This issue: Climate change is an issue of racism and social injustice, as many people of colour and those marginalised by other societies already know. So, what can coaches contribute to address this, asks Linda Aspey


When we begin to see things through new eyes, we can’t unsee them, and we keep seeing more. And these new awakenings behove us to adapt our coaching accordingly.

My awakening to the climate and ecological crises is one such example of not being able to unsee what I’d seen. Once I’d passed the initial trauma of realising the seriousness of both, and delved deeper into the science, psychology and solutions, it became clear just how many highly complex systems are involved.

It dawned profoundly on me that climate change has been and still is a systemic issue, disproportionately affecting people of colour, all around the world. Deeply intertwined with racism, climate change is an issue of social injustice. It’s a multiplier of all forms of social disadvantage, including those related to class, age, gender, language, education, physical and mental health and ability, and socio-economic status.

I believe that as coaches, we have a responsibility to learn about what’s going on in the world at large, in the bigger system, so we can bring a wider and more compassionate lens to all our work, step up our own efforts to be more inclusive, and address unequal power dynamics.

Our coaching will be enhanced, and hopefully we’ll be playing a greater part in the system change that our once beautiful planet so badly needs from us. I’ll return to coaching shortly – first, I want to set some context.


Seeing the wider system

For centuries, people and corporations in the Global North have colonised, enslaved, exploited, stolen lands, extracted resources and disempowered and oppressed billions of people of colour, including Indigenous people in the Global South living in previously thriving societies and economies. Now many are the poorest in society, with much less access to decent housing, land, water, energy, food, healthcare, jobs, money, education, and choice. And they’re often more negatively impacted by climate change than their counterparts elsewhere.

Veronica Mulenga, a Zambian climate activist, says1, “Historical and present-day injustices have both left Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) communities exposed to far greater environmental health hazards than White communities”.

For example, the average carbon footprint of a Zambian is 0.36 tonnes per person per year, less than one-tenth of the UK average. Zambia is facing repeated and massive environmental disasters including prolonged drought, which left over a million people in need of food assistance in 2021.

Jason Hickel, author of Less is More2 found that the wealthier Global North is responsible for 92% of all excess global emissions compared to just 8% in the Global South. The latter has many natural resources that the Global North exploits for its own enrichment, with devastating consequences for those living locally, as well as the rest of the world and all of life on earth.

Rising emissions cause higher global temperatures that lead to rising sea levels, drought, and extreme weather. These have forced – and will continue to force – people in areas like the Pacific islands, sub-Saharan Africa, India and South Asia to move.

Water scarcity and food depletion are also major causes of crisis, along with war, often triggered by the impacts of climate change. In fact since 2008, an average of more than 20 million people per year have been displaced by extreme weather events, many of which were exacerbated by climate change3 – that’s 280 million – and more than 1 billion people are predicted to be displaced by 20504.

These are people losing their homes, communities, livelihoods – involuntarily. And while humans have always migrated, now it’s at speed and at scale because of climate change.

Climate change increases the frequency, severity and impact of extreme weather events. Rising sea levels due to glacial melting and higher atmospheric water vapour (because deforestation releases water once held in the canopies of tropical rain forests into the atmosphere) and many other factors, mean more violent storms, coastal flooding and cyclones. These are particularly devastating to island states and low-lying coastal communities whose peoples have done the least to cause such devastation.

In his book5, Climate Change is Racist, Jeremy Williams traces climate change back to the roots of colonisation and brings it into the present day into the institutional racism that widely remains: “When we talk about racism, we often mean personal prejudices or institutional biases. Climate change isn’t racist in that way. It is structurally racist, disproportionately caused by majority White people in majority White countries, with the damage unleashed overwhelmingly on people of colour.”

Environmental destruction usually goes hand in hand with climate change. In the Global South, people whose climates are changing rapidly have their waters and lands polluted, their seas robbed of fish stocks, leaving locals with none. They’re unlikely to benefit from the ‘developments’ imposed on them. Any jobs created are short-term and will go once the extraction is completed or soils irreversibly depleted, or water supplies depleted or almost beyond repair. They’re more likely to live in areas with high air and water pollution from chemical plants, dyes used in the fashion industries, coal mines, oil fields, mineral extraction, agricultural pesticides, and waste piles aka ‘landfill’ exported there from the Global North.

For example, the discovery of bauxite, the ore from which aluminium is made, brought not wealth to the rural Jamaican people but disruption and pollution6.

Farmers in low-lying lands were forcibly moved, and no longer able to tend their lands, falling into filthy jobs or unemployment. Those who remain live in a constant cloud of red dust, affecting their respiratory and cardiac health. Their simple homes are full of it. And the pollutants go into the piped water system, making it undrinkable, so they live off water collected in vats from rainfall. That’s of course contaminated, too. And now that bauxite reserves are becoming depleted, the Jamaican government is allowing the US corporation involved to move into a prime ecologically sensitive area, known as Cockpit Country. Right now history is repeating itself.

The local people are fighting hard against this – and hopefully they will once again triumph as they did back in 1700, when formerly enslaved people here fought off the British to reclaim their lands. (Having learned of this, whenever I put an aluminium can into the recycling, I think about those people.)

There are stories like this all over the world, where resource discoveries give no cause whatsoever for celebration by the locals, or where cheap and plentiful labour simply means we get to consume more here, more cheaply. There’s often only dread that they’ve lost all their power, yet again. And it’s not confined to the Global South. Communities of colour in the Global North, for example, in the UK and US, are more much likely to live in areas of high pollution than White people, for example, in the poorer areas of our glossy cities.

Systemic racism even meant that getting to COP26 in Glasgow proved impossible for many – without funding or Covid vaccines they couldn’t bring their voices to the table. Undeterred, many shouted at distance, but they should not have had to.


So, what does this have to do with coaching?

In recent years, many of us have become more informed about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), and more organisations want to embed these principles into their culture, employee lifecycle, branding and customer offerings. Yet as far as I’ve seen, climate change and ecological destruction are rarely referenced in DEI trainings and programmes. There seems to be a lack of awareness of the interconnectedness of these issues.

This lack of joining the dots may be in part to the lower numbers of coaches of colour in some quarters compared to white coaches. There are numerous coaches of colour doing wonderful work, but as we see, for example, when we attend global coaching conferences, there are far more white coaches on the conference circuit, or being called in to deliver corporate programmes. Certainly, many I’ve spoken to tell me they’ve had strong climate and environmental concerns for years as they’re already steeped in systems closer to the realities of these crises.

The Black Lives Matter movement bought much of this into the open. However, some tell me that they and their communities are so immersed in the many racial injustices and new crises, for example, Covid, that they had not even considered a link with racism, until now. So, we cannot assume that there is widespread awareness, even within communities of colour. Where it is though, it can be deeply painful.


It’s already in the room

A short while ago I was coaching a client – a senior executive – whose extended family lived in Bangladesh. When I asked about his background, he mentioned them lightly and started talking about problems in his team. He continued and I listened. Then he stopped. He took a long deep breath, looked at me in the eye and said, “I need to tell you something. My family have just lost their home because of the floods. I’m finding it hard to focus on work. I must though, because I send money back to them. But I’m struggling, and I don’t talk about it at work. I think people just assume that we’re all living a White Western life!”

This matters deeply. Diversity in coaching is about understanding our clients’ social context and all that goes with it. It matters because they need to bring their whole selves to coaching if they’re to get the best from it, and we need to be completely open to that and not to shy away from it. It matters because it’s not their role to educate us, but for us to educate ourselves. And it matters because those of us in the Global North are a part of the system that is one of oppression, and we need to acknowledge our role in that, acknowledge the many layers of privilege we have (whether White or not), and take steps to raise our climate and environmental awareness, at multiple levels.

Many corporate and private clients of colour are tired of not seeing enough coaches who look like them. And while there are many initiatives to increase diversity and inclusion in coaching, I think we need to take even more deliberate steps. For me that includes our gaining a much better understanding of the climate and environmental worlds that clients and coaches of colour currently experience and have experienced, either personally, or of their immediate circles of family and friends, or from the tales of their ancestors.

Coach training needs to be accessible to all, and that might mean White coaching professionals deliberately inviting under-represented people to bring them and their talents into courses, events, groups, to step aside when we are asked to speak and hand them the microphone instead, and more. Intention, when put into practice, can catalyse change.

Even if you don’t care about politics, politics impact us all. Being aware of and caring about what’s happening in the world and potentially impacting our coaching clients, their colleagues, their friends and families is an essential part of providing psychologically safe spaces.

Some may have lived climate and environmentally related experiences that they don’t share with others. Some may have family struggling to survive. And many – if not all – people of colour are likely to have ancestors who’ve been significantly disadvantaged by racism-fuelled environmental oppression, as well as having lived experience of day-to-day racism. And many will have fought, successfully, against all the odds, determined to rise, again and again.

All these experiences will naturally shape our clients’ hopes, fears, challenges and opportunities, and how they interact with the rest of the world. In knowing about their lives and learning about what has shaped them and shapes them now, we’re honouring them all, past, present and future.

Climate change is racist, socially unjust, and we’re in an emergency. Let’s respond accordingly.



  1. www.bbc.com/future/article/20220125-why-climate-change-is-inherently-racist
  2. www.jasonhickel.org/less-is-more
  3. https://www.vox.com/2022/3/16/22960468/ipcc-climate-change-migration-migrant-refugee
  4. www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/sep/09/climate-crisis-could-displace-12bn-people-by-2050-report-warns
  5. https://uk.bookshop.org/books/climate-change-is-racist-race-privilege-and-the-struggle-for-climate-justice/9781785787751?aid=117
  6. How a Jamaican sovereign group is fighting a US Oil company


  • Linda Aspey is a coach, facilitator, supervisor, therapist and speaker working with individuals, teams and groups to meet a future that is highly likely to be even more challenging than the present.
  • www.lindaaspey.com 
  • linda@aspey.com