2. Ecological Collapse and Climate Crisis

Back Up, What is the Climate Crisis?

Reflection 3

Before you begin, enter your reflection journal and respond to the following questions:

  • How do you witness or hear about the climate crisis in your daily life?
  • What may not look or seem like it is connected to the climate crisis, but actually is?

Note: to access your reflection journal please review the Introduction section of the Ecological Collapse and Climate Crisis module.

In the introductory video, the narrator begins by focusing on perspectives and experiences that identify colonialism and racial capitalism as the causes of ecological collapse and climate crisis. Let’s listen to a clip from the video.


“The founding of nation-states through brutality, dispossession, exploitation and resource extraction had devastating impacts. This is where climate collapse on a global scale began. This was apocalyptic for Indigenous peoples and ecologies around the world. As Anishnabeeg theorist and artist Leanne Betasamosake Simpson says, “Indigenous peoples have witnessed continual ecosystem and species collapse since the early days of colonial occupation. We should be thinking of climate change as part of a much longer series of ecological catastrophes caused by colonialism and accumulation-based society.” We can’t begin to imagine a way out of the destruction of life on earth without recognizing that ecological and climate crises are the result of the global capitalist system.”

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson quotation is from “Indigenous Knowledge Has Been Warning us About Climate Change for Centuries,” By Malcolm Harris in Pacific Standard, March 2019

Before we explore these ideas further, let’s first break down some of the contemporary understandings of climate crisis.

Global Warming, Climate Change and Climate Crisis

Global warming and climate change are now increasingly being referred to as a climate crisis because we are entering a moment when if we don’t do anything about the causes and effects of rising temperatures, we face huge consequences. People, plants and animals around the world are already experiencing many of these consequences.

Some have argued for the term “global burning” because warming is too mild—burning is closer to what’s actually happening. People also talk about climate catastrophes instead of just crises. And many have argued that, if actions are not taken, a complete collapse of the biosphere is inevitable.

Global warming describes the phenomenon of the temperature rising since the Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution is largely attributed to the invention of the coal-powered engine in 1776. This sparked the production and use of fossil fuels: coal, oil and gas. Since then, despite the invention of other cleaner sources of energy, fossil fuels have dominated how humans power their worlds, supplying over 80 percent of the world’s energy.


People started to keep track of average annual temperatures around the world starting in 1880. Between 1880 and 1980, the temperature rose 1 degree celsius. This might not seem like much but 1 degree means melting ice sheets and a rise in sea levels, bleaching of coral reefs and heat waves that kill, among many other effects often referred to as “climate change”.

Since 1980, the temperature has been rising at more than double the rate than in the previous 100 years, meaning we are looking at adding another 1 degree of heat to our environment. This is largely attributed to fossil fuels, which in turn have supported a serious increase in human consumption. What we now call “the climate crisis” means that we are going to see more consequences of the added heat. These consequences are already affecting us all.

Scientists estimate that 2015 was the hottest year in 11 000 years: the temperate environments in which human civilization first grew and thrived were very different from what they are now. Since then, it’s become pretty clear that things are not all right with the environment. We are headed into a full blown collapse of our ecological systems.


The starkest warning yet is found in the report, AR6 Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis, released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). IPCC is a panel composed of leading scientists from around the world. Its scientists warned that a 2 degree increase will be exceeded during the 21st century, unless rapid, global reductions and actions are taken.

The report sidelined the claims of climate change deniers, identifying the unequivocal human-caused crisis facing humanity now. And it outlined how climate science now has stronger understandings of the links between climate change and extreme weather around the world. The climate crisis and its effects will be far reaching and affect every region of the globe.


Climate Justice, Greenwashing and Green Land Grabs

Climate or environmental justice describes the intersections between the ecological and social harms produced by and required for our contemporary global systems to function. As discussed in the introductory video, those who suffer the worst effects of climate change (like flooding, famine caused by drought, extreme weather events) are mainly the world’s poor. Understandings of and responses to climate crises must take into account the social structures and inequities that pervade and sustain global capitalist systems.

And, as was explained by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson in the introductory video, climate crises and ecological catastrophe are not new. For centuries, Indigenous populations and Black and brown communities around the world have been living with and addressing the ecological reality we find ourselves. For those who may be new to these ideas and the feelings they induce: don’t panic. Generations of those on the frontlines of extraction and exploitation have been grappling with the ecological and climate crisis induced by racial capitalism and colonialism, and they continue to do so. You can grapple with hard truths and engage with and address the changes we are all facing too.

However, focusing solely on green energy, green design and green consumerism, also known as green washing, while millions around the world are left to suffer the effects of sustaining an inherently harmful global system, continues to uphold relationships of exploitation and expropriation. Until the structural and relational aspects of colonialism and racial capitalism are addressed, any action taken in response to climate crises is limited in scope and effect. Watch the video below to learn more about greenwashing.

Green consumerism is often about making individuals feel good, as if they are doing their part to address the climate crisis when they recycle or purchase a green product. But the reality is that the issues we face are much more complex, socially and ecologically, and thus require more complex solutions than what is possible at the individual level.

Kandi White, Native energy and climate campaign coordinator at the Indigenous Environmental Network and a citizen of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nations, discusses green consumerism in an interview with vice:

“It’s about making people feel good, even if in reality, they’re not helping solve the climate crisis. We have to see past that lie, and see past that ‘feel-good feeling’ if it’s not helping everybody as a whole on the planet—and not just humans, but all life on the planet, because we often forget about the four-legged, the winged, and everything that swims.”

While green consumerism focuses on sustaining accumulation based lifestyles, green grabbing is about the theft of land for supposed “green” outcomes. It is a term that refers to the role the conservation and environmental movements have played in the dispossession of Indigenous peoples from their lands (also commonly known as land grabs or land acquisitions). Some examples of environmentally focused projects that push Indigenous nations and racialized communities off their lands include:

  • The creation of parks, environmental protection zones and ecotourism destinations
  • The creation of carbon offsetting zones and things like protected forests in order to trade on the “carbon market”
  • The need for more land to produce crops needed to create biofuels
  • The construction of renewable energy projects, like hydroelectric dams or wind farms

Green grabbing not only denies the rights of Indigenous nations and communities to their lands and sovereignty, but also ignores Indigenous leadership and the role Indigenous nations and communities play as effective stewards of their territories and the ecological relationships that they sustain.

Check Your Understanding




For a transcript of the lyrics for the above song, visit Genius’s page for Feels Like Summer.


For a transcript of the lyrics for the above song, visit Genius’s page for Trouble in the Water.

Reflection 4

Open your reflection journal and consider the following:

  • Are you aware of climate or environmental justice issues in your community or region? If yes, consider how the issues are being addressed (if they are). If you are not aware of any, why do you think that is the case?
  • Consider examples of green washing and/or green grabbing. In what ways may they work to counteract the climate crisis? In what ways may they actually be reproducing the same dynamics (i.e. the root causes of the climate crisis)?

Note: to access your reflection journal please review the Introduction section of the Ecological Collapse and Climate Crisis module.




Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Global Justice and Change Copyright © 2022 by Nisha Toomey and Emma Wright is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book