‘Black Lives and Climate Justice: Prof Sir Geoff Palmer’ Event Report

Excellent talk by Sir Prof Geoff, concise but full of incredibly important knowledge and information.”

Thought provoking talk by Sir Geoff. Made sense of the link between BLM and Climate very effectively.

 “This self-serving greed must stop. We are one humanity, one planet.”  Stories were at the heart of Geoff Palmer’s presentation [15 minute video here], exploring the intersection between racism and climate.  270 people from as far afield as Amsterdam and Silicon Valley, as well as Britain, heard him speak at the online event hosted by five community-led Scottish organisations on 8 September 2020.

Geoff recalled a legal case brought by Joseph Knight in Edinburgh in 1774 against his master. Knight had been trafficked originally to Jamaica as a slave at a time when a slave had no legal right to life and was property. The defence lawyer justified slavery on the grounds that only ‘Negroes’ could stand the sun in hot climates where [very lucrative] sugar crop was grown – suggesting that black bodies were equipped for suffering.  He noted that when emancipation came in 1834, £20 million [£17billion today!] was given not to the slaves, but to their owners.

In places where sugar, cotton and coffee were grown, the European plantation owners had trees cut down, damaging water systems.  He recalled as a child, being in bed one night in Jamaica when the roof of his house was ripped off above him by a hurricane. In earlier times, the slaves had not even trees to protect them.  This highlighted the historical relationship between the climate-related decisions of white people and quality of life for black people, something we must still be aware of.

Racism and climate  – the long history of intersection …

In the Q&A, he recalled a politician in the 60s, who asked voters, ‘How would you like your little blond daughter to come home with a big black man?’  That man won the seat. Geoff emphasised the power of political engagement, particularly voting, and implored us to call out racism at all its levels and challenge it, saying: ‘I don’t want to know’ when hearing innuendoes / racist remarks.

Myriad ideas, feelings and responses emerged from the 20 Breakout groups.  Participants highlighted connections between race and climate justice – past and present.  They felt overwhelmed, angry (about colonial past / how big business acts like colonialists did in the past), desperate, inspired, grateful, weary, frustrated, embarrassed at their own ignorance, grieving, happy that so many were present, hopeful, and sad it’s taken a pandemic – and George Floyd’s murder – to raise awareness that black lives matter.

They then explored what could be done personally and within their organisations to tackle the problem of climate justice and racism. The many, many ideas included:

  • Partner, learn and act with other communities both here and abroad  
  • Notice how we and others use privilege  
  • Address how white and middle class many environment organisations are  
  • Be prepared to have difficult conversations and ask for help from scientists  
  • Raise the profile of inequalities from a health perspective  
  • Offer arts venues to more BAME artists  
  • Move away from black / white and ‘3rd world’ colonialist language
  • Get better informed.

Participants put together a wide-ranging list of resources for our future use and these are provided within the main report here / in the pages that follow – for all to explore. 

Read the full report with details of the breakout rooms’s discussions and resources here.