The climate crisis is not only one of space—our physical environment—it’s also a crisis of time. Averting a catastrophic future means unearthing the past and protecting those most at risk in the present, honoring the ecologically conscious framework that lies deep within Black culture.
Conceiving new realities is central to Black heritage. Across generations, Black people have combed through the fragments of Earth, civilization, and the universe, collecting its most fruitful parts and crafting foundations that are indispensable to human livelihood. For millennia, the Black collective has honored the laws of flora, fauna, and space to expand the margins of ecology without the abuses of Western colonialism. Composer and Afrofuturist philosopher Le Sony’r Ra—known as Sun Ra—referred to this gift in the 1974 film Space Is the Place as “the music of the Earth, the music of the sun, and the stars.” His work acknowledged the connectivity between Black people and the celestial, naming us not as individuals but divine instruments playing our part “in this vast arkestry of the cosmos.”
As progenitors and cultivators of the planet, Black people embody the knowledge of eco-consciousness—the pastoral, agrarian, horticultural, and creative practices that sustain life. Yet, Black communities are continually at risk amid institutionalized norms that refuse to honor the living. Environmental degradation is one of the most destructive weapons of capitalist-colonialism. Climate change turbulently isolates the Black collective from home and heritage through displacement and erasure, upsetting nature’s balance and foretelling what lies ahead for all living things if irreverence for Earth’s life sources continues. The ancestral endowment of today’s Black people is vulnerable yet resilient. When civilization’s oldest societies, who dwelled on the planet in its most environmentally tumultuous periods, are unable to prosper on Earth, this world is approaching its end. The climate migrant crisis tells us that the point of irreversible environmental damage isn’t 10 to 30 years from now, as projected by experts; it has already passed—and protecting Black communities is how we start to preserve the life that’s left.
Climate migrants are the frequently unacknowledged victims of climate change. Forced out when stressors—such as growing hot spots, desertification, wildfires, flooding, irregular rain patterns, climbing sea levels, and the sinking polar front—render their homes uninhabitable, climate migrants often lose everything to natural disasters and the sociopolitical effects of coerced environmental decline. When volatile weather conditions become a regional norm, communities are stripped of their livelihood. They attempt to sustain themselves despite drought, famine, infestation, physically unlivable temperatures, and subsequent unrest until displacement becomes an inevitable reality. Even the World Bank is beginning to recognize the crisis. A report by the financial institution estimates that by 2050, around 140 million people will be displaced by climate change—across the world, Black and Brown communities are already the most affected.
As progenitors and cultivators of the planet, Black people embody the knowledge of eco-consciousness—the pastoral, agrarian, horticultural, and creative practices that sustain life. Yet, Black communities are continually at risk amid institutionalized norms that refuse to honor the living.
Climate-driven displacement is a human rights issue. The disproportionate impact on Black and Brown people paired with reluctance by authorities to address ecological abuse as the central cause of climate migration combine in environmental racism. To date, climate migrants aren’t legally recognized as refugees, which inhibits them from receiving public aid and seeking asylum when they have nowhere to turn. This bureaucratic exclusion stems from the institutional failure to acknowledge the adverse environmental impact of the world’s biggest polluters as violations of humanitarian law. Consequently, susceptible communities suffer the effects of global warming while those responsible continue to operate unrestricted, forging ahead toward planetary endangerment because decision-makers don’t value the lives of those now suffering.
A harrowing embodiment of this violence can be found at Lake Chad, a vulnerable region irreversibly devastated by climate change. One of the African continent’s largest freshwater sources, Lake Chad has all but disappeared, shrinking 90 percent over the past 60 years due to global warming-induced drought and desertification. A source of livelihood for over 30 million people, the ecosystem was once thriving with rich biodiversity. The lake supported harmonious consumption, agricultural, and economic practices for over a thousand years. Today, over two million people indigenous to the region have been displaced and nearly 10 million are in need of dire aid as a result of environmental negligence caused by people who will likely never set foot on the soil of the Chad Basin. For hundreds of years, local communities sustained a farming and pastoral culture that preserved Lake Chad, supporting a variety of life critical to the planet’s abundance. And in less than a century, capitalist industry has nearly destroyed it, imperiling those who rely on the lake for survival.
For Black climate migrants from the US South, displacement is often permanent and its aftermath beyond recovery. Climate change exacerbates systemic poverty and oppression, leaving Black people with inadequate assistance and little means to evacuate or contend with the possibility of losing everything. As natural disasters and slow-onset threats erode the coasts, the interconnectedness of America’s oldest Black communities declines. A vast legacy of diasporic heritage, language, culture, and history is separated from its origins. African-Americans—many of whom are descendants of those dehumanized by the chattel slavery that generated the capital that built the United States and who are routinely exploited by the state’s public and private interests to sustain its wealthiest class—are abandoned by those who invest in establishments that pillage the Earth. It’s undoubtedly evident that environmental disruption is a function of authoritarianism. The Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists estimates that one in twelve people in the American South will be forced to migrate due to climate change over the next 45 years—and because relocation is expensive, class and race will be a deciding factor in the ability to escape extreme living conditions. By then, much of the US will be uninhabitable: At least 93 million will be blighted by scorching summers, glacial winters, and insufficient freshwater as a result of overconsumption and drought.
Black people on the African continent and across the diaspora are already saving the planet: This is an ancestral wisdom and way of life that affirms the natural coalescence of the Earth, humankind, and all living things. Eco-imperialism upends that symbiosis.
Environmental consciousness is ingrained in Black livelihood. Black people are among the world’s smallest contributors to ecological decline, yet Black communities endure disproportionate harm from the effects of climate change. Avoiding wastefulness, nurturing the land, and remaining cognizant of how actions in the present may impact the lives of future generations is central to Black culture. Afrofuturism is intrinsically devoted to raising mutual wellbeing—the innovative resourcefulness of repurposing household items, developing in concordance with the planet, taking no more than what’s needed from the Earth’s supply, and growing very little into enough to support the Black collective predates commercialized sustainability tactics. Black people on the African continent and across the diaspora are already saving the planet: This is an ancestral wisdom and way of life that affirms the natural coalescence of the Earth, humankind, and all living things. Eco-imperialism upends that symbiosis, obstructing the ability to flourish in ways that cannot be imagined beyond the foreseeable future and daunting climate change predictions.
The onus of restoration lies not on the Black and Brown masses but on those who profit from looting the Earth’s natural resources while ignoring the unavoidable consequences of their exploitative practices or plotting retreats to the inhospitable terrain of Mars. The same ecological drought that unjustly depletes the sacred aquatics of Lake Chad—and other water sources in numerous regions across the Caribbean, Latin America, South Asia, and some of the hottest places on Earth—is spreading, and the insatiable, delusional greed of capitalist imperialism has deemed terraforming the surface of an alien planet easier than preserving planet Earth, an atmosphere made specifically for human subsistence. In that scenario, Earth’s general populace would be further classed, condemned to a desolate planet as the elite continue their settlement, exorbitant with wealth made futile outside the capitalist matrix. These institutions and the people who rule them garner power through manufactured scarcity by deliberately gatekeeping resources, despite the fact that the universe has provided everything required for equal and equitable prosperity for all of humanity. If climate change solutions rely on ecofascism and the reformation of centuries-old self-destructive methods of white Western colonialism, the existing fate of climate change will remain unaltered. To halt environmental decline and construct an ecologically sound future, the fundamentally unsustainable schemes of capitalist-colonialism must be disengaged, its injustices repaired, and its systems made obsolete.
To create ecologically sound futures, the whole must return to the source by applying the enduring futurist customs found in Black and Brown indigeneity and environmentally durable technological enhancements. We must support regenerative metamorphosis by recharging and restocking regions in decline instead of displacing populations across shrinking masses of land toward a dead end. We must eliminate the principal culprits of global decay through political and socioeconomic change and unlock the possibility of the illimitable, anti-imperialist, liberating, altered destiny revolutionized in Sun Ra’s monologues: A world where Black people can “drink in the beauty” of the planet, working “on the other side of time” and the social constructs rooted in the subjugation of Black humanity and the Earth. “Another tomorrow, another kind of language, speaking things of nature, naturalness” where the existing world must end, to be reimagined in symphonic alignment with the infiniteness of the cosmos.
TALENT Adewunmi Ayanbolujo (Fuse Management), Nelson Oghene Kewe, Eze Meju, Denrele Adwunmi (Mybooker Models) PRODUCTION Daniel Obasi Studios PRODUCTION ASSISTANT Maro Jeremiah