Climate Change Is Racist – Review

Climate Change Is Racist: Race, Privilege and the Struggle for Climate Justice, by Jeremy Williams, June 2021. Icon Books, ISBN: 978-1785787751, 208 pages. RRP £8.99 (paperback)

This book was published in the summer of 2021 and would have made excellent preparatory reading for anyone wanting to make sense of some of the behind the headlines negotiations at the COP 26 gathering in Glasgow. Much of the coverage of that event focused on what was eye and ear catching and many of the representatives from countries already reeling under the impact of climate change rarely made centre stage. The COP 26 Coalition, which united indigenous activists, civil society campaigners, trade unionists and many others did sterling lobbying work to keep climate justice centre stage but their voice was rarely heard in the mainstream coverage. When you have read Jeremy Williams’ book you will begin to see that this was no accident but reflects the biases built into many of the debates around climate change.

This book is an excellent introduction to the issues at stake. Jeremy Williams says in his preface that he wanted to keep it short and he is true to his word. However, this is not at the expense of a careful and well-crafted presentation of the issues. He is clear that climate justice is the great moral challenge of our time and he makes a powerful case for it. The book opens with some statistics – enough and sufficiently referenced to be convincing but not overwhelming, which tackle the question of who causes climate change and who suffers from it. Two striking maps at the beginning stake out the territory, highlighting the huge imbalance between those countries who produce CO2 emissions and those countries that are most vulnerable to climate change. The maps suggest that climate change is predominantly caused by the richest and suffered by the poorest – the economic injustice of climate change. But the maps also reveal that those most vulnerable to climate change are people of colour, whereas those who cause climate change are white. This is the racial injustice of climate change.

He tells us about the different shapes of racism – individual, institutional and structural – in clear and unambiguous terms, making it clear that it is structural racism that defines the racism of climate change; not any particular group of individuals making conscious choices or decisions but rather how the system is hardwired. In equally brief but incisive chapters, he traces the roots of climate injustice through slavery, colonialism and empire and shows how climate change further reinforces the existing patterns of inequality and disadvantage. Intersectionality is the concept used for describing what Williams calls overlapping patterns of disadvantage and he helpfully unpacks what this term means and how it can be useful in deepening our understanding.

Williams also writes about ways ahead; for example, struggles being united like the Green New Deal / Sunrise movement, or in this country the recognition of the intertwining of climate justice and migrant justice. He has no patience for pessimism – that is an unaffordable luxury; in the last chapters he gives ways that we can get informed and get involved. One way would be to read this excellent book. 

Jonathan Morris



Author: Ed Beale | Date: 27 April, 2022 | Category: Book Reviews | Comments: 0

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