly profit from the war industry divesting from fossil fuels brings no hope of ending the abusive relationship. As Audre Lorde said, the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.
So much of what we’re told should give us hope looks more like toxic hope – waiting for an abuser to change their behaviours when they’ve given us every reason to believe they never will. The longer we cling on to toxic hope and unfounded positivity, the further away we are from ending the oppressive and abusive relationships that underpin this ecological and social crisis.
I don’t know if we can prevent the worst of the climate crisis; my mind says no even though my heart desperately tries to find hope that we can. So why keep fighting? What does real hope look like when the world is burning and drowning and people are dying and the systems of oppression seem immovable? Real hope can be found in the opportunity this crisis presents to end these toxic, dysfunctional and imbalanced relationships once and for all. We have the opportunity to organise millions of people in the streets angry about climate change into a movement to truly overthrow the systems that caused it and shape a better, more just world. True hope looks like thousands mobilising in the streets to call for justice when a young Aboriginal man is gunned down by police. It looks like the people of Chile rising up and taking a stand en masse against an oppressive government. It looks like Aboriginal communities organising themselves to declare their communities no go zones for dangerous gas fracking, and it looks like our communities raising millions of dollars to lead disaster recovery efforts when governments drop the ball. Real hope lies in the power of people standing together against systems of power and oppression in the face of overwhelming odds. Let yourself be angry, let yourself grieve, and then, if you can, let yourself have real hope, hope that inspires action, and ditch the toxic hope that the institutions of power can save the world.