AnalysisClimate Crisis

Climate crisis fuels class war: Record number of environmental activists murdered

As the climate crisis intensifies globally so does the class war under the capitalist world order. Since 2012, Global Witness has been documenting the murders of environmental and land defenders who were attempting to halt corporate plunder of the planet and displacement of indigenous communities.  (

The report states: “We tend to associate the climate crisis with its environmental impacts — unbearable heat, air pollution, rising seas, burning forests, or super-storms. Yet the data on attacks against land and environmental defenders, which Global Witness has been recording since 2012, show that the unaccountable exploitation and greed driving the climate crisis is also having an increasingly violent impact on people. This is a crisis against humanity. We all depend on the natural world, and when we set about its systematic destruction, people get killed. It may sound simplistic, but it’s a fact worth considering — the process of climate breakdown is violent, and it manifests not just in violence against the natural world, but against people as well.”

The recently released report for 2020 shows that these murders have once again increased from the year prior with 227 killings of activists around the globe — an average of more than four deaths per week. The report states that this figure is an underestimate since countless more likely go unreported. In addition, a wide range of other oppressive tactics are employed to silence communities, such as surveillance, intimidation, sexual violence and criminalization.

As the climate crisis worsens the numbers of these frontline activists killed is increasing. These are “David and Goliath” struggles where remote communities who bear the brunt of environmental destruction from extractive industries face off against corporations controlled by the global capitalist elite, who directly or indirectly are responsible for these murders. 

All but one of the 227 murders this past year occurred in the Global South with over half the attacks occurring in Colombia, Mexico, and the Philippines. Weak or complicit governments are unable or unwilling to protect their people and lands against these transnational corporations. The legacy of colonialism and neocolonialism ushered in by the formation of the World Trade Organization in 1995 has left much of the Global South open to increasing plunder by the elites of the Global North, with little standing in their way beyond the heroic efforts of frontline communities. 

Not only do these destructive practices of corporations impact the livability of local communities, but also the global climate. As primary forests and ecosystems are destroyed for the profit of extractive industries, carbon stored underground is released into the atmosphere and biodiversity — a key stabilizer of the climate — is lost, creating hotter, drier conditions in these regions and adding to the rapid destabilization of the Earth’s systems. 

Many of the activists murdered were fighting logging, mining or big agribusiness corporations and the ecological devastation that they bring. The majority of deforestation globally has been linked to just 13 major corporations, including Cargill, BlackRock, Wilmer International and Walmart. (

The 2020 “Bankrolling Extinction” report produced by Portfolio Earth showed that 50 top investment banks, led by Bank of America, Citigroup and JP Morgan Chase, funded ecosystem destruction globally through $2.6 trillion in investments in 2019 alone. (The Guardian)

The fight at home

In the United States within the belly of the beast, extractive industries tend to employ nonlethal tactics to suppress opposition, such as lawfare — using law as a weapon of war. Since 2016, 13 states have passed laws that protect fossil fuel industries by increasing penalties for anyone who trespasses, damages, or interferes with infrastructure, such as oil refineries or pipelines — attempting to intimidate us into silence while we barrel toward extinction. 

A recent example of this tactic is the sentencing of Dakota Access Pipeline protester Jessica Reznicek, who was sentenced to eight years in federal prison and $3 million in restitution for damaging a nonoperational piece of the pipeline. (UNICORN RIOT)

Reznicek’s co-defendant Ruby Montoya faces at least five years in prison and is currently awaiting sentencing. (Indian Country Today) Despite a 2020 federal court ruling that deemed the pipeline construction illegal due to lack of environmental review, construction continues, demonstrating how enforcement of laws is based on what is beneficial to corporate profits.

The need to overthrow the destructive capitalist system and start anew could not be more clear. Humanity’s survival — and the survival of most other species — literally depends on it. We need a people/planet-centered system, a socialist system, and we need it now. 

We must expose the injustices committed against environmental defenders in the Global South and our own communities as part and parcel of the global class war that is playing out through the climate crisis and continue to organize. Despite the seemingly impossible odds, we must remember that we, the people, are the majority and they are few. And when we come together as a united force, we can win. 

Tina Landis is the author of the book Climate Solutions Beyond Capitalism

Feature image: Rally for Berta Cáceres, environmental activist and indigenous leader murdered in Honduras in 2016. Credit: Daniel Cima, (CC BY 2.0)

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