At his Glasgow speech during COP26, Vijay Prashad eviscerated the West with an impassioned rebuke of colonialism, and our “middle class, bourgeois, Western slogan” that states how worried we are about the future. There are “2.7 billion who can’t eat NOW,” the Indian historian raged to a stunned crowd. Prashad’s fiery speech went viral. “The United States, 4-5% of world population, still uses 25% of its resources.”
Prashad’s charged coup de grace never made it into the Western mainstream media news cycles during this twelve day gathering of global leaders. The critical points he was thundering, and striving to communicate to the West, are valid, though, and need to be absorbed into our consciousness.
Our excesses, and our warped perspective, are harming billions of people.
Vijay Prashad is Executive-Director of Tricontinental: Institute of Social Resreach, a journalist commentator, and former professor of International Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut from 1996-2017. Maybe it was Prashad’s Trinity professorship that had me so transfixed as I listened to his impassioned wake-up call. Trinity College was my old stomping grounds from 1997 – 1998. I lived nearby and visited campus regularly. Perhaps that’s the reason Prashad’s message resonates so strongly with me now, our being at the same place at the same time, back when all of our futures were so much brighter. Back when Americans could have changed the course of human events had we only paid attention to the scientists and acted.
“There is hope. In these moments of darkness, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”Asad Rehman, COP26 Commentator in Glasgow introducing Vijay Prashad
Prashad’s fury stems from what he referred to as the West’s “colonialism,” and our lecturing others about how to behave, insisting that others reduce consumption, and how our hypocrisy has left 2.7 billion innocent people starving with many children going days without food.
Prashad unleashed his contempt for Western colonialism as a permanent condition in two ways:
- Colonial mentality. From Prashad’s perspective, the US and the West tell others that others are responsible for the global climate crisis. “The US will never accept that they’re to blame.” The West comes up with catchy phrases like “We’re all in this together.” But Pershad assured his Glasgow audience that “We’re NOT in this together.” The US outsources the production of most of our products: phones, buckets, nuts and blots, etc.
Our excessive consumption, and inability to restrain ourselves, destroys these foreign landscapes and pollutes their air, and then we have the gall to lecture them about polluting.
- Colonial structures and institutions. Prashad reminded listeners that between 1765 – 1938 the British Isles stole £45 trillion sterling from India, destroyed the natural habitat, forced coal on India, and now lends India’s money back to India as debt. “No, it’s OUR money. You gave us our money back as debt and then you lecture us about how we should live.”
Prashad’s outrage should cause us to each take stock. Excessive consumption in the US should not come at the expense of 2.7 billion people on the brink of starvation, many of whom are children. The simmering anger that vulnerable countries feel, countries who didn’t contribute to the climate crisis, but are already suffering permanent negative impacts, (while millions of Americans act oblivious and refuse to change their habits), may soon become a national security concern. Not only our actions, but also our inaction. Prashad’s hair-raising indignation is a warning bell for the West, particularly the US.
Democratic leaders have become advocates for climate justice and equity inside the United States, as communities create climate action plans to guide us through climate mitigation and adaptation and reaching a 50% cut in CO2 by 2030. But they can’t stop there. And neither can we as individuals.
Fairfax County’s Community-wide Energy and Climate Action Plan (CECAP) highlights the importance of protecting the most vulnerable. It established the One Fairfax Policy that declares that every Fairfax County resident, no matter what personal characteristics, deserves an equal opportunity to succeed.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper’s Executive Order 246 was announced on January 7, 2022 and emphasizes the significance of ensuring environmental justice and equity in North Carolina’s transition to clean energy.
Additionally, Prashad’s warning about the extreme harm of colonial institutions (ie banks) on the vulnerable should be addressed immediately through legislation and the Financial Consumer Protection Bureau (FCPB). US banks charge excessive overdraft fees and refuse to make exceptions regarding waving fees for situations like Covid or extreme weather events, mail delays, a whole host of challenges in this new 1.2ºC world we live in. Banks are literally profiting on the most vulnerable’s financial distress. Tragically, this is so American, and is one of the reasons why we’re despised around the world during what is quickly becoming a life-threatening emergency for billions of people TODAY, not tomorrow.
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