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.