Workshop Explores Link Between Racism and Climate Change

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For a second time this year the Athens Community Relations Committee hosted a workshop to discuss the connection between racism and climate change at the Athens Public Library Wednesday evening.

According to John Schmieding and Tammy Tucker, who facilitated the workshop, the conversation focused on how oppressive systems shape decisions about how we use our natural resources. Schmieding said “the extraction of natural resources is part of the cause of racism.”  

Racism is the use of power to control resources, laws, land, religion and education, according to Tucker. Schmieding explained how imperialist ideology is centered around power, domination and greed. He said imperialism, and the obsession around controlling others and stealing resources, such as land, created colonization, the process of controlling native’s access to land and resources, which, creates an unbalanced power dynamic among cultural groups. Tucker believes that uneven distribution of health, education, resources and wealth most impact people with little power.

Tucker and Schmieding said colonization created racism, among other “-isms,” such as classism, by justifying the mistreatment and dehumanization of indigenous people for profit and power, according to Tucker. Schmieding said “racism hurts everybody, deeply, and oppression disconnects us.”

One example Tucker and Schmieding of how racism and climate change are linked is the Dakota Standing Rock Pipeline protests. An indigenous clan fighting for power to their own land and resources, and acknowledgment as natives to the land, fighting a capitalist corporation to prevent the destruction of the clan and the environment.That power and hyper-focus on greed is allowing our Earth to be destroyed, according to Tucker.

Tucker and Schmieding said by working on racism, it is helping the climate crisis. They said that people need to look to indigenous groups for eco-friendly ideas and energy sources, as they have survived on Earth using renewable, natural resources for eons. They also said that the black and white communities must strive for collaboration, rather than continuing to isolate themselves. Other steps Tucker and Schmieding encouraged were to take charge of public policy, work with different generations and make personal changes around attitude and beliefs.

Alyssa Gerth, a student at Ohio University, said “I experienced a lot of collaboration and connectedness with people that I did not expect and really was inspired by how many people in Athens county care about the same things and are agents for real change.”

The Community Relations Committee mission is to promote mutual understanding and work to discourage discrimination in Athens. John Schmieding has been the co-chair since 2004.