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Climate, Race, and Privilege: a necessary lens for the climate crisis

Tackling systemic issues at the Overheated summit

By Aditi Mayer on January 12, 2023   duration

Speakers and panelists at Overheated in June 2022. (Photo by Zoe Sher)
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Last year, Billie Eilish kicked off ‘Overheated’—a six-day climate conference presented by Eilish, Support + Feed and REVERB which featured a mix of musicians, climate activists and designers discussing “the climate crisis and their work to make a difference.”

When Re:wild reached out to me to participate in this conference, I was particularly excited— earlier that month, I was touring Europe as part of a series of speaking engagements about sustainable fashion. But this opportunity with Overheated felt especially different.

For one, it transcended the feeling of speaking to the choir. The conference was met by a younger demographic that had convened not because of their familiarity with the climate crisis– but rather, their love for music. And that’s why this space was especially important; it showed the power of subverting artistic and cultural spaces to unpack the greatest issues of our time: climate change. What’s more–it spoke to an audience actively facing the worsening impacts of the climate crisis in their lifetime.

Individual action must interrogate systemic issues

Through a variety of panels spanning food, fashion to music, Overheated showcased how climate change was inherently tied to every major industry, and how individuals could tap into their respective passions–and artistic practices–to draw attention to the gravity of the climate crisis and its solutions. 

One such example was a panel about veganism and plant-based lifestyles, in which content creator and educator Isaias Hernandez spoke on the importance of considering privilege in relation to conversations around plant based diets. While noting the importance of addressing issues around factory farming, he also spoke to his own experience growing up low income in Los Angeles, in a food desert.

The Climate, Race & Privilege panel during the 2022 Overheated summit. (Photo by Zoe Sher)
The Climate, Race & Privilege panel during the 2022 Overheated summit. (Photo by Zoe Sher)

Isaias spoke to a recurring theme among the activists and speakers present at Overheated; the importance of individual action contextualized in our larger systems. This demands questions around accessibility are addressed. 

In relation to considering our access to more just food systems, Isaias presented the example of foraging as a way to deepen land-based relationships, and mitigating price-point access. "Partaking in foraging is an act of ecological reference; an understanding of our landscapes, culture, and living species that coexist," he says. 

Isaias’ sentiments continued in my own panel, entitled “Climate, Race, and Privilege.” In detailing my personal story in getting involved in the sustainable fashion movement, I spoke about using fashion as a vehicle to understand systemic issues–from racism to labor rights–rather than reducing our involvement in sustainability to just consumer acts.

Isaias Hernandez (right) speaking at the Overheated summit in June 2022. (Photo by Zoe Sher)
Isaias Hernandez (right) speaking at the Overheated summit in June 2022. (Photo by Zoe Sher)

Marginalized Communities have the smallest footprint, but greatest vulnerability

Climate inequity is a global crisis that disproportionately affects the poorest countries and people, who are more exposed and more vulnerable to their impacts. The World Bank estimates that 68 to 135 million people could be pushed into poverty through climate inequity by 2030. But these issues are not a distant abstraction, they are also occurring in our own backyard.

In the United States, environmental racism is nothing new. Communities of color are more likely to be situated near power plants, oil refineries, and toxic landfills, resulting in more air pollution, natural disasters, and higher temperatures in their communities than white communities.

It is estimated that 56% of the population living near toxic waste sites are people of color. These communities are also twice as likely to live without drinkable water, modern sanitation, and have a 38% higher nitrogen dioxide exposure.

As aptly articulated by climate activist and Overheated presenter Wawa Gatheru, “the climate crisis is anything but equal. Any crisis or catastrophe that happens in an unequal society, will have unequal impacts.”

The Overheated summit, a six-day climate conference, presented by Billie Eilish and Support + Feed and REVERB in June 2022. (Photo by Zoe Sher)
The Overheated summit, a six-day climate conference, presented by Billie Eilish and Support + Feed and REVERB in June 2022. (Photo by Zoe Sher)

In discussing the intersections of race and the climate crisis, it became clear how histories of racism had set the conditions that deemed certain communities as sacrifice zones. 

Indigenous climate activist Yusuf Balunch spoke to how extreme heat and droughts in his home of Balochistan forced his displacement. He also noted the ways that indigenous communities, like his own, had deep ties with their native lands rooted in ecological reverence. 

Indigenous communities make up less than 5% of the global population but steward 80% of the planet’s biodiversity.

Conclusions & call to actions

So where do we go from here? 

  1. Learn about the environmental justice movement
 and how it’s relevant to your own localities. 

  2. Get involved with your local climate justice chapter. For younger folks, consider the chapters of Fridays for the Future or OneUpAction

  3. Follow the lead of Indigenous communities. Support things such as the Choose Earth fundraiser. 

Watch the full Overheated Summit.

About the author

Aditi Mayer

Aditi Mayer is a sustainable fashion blogger, photojournalist, labor rights activist, and speaker on social and environmental justice. In this piece, she details her experience speaking at the Overheated Summit on a panel discussing race, climate and privilege.

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