Are whites bad for the environment?
Are whites bad for the environment? Do whites have a significantly higher carbon footprint than people of color?
– Just understand the systemic truths in the climate emergency
If you look at whose lives are most affected by the many harms of climate change, it’s clear that race matters. You can indicate the disproportionate suffering experienced by the black victims of Hurricane Katrina, the high proportion of Latino farm workers who suffer from heat stroke or worse each year, or the number of Indigenous lands contaminated by fossil fuel infrastructure. These examples are only from the United States, mind you, and not even a full list of wrongs! And the immediate question is: since whites are relatively protected from climate change, does this imply that they are the main perpetrators?
The answer is complicated. Whites are of course not a monolith. On one end of the spectrum, you have your white mega-billionaires with spectacularly high carbon footprints both in terms of personal lifestyle and professional influence on consumer culture. On the other side, you have the poor white population of, say, parts of West Virginia, whose bodies and hometowns have been completely decimated by the fossil fuel industry. The gap between these two groups might lead a non-critical observer to exclaim, Ah! This proves that race is only an indicator of class in this environmental equation!
Not exactly. Certainly came back is an important predictor of individual climate impact. It is a widely recognized and well documented fact that the more money you have, the higher your carbon footprint tends to be. A Analysis Oxfam and the Stockholm Environment Institute found that the richest 10 percent of the world’s income bracket is responsible for 46 percent of consumption-related emissions. And if you look at the distribution of where the richest people live, about half are in North America or the European Union. Much of the rest is in China and the Middle East. It turns out that the enormous wealth and extravagant consumption are not the exclusive origins of those of European origin.
But I can’t stress this enough: the existence of wealthy non-whites is not a counterpoint to the fact that the climate crisis has been strongly perpetuated by white Western European ideas about domination. (There are also no poor whites who suffer because of our climate-destructive economic system.) Across all social classes, Western Europe’s ideal of “success” relies heavily on extractive economies. , materialism and individualism – each a pillar. of the climate crisis. When we consider this foundation, it is no coincidence that almost all these mega-billionaires are white.
The origins of global warming are “rooted in a ‘I know better’ racism,” said Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute, a progressive think tank. This special sense of entitlement is a key principle of white supremacy.
Historically, Mittal explained, whites have long been so convinced of their own racial and cultural superiority that they completely ignore the harm they inflict on non-white people and their natural resources in the name of “civilization.” Examples abound: the industrial revolution (its associated emissions are widely regarded as the original sin of climate change); colonization, an invention of white West Europeans, which in addition to taking many native lives, destroyed much of the tribal management of vital ecosystems; the American promise of “freedom” which was, in fact, built on the backs of slaves.
“The tradeoff for this economical treadmill is that you are essentially sacrificing those who are at the bottom of the ladder and are not part of the consumption patterns” that are causing climate change, said Robert Bullard, sociologist and founder of the environmental justice movement. “And those who have the keys to success, they push pollution onto others. “
You can see that same system plays out today in the way communities of color continue to suffer the environmental consequences of the American consumerist lifestyle, often without enjoying its benefits. A recent study, for example, found that Asian, Black and Hispanic Americans breathe more polluted air than whites, which is by design. Heavily polluted shipping warehouses, industrial facilities and highways have all been systematically installed in non-white communities. And it’s no secret that white-controlled governments have worked very hard to suppress the votes of people of color to prevent them from reshaping this system. In fact, a lot are still there to this day!
The heart of your question, JUSTICE, is not whether every white person is bad for the planet. The question is whether it is possible to separate whites as individuals from the legacy whites favoring systems have left in the world. And that’s a very complicated prospect!
“It’s not that every white person walking around is like, ‘What am I going to do today to cause damage to Mother Earth? But that does not mean that whites do not benefit on a daily basis from the extractive and actively harmful systems erected by their ancestors, to the detriment of non-white neighbors. “It is a systemic responsibility for the so-called development created by the colonizers that is at the root of the climate crisis.”
I have heard many ostensibly well-meaning whites try to distance themselves from this colonial legacy with a version of “Well, it’s not like I’m here for any of this!”” But Doreen Martinez, a sociologist and professor of indigenous studies at Colorado State University, points out that clinging to the separation between individual and system – in this case – misses the point.
“The biggest thing we have to push is our responsibility, more than where we can relinquish that responsibility by making this separation,” she said.
On a personal note, I understand that this is a difficult concept to grasp. My own ancestors came to the United States in the mid-1700s, colonized the coast of North Carolina, owned slaves, and fought in the Civil War to protect their right to own slaves. They built an imperfect nation for their own benefit, and I had a privileged existence there because that’s how they wanted it to be. Even 250 years later, I understand that I have a responsibility to lend a hand to tear down these unjust systems and build something more equitable in their place.
If you are a white person reading this, it is important to realize that there is no one right way to right the racial and environmental wrongs accumulated by your ancestors over time, but there are many bad ones. directions. I’ve written so much about weighing individual responsibility in the climate crisis amid great systemic dysfunction – that’s more or less the central issue with every Umbra column. And it’s clear that focusing on reducing emissions from your own households just doesn’t go far enough to tackle the damage caused by environmental racism.
If I buy an electric vehicle, go vegan, put solar panels on my house, and compost, will I have done enough to offset this legacy and correct the climate crisis? Clearly enough, no. And besides, the only reason I could afford all the finery of a so-called low-carbon lifestyle would be because of the generational wealth obtained through the oppression of others and the extraction of natural resources.
It is not enough, as whites, to find out how to reduce our own carbon footprint – this has to happen alongside a restructuring of an economy that currently allows whites and the wealthy to have a disproportionate environmental impact while listening and listening. putting others in danger. One potential solution is the idea of climate repairs, which can take many forms – they don’t necessarily have to be cash payments to members of affected communities.
In one item for Foreign Policy, Georgetown University philosophers Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò and Beba Cibralic write: “Climate reparations are best understood as a systemic approach to redistributing resources and changing the policies and institutions that have perpetuated the damage.” . For example, both are calling for reforming the current international refugee housing system, calling on wealthy countries to house migrants rather than denying them entry or relegating them to camps. They also suggest that industrialized countries dramatically increase their contributions to a Green Climate Fund that would help the poorest and most frontline countries mitigate and adapt to climate change.
I would like to leave you with this thought of Doreen Martinez which marked me, certainly with regard to the role of my own lineage in the perpetuation of the climate crisis: a way of being, a way of treating the earth. It’s not just about bringing up those stories and injustices, but asking, “What have you changed because of them? “”