climate change race social justice

10 quotes on climate and race

The connections between climate change and race are not something that’s well understood, and some people are cynical about the whole idea. “Did you know that climate change was racist?” wrote Rod Liddle in The Sun. “I suppose it had to be, didn’t it? I mean everything else is racist.”

Liddle seems to assume that people want climate change and race to be connected, as if that would be a right on and woke thing to believe, whether or not it’s true. But while the connections are not yet general knowledge, lots of people have highlighted them and I thought I’d share some quotes.

For a start, race campaigners have made the connection, such as Alexandra Wanjiku Kelbert of Black Lives Matter UK, who says bluntly that “climate change is a racist crisis.” Dr Ted Landsmark, a professor of Public Policy, notes that this is a widely held view among young people. “Among youths of colour, the climate crisis is now viewed as an existential threat that is directly linked to economic and racial justice.”

Older civil rights voices agree. Rev Gerald Durley marched with Martin Luther King and acknowledges that “I never could have conceived of becoming a champion for climate change… But, I have had a change of heart. Climate change is a civil rights issue.”

Working in the other direction, climate campaigners are recognising that there is a racial dynamic to climate change. Al Gore for instance, former US vice president and champion of climate action, is clear that “the need for climate action is bound together with the struggle for racial equality and liberation.”

There’s a joining together here, as Jennie Stephens highlights in her book Diversifying Power. “A shift is occurring as social justice activists are leveraging the climate emergency to address social justice and climate activists are leveraging Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, and other social justice movements to motivate climate action.”

This is a challenge to the environmental movement, which might be more comfortable keeping racism out of it. “These things, to me, are connected” says the activist Elizabeth Yeampierre. “It’s comfortable for people to separate them, because remember that the environmental movement, the conservation movement, a lot of those institutions were built by people who cared about conservation, who cared about wildlife, who cared about trees and open space and wanted those privileges while also living in the city, but didn’t care about black people. There is a long history of racism in those movements.”

The roots of environmentalism are in nature and wildlife, and the environmental justice aspects are often sidelined. The justice campaigner Asad Rehman talks about the problematic narratives within environmentalism, and how they can accidentally obscure questions of justice: “One is the idea of global catastrophe, that all of us are all on the proverbial Titanic and it has hit the climate iceberg. In reality we may all be on the Titanic, but it’s the rich, white industrialised countries who are on the top deck, sipping their cocktails, listening to the orchestra and waiting for some technological fix to save them, whilst in the hold of the Titanic are black, brown, indigenous people, poor brown and black people from the Global South, who are already drowning, and when they try and flee, they find that the escape hatch is bolted.”

This is a challenge to white environmentalists such as myself. “To white people who care about maintaining a habitable planet, I need you to become actively anti-racist” says the marine biologist Ayana Elizabeth Johnson. “I need you to understand that our racial inequality crisis is intertwined with our climate crisis. If we don’t work on both, we will succeed at neither.”

Bringing these issues together puts a different spin on climate denial or delay. Race scholar Ibram X Kendi points out that “do-nothing climate policy is racist policy, since the predominantly non-White global south is being victimized by climate change more than the Whiter global north, even as the Whiter global north is contributing more to its acceleration.”

On the other hand, if there’s a connection between climate and race, then well constructed policies can tackle both together. Climate journalist Eric Holthaus suggests that through empire and extractivism, “racism brought us the climate crisis, and it will take transformative anti-racism to solve it.”

Crossposted on Planet of Privilege, a collection of my articles on race and climate on Medium.


  1. The risk trying to leverage any issue, no matter how important you think it is, off the climate crisis is that those who disagree with that issue will be less prepared to support you on the climate.

    Environmental issues have already been hijacked by left wingers economically, making it a racially charged one too risks increasing resentment and resistance and makes concensus on necessary environmental policies harder to achieve.

    Do you want to feel just and righteous or do you want to do all you can to tackle the climate crisis because I don’t think you can do both via this path.

    I’m not saying that you shouldn’t campaign for what you see as racial justice, but don’t try to create some test that you have to take the knee to tackle environmental issues.

    1. I agree that there’s no point in ‘making it racially charged’. That would indeed be unnecessary and an odd thing to do. The point is that it already is racially charged. It’s just that white people are probably going to be the last to realise it.

      Hailing from Africa as I do, my basis for this is the global injustice of climate change and its effects on those who did little to cause it, not identity politics or political correctness.

      1. Bad white people.

        Not divisive at all. And those lectured and shamed for the actions of their ancestors will never respond in the privacy of the polling booth. Politics firstly involves the ability to count. If 85% of the electorate are going to be the last to realise something you’ve got a long wait.

        1. ‘Bad’ and ‘shame’ are your words, not mine.

          Of course white citizens of the global north are going to be the last to recognise it – middle Englanders like me are going to be among the last people in the world to be affected by climate change. That’s a statement of fact, not a moral judgement.

          The question that matters is what we do now that we know about the injustice. Are we going to take responsibility and do something about it? Or are we going to be defensive?

          And this is a point for you specifically: are you going to discuss the reality of who is most responsible for climate change and who is bearing the most risk? Or are you only interested in speculating about the motives of the people raising the question?

          1. If we tackle climate change then the by-product will be to reduce that racial inequity. So you don’t need to explicitly link racial justice. Especially if the type of racial justice you are talking about it that proposed by most of the people you quoted above who would end up stoking racial tensions rather than moving to any justice.


            But as I said the question is do you want to actually solve climate change? You can build wide coalitions or you can play to a narrow gallery.

          2. Do you want progress on fighting climate change? You need to build as wide a coalition as possible. Which means keeping a narrow focus on that so as not to alienate potential supporters. I find if I upset people they don’t then back me when I ask them to make sacrifices.

            This is a do you want feel good or do you want to win choice.

            Of course campaign on racial justice if you wish but keep it separate. You try to leverage one with the other and it will backfire on both.

            1. And yet in the post I quoted a black climate scientist saying the opposite: “I need you to understand that our racial inequality crisis is intertwined with our climate crisis. If we don’t work on both, we will succeed at neither.”

              It’s worth remembering that globally, white folks are in the minority. So keeping silent on injustices that affect billions of people is no way to build broad coalitions.

          3. These decisions are made politically by national governments. You can wish tgat way but that’s just fantasy.

            By the way if you are going down the fashionable Critial Race Theory thing of making everything about race it’s ‘folx’ not ‘folks. More intersectional or some such.

          4. The only people who use ‘folk’ as a collective noun are those who subscribe to Critical Theory. You clearly have immersed yourself in it consciously or unconsciously. I tried to warn you.


            And it isn’t a joke that many of them use “folx” as its more ‘inclusive’. The whole theory would be a joke if it wasn’t so destructive and divisive.

            I’ll stick to rationality myself.

            1. I’ve spent three years reading around racism and never once come across the expression ‘folx’. A quick google of the term tells me it’s associated with gender dialogue, not race, and thus confirms that you don’t know what you’re on about.

              As this shows, you have a bundle of predictable secondhand opinions about what you think the race literature says. You’ve written off a ‘whole theory’ that you’ve never read and don’t understand.

              If you want to have a grown up conversation about this, do us both a favour and actually read a book on race. Try Ibram Kendi’s ‘How to be Anti-racist’. It’s well written and engaging, and it doesn’t say what you think it does.

          5. I think we both might have predictable opinions. Yours are fashionably progressive, mine are less fashionable but perhaps more enduring.

            Perhaps I was teasing you with folx but you clearly are only reading one side on this, otherwise you wouldn’t be absorbing the CRT idiom. It’s a fundamentally irrational and illiberal way of thinking. It’s also counterproductive and likely to produce a reaction which is what some of its proponents want (trained Marxists of BLM UK for example).

            Does Kendi’s book recommend making a government department to judge all policies and private sector by racial outcomes? Does he divide everyone into a racists and anti-racists; anyone who isn’t signed up to his thinking being a racist? That’s my reading. I’d say that’s all deeply divisive, puts race at the centre of everything and bound to alienate large parts of society. How any of that is good is beyond me.

            You can tell me my whiteness is showing but as I said I can count, not having had my maths recolonised yet.

            This all distracts from tackling actual disparities between different groups in society. But it’s great social signalling.

            1. Yes, “tackling actual disparities between different groups in society”, let’s do that. You’re the one who keeps bringing up idiom, and your perceived disagreements with books that you haven’t read.

              PS – what’s a “trained Marxist?”

          6. We won’t tackle inequalities in our society by importing the racial arguments from another very different country. And going back to the start, it’s best to keep issues separate. Bringing American racial thinking over to the Uk, fixing it to a deeply contested ideology and trying to force one issue through on the back of another will make it harder, not easier to tackle the problems in the UK.

            Trained Marxist is how the founders of BLM US described themselves.

          7. All politics is local, or certainly national. Global action is made up by cooperation of nations. Issues of racial inequality are mostly national, there might be similarities but also big differences and so we should avoid reading over. Kendi might be right on the USA (disputed) but you can’t read him beyond that. That US authors are being set for European and beyond reading list as if those are the exact same problems here misdiagnoses.

            1. Finally we agree on something – yes, US race theory does not universally apply to the UK context, and it annoys me when commentators suggest it does.

              But I’m not doing that and so it’s a moot point. I’m writing about a global racist phenomenon.

              Not that you’ve engaged with that at all, as your concerns are more about ‘trained Marxists’, CRT and people from an entirely different debate who have invented the word ‘folx’.

              So I’m going to leave it there.

  2. It’s all propaganda. “They” depend upon the ill-informed, emotionally compromised, and rampant propaganda all about to effect their false narrative. Those who truly think for themselves can see right through.

  3. What we’re seeing, if only people realize, is a global effort at communism, puppet masters as the top. And they know how to push our buttons, manipulate, and this has been going on for a very long time. We are seeing a continuation of intense manipulation. What’s been happening the past four years in this country showed how desperate and determined “they” are.

      1. I know, from some people, my statements appear like that from another person who’s read too much and sees danger all around. The difference is years of noticing, wondering, then reading and listening, followed by a lot of research. This is something you and others have to do for yourselves, and only honesty will understand. Never attempt to convince anyone of anything. They have to discover for themselves. Just share, drop some seeds of information, and see if they grow. A lot of desserts out there.

          1. Okay, this will be my last entry. Read previous statements. Anyone really looking to understand will already have the answer to your question.

            1. That’s fine. I’m just trying to understand what led you to comment in the first place. If you read your first comment back, it isn’t clear whether you are in support or against what I wrote. But best wishes with the observing, reading, and seeking truth.

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