climate change equality race

The colour of climate change

Last year I wrote this post about two-tone representations of the earth, and how they obscure the unequal impacts of climate change. It’s an idea that gets a one line mention in the book, but one that a few people have picked up on when I’ve used it in talks or conversations – including at the Geographical Association conference. When they subsequently invited me to pitch something to their journal, I thought it would be a good opportunity to test the idea in a more academic context.

The article was accepted, and published last week in the latest issue of Geography: The colour of climate change: making the racial injustice of climate change visible.

In summary, depictions of planet Earth are often simplified to green continents on blue oceans. You’ll see this at every environmental protest, on the logos of green NGOs, or children’s pictures of the planet. It’s a visual shorthand of course, and not to be taken too literally. But given how ubiquitous it is, we ought to consider how it might accidentally universalise a white and western perspective of the Earth. Not all the earth’s continents are green, and they are greenest where the people are white.

This effect is evident in language too, when writers use ‘we’ to create a sense of a common human experience – something David Attenborough does consistently, for example. This adds to a wider list of ‘Eurocentric’ geographical perspectives, which includes things like dividing all time zones relative to London, or the naming conventions of East and West.

These perspectives can hide the fact that the world is not all green, and that the effects of climate change will be very different in less temperate places. These inequalities also fall along a different colour line, with people of colour much more likely to suffer the effects of climate breakdown.

If you want to read more, the full article is here – academic subscriptions may apply.

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