Karl-Anders Larsson, freelance writer and member of FUF's book club, reviews the book Climate Change is Racist, written by Jeremy Williams.


Is the climate crisis racist?

The book Climate Change is Racist claims that the causes and effects of the climate crisis are mainly linked to racism. But is it not more about inequality? It writes Karl-Anders Larsson, independent writer and member of FUF's book club.

In the debate about the crises of our time, there are often posts that link them to racism. The reasoning is that colonialism created an inequality between "whites" and "blacks", which has since continued to develop and is inherent in all relationships that are therefore to be regarded as racism. Trade, aid, investment, tourism are some examples that from this perspective can be seen as expressions of racism. Fundamental is the white supremacy and privileges that whites do not see because they are taken as a law of nature. It can only be experienced by blacks and the fight against this is the very idea of ​​a successful movement like Black lives matter (BLM).

With regard to climate change, this approach has been developed in a new book - Climate Change is Racist, written by Jeremy Williams. The paradox is that the author himself is a white man (but grew up in Africa). His message is that climate change is racist. He believes this is because both the causes and the effects are extremely unevenly distributed, albeit in reverse proportion. The rich countries are responsible for the dominant part of the causes - carbon dioxide emissions - while the poor countries are hardest hit by the effects. There is no difficulty in agreeing with this inequality and that it also shows an injustice. But how is it racist?

Williams believes that it is wrong to use such a popular term "Anthropocene", which implies that what is special about the climate changes of our time is that they are created by humanity. It is a certain part of humanity that bears the main blame and it is called for the sake of simplicity "the whites" and sometimes "white men". "Climate change is a White problem," he writes. The negative effects mainly affect another part of humanity which is referred to as "black" or sometimes "black women".

Williams writes about "Black suffering". He is aware that these are simplifications but still retains them as his main theme. Nor does he discuss in more detail about different shades of white and black or about countries such as China, Japan or those in the Middle East.

The book is not so much about climate issues, but mostly about the global system that was created through colonialism and the slave trade and which he believes still lives on through the effects it had on industrialization and trade and thus on climate change. It seems to be the same system that is often called post-colonialism. If one believes that this system dominates today's global relations, these are not only unequal and unfair, but also an expression of structural racism.

Regardless of the issue of racism, questions remain about responsibilities and obligations regarding climate change and how the cost of reducing the negative effects should be distributed. Implicit in the definition of racism is that the "whites" have a historical debt and therefore a responsibility to bear the costs. As long as nature's resources were assumed to be infinite, the problem was not noticed, but when the realization eventually came that there were limits, the question arose as to who would limit its use. One answer is that those who caused the problems have to pay the full cost, even if it happened when no one knew the effects. This would mean that the entire responsibility for reducing carbon dioxide emissions is placed on the countries that have emitted the most since industrialism began, ie mainly countries with a majority population that is "white".

Another version of justice could be to ignore history and aim for "equal shares for all". If we start from carbon dioxide emissions per capita today, there are great differences between countries. Redistributing the climate-limited emissions so that all countries end up at the same level would mean almost as large reductions for the "white" countries as in the anti-racist redistribution, but also large reductions in the Middle East and China. Such a system could be complemented by an international system for emissions trading and a system for assistance to poor countries' adaptation to climate change, similar to the UN Green Climate Fund, which supports developing countries in climate adaptation and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Thus, there are ways to take into account global inequality in climate change, without drawing on historical indebtedness and structural racism. This does not mean denying the existence of structural racism rooted in colonial history, but guilt and guilt may not be the most effective ways of tackling the gigantic problem of inequality that manifests itself in all global crises.

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