Marcus, a researcher in Portugal invited all his friends around the world working on this topic to submit a mini-podcast about their work with the humble toilet and crucial sanitation systems.
The topics are: sanitation and health, ceramic materials for water filtration, sanitation and climate change, pro-environmental behavior adaptation, mindsets, identity, and the plight of sanitation workers! I talked about defecatory justice, and since we recorded it on Halloween, I was also dressed up as a toilet!
Check out the POOP project to see what you can do with your contribution to the People’s Own Organic Power. Also Bill is right on time with his waterless toilet. The proof will be in adoption in the Global South and adaptation in the Global North. Let’s create defecatory justice!
by Persephone Pearl, Rachel Porter and Emily Laurens
Please note that we acknowledge the complex structural barriers to inclusion faced by people due to class, ableism, educational and financial privilege, prejudice related to gender and sexuality and so on, but in this article we have chosen to focus on and discuss racism and white privilege as a formative societal influence.
The authors of this essay, the ‘we’ referred to here, are Persephone Pearl, Rachel Porter and Emily Laurens. We are white cisgender British women in our 40s, all educated to university level, all with children, all working in the arts. In 2011 we co-founded an environmental project called Lost Species Day and have dedicated a lot of time and love to the initiative over the years. In more recent years, this energy has become more reflective and critical of the movement and questioning of our work and its place in it. We have written this essay because, aware of the scale and rapidity of environmental degradation and its uneven impacts on people and places, we want to talk about white supremacy and how it plays out in the environmental movement. We hope that it will be useful to anyone concerned about climate and ecological breakdown, wanting to understand the history and drivers of this breakdown, and/or wanting to make links with social and racial justice movements. It is offered as a resource for people restless or dissatisfied with the language and practices of contemporary mainstream environmentalism. It is written in solidarity to frontline environmental and human rights defenders, and with love for everyone working for bold action on fossil fuels and extractivism.
Remembrance Day for Lost Species (RDLS or Lost Species Day), now in its ninth year, is coming up again on November 30th. It is an unfunded initiative, an invitation to people to hold events exploring biodiversity loss on or around this date each year. It started as a demonstration outside parliament – in May 2010, as part of an overnight climate vigil, a few friends created a pop-up installation of a graveyard for extinct species on a patch of grass opposite the Houses of Parliament. We were fed up with feeling helpless and excluded from environmental policy. We wanted to make work that spoke to the scale of the ecological problems we were witnessing.
After the climate vigil, we made a play, Funeral for Lost Species, in a real graveyard in Brighton. We imagined it was a graveyard for extinct species and that we were a team of celestial funeral directors, responsible for ensuring every species got a suitable send-off, thus ensuring the continuity of existence. It parodied the mainstream environmental movement and articulated Eurocentric culture’s de-sacralising drive, and the clash between science and spirituality in the Eurocentric paradigm. Mostly, though, we were glad to make a space for contemplation of biodiversity loss, and when the project ended we wanted to carry on doing this.
It turned out that some people were making a memorial to extinct species on a hill in Sussex at that time. It felt apt to work with them, to continue exploring how to make rituals for the Anthropocene. We held the first Remembrance Day for Lost Species in November 2011, with a lot of support and interest. A supporter designed us a logo inspired by the extinction symbol, which was based on the image of an hourglass inside the circle of the earth.
RDLS emerged as part of a wave of artist-led projects exploring the theme of mass extinction and collapse in the UK. Something important was being tapped into and explored, but the networks we were aware of consisted largely of white privileged people confronting the failings of capitalism and consumerism without including a proper analysis of the racialised underpinnings and workings of those power structures – an omission that could only come from a lack of awareness or care about how structural racism punishes some and privileges others.
After a few years, we saw that most Lost Species Day events were taking place in Europe and North America, and realised that an initiative like this, despite seeming imperative to us, unless examined, was largely irrelevant, particularly for people who are:
struggling for survival
on the front lines of climate breakdown
affected by conflict and colonialism
queer and trans people facing hate crimes, and other people facing human rights violations
in prison or at risk of imprisonment
facing persecution by the state and corporations
living lives that are entwined with those of endangered species and places
The list went on. We realised that our purported inclusive approach was in fact exclusionary due to its lack of an analysis of structural racism and classism. All are welcome!, went the cry – but these words, predicated on privilege, were hollow. Rather late in life, we realised that our brand of environmentalism was a product of racial and class privilege – and worse, that its ‘colour blindness’ colluded in the ongoingness of white supremacy. Privilege had led us to assume it was acceptable to focus on biodiversity loss without building this work on a foundation of solidarity and anti-racist practice. But as environmental communicator Susuana Amoah puts it, “white supremacy and colonialism are fundamental causal factors in the climate emergency”.
Might remembrance for lost species contribute to cultural erasure? Arguably, focusing on the stories of extinct species without studying and discussing concomitant harms to people and cultures perpetuates white environmentalism’s huge history of cultural erasure and genocidal acts. Environmentalism is not exempt from racism. We finally recognised the all-subsuming power of whiteness, and the rule of white supremacy as a hegemonic ordering force globally and in our psyches. Canada-based scholar Audra Mitchell’s writing on white tears for extinct species made for reading that was hard but that we were instinctively drawn to. We made commitments to:
turn to Black, indigenous, decolonial and people of colour activists, organisations, artists and academics for wisdom
pay attention to and amplify the voices of the people living through entwined genocides and ecocides
make the links between, rather than separate, the stories of harms to people and non-humans
remember that hurt feelings are not actual injuries, that as the beneficiaries of white supremacy we have a duty to speak and act on racism from our position of safety
ask ourselves daily, as scholar Imani Robinson invites us to, What are we going to do today to create the world we want to live in?
On Extinction Rebellion
We have watched Extinction Rebellion grow without building a critique of white supremacy into its central environmental messaging or organising structure. As part of a strategy that uses the rhetoric of emergency to reach the mainstream, this has been amazingly successful, and XR have done what they set out to do in terms of shifting the Overton Window on the climate emergency, and creating a mass movement – a colossal and vital achievement at a time when the speed of environmental change is escalating dizzyingly. There are doubtless many committed people working hard within Extinction Rebellion to address structural racism in its language and tactics, and to articulate a language of solidarity with impacted communities. But their efforts are not reflected in the public demands or practices of the organisation, which adopts – or co-opts – the tactics of the Civil Rights movement whilst maintaining majority white leadership, pro-police politics, and no demands or strategy for dismantling structural racism. Its language of emergency trumps inclusivity of process and depth of listening.
Black Lives Matter UK (BLMUK) / Wretched of the Earth (WOTE) activist Joshua Virasami describes the historic and contemporary lack of connection between animal rights / environmental activism and human rights / social justice movements as “tragic”, and invites neighbourliness and the centring of solidarity and inclusion as core practices in environmental action. When white people turn up they can have a massive impact. White people in the UK are the demographic majority, with confidence born of freedom from exposure to micro-aggressions, fear of false accusations, arrest, overt violence, risk of death and countless disadvantages due to systemic racism. This and other aspects of privilege are very useful in service to justice. As of yet, too little support has been lent to the efforts of movements led by people on the front lines of environmental disaster, surviving multiple apocalypses over centuries of colonialism and exploitation. The ongoing disconnection from, and failure to honour, these movements is due to structural racism and internalised white supremacy, invisible to the beneficiaries, ruinous for the survivors and the victims.
The mass silence and large absence of white people from movements that integrate work for racial justice does everyone a disservice. Without the warping lens of racism, it is obvious that movements for social change must centre and be led by those who are most affected, like the Civil Rights movement, Black Lives Matter and countless campaigns by frontline environmental protectors. The people most vulnerable to harms are the people most knowledgeable about those harms, experientially as opposed to ideologically. The white-dominated environmental movement must learn from other parts of the movement. It must centre and amplify the voices and perspectives of people with direct lived experience of climate-related harms.
XR is an infant movement that has become powerful very quickly, with the help of a lot of funding and influential supporters. Its senior team needs to move quickly to incorporate a commitment to racial justice within its practice and core demands. A movement that ignores or minimises its responsibility to address white supremacy risks:
Alienating diverse cultural groups and struggling to make up this lost ground later
Overshadowing and potentially diverting funding and support from pre-existing work by other activist groups
Intensifying danger for minority groups, as the absence of non-white perspectives in organising spaces creates more space for negative projections. Messages about scarcity and lack can feed prejudice about Black people and people of colour as ‘foreigners’ and ‘others’, and increase abuse and violence.
Perhaps most significantly, actions by an environmental movement that does not address racism can generate a false sense of hope. Campaigns that do not incorporate social justice as foundational will not change the system in the likely event of inadequate governmental action on climate breakdown. Arguably, Extinction Rebellion’s politics and structures reproduce the racism on which capitalism depends. To quote Wretched of the Earth:
“Climate change has not happened by a sequence of small missteps; the economic structures that dominate us have been brought about by ongoing colonial projects whose sole purpose is the pursuit of domination and profit. For centuries, racism, sexism and classism have been necessary for this system to be upheld, and have shaped the conditions we find ourselves in.”
Social justice must be the backbone of the environmental movement
With a focus on quality of process rather than the default white activist mode of urgency and panic comes curiosity, and a stepping-back from righteous anger into more reflective modalities that unpick assumptions about how to make change. Adrienne maree brown’s work on Emergent Strategy is inspiring here.
Having explored some of the ways in which white people use structural power consciously and unconsciously to ignore, undermine and erase initiatives led by Black people and people of colour, let’s explore how white people can consciously and strategically utilise racial privilege to serve and give power to frontliners. A few questions for campaigns and projects:
Are there already existing Black, indigenous and people of colour-led initiatives doing similar work to the project you are undertaking? Could you be putting your energy into their cause? Or at least listening to their advice? If not, why not? Suzanne Dhaliwal has written extensively about this.
Are your strategies adding to threats to the safety of people of colour? Do they support migrant solidarity? Are they inclusive? Who do they exclude, and how?
Who is on the front lines of your efforts? Where are they in your movement? Are their voices audible? Are they part of the leading team? If not, how might you work to change this?
Making space for lost species: remembering extinct species, cultures and places
These questions bring us back to Lost Species Day, and how and whether to move forward with it. Can this project be decolonised, or do its roots in white privilege mean that it’s conceptually too flawed to ever be truly anti-racist? We don’t know yet, but we pledge to:
Research our ancestors’ relationships with the places where we live, and use RDLS as a way to reconnect with our local ecosystem
Use RDLS as an educational opportunity for people who want to learn more about the reality of accelerating global biodiversity collapse through an anti-racist lens
Promote RDLS as a space for emotional engagement with the devastating effects of colonialism and the extinction and climate crises
Offer resources and service to Black and people of colour-led activist groups born from a drive for justice, doing explicitly decolonial and anti-racist work. For example, Black Lives Matter UK , Wretched Of The Earth.
We hope – and we would welcome others’ views on this – that a recurring day of ecological and bio-cultural remembrance can be of service and of social relevance at this time of multitudinous apocalypses and structural harms. It can:
Make spaces for remembering histories that are at continual risk of erasure and being forgotten
Offer a way for nature lovers into conversation about racism and its links with environmental harms
Offer space for exploring the concept of DIY rituals, and encouragement for people attempting the work of connection whilst being conscious of colonialism and cultural appropriation
Articulate the importance of the work of facing the grief of ecological severance, and make links between this and the grief of inhabiting inherited structures of white supremacy
Point towards possibilities for personal, interpersonal and cultural healing
Articulate the fact that all people and beings constitute a living connected system – there is no ‘other’.
We have removed the original Lost Species Day logo from the RDLS platforms because of its visual connection with the extinction symbol which is now synonymous with Extinction Rebellion. We are grateful to N.Puttapipat and Matt Stanfield for allowing us to use their logo while we explore possibilities for a new logo that better articulates our aspiration that Lost Species Day emphasises the interconnectedness of extinct and critically endangered species, cultures and ecological communities, and promotes the message that whilst these losses are rooted in violent and discriminatory governing practices, the day provides an opportunity for participants to make or renew commitments to all who remain.
October 20th 2019
With many thanks to colleagues and Lost Species Day project supporters who have advised on and helped edit this essay
This is the place where I will collect articles about what is happening with regards to water. Actually https://www.wateronline.com/ is where all of this is archived…they send about an email a day with information. These are just the articles I catch and wish to pop over here…so as to avoid having so many tabs open at once in my browser. 🙂
I’ve learned terms like muffin monster and fatberg. The first is a compact grinder that is tough on solids in sludge and sewage. Those solids are called fatbergs because it is the collection of fat, oils, “flushable wipes,”and grease–all intensely congealed together. A fuzzy filter is a type of filtration system for “wastewater”; there is so much humor from the people who work with our refuse. But fatbergs are no laughing matter. They will back everything up. One in London in 2015 was the size of a jumbo-jet.
One article in particular talked about the connection between the 2018 California wildfires, and water contamination. “In the aftermath of the blaze, government officials discovered yet another, unexpected casualty: the local water systems,” according to Undark. “Many of the region’s underground water pipes were contaminated with benzene and other cancer-causing chemicals, and they were sending that water into the buildings left standing.” NBC News reported that “Officials said they believed the contamination happened after the November firestorm created a toxic combination of gases in burning homes that got sucked into the water pipes as residents and firefighters drew water heavily.”
This phrase comes from Molly Winter, formerly of ReCode (watch her incredible TedTalk here). She recognizes that since we all got potty-trained and socialized in a certain way in the Global North (that of pooping and peeing in fresh water) it will take an advanced potty training to help us rethink how we poop and pee. We are both advocating for the expansion of integrated water systems. Right now in many places we have un-integrated water systems, and they are dis-integrating infra-structurally and metaphorically.
Middlebury was able to figure out how to take a step toward integration on one front. They’ve harnessed cow manure and food “waste” to produce renewable energy for their gas-based heating needs. I wrote them to see what it might take to add in humanure to that mix, so that it is not going in to rivers and streams. I think the next step may be to make various composting toilets available on campus and then put that material in with the rest of the biomass. Not sure. I’m just beginning this PhD examining this from a religious and environmental angle. Looking forward to learning.
I haven’t had a chance to write much from Thailand because I’ve been so overwhelmed with everything related to participating in the Rotary Peace Fellowship. I’ve needed to think in new, stretching ways. One concept I’ve been consistently bringing to the class is the relationship between how we are together in the class and life, as it relates to the end goal of world peace that we carry in our hearts. Below is a post from Pancho from Awakin Oakland, quoting adrienne maree brown. I first met her at the Allied Media Conference in Detroit, Michigan.
A fractal is a never-ending pattern. Fractals are infinitely complex patterns that are self-similar across different scales. They are created by repeating a simple process over and over in an ongoing feedback loop.
How we are at the small scale is how we are at the large scale. The patterns of the universe repeat at scale. There is a structural echo that suggests two things: one, that there are shapes and patterns fundamental to our universe, and two, that what we practice at a small scale can reverberate to the largest scale. […]
These patterns emerge at the local, regional, state, and global level—basically wherever two or more social change agents are gathered. There’s so much awareness around it, and some beautiful work happening to shift organizational cultures. And this may be the most important element to understand—that what we practice at the small scale sets the patterns for the whole system.
Grace Lee Boggs articulated it in what might be the most-used quote of my life: “Transform yourself to transform the world.” This doesn’t mean to get lost in the self, but rather to see our own lives and work and relationships as a front line, a first place we can practice justice, liberation, and alignment with each other and the Planet. […]
In 2012 I took a sabbatical, and I realized that I wasn’t upholding my end of the sacred bargain: My life is a miracle that cannot be recreated. I can never get these hours, weeks, years back. In a fractal conception, I am a cell-sized unit of the human organism, and I have to use my life to leverage a shift in the system by how I am, as much as with the things I do. This means actually being in my life, and it means bringing my values into my daily decision making. Each day should be lived on purpose.
This has meant increasing my intentionality about being with others. Adapting to the changes of life, yes, but with a clear and transparent intention to keep deepening with my loved ones and transforming together. It has meant getting in touch with my body and feelings in real time, and learning to express them. I am learning to engage in generative conflict, to say no, to feel my limits, taking time to feel my heartache when it comes—from living in the part of the Planet we call the U.S., from interpersonal trauma or grief, from movement losses. It has meant learning to work collaboratively, which goes against my inner “specialness.” […]
I am beginning to revel in the increased capacity that comes from working with and trusting others. I sleep, I center, I travel, I share. I have offered more room in my life to love, family, creating. Each day I feel more authentic, and more capable. I don’t experience failure much these days; I experience growth.
I have increased my practices of collaboration and storytelling as ways to share analysis, engaging and facilitating deep small transformations that pick up and echo each other towards a tipping point, organizing based in love and care rather than burnout and competition.
At a collective level, this is the invitation to practice the world we wish to see in the current landscape. Yes, resist the onslaught of oppression, but measure our success not just by what we stop, but by how many of us feel, and can say:
“I am living a life I don’t regret A life that will resonate with my ancestors, and with as many generations forward as I can imagine. I am attending to the crises of my time with my best self, I am of communities that are doing our collective best to honor our ancestors and all humans to come.”
It’s lifework, with benefits. I regularly check in with my vision for our collective future and make adjustments on how I am living, what I am practicing, to be aligned with that future, to make it more possible.
As Albert Camus said: “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”
I just read this again tonight. As we approach the “longest night” I take time to remember the people, plants, and animals slain by our bloodthirsty system driven by profit. This is a beautiful piece, allowing the life and wit of Berta to live on!
by Daniel Fireside This article was originally published on medium.com. Posted here with permission from the author.
Berta Caceres, a 44-year old human rights and environmental activist, was murdered in the early morning of March 3, 2016. She was a member of the Lenca indigenous group of Honduras. The assassins broke into her home and shot her, killing Berta and wounding the Mexican sociologist and environmentalist, Gustavo Castro Soto.