Oppression has caused the climate crisis – and it’s against oppression that I fight

Fossil fuel companies are agents of oppression. They continue with business as usual, knowing their business is contributing to the climate crisis, which has the greatest impact on people of colour and those in poverty. This is why I chose to intervene directly in BP’s plans to drill for new oil.


Climate change – humanity’s greatest existential threat – is largely the fossil fuel industry’s fault. BP’s response is to continue drilling for oil instead of investing their money on urgent sustainable energy solutions. Why? 

BP and companies like them know their business is contributing to climate change. They know the consequences of climate change. And they know these consequences disproportionately impact the lives and livelihoods of people of colour and those living below the poverty line – both in the global south and global north. Yet they continue with business as usual.

Allowing oppression enables climate change to worsen unabated

If climate change was impacting the world’s most elite, rich, powerful, and – let’s be honest – disproportionately white people, would companies like BP still be dealing with this existential threat at a snail’s pace? I think not. 

By continuing with business as usual, BP’s leaders are demonstrating that the people who are suffering the consequences are expendable to them. This is oppression.

It’s not just BP. All companies and governments which have been stalling on climate solutions for decades have also clearly demonstrated that the lives of those who will suffer do not matter to them. 

This inequality and perpetuation of oppression is the reason why humanity is now facing the climate crisis. And it’s why I decided to take matters into my own hands.

Standing with nature and humanity against oppression

In the very early hours of a Friday in June this year, I climbed up a BP oil rig just moments before it was due to raise its anchors and sail out to the North Sea to drill for oil. 

The rig had been occupied by other activists for five days and made the headlines. These activists were arrested and the BBC reported that the protest had come to an end. When Andrew and I reoccupied the rig the next morning, BP leaders woke to find the protest was far from over.

I knew preventing the rig from drilling was something I had to do. But, as I climbed up the 30-metre ladder, I couldn’t help thinking, “I’d rather be at home watching Netflix.”

Meena on the oil rig with a yellow helmet and headtorch with Andrew behind her

Meena with Andrew behind her at the top of the oil rig in June 2019 © Greenpeace

My intention isn’t to “save the planet” as such. That doesn’t mean I don’t care about nature or wildlife. In fact, my principles are deeply rooted in the fair treatment of all living things. As a woman of colour, I know what it’s like to be treated with the same disrespect shown to the natural world. 

My intention is to stand up against powerful leaders and decision makers – like those at the top of BP – who believe their lives are of far greater value than everyone else’s.  

Their obsession and greed for power and profit drives them to continue business as usual, knowingly diminishing and threatening the lives and livelihoods of others. They knowingly abuse our collective right to a shared, protected and respected planet.  

There are no laws or policies in place to put a hard stop to BP and others. Which is why we need as many people as possible to take action in whatever way they can. 

If we don’t expose what these leaders of the world are really doing and take action against them, environmental abuse and oppression will never end. What’s worse, if we don’t intervene, we inadvertently justify their behaviour and reinforce their belief that their lives are of far greater value and importance than everyone and everything else.    

Greenpeace provides me with a platform to have a voice and take action, safely and securely. It’s an organisation which has, over 50 years of doing nonviolent direct actions, established a mutual respect with the police and criminal justice system. A privilege I could never be awarded alone.  

And in June 2019, Greenpeace offered me that platform (quite literally) again. As a trained Greenpeace climber, I was asked “We need more climbers to keep the action going. Do you want to climb up that oil rig?” Without hesitation I said “Yes.” 

I couldn’t not do it.  Not knowing what I know about the human suffering fossil fuel companies like BP are responsible for.

BP is knowingly destroying the lives and livelihoods of tens of millions of people

In July, it was reported that almost six million people are under threat from rising flood waters across South Asia. Hundreds of thousands of people across the region have already been displaced as a result of heavy monsoon rains.

It has been estimated that, by 2050, one in every seven people in Bangladesh will be displaced by climate change. Up to 18 million people may have to move because of sea level rise alone.

Temperatures in Delhi rose to a record high of 48C this summer. These temperatures push the human body to its thermal limits – in other words, we simply can’t live in this kind of heat.

My aunty and millions of others were choked by heat and air pollution knowingly caused by the activities of companies like BP. And their response? To carry on with business as usual, blatantly disregarding the lives they are destroying, to feed their obsession with money and power.

We also feel the consequences of BP’s business closer to home from the recent extreme flooding in Venice, to Fairbourne in Wales, and my city, London.

My own district, Brixton, is hit the hardest when it comes to illegal air pollution levels. All across the UK, people from poorer communities and people of colour suffer more severely from the health impacts of air pollution from diesel vehicles – such as heart disease, lung disease, dementia and diabetes.

The list goes on.

So much of this is happening now – but what about the future?

If we consider recent politics, the situations with Johnson, Brexit, and Trump have all shone a light on the society we live in and the kind of leaders we have. As more and more people become displaced from floods and extreme weather, where will they go? Do we think our leaders will willingly open their borders or offer support?

Rather than people standing in solidarity with one another and opening their hearts, homes and lands to those who need it, I see a scary future of greater social unrest and racial violence. 

BP and others are hiding behind the popular, yet blatantly discriminating statement: “We have 11 years to solve the climate crisis.” Who is the “we” in this context? Certainly not those who are suffering the impacts right now. And I, especially as a woman of colour, don’t want to live in a world where oppression is acceptable for another decade or so. 

So, I ask again: if climate change was disproportionately impacting the elite, powerful people of the global north right now, would BP still be continuing business as usual? Would other powerful leaders and decision makers still stall on plans to mitigate the impacts of climate change?

Despite my fear, I know that taking action against BP was essential

Because that question is at the forefront of my mind, I wanted BP to see me up on that oil rig. I wanted them to know that I represent the voices of millions of people who say no to those who drive social inequality and oppression for their own greed. No to those who take away our right to a safe, protected, healthy, and thriving planet. And no to those who threaten our very existence. 

When oppression is felt by anyone, no matter if they are thousands of miles away, it is also felt by me and others all around the world.

I saw this in people’s reactions when I climbed on the rig. I spoke to my brother the night before climbing up the oil rig. He said I sounded nervous.  “I know you can’t tell me what you’re up to, but I’ve watched the news so I have an idea. I’m proud of you, little sis. Mum is panicking – as she does – but she told me to tell you to be careful and that she is very proud of you too.”

Even the policeman who arrested me said, “I get why you are here. I have three children.” He, like many of us, is silenced by his allegiance to the law. But for that brief moment, he showed some allegiance to humanity – a humanity that he and his family and community are part of too.

So this is my story, and why I take action. But, in truth, yes I would rather live in a world where I can enjoy watching Netflix on a Friday night with my loved ones, rather than worrying about how BP leaders are knowingly driving us to our impending doom because they are – let’s face it – elitist and racist. 

Until that world rises, I will always choose to climb up that ladder.  

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