For those imagining the open air as a place to fly free from whiteness, a college professor has wing-clipping news.
Writing for The Conversation, University of Melbourne Professor Erin Fitz-Henry shoots your hopes like skeet.
The Deputy Coordinator for U of M’s Anthropology, Development Studies & Social Theory department doesn’t mince words.
According to Erin:
Climate change is white colonization of the atmosphere.
She wants you to recognize what’s been recognized:
“Climate change is racist”. So reads the title of a recent book by British journalist Jeremy Williams. While this title might seem provocative, it’s long been recognized that people of color suffer disproportionate harms under climate change – and this is likely to worsen in the coming decades.
Rich, white countries, however, are “doing precious little to properly address this inequity.”
And the impact is egregious:
[T]fhey sentence millions of people to premature death, disability or unnecessary hardship. This includes in Australia, where climate change compounds historical wrongs against First Nations communities in many ways.
Erin pegs the “injustice” as “a type of ‘atmospheric colonization.'”
[It] is a form of deeply entrenched colonial racism that arguably represents the most pressing global equity issue of our time.
To be sure, climate change’s effects are “not borne equally between everyone on the planet, and this problem will only worsen.”
Particular victims: black people. Also: black people and other people who aren’t white. Additionally: indigenous people (who are not white):
Black people, people of color and Indigenous people often face the most dire consequences in a warming world.
Erin blames “global warming” for the future tragedy of undernourishment among “half of Africa’s population, due to reduced agricultural production.” This is especially unfair, she explains, since the continent has “contributed relatively little to greenhouse gas emissions.”
And yet, “[R]ich white countries continue to distance themselves from all language of compensation or reparation for both historic and contemporary emissions.”
Of course, particularly purported purveyors of climate calamity are India and China; perhaps they are white as well.
Either way, Erin contends that white countries’ lax attitude “continues long histories of European racism, including the deeply racialized processes of large-scale extraction that fueled and sustained the Industrial Revolution from the outset.”
You can trace it back to slavery:
Sugar plantations throughout the Caribbean were worked for generations by Africans who were enslaved, generating massive profits for Europeans that were then invested and reinvested in energy-intensive industrial infrastructure. This infrastructure helped fuel the global emissions that remain in the atmosphere today.
Amid her climate claims, Erin manages a land acknowledgment:
British industrialization would simply not have been possible without the stolen land and uncompensated labour acquired through colonization and slavery. Compensation for this plunder was never provided.
White-wrought racism has certainly been implicated in a tremendous number of wrongs. Atmos- is only one of many invaded spheres. And everyone’s trying to defeat the devil differently:
Erin’s not the first person to wring white supremacy for environmental ills. In 2019, Democratic presidential hopeful Julián Castro decried the racism of weather:
Julián Castro says his plan calls for new civil rights legislation to address environmental racism. “I know that too often times it’s people who are poor, communities of color, who take the brunt of storms that are getting more frequent and more powerful.” #ClimateTownHall pic.twitter.com/0kK3mrBGqg
— CNN (@CNN) September 4, 2019
Erin notes that some “European states have begun to take responsibility and provide redress for colonial theft, violence and displacement.” Those actions “are laudable.”
However, “there’s an urgent need to focus this sentiment on climate change — and in particular, to supercharge demands for climate reparations.”
Will such reparations ever occur? Will only white people be forced to pay them, though the “rich” countries have citizens of all shades? After all, governments don’t have money; citizens do.
Such questions remain unanswered.
“Going into [the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference] in November,” Erin says, “negotiators from the US, the EU and Australia must prioritize loss-and-damage finance. Failing to do so will only further solidify climate injustice.”
In the meantime, it seems not only has the climate changed, but words and their meanings as well: Things caused by places that are predominantly white…are racist.
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