Decolonizing Environmentalism: Fossil Fuels, Slavery, and White Supremacy


Dr HerukhutiBy Dr. Herukhuti

When I hear the word “fossil,” I think of elementary school trips to the American Museum of Natural History. Seeing displays of dinosaur bones and other remnants from the period when dinosaurs walked, flew, swam, crawled, and however else they moved on the earth. Fossils are the remains of the bodies of dinosaurs and plants that have survived over millennia.

I wonder if when people hear the word fossil fuel they realize that the term refers to fuel that humans generate from the decayed and decaying remains of the bodies of dinosaurs, animals, and plants. Fossil fuels powered the European industrial revolution which in turn powered modern imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy (see: Evolution of Energy Sources, Coal and the Industrial Revolution, and History of the Energy System). Prior to the exploitation of fossilized bodies, it was the bodies of African people that fueled and powered imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy, i.e. the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade. Since the European industrial revolution, people of European descent have continued to exploit the bodies of people of color to supplement their exploitation of fossil fuels in powering their global domination.

This is why a genuine critique of fossil fuel exploitation must be explicitly anti-racist and include an analysis and critique of imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy. Advocacy for sustainability, environmentalism, and reversing the human impact upon climate change that does not include this systems level understanding of the problem is merely an attempt of imperialist white supremacy to change the target of exploitation while maintaining European hegemony and domination of the planet. It shifts the back upon which imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy rides without undoing the system.

If you take note of the environmental movement promoted by mainstream media and the liberal elite politics, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the whiteness of the environmental movement and the whiteness of other movements of white folks focused on the needs, agendas, and interests of white folks. Bill McKibben’s may be more familiar to you than Wangari Muta MaathaiMajora Carter, Soul Fire Farm, The Black/Land Project, or the other activists, advocates, and initiatives of Black people who have been at the forefront of environmentalism.

Slavery devalued life and undermined the humanity of the Africans who the European enslaved as well as Europeans themselves. Fossil fuel exploitation is a death cult with spiritual consequences just like slavery was a sadism cult. When societies run on decayed (or enslaved) bodies, it generates an anti-life consciousness that permeates other aspects of the society. We lose an appreciation for the power of life and death and become desensitized to the energies at play in the death process including the return bodies make to the elemental origins from which everything has evolved.

Conversely, anti-colonial, anti-racist movements are environmental movements under a different name. Challenging Western/European domination of people, land, and resources on the planet is by definition an environmental agenda. For Indigenous/Aboriginal peoples whose land rights Europeans have ignored in the interest of European imperialism and people of African descent whose ancestors Europeans considered to chattel in the interest of European capitalism, fighting for the health and wellbeing of the planet means ending European domination of it so that we can advance the ecological principles that have been a part of our cultures–principles that have been under attack by imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy since Europeans colonized the world.

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