Thongchai Thailand

RACISM AND CLIMATE CHANGE

Posted on: June 11, 2020

Climate Justice, Social Justice

The Green New Deal vs. the Old Green Deals - CityLab

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THIS POST IS A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF THE ONLINE LITERATURE CLAIMING A POSITIVE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE CLIMATE MOVEMENT AND THE GEORGE FLOYD INSPIRED ANTI RACISM MOVEMENT SUCH THAT SOMETHING CALLED CLIMATE JUSTICE IS NEEDED TO ACHIEVE SOMETHING CALLED RACIAL JUSTICE

 

 

PART-1:WAYS OF RELATING RACISM TO CLIMATE CHANGE

  1. On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during an arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit bill. This event rekindled America’s unresolved and gruesome racism issue in which police brutality is a significant and sensitive factor. Violent protests ensued around the country after the George Floyd incident and even elsewhere in the world. These events triggered a sudden rise to prominence of America’s unresolved and painful racism problem as it had risen before in similar events of the past with chaos, uprisings, fires, and wanton destruction across the country.  What appears to be an extreme response is best understood in the context of past events that include the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968, and the death of Arthur McDuffie in 1979. McDuffie was beaten to death by police and these officers were later found not guilty. This is the background to the issue in this post and not the issue we discuss below in the rest of this commentary.
  2. The issue in this post is how this event has been used by climate science to push for climate action in the form of overhauling the world’s energy infrastructure away from fossil fuels. It is noteworthy that the involvement of climate science is presented to us as a response to the death of George Floyd but it did not follow the gruesome event itself and is therefore not a response to the death of George Floyd.
  3. The climate activism involvement was initiated about a week after that event in the first week of June when large and violent protest riots had taken place nationwide in what turned out to be a complete capture of America’s attention not only in the media but on the internet and in the neighborhoods and the homes and offices and the factories of America. It was this event and not the death of George Floyd that presented a golden opportunity for climate activists to present their case to America framed as relevant to these events if only they could find a way to hook on to the fiery race issue of America rekindled by George Floyd that had completely captured America and most of the world as well.
  4. It took climate activists a few days to figure it out but they came up with a way to frame their climate change and climate action activism verbiage in terms of the horror of racism in America. The objective here is to take advantage of the opportunity created by the death of George Floyd to press the case for climate action as a racism issue to Americans given the attention of Americans to the racism issue. What we see in the climate change literature below are the arguments for climate action framed in terms of the racism and police brutality issues that have been brought to the attention of Americans by the death of George Floyd protests. Below we list some of the framing types we find in the racism literature of climate science.
  5. Framing Type #1: Black Americans are more likely to live in areas that have a greater potential for harmful climate impacts:  Therefore climate action to help them out in that situation is a good thing that’s worth the cost of climate action and that therefore not taking climate action is a racist and uncaring response to this situation.
  6. Framing Type #2: Disposability: It is claimed that racism creates a sense in the white man that black people are disposable and the environments where they live are also disposable and that therefore white people are less inclined to take climate action because racism prevents them from caring about the welfare of black people. This argument concludes that “we will never stop climate change without ending white supremacy” because their failure to care for black people will lead to the destruction of the planet by climate change. White supremacy leads the way toward disposable people and a disposable natural world and that relates climate change to racism.
  7. Framing Type #3Another way to frame the “disposable” argument is with the sacrifice zones argument – regions that will be left for climate impacts to destroy as in Hurricane Katrina. It says that we will never survive the climate crisis without ending white supremacy because you can’t have climate change without sacrifice zones and you can’t have sacrifice zones without disposable people, and you can’t have disposable people without racism. The climate change problem and the racism problem have a common thread and that is the idea that certain regions and certain people are disposable. The argument goes on to state that the atmosphere is also disposable because in the case of a polluted atmosphere, rich white people would stand a better chance of surviving than poor black people.
  8. Framing Type #4: Pollution is racism: In this framing, it is claimed that white people pollute because their racism prevents them from caring how that pollution will affect black people. “When a child gets asthma from pollution in East Oakland because her home is surrounded by freeways, it’s racism. This same kind of racism pollution of pumping CO2 into the atmosphere causes climate change. Therefore, climate action and anti racism are one and the same.
  9. Framing Type #5Rich Capitalists: Rich capitalists tend to be white and so they tend to pollute because the affected tend to be black but the pollution also causes climate change and our planet is at risk of destruction by climate change from these activities that are perpetrated because white capitalists are racist. If there were no racism and we valued everyone’s lives equally we would put the well being of the many above the profits of the few there wouldn’t be racism and there wouldn’t be a climate crisis.
  10. Framing Type #6: Polluting industries in black neighborhoods: Rich white capitalists build their coal plants in black neighborhoods because black people are disposable and these plants cause climate change. If black lives matter, then these coal plants will not be built and the climate crisis will be resolved and the destruction of the planet avoided. “As long as we keep letting polluters sacrifice black communities we can’t protect the global climate“.
  11. Framing Type #7: Outdoor jobs in an increasingly hot planet: The two groups of Americans who care most about climate change are the black and Hispanic communities because they tend to live in densely populated communities and work in low paid outside jobs. It is thus that they are more directly exposed to the impacts of climate change in an increasingly hot planet. Therefore, to not take climate action is to be racist.
  12. Framing Type #8: Money buys “insulation” and white people have the money:  Poverty stricken black and Hispanic communities are more vulnerable to climate change impacts that are caused primarily by the emissions of rich, capitalist, and industrialist white people. This is climate injustice and therefore climate injustice must be corrected to achieve climate justice with racial justice.
  13. Framing Type #9: John Muir quote about environmentalism “When we try to pick out anything by itself we find it hitched to everything else in the universe”. This quote is used as a Carte-Blanche to relate climate variables to social and political variables and thereby to racism. The Muir quote provides the rationale needed to relate climate change to racism.
  14. Framing Type #10: Pollution likened to police brutality. The argument presented in this complicated logic is that pollution can raise blood pressure and cause cancer and so does a brutal police force. Police brutality can cause the body to produce hormones and other signals including accelerated heart rate and increasing respiration rate and that therefore recurring incidents of this nature poses serious bodily harm not unlike the pollution that causes climate change.

 

 

PART-2: CRITICAL COMMENTARY

  1. CLIMATE CHANGE IS GLOBAL: Racism in America is peculiar and unique to the USA. More specifically, it is not global. Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) and climate change is a global phenomenon in which it is claimed that global fossil fuel emissions cause atmospheric CO2 concentration to rise and that in turn causes warming. The climate action called for by climate science is that global fossil fuel emissions must be reduced all the way to zero in order to stop global warming. What we find in the attribution of AGW to racism is the idea that anthropogenic global warming and climate change is a peculiarly American phenomenon in which racism in America is the ultimate cause of the white man’s cruel, uncaring, and irreverent pollution and destruction of the planet. Yet, what we find in the data is that the USA is responsible for about 15% of the global emissions. By way of comparison, China emits 26% of global emissions and South and Southeast Asia together emits another 11%. It is not possible to understand AGW climate change in terms of USA emissions alone no matter to what extent that may or may not be driven by racism, police brutality and white supremacy.
  2. THE PLANETARY DESTRUCTION ISSUE: Climate science holds that climate action is imperative no matter what the cost because the alternative is the mass extinctions, the end of the human race, and the destruction of the planet itself. The extreme localization of this phenomenon such that it can be analyzed in terms of only the USA and even in terms of black and Hispanic communities within the USA is grossly inconsistent with AGW climate change theory. All such arguments relating racism to climate change can therefore be rejected on this basis. The mass extinctions and planetary destruction phenomena are unlikely to select black communities in the USA to harm.
  3. IS CLIMATE CHANGE WHAT MAKES RACISM BAD?: The implied proposition in the arguments relating climate change to racism is that racism is a bad thing because it causes climate change. This proposition is itself racist. Racism is an evil thing all by itself because that is not how we humans should be treating each other. Yet climate science has decided that what makes racism bad is its impact on the climate. This interpretation is wrong and racist. Climate change is a white man’s enterprise and this kind of racist climate activism can be interpreted in that light.
  4. THE DARKER INTERPRETATION: The darker interpretation of this aspect of climate science is the failure of climate action activism. It had reached a dead end with the dramatic collapse in Copenhagen followed by the bizarre collection of independent INDCs in Paris (intended nationally determined contribution) that has so far gone nowhere even after the recruitment and indoctrination of child activists. As of today, after 25 years of Conference of Parties, there is no binding agreement to curb  global emissions. The darker interpretation of the sudden discovery of the racism connection by climate science is that the racism issue that has captured the world’s attention provides a powerful marketing tool to sell climate change and therefore to sell climate action. This darker interpretation implies that climate science is racist and not beneath using black people and their racism plight to sell the climate agenda.
  5. CLIMATE SCIENCE RACISM: In a related post on racism [LINK] we show that there are serious racism interpretations of climate science and climate activism such that a racist effort to use racism to sell the climate agenda can be understood in that context. Some racism aspects of climate science are discussed below.
  6. Both the industrial revolution and its psychological aftermath including the climate change agenda are inventions of the the Global North (the rich industrialized world of the white man). That the Global North’s environmental activism needs are often served at great cost to the Global South (poor countries closer to the equator populated by darkies) is seen for example in the effects of Rachel Carson’s {Silent Spring} DDT ban that may or may not have saved some birds in the Global North but at great cost and suffering from malarial diseases in the Global South.
  7. Similarly, the planet saving interpretation of AGW climate change constructs the attitude of the Global North towards the primitive stone age forest dwellers of Amazonia in the Global South. It is claimed that the AGW anti-industrialization priority of the Global North must guide the future of the people of the Amazon forest such that they must remain primitive so that their lands can remain a forest and serve the needs of the Global North by continuing to be The Lungs of the Planet. That Europe was once a forest and the Lungs of the Planet that was cleared by the Europeans on the way to their wealth, power, and Industrial Economy must be considered to be a purely historical detail and irrelevant in terms of the urgency of the needed climate action to Save the Planet from climate change by ensuring that the Amazon remains a stone age museum of forest dwellers so that The Lungs of the Planet are preserved for the Global North.
  8. Similarly, the UNDP (United Nations Development Program) that was formed for the specific purpose of fostering economic development in the poverty stricken former colonies of the Global North has now been corrupted by the climate change agenda. The task of the UNDP has thus been changed from economic development to something called “SDG or Sustainable Development Goals” in which climate action and economic development are combined in a way such that the climate priority sets the limits of economic development. The details of this issue may be found in a related post at this site [SDG LINK]
  9. poverty
  10. At the root of the AGW climate action movement is the racism that the Global South must not be allowed to have the kind of industrialization that had made the Global North so rich and so powerful that they can now orchestrate this global agenda apparently for the sake of planetary health. As in colonial times, the Global South is seen by the Global North as something that must ultimately serve the needs of the Global North.
  11. Thus, the population bomb alarm, the limits to growth alarm, and the climate change alarm are different expressions of the same underlying reality in which the Global North is concerned about natural resources to support an Industrial Revolution on a global scale that includes the Global South.
  12. The assumed stewardship of the planet by the Global North is the fountain of racism from which derives the role of the North in dictating global action against perceived environmental crises such as climate change even when these actions are contrary to the real needs of the Global South because, as in colonial times, the Global South must ultimately serve the needs of the Global North
  13. Details of this issue are presented in a related post [RACISM LINK] .

What do Amazon tribes eat? | Bushcraft Buddy

 

 

PART-3: LITERATURE REVIEW

 

NASA CLIMATE SCIENTISTS KATE MARVEL: Climate justice and racial justice are the same thing. We’ll never head off climate catastrophe without dismantling white supremacy

nasa kate marvel

Bill McKibben - TIME's People Who Mattered in 2011 - TIME

Hop Hopkins | Sierra Club

  1. HOP HOPKINS: The Sierra Club JUN 8 2020: Racism Is Killing the Planet: The ideology of white supremacy leads the way toward disposable people and a disposable natural world: Last week, my family and I attended an interfaith rally in Los Angeles in defense of Black life. We performed a group ritual in which we made noise for nine minutes to mark the last moments of George Floyd’s life. My wife, my oldest daughter, and I played African drums to mark those nine minutes with the rhythm of a beating heart over and over again. I thought about the level of commitment it takes to hold someone down for nine minutes straight. The realization horrified me. The cop who has been charged with murdering George Floyd had to have been deeply committed to taking his life. The police officer had so many chances to let up the pressure, to let George live. Yet the officer made the choice not to. To spend nine minutes taking the life-breath from another person: That is what white supremacy does to white people. That is what white supremacy does to the rest of us too. White supremacy robs each of us of our humanity. It causes white people to view Black people as less than human. Every one of those cops watching George die was convinced that the man pinned to the ground was less than human, was in some way disposable. Otherwise, how could they hold him down for nine whole minutes? How could they bring themselves to do it? You can’t have climate change without sacrifice zones, and you can’t have sacrifice zones without disposable people, and you can’t have disposable people without racism. During the street protests and marches of the past two weeks, many people carried signs that read “Racism Is Killing Us.” It’s no exaggeration to say that racism and white supremacy harm all of us, because in addition to robbing us of our humanity, racism is also killing the planet because we all share. We’ll never stop climate change without ending white supremacy. This argument has entered the outdoor recreation and conservation space thanks to the leadership of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color in the climate justice movement. The mainstream environmental movement do our best to show up for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and all the Black people still living and subject to police violence. I know that a lot of people are struggling with the thought that addressing the environmental crises must involve dismantling white supremacy. At Sierra Club meetings, some people hear me say something like that and think, “Damn, fighting climate change wasn’t hard enough already? Now we have to end racism and white supremacy too? I get that feeling of being overwhelmed. It’s a lot to carry. It’s a lot to hold. We all have enough to do without feeling like we’re taking on even more. But I want to share another lens from which we can view this moment. I really believe in my heart of hearts—after a lifetime of thinking and talking about these issues—that we will never survive the climate crisis without ending white supremacy. Here’s why: You can’t have climate change without sacrifice zones, and you can’t have sacrifice zones without disposable people, and you can’t have disposable people without racism.We’re in this global environmental mess because we have declared parts of our planet to be disposable. The watersheds where we frack the earth to extract gas are considered disposable. The neighborhoods near where I live in Los Angeles, surrounded by urban oilfields, are considered disposable. The very atmosphere is considered disposable. When we pollute the hell out of a place, that’s a way of saying that the place—and the people and all the other life that calls that place home, are disposable. In order to treat places and resources as disposable, the people who live there have to get treated like rubbish too. Sacrifice zones imply sacrificed people. Just think of Cancer Alley in Louisiana. Most of the towns there are majority Black, and nowadays they call it Death Alley, because so many Black folks have died from the poison that drives our extractive economy. Or think of the situation in the Navajo Nation, where uranium mines poisoned the wells and the groundwater and coal plants for decades poisoned the air. Or consider the South Side of Chicago, where I used to live, which for years was a dumping ground of petroleum coke and where residents are still struggling against pollution-related diseases. I’ve lived in a lot of places, and just about every place I’ve ever lived has been targeted by big polluters as a dumping ground. Devaluing Black and Indigenous people’s lives to build wealth for white communities isn’t new. White settlers began that project in the 15th century, when they arrived in North America. Most Native peoples of North America lived in regenerative relationships with the land; they were careful to take no more than the land could sustain. The settlers had another ethic: They sought to dominate and control. They cleared the old-growth forests and plowed the prairies to make room for their wheat and their beef. They nearly drove the bison to extinction in a calculated scorched-earth tactic that was part of a larger ethnic-cleansing agenda. As the Potawatomi author and scientist Robin Wall Kimmerer put it in a recent essay, “the Indigenous idea of land as a commonly held gift was replaced by the notion of private property, while the battle between land as sacred home and land as capital stained the ground red. How could the white settlers bring themselves to do it? They did it by telling a certain story about Native peoples, a story that said Native peoples were less “civilized” than white settlers and therefore deserved to be terrorized and pushed from their lands. This Doctrine of Discovery was a religious belief for many European settlers. The doctrine said that any land “discovered” by Christians was theirs because of the inherent inferiority of non-Christian peoples. Eventually, this pernicious idea made its way into US law. In 1823, the US Supreme Court, in the case of Johnson v. M’Intosh, ruled that “the principle of discovery gave European nations an absolute right to New World lands. It’s no secret that our country was built on a foundation of enslavement of Black people, the theft of Native land, and near genocide of Indigenous people. US institutions, from our government to Ivy League colleges, were built on a foundation of stolen labor and stolen bodies. The compound interest on the profits from that enslavement became the basis of inter-generational wealth for white communities, the inter-generational wealth that perpetuates race-based economic inequality to this day. But the past isn’t past. Structural racism continues 150 years after the abolition of slavery, only in new forms. As Michelle Alexander wrote in her best-selling book, The New Jim Crow, white supremacy has evolved over generations. After slavery came the debt-servitude of sharecropping. After the Jim Crow era was brought down by the civil rights movement, the prison industrial complex and the war on drugs = the war on Black people rose in its place.When a kid in East Oakland gets asthma from car pollution because her neighborhood is surrounded by freeways, that is white supremacy. How does this all connect to today’s environmental crises? It’s part of the same dehumanization. The pollution-spewing global mega-corporations that created Cancer Alley are just the latest evolution of the extractive white-settler mindset that cleared the forests and plowed the prairies. And just as the settlers had to believe and tell stories to dehumanize the people they killed, plundered, and terrorized, today’s systems of extraction can only work by dehumanizing people. Back then we had the Doctrine of Discovery, and today it’s the doctrine of neo-liberalism that say it’s OK to value some lives more than others, that it’s OK for some people to have clean air while others struggle to breathe. The crimes may be hiding in plain sight, but many white people are socialized to ignore how these systems of violence and inequality show up in our society. When it comes to racism, many white people are like fish swimming in water: White supremacy is so pervasive that it’s hard to even know that it’s there. The richest people need for white supremacy to remain invisible so they can continue to plunder our planet. They need those sacrifice zones, and the racism that justifies them, or they’ll have nowhere to put their trash and pollution. In this way, white supremacy serves to divide white working people from Black working people. Today’s one-percenters are able to sacrifice whole communities using more or less the same methods the settlers used: By dividing people into racial categories and directing the worst of their abuse at the people at the bottom of a manufactured racial hierarchy. This punching down usually comes in the form of blame. Media and popular culture often broadcast a twisted version of Black life and make it seem like communities of color have caused their own problems. Many people believe that poor people are poor because they are “lazy.” From there, it’s not much of a jump to believe that “some people” deserve to live next to a coal plant, that they deserve to die of cancer, that their children deserve to live with asthma. Working-class whites are told a story that such a thing could never happen to them. Since the founding of this country, elites have conspired to divide poor and working people by race. Just think about Bacon’s Rebellion, when a wealthy white land-taker led a multiracial group of indentured servants and enslaved people on a mission of violence against local tribes. Afterward, frightened by the cross-racial uprising that had destroyed the state capitol, Virginia leaders began to offer more rights and privileges to white indentured servants to keep them from allying with enslaved African people and rising up against their rulers. They offered slightly better conditions to the white people they exploited, to keep them from seeing what they had in common with enslaved Africans and Indigenous peoples. Now polluters tell low-income white families, “Only someone who doesn’t deserve anything better for themselves and their family would choose to live in such a polluted place as Cancer Alley.” If they just pull themselves up by their bootstraps, the story goes, white people can work themselves out of the poverty and environmental injustice they experience alongside Black people. Because, after all, at least they’re not Black. In the Trump era, messages that blame Black folks for our own persecution come even from the White House. The Trump administration tries to explain away the fact that Black communities are dying at elevated rates from COVID-19 by pointing to preexisting health conditions, yet ignores that those health conditions are the result of generations of racism. The administration ignores the fact that the facilities that cause asthma are located in Black neighborhoods. It ignores the fact that living in a society that treats Black people as less than human causes stress on the heart, literally and metaphorically. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, “Being a person of color in America is bad for your health.” Put another way, Black folks’ only preexisting condition is being Black. I’m still left wondering, how can they bring themselves to do it? I think the answer has to do with the stories a lot of white people tell themselves. Stories that often boil down to a notion that Black people are always guilty and the cops are always right. Stories that take the form of “he shouldn’t have resisted arrest.” If all of this seems too neat a narrative, I’d ask if you remember Hurricane Katrina. In the aftermath of the storm, Black people who were just out looking for essential supplies were described by the news media as “looting” a grocery store. White people who were doing the same thing were described as “finding” bread and water. I’d ask if you remember Eric Garner and Dylan Roof. Eric Garner was choked to death by police for selling “loosies,” or single cigarettes. Dylan Roof murdered nine Black people during a Bible study group at their church; after being arrested, the police bought him a meal at a Burger King on the way to the police station. By dividing us up into racial categories and economic classes, the one-percenters keep us from seeing that 99 percent of us share the same problems. By focusing their extraction and pollution on Black communities and working-class families, big polluters have bought the silence and collusion of white Americans. White privilege offers no escape from climate chaos. Nobody reading this is going to get a spot on the SpaceX shuttle to Mars. Earth is the only planet we have, and, thanks to polluters who profit from exploiting Black and brown communities, we’re in the process of making it uninhabitable. Just as the settlers had to believe and tell stories to dehumanize the people they killed, plundered, and terrorized, today’s systems of extraction can only work by dehumanizing people. When Amy Cooper, a white woman, has an encounter with a Black man bird-watching in Central Park (an extremely racist event) and calls the police—that is white supremacy. She weaponized the police and used them to racially terrorize someone. She knew what she was doing. She knew her threat had power because her target, Christian Cooper, understood the historical relationship between the police and Black people. When a petroleum pipeline corporation calls in the police to bash Indigenous water protectors at Standing Rock, that too is white supremacy. It’s like the Amy Cooper–Christian Cooper incident but on a systemic scale in which a fossil fuel company weaponizes the police to racially terrorize Indigenous peoples. When a kid in East Oakland gets asthma from car pollution because her neighborhood is surrounded by freeways, that is white supremacy. When the Dakota Access Pipeline is built through Native land because the neighboring white communities fought to keep it out of theirs, that is white supremacyWhen the United States pours carbon pollution into the air, knowing that people in countries that have contributed much less to the climate crisis will face the worst of the consequences, that is white supremacy. When big polluters try to buy our democracy so they can keep making money by devaluing the lives of people of color, that is white supremacy. When you come to see and understand these intersections between white supremacy and environmental destruction, you’ll find yourself at a crossroads. That crossroads will force you to decide which side you’re on. You can choose—we as a society can choose—to live a different way. Indeed, we must. If our society valued all people’s lives equally, there wouldn’t be any sacrifice zones to put the pollution in. If every place was sacred, there wouldn’t be a Cancer Alley. We would find other ways to advance science and create shared wealth without poisoning anyone. We would find a way to share equally both the benefits and the burdens of prosperity (SOCIALISM). If we valued everyone’s lives equally, if we placed the public health and well-being of the many above the profits of a few, there wouldn’t be a climate crisis. There would be nowhere to put a coal plant, because no one would accept the risks of living near such a monster if they had the power to choose. (FALSE). Critics of the Black demand for justice and equality like to respond by saying “all lives matter.” It’s true; they do. In fact, that’s the very point of the chants and banners and signs in the streets. After centuries of oppression, the insistence on Black dignity is a cry for universal human rights. If Black lives mattered, then all lives would matter. I know that what I’ve laid out here is a lot of dots to connect. I can imagine you thinking, “OK, so how do we end white supremacy then?” I wish I had all the answers, but I don’t. All I know is that if climate change and environmental injustice are the result of a society that values some lives and not others, then none of us are safe from pollution until all of us are safe from pollution. Dirty air doesn’t stop at the county line, and carbon pollution doesn’t respect national borders. As long as we keep letting the polluters sacrifice Black and brown communities, we can’t protect our shared global climate. I also know that as long as police can take Black lives, then none of us are truly safe. I keep coming back to the murder of George Floyd, the nine minutes a cop took to bring the drumbeat of George’s heart to a standstill. I keep asking again and again, How could they bring themselves to do it? And now I ask you, What will you bring yourself to do?
  2. Bill McKibben:  Racism, Police Violence, and the Climate Are Not Separate Issues. THE NEW YORKER, JUNE 4 2020 [LINK]  A LOT OF KNEES ON A LOT OF NECKSHaving a racist and violent police force in your neighborhood is a lot like having a pollution-emitting factory in your neighborhood. I find that lots of people are surprised to learn that, by overwhelming margins, the two groups of Americans who care most about climate change are Latinx Americans and African-Americans. But, of course, those communities tend to be disproportionately exposed to the effects of global warming: working jobs that keep you outdoors, or on the move, on an increasingly hot planet, and living in densely populated and polluted areas. For many of the same reasons, these communities have proved disproportionately vulnerable to diseases such as the coronavirus. One way of saying it is that money buys insulation, and white people have the money. Over the years, the environmental movement has morphed into the environmental-justice movement, and it’s been a singularly interesting and useful change. Much of the most dynamic leadership of this fight now comes from Latinx and African-American communities, and from indigenous groups; more to the point, the shift has broadened our understanding of what “environmentalism” is all about. John Muir, who has some claim to being the original modern environmentalist, once explained that “when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” He was talking about ecosystems, but it turns out that he was more correct than he knew: the political world is hopelessly intertwined with the natural world. So, for instance, living in a community with high levels of air pollution impairs human bodies. Pollution raises blood pressure, increases cancer. But so does living in a place with a brutal police force. When faced with a threat, the body produces hormones and other signals that turn on the systems that are necessary for survival in the short term. These changes include accelerated heart rate and increased respiratory rate. But when the threat becomes reoccurring and persistent—as is the case with police brutality—the survival process becomes dangerous and causes rapid wear and tear on body organs and elevated allostatic load. Deterioration of organs and systems caused by increased allostatic load occurs more frequently in Black populations and can lead to conditions such as diabetes, stroke, ulcers, cognitive impairment, autoimmune disorders, accelerated aging, and death. Having a racist and violent police force in your neighborhood is a lot like having a coal-fired power plant in your neighborhood. And having both? And maybe some smoke pouring in from a nearby wildfire? African-Americans are three times as likely to die from asthma as the rest of the population. “I Can’t Breathe” is the daily condition of too many people in this country. One way or another, there are a lot of knees on a lot of necks. The job of people who care about the future, which is another way of saying the environmentalists, is to let everyone breathe easier. But that simply can’t happen without all kinds of change. Some of it looks like solar panels for rooftops, and some of it looks like radically re-imagined police forces. All of it is hitched together.
  3. Emily Arkin, JUNE 2 2020[LINK]  How to help Black people breathe: Climate-concerned people can make a difference in the fight against racial injustice. Nationwide protests over George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police continued last night. In D.C., police fired tear gas and rubber bullets into a peaceful protest on Swann Street, kettling them in so they had nowhere to run. Police perpetrated acts of seemingly senseless violence in other cities, too. The Verge has a short list here.
  4. Frederick Hewett, JUNE 9 2020 [LINK]Racial Justice Is Climate Justice‘:  Climate change activists from Extinction Rebellion stand in solidarity with worldwide Black Lives Matter protests following the death of George Floyd. “Racial justice is climate justice” means police reform is climate policy.” Emily Atkin wrote those words last week in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd. Atkin is not alone in making a direct connection between climate change and racism. Numerous environmental leaders and prominent climate activists have issued statements condemning police violence and expressing solidarity with racial justice organizations. And for some notable climate movement figures, the relationship between anti-racism and climate activism extends much further than pro forma solidarity. Bill McKibben wrote “Racism, Police Violence, and the Climate Are Not Separate Issues.” Climate activist Eric Holthaus proclaimed “The climate crisis is racist. The answer is anti-racism.” The impacts of climate change take a higher toll on people of color than on wealthier people whose lifestyles cause much more environmental damage. And their stance goes well beyond simply noting that urban neighborhoods predominantly inhabited by black and brown people often lack transportation options, tree canopy and open spaces that help to mitigate the hardships climate change causes. The statement they’re making is bolder. They’re asserting that the movement for a transition to a de-carbonized economy cannot succeed until we redress centuries of systemic racism. The tight coupling of race and climate change seems incongruous at first glance. People commonly regard climate change as a problem to be worked out by scientists and engineers. The linkage between the degradation of global ecosystems and a profoundly moral social issue like racism is not immediately evident. The movement for a transition to a decarbonized economy cannot succeed until there are structural changes in society to redress centuries of systemic racism. To wrap your head around the claim that confronting racism is essential to addressing the climate crisis, it’s crucial first to observe that efforts to slow down climate change proceed on multiple paths. Besides the formidable technical challenges, there are social, economic and political obstacles to overcome. On the technology front, there is undeniable progress. The costs of solar and wind energy have dropped dramatically, and they have made deep inroads into markets formerly dominated by coal and natural gas. And there is encouraging work being done on electric vehicles, grid-scale battery storage, carbon sequestration and regenerative agriculture. But while advances in emissions reduction and carbon-free energy production may be on a trajectory to meet the technological goals of this century, the entrenched complex of political and corporate power that evolved during past centuries is impeding the changes that are needed to dismantle the fossil fuel empires responsible for the climate crisis. The United States has a deep history of reckless exploitation of natural resources, forests, topsoil, water, fish and game, minerals, coal, oil and natural gas, all of which have been extracted for quick economic gain without regard for the ecological and human consequences. The ransacking of the planet’s assets has been perpetrated through colonialism and expropriation at the expense of indigenous people and racial minorities. Our economic system is designed to minimize labor costs and value the production of material goods over the health and well-being of workers. Capitalism relinquishes our economic destiny to an ostensibly free market that under-prices environmental impacts and channels too much of the wealth society generates to the few highest percentiles of the income spectrum and racism perpetuates this system. Racism serves as a political wedge to divide the electorate, enabling the elite to hold onto power. It facilitates the exploitation of a class of underpaid labor. It imposes an economic burden on people of color that inhibits their ability to take action for social change. It stands in the way of bringing about a society centered on basic human dignity and environmental stewardship rather than maximizing economic growth and corporate profit. Is racism the root cause of climate change? No, but its pervasive presence in society is indispensable to the persistence of an extractive, exploitative and inequitable economic system. And that system is inherently incompatible with the ecological and egalitarian model we need to achieve a just transition to a fair, clean energy economy. Buried in the news last week was a report that atmospheric carbon dioxide has risen to its highest level in the last three million years, despite the pandemic lockdown. It will take more than technological innovation to avert the worst-case scenarios of climate change. Racism and climate change both demand that we reconsider the social and economic legacies that our past has left us.

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6 Responses to "RACISM AND CLIMATE CHANGE"

Why would industrialization in the South be any less harmful than industrialization in the North? And what (remaining) coal plants are in any neighborhoods, let alone black neighborhoods?

Good point. Thank you.

This is not a new idea, Lisa Jackson was using it in her time at the EPA.
http://scienceandpublicpolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/epa_un_mission.pdf
“Lisa Jackson talks frequently of promoting “environmental justice” and “expanding the conversation of environmentalism”. In October 2010 the EPA Administrator was part of a Congressional Black Caucus visit to Oakland, San Francisco, on a “National Tour to “Highlight Communities Heavily Impacted By Environmental Concerns”
She also invoked the Civil Rights movement:
“There is something else we at the EPA owe to Dr. King and his legacy. It was the Civil Rights Movement that helped give rise to other movements in our history. The marches and demonstrations for equality and opportunity showed how effective those kinds of grassroots efforts could be on a wide range of issues. And environmentalism followed in the footsteps of the Civil Rights movement. Today we continue to take direct inspiration from Dr. King, especially in our fight for environmental justice.
“Environmental justice is one of my top priorities for my time at the EPA, and it is something we are working to include in each and every initiative and decision the agency makes.”
The Congressional Black Caucas Foundation also got in on the act:
https://web.archive.org/web/20090904141931/http://www.nccecojustice.org/downloads/Climate%20of%20Change.pdf
“African Americans are already disproportionately burdened by the health effects of climate change, including deaths during heat waves and from worsened air pollution. Similarly, unemployment and economic hardship associated with climate change will fall most heavily on the African American community.”
“African Americans are less responsible for climate change than other Americans; historically and at present, African Americans emit less greenhouse gas.”
However, environmental justice goes back further to the time of Al Gore and his EPA Head, Carol Browner:
“In 1994, Clinton issued an executive order, directing that every federal agency make environmental justice part of its mission. In a speech at the April 22, 1994 Earth Day EPA Administrator Carol Browner said:
“Nobody can question that, for far too long, communities across this country–low income, minority communities–have been asked to bear a disproportionate share of our modern industrial life.””
Jackson is now Apple’s vice president of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives. https://www.apple.com/uk/leadership/lisa-jackson/
It just so happens that Al Gore is on the Apple board:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al_Gore
“Gore is the founder and current chair of The Climate Reality Project, the co-founder and chair of Generation Investment Management and the now-defunct Current TV network, a member of the Board of Directors of Apple Inc., and a senior adviser to Google.”

Thank you very much for this very useful addendum and the very interesting links. Amazing stuff.

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