It’s publication day for Climate Change is Racist: Race, Privilege and the Struggle for Climate Justice.
The book is published by Icon Books and it’s available from today in the UK (and in a couple of months in the US and elsewhere), and if it isn’t in your local bookshop, ask them why not.
I only signed the contract for the book in January, so Icon have done a remarkable job in turning this around and getting it out there in less than six months. We wanted the book to be accessible to everyone as soon as possible, so we’ve gone straight to paperback and ebook, and with an audiobook version to follow soon.
Climate Change is Racist is, first and foremost, a book I wanted to read more than a book I wanted to write. I wanted to know more about how climate change intersected with racism, and I couldn’t find a book that provided the kind of global overview I was looking for. There were articles and interviews online, but nothing longer. Those books that did deal with the subject were based in specific incidents, particularly Hurricane Katrina, and were more about local injustices than global ones. The book I was after did not exist, and it occurred to me that maybe I ought to write it myself.
There were many reasons why I didn’t want to do that. My expertise, such as it is, is in sustainability and not in race. I didn’t know enough, and it was well outside my comfort zone. I knew it would be difficult, and that there are sensitivities in writing about race that I didn’t want to get wrong. It can also be controversial, and the book would inevitably get strong reactions. I didn’t necessarily want to get involved. Perhaps most importantly, I wasn’t sure the book was mine to write. I thought it would be better coming from a writer of colour.
I changed my mind of course. I came to realise that the freedom to duck the race debate is the epitome of white privilege. And if climate change is racist, it’s white people who have the work to do. I have to take responsibility for that, and so it absolutely is my book to write. Most of all, if climate change really was racially charged in the way I had come to understand, then it was far too important to keep quiet about. I couldn’t not write about it.
Helpfully, I also came to see that I have something unique to offer. As a British writer with roots in Madagascar and Kenya, I wasn’t going to come at the topic the same way as anyone else. The conversation about climate and race is dominated by American commentators who I respect and admire and who feature in the book – but the American race story is not universal. I wanted to feature a truly international range of examples, with lots of African voices, and produce something that would complement the work of others and not compete with it.
Finally, I decided to write a short book – something that was making no attempt to be comprehensive or to have the final word. It is full of the work of others, people I have been inspired by and who are much closer to the solutions than I am. It aims to raise some questions, and provoke discussion rather than offer easy answers.
Fundamentally, the connection between climate change and race is a conversation that we need to have. This is my part in that conversation, and for all the years of thinking about this it really begins today, with publication. If you want me to write something for your publication, I can do that. If you want me to come and talk to your organisation, class, church, or podcast, let’s set something up. Whether you agree or disagree with me, let’s talk about climate and race.