As someone interested in both environmentalism and anti-racist thought, the title of this one obviously grabbed me quickly. I think of myself as an environmentally-minded person–I have reduced my meat intake, I recycle religiously, I’ve converted to shampoo bars. But as a white woman in the Global North, I still have a significantly larger carbon footprint than much of the world. And despite all my best efforts, the freakin’ ocean is still on fire.
Until a few years ago, I had never even heard of the term “environmental racism”. And thankfully, Jeremy Williams’ Climate Change is Racist is here to make sense of this complicated concept.
Think of Hurricane Katrina. It was one of the first news events that I felt I truly understood as it was happening, and I still think of it as one of the first times I realised the true differences between Republican and Democratic leadership in America. New Orleans, as a majority-Black city, was horribly damaged not just by the storm surge, but also the failing infrastructure and minimal government response afterwards. Even now, the city has struggled to recover to its pre-Katrina population, and the neighbourhoods hardest hit were also the blackest and the poorest. These are the neighbourhoods that get pushed out by levees, by highways, by power plants. Where children grow up with asthma or drink lead-contaminated water, because our attitude towards the climate and infrastructure is rooted in racism. This goes all the way back to colonialism, where Western powers relied on colonial holdings to provide raw materials and fund their industrialisation, while colonised people were left behind. Emissions in Asia and Africa are on the rise, and the general attitude from the UK and US media is that these places aren’t “enlightened” enough to think about climate change.
And the way we talk about climate change is less focused on the people who will be impacted by rising oceans and harsher storms. It’s not that we shouldn’t care about hungry polar bears or sea turtles with straws stuck up their noses. It’s that images like these stick in our minds more than, say, images of people losing their home in a typhoon or a farmer’s crops dying halfway around the world. There is a scientific, observable bias against those who look different from us, and it is often on concerning display between the Global North and the Global South when it comes to climate issues.
As Williams makes very clear: In the Global North, we can usually make personal choices to lower our carbon footprint–we can choose an electric car, we can go vegan, we can march and protest and often participate in civil disobedience without fear of significant consequences. But those in the Global South facing the effects of climate change–it’s not a choice. They don’t get to choose to see their home flooded, their livestock die, their children become weak from malaria. But in the Global North, we can amplify the voices of Black, brown, and Indigenous people fighting for climate justice, and create an environment to empower change. These communities have lived in peace with the climate for thousands of years–it’s time for the Global North to follow their lead.
Thanks to NetGalley and Icon Books for the ARC in exchange for my honest review. CLIMATE CHANGE IS RACIST is out now in the UK.
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