The future must be green AND accessible
24th March 2022
Emma Geen is the Projects’ Coordinator at the Bristol Disability Equality Forum. She is a climate activist, author and associate lecturer at the University of Bristol. In this blog she shares how climate action needs to centre the voices of marginalised people.
Change is coming, whether you like it or not
Two years ago, I joined the crowds on College Green to listen to Greta Thunberg. Stood alone in her canary yellow raincoat, she looked vulnerable, but her words were powerful. ‘Change is coming,’ she said. ‘Whether you like it or not.’
The coming changes will impact Disabled people more than most. Disabled people are twice as likely to die than any other person during disasters. Poverty means that many can’t adapt. Inaccessible information means that many struggle to understand the issue. (Read Inclusive Scotland’s report for more information.)
Yet we are among those least responsible. The carbon footprint of Bristol’s Disabled people is much lower than average. We can be proud of this. However, the difference can be explained in part by the fact that Disabled people are excluded from many activities, including polluting ones.
The green movement is often guilty of this. Take the plastic straw ban. By weight, it reduced ocean plastic waste by only 0.022%. But plastic bendy straws were used by Disabled people to stop liquid aspirating in lungs before they became mainstream. So as the seas continue to choke in plastic, the Disabled people who rely on plastic straws not to choke are left high and dry. Climate action that doesn’t centre the voices of marginalised people often does little to stop the crisis but can be the last straw for many.
Disabled people can and want to be sustainable
Yet we must be provided with the options. When 43% of people in poverty are Disabled, the city must take action so that being green isn’t a privilege. And when there is no alternative, we must not be punished for being unable to make green choices. For example, Bristol’s One City Climate Strategy, rightly, aims for a shift from car-use to walking, cycling and public transport, but Disabled people who physically cannot do this must not be demonised.
We are not victims of the crisis, however. Greta is the perfect example of the leadership we can bring to the climate movement. She says of her Asperger’s that it allows her to ‘think outside the box’. Disabled people are experts at this as to be Disabled is to live in a society where the boxes are designed to exclude you. Basic living can be a puzzle of creative adaptation. I use an elbow to ride my bike and use a keyboard. I often use my feet and teeth to manipulate objects. Yes, these adaptations might be unfamiliar. But they work.
If Bristol is going to meet its climate goals it will need to bring in creative adaptations. We cannot continue with business-as-usual with tweaks. The challenge will take creativity and embracing new ways of living. Yes, these may be unfamiliar. But they may just save us.
Let’s make Bristol better
Even better, these times of change could make Bristol better. As big changes are coming whether we like them or not, let’s make them ones we do like. This is a chance to remove barriers Disabled people have been struggling with for decades. Let’s make our pavements, public transport, housing and green spaces accessible. Let’s tackle food and energy poverty and fix Bristol’s dirty air crisis.
To start this work, the Bristol Disability Equality Forum have been working with the Bristol Green Capital Partnership’s Community Climate Action project, as one of six marginalised communities creating a climate plan. Our plan will support Disabled people to reduce emissions while improving quality of life. The project is the only one of its type and we hope that it will inspire other cities.
It will take councils, businesses, and people across Bristol to carry out the plan and make climate action in Bristol accessible. Please read it and, if you can help, email us at email@example.com
The future must be green AND accessible.
The Bristol Disability Equality Forum is an organisation of Deaf and Disabled people, for Deaf and Disabled people carrying our voice and influence in Bristol. Our vision is for a society where Disabled people are respected and valued, where they have Independence, Choice and Control of their own lives, and where they are fully included in their communities and the country as a whole.