Got a question about the book or its contents? Here are some questions I’ve been asked before. If yours isn’t among them, please post it in the comments and I’ll add it in.
What has race got to do with climate change?
Climate change has been disproportionately caused by majority White countries of the global north, but those most affected are people of colour in the global south. And if something divides along racial lines, then that thing is racist – whether or not there was any kind of intent. A growing number of people and organisations are recognising the racial dimension of climate change.
How can climate change be racist?
When we talk about racism, we often mean personal prejudice. Climate change isn’t that kind of racist – it’s structurally racist. Long term inequalities are reflected and reinforced by climate change, and that means there are different outcomes for white people and people of colour. (See my article on four kinds of racism)
Where can I find out more about climate and race?
There are hundreds of articles, essays, speeches, reports, podcasts and other things out there, from a huge number of inspiring people – many of them people of colour or indigenous voices with far more important perspectives than mine. You’ll find a list here, and look out for forthcoming books by Vanessa Nakate, Aja Barber and Mya Rose Craig that look set to add to this important conversation.
Why are you claiming this is the first book on climate and race?
As far as I’m aware this is the first book to focus specifically on the intersection of global climate change and race, written for a general readership. I looked long and hard for a book on this topic, and the fact that I couldn’t find one is the main motivation for writing it. If you know of any, tell me about them in the comments, because I want to read them! There are of course lots of books that mention climate and race, or that are closely related – particularly in the field of environmental justice. I draw on these sources extensively, could not have written the book without them, and the book signposts dozens of important writers and thinkers of colour.
Why have you written this, as a white man?
I can understand concerns that my book represents a white author’s perspective on climate and race. I share those concerns, and I debated with myself for years over whether or not this was my book to write. Ultimately racism is not an issue for people of colour to fix, any more than sexism is a women’s issue. It’s White men like me who have the most work to do, and I need to step up and take responsibility for structural racism. That’s why the book explores climate privilege and the deep roots of climate change in colonialism and empire, because these are the kinds of things I have to take responsibility for. As you will discover when you read it, the book is also full of BIPOC writers and voices.
Why have you used the term …. / not used the term …?
Language around race is tricky and I won’t have got everything right! There are also competing ideas that kind of put writers in a difficult position. For example, I’ve read good arguments for capitalising terms like ‘Black’ and ‘White’, and do so in the book. I’ve also read good arguments for not doing so, also from people of colour. I’m not going to get this right for everybody, but I am committed to listening and learning. What is important to remember is that while language matters, real change happens at the level of policy and that is where we should direct our energies.
Does it matter that climate change is racist, if we’re committed to action anyway? I have had some people ask if raising the issue of race makes climate change more contentious, at a time when we’re trying to build unity and support for climate action. But racism has already shaped international responses to climate change. If it remains invisible in the debate, it will continue to shape our response and that will only compound existing injustices and inequalities. As I describe in the book, the racial aspect of climate change is a continuation of previous racial injustices, so there’s really no teasing it apart from wider issues of justice.