Race and Climate Change: Double the Fear?

I had the privilege today of attending a round table discussion about messaging in a post-Copenhagen world. Most of what was brought up I had already come across, but one idea struck me as something that would interest here, and that is this: is there racism in people’s unwillingness to admit climate change in happening?

I have also believe that people who say that climate change is not happening were either swayed by the media or too stuck in their own way of life to admit that that way of life is having negative effects on the environment. This has always made me incredibly sad to think that we as Americans can’t wrap our collective head around climate change because we love our stuff too much. But now I think there is more to it (although this doesn’t make me happier).
A women today pointed out that getting people to admit that climate change is happening means framing it a way that picks at their self-interest, or in a way that builds on their fear of terrorism. Those ways are the most proven to win over conservatives to the environmental movement. Correct me if I’m wrong, but these seem like the same motivations that create colonialism: greed and fear.
Now, it was also pointed out how those can lead to racism or serve to solidify racism. So my question is, if these are the motivations that are most likely to get people to make significant changes, and these motivations can lead to racism, can objections to climate change be racist? I know that not everyone who objects to climate change is or will be racist, but is there a link between the two? One man pointed out that people are generally afraid of what they don’t know, which makes them not want to change. Fear of an unknown is one of the drivers of racism (in my humble opinion).
Can the fear about admitting climate change exists and not wanting to make the necessary changes be tied to a fear about and outsider taking our place? One woman brought up China, and how we need to find a way to be both competitive with China while at the same time finding solidarity with them as they fight climate change. But doesn’t that play into the idea that we would be funding our competitors, who happen to be of a different race, making the competition racially charged in some way?
These thoughts have been bouncing around in my head all day. I’m not sure if they made sense here, but I’d love to get this discussion going!
PS: I also think that gender plays a huge role in how we look at/talk about climate change. It is undeniable that women around the world are most affected by climate change. The profound gender inequalities in the developing world (and the developed world!!) make it difficult for those most affected to come forward or to have a hand in the solution. If white men were the most affected, we would have solved this problem a long time ago. The People’s Summit on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth that took place in Bolivia is the perfect example of how marginalized populations like men and women of color get locked out of the debates and even when they come together in full force, the Western world won’t listen.
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One Response to Race and Climate Change: Double the Fear?

  1. V says:

    The problem, I think, has less to do with actual racism than it does with a culture of American Exceptionalism – that the US empire is responsible for all things good in the world. Climate change is bad. Bad things do not happen because of the empire, only through misguided resistance to it. Therefore climate change should be of no concern. A good example of this exceptionalism is the denial amongst the primary culprits that they should pay climate debt to the regions that will be most affected.This is not to say that racist elements do not exist in the variations, particularly because apparently the global south is "responsible." It is the poor brown nations who need to change their ways, not the US. Or when climate change does happen, it will affect poor brown peoples, not the good hard working white folk. However, both of these positions are based on an acceptance that there is in fact a problem. Acceptance is not the same thing as caring. Outright denial is something else entirely. Having said that, climate change will certainly lead to even more colonial, racist, misogynist, and nativist beliefs.One last note, the idea of competing with China is completely ridiculous since the only way that we could "compete" (whatever that means) is if they continued to subsidize our inflated standard of living. Or if we move all of our production to some other poorer nation. Capitalism cannot solve the problems created by its own excesses, especially since it cannot even reign in those excesses on its own.

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