How to solve the climate crisis: shut up and listen

There is much proselytizing about how best to be an environmental justice warrior from the comfort of your own home. The internet is abuzz with the zero-waste movement, sustainable fashion and more eco-friendly water bottles than you can poke a reusable straw at.

But it isn’t often we get the chance to make a huge, profound difference – the kind of difference that will last long into our grandchildren’s lives.

At The Borneo Project, that’s exactly what our supporters have to opportunity to do. By supporting indigenous led campaigns to protect the rivers, rainforests and cultures of Sarawak, our project dives into the David and Goliath battles on the frontline of the fight against climate change. We send in reinforcements, and we win.

The reason we are so effective, is because our projects are led by indigenous communities. Although our little team is based in Oakland, all of our projects are designed and devised on the ground in Sarawak. For 27 years, we have learned to shut up: to build trust through radical listening, taking note of indigenous knowledge and respecting the indigenous gaze.

Communities in Sarawak, where we work, have been fighting in every way possible to protect their rainforests: everything from hifalutin legal battles in the Federal Court to putting their bodies in the way of bulldozers. They know what strategies work, and they know that community consultation is essential for projects to succeed.

Photo courtesy Sofia Yu

Not only do indigenous communities know how to protect their land, but they understand deeply why it needs protecting. Sarawak’s unfortunate recent history is much like the rainforests in the Amazon or the Congo. Within a generation, more than 80% of the state’s virgin forest has been degraded. Many of Sarawak’s mighty rivers have been dammed and much of its oil, gold and bauxite has been extracted.

The forests have been replaced with oil palm plantations, displacing or simply exterminating some of the 288 mammal species who live there, 44 of which live nowhere else on earth but Borneo. This is to say nothing of all the endemic birds, bugs, lizards and flowers that were trampled into extinction before they were catalogued or their value understood.

Needless to say, the rivers and forests that have been saved hold inestimable value. Deforestation is the largest global source of carbon dioxide emissions after fossil fuel burning. And reforestation, or simply letting forests recover and grow, is a powerful way to combat climate change.

Faced with staggering levels of corporate corruption, these communities need and deserve our financial and political backing. Our collective future hinges much less on remembering to bring your reusable coffee cup to the cafe, and much more on these localized battles between grassroots communities and the very real monster of environmental destruction breathing down their necks.

You should still bike to work, grow your own tomatoes, say no-thanks to plastic straws, and compost your leftovers. And you should also consider donating to The Borneo Project. We’re small, efficient, and we know exactly where the money goes on the ground.