Decolonial ecology lecture


David O’Brien, Editor

On April 19, La Salle’s Religion and Theology department hosted philosopher Malcolm Ferdinand to lecture about his book “Decolonial Ecology.” The book was recently translated by La Salle religion professor Dr. Anthony Smith. Ferdinand opened his lecture by explaining his own background in engineering and philosophy as well as his personal background living as a minority in France.

Ferdinand’s lecture focused on synthesizing two seemingly unrelated topics: environmentalism and racial injustice. While these two subjects are often discussed separately, Ferdinand’s book and lecture showed how the two are heavily interconnected. Ferdinand’s perspective is that if one is to evaluate environmental issues, one must examine racial injustice, especially in a postcolonial context. If one is to evaluate racial injustice, one must evaluate the effects of environmental issues and how they are significantly more harmful towards developing nations and minorities. Ferdinand examined how numerous climate and environmental initiatives often only focus on white people and nations, not continuously marginalized people of color and developing nations. In doing so, these initiatives fail to actually address the current environmental crisis on a global scale and continue to reassert the global division caused by colonialism.

Malcom Ferdinan

Ferdinand utilized both statistics surrounding the Caribbean and stories of individuals and slave ships during colonization of the Caribbean as the basis for his research and work. Ferdinand related modern climate change solutions to that of a nature preserve. Inside the preserve everything looks natural, ecologically sound, and healthy, however, outside the preserve, industrialism and ecological issues rage on. Ferdinand argues that the modern west is becoming a nature preserve, as the west continues to deal with climate change and other environmental issues, it seeks to maintain its way of life brought on by an industrial and material golden age through outsourcing all of its issues to countries in the developing world. 

In doing so, “solutions” to ecological issues not only further racial oppression but also fail to resolve environmental issues. Ferdinand discusses that through outsourcing these issues to other nations, racial oppression worsens and environmental issues continue. Thus, while seeking to resolve the environmental crises of our time, we must view them globally and holistically rather than in an atomized way. 

After the lecture, Dr. Smith interviewed Ferdinand about the contents of his book, the research done to write the book, and discussed the experience of translating the text. Ferdinand and Smith then opened up the floor to questions from the audience. Students and faculty asked a variety of questions surrounding “Decolonial Ecology” as well as more specific questions surrounding environmental issues and race relations in both the U.S. and France.

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