Bobby Kent (@Bobby19_) is a first year Politics and International Relations student at the University of Manchester. In this interview, he reflects on what needs to change in the climate justice movement, what gives him hope about the future, and how we can be better allies to disabled folks in the movement.
The environmental movement has been accused of privileging certain voices over others. In particular, people with disabilities have often been excluded from conversations and spaces in the environmental movement. In your own experience as a climate activist, do you think that the movement has created more inclusive spaces for disabled people in recent years?
I think that the spaces for disabled folks in climate justice movements are improving and getting bigger, but we are not where we need to be yet. Overall, as a disabled LGBT+ person and climate activist, I do feel a more coherent understanding of the importance of intersectionality is going on in these groups. People such as yourself prove that point, and the way you reached out to me! However, there is still work to be done.
What barriers still exist for people with disabilities within the climate justice movement, and what needs to change?
The biggest barrier is the burden and shame put on us for our lifestyle habits we can’t help. The most notorious example of this would be the dreaded ‘straw discourse’. Disabled people such as myself and countless others rely on plastic straws for drinking in public spaces, and it is massively dehumanizing to be shamed by a certain section of climate activists for needing these and having their own costlier or impractical options forced on us. I think what needs to change there is the empathy that some activists hold for disabled folks. We are all on the same planet, we are all fighting this same fight together. Some of us need necessary plastics, such as lightweight plastic cutlery or pre-prepared foods, and that’s okay. We have a common enemy and that’s the real polluters we need to fight and see radical change. The green revolution shouldn’t start by shaming a minority group of people or we risk alienating potential support.
The intersection of disability rights and the environment movement has been gaining more prominence lately. More people are beginning to realise that climate justice cannot be separated from social justice. What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a better ally to people with disabilities in the climate movement?
Listen to disabled voices! It really is quite a simple solution. We are here and present in this discussion because we share the same concerns an able-bodied person does about the environment and our shared future. For that brighter future, we need to work together and that includes listening to us and the needs of disabled folks. Keep disabled people in mind when planning your events and reflect on some of your own biases (such as against plastic straws) that may be overlooking the needs of disabled people. We’re all in this together!
Finally, the climate news this year has been nothing short of terrifying. We’ve all been anxious and worried about the future of our planet. What, if anything, gives you hope about the future?
I feel hope when I see other young people engaging in discussions like this. We are not only planning and fighting for a green future, we are fighting for an inclusive one. The passion we have that we will use to win the fight for our planet will help us win the fight for the rights of minority groups, and that gives me so much hope. Thank you for these great questions.