The Shell oil rig that was parked in the harbor of Seattle, the Polar Pioneer, which the corporation was attempting to ship to the Arctic off the coast of Alaska is a continuation of the colonialism, capitalism, liberalism, and oppression of indigenous peoples, and people of color throughout the entire planet. The rig was stopped from drilling in the arctic as a result of a concerted effort by climate justice activists and lobbyists. However, if Shell had gained access to that deposit of oil it is guaranteed that we were to cross over the two degree threshold the IPCC has outlined as the point of no return before we enter into a negative-feedback-loop of climate change and global harm. Regardless of whether Shell and other corporations, governments, or individuals for that matter are ignorant or willfully denying the global impacts extractive practices and enterprises have, that does not absolve them of responsibility or of the blatant racism of their actions. The selfishness of those who benefit from extractive and exploitative practices, which become apparent when profit, the consolidation of power, and the control of resources is considered, is at the core of capitalism, colonialism and racism. Plainly put, this rampant disregard for the rights and the quality of life of indigenous people and people of color is Environmental Racism.
Now, most of the countries in Western Civilization have the resources, technology and infrastructure to protect their countries from the harms of climate change. But, the best scientific models do not identify the areas to be most impacted by climate change to be in the Global North, which are primarily populated by people who either are white or look white. The regions that will be most impacted by climate change will be in the Global South, which is populated primarily by people of color, many of who are indigenous peoples, who lack the resources, technology and infrastructure to mediate the harms that will result from climate change.
It is not only apathy or a lack of concern for particular communities that is the problem; it is the blatant oppression and harm to particular communities that is the problem. What Shell and other fossil fuel companies are engaged in is Environmental Racism. When people in America hear the term racism, they tend to think of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), of Jim Crow and segregation with all its relevant signage, or of Slavery. When people in America think of the consequences of racism they tend to think of lynching—the extra -legal executions of people by mobs—police brutality, or events such as the Holocaust or the genocide that occurred in Rwanda.
What is distinct about the list above is that they are all easy to identify, they all possess the characteristic of a particular individual or group as being the cause of the harm done. To flesh that out, the person or group responsible for the harm is seen in proximity to the person or group that is harmed. For example, in these recent police shootings of Black People that are plaguing our country, we can easily trace the path of the bullet from the gun it was fired from, which includes the person who pulled the trigger, to the person who was shot. A person with no scientific experience could identify this.
Climate Change on the other hand, has an issue of proximity, wherein the cause 'seems,' and only seems, to be dislocated from the harm that is done. Nothing about the atmosphere occurs in isolation, there is not microcosm about emitting metric tons of carbon on one side of the globe; as to imply that it will not affect the other side of the globe. A teeter-totter is a prime example and elementary algebra is another; what is done to one side of the equation directly affects what occurs on the other. However, regardless of the distance or the time between the cause and the effect, that does not absolve the causal chain and responsibility of what is done on one side of the globe.
The largest consumers—which, includes both corporations and individuals—of fossil fuel are those in Western Civilizations, such as, the United States, which has a carbon footprint of 4 Earths. What that means is that if everyone on the planet were to consume resources at the rate at which US citizens do, that it would require four earths worth of resources to meet that demand. While conversely, countries such as Ethiopia have a carbon footprint of 0.80. Thus, the largest production and emission of carbon is coming from countries such as the US, which is being supplied by companies like Shell at rates vastly surpassing those of countries not counted as being members of Western Civilization.
When carbon is emitted into the atmosphere it is distributed throughout the globe creating a sort of insulating blanket that locks in the heat that our planet naturally receives from the sun in terms of solar energy. This is a naturally occurring phenomenon that has been cycling for billions of years, but since the Industrial Revolution in the 19th & 20th Centuries in many Western Civilization countries, we have exacerbated and augmented this naturally occurring process and exponentially increased the rate at which the insulating blanket of carbon dioxide gas is consolidating in the atmosphere. The best scientists in overwhelming consensus (approximately 98%) have identified a two degree limit—which, could result in plus or minus 25 degrees in different regions throughout the planet. The IPCC or the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change provided this research and the consequences of not changing our collective and individual behavior to our governments. The results will be desertification, such as what has been occurring in the ecoclimatic and biogeographic zone of the Sahel on the African continent; the depletion of water resources, such as what is occurring to Lake Mead in Nevada; and the rising ocean levels, which is resulting from the melting of the polar ice caps and will submerge many coastal regions around the globe.
Here it is prudent to incorporate into this analysis the effects of colonialism, its offspring Capitalism, and its foundation of Liberalism and hierarchical structures of power and control of resources. Indigenous peoples throughout the planet have been held in a subjugated position for centuries, and have been continuously denied the ability to develop their own infrastructures and economies. Each time they have attempted to throw off the oppressive reality, they have been confronted with state sanctioned violence usually in terms of a military force, but often times in the form of police institutions suppressing their assertions of autonomy and independence from Western Civilization. For example, the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua (1970s), or the Algerian Revolution (1950s and 60s) represent instances that indigenous people rose up to challenge their oppressors and were met with brutal forces. Anti-Colonial and Anti-Capitalism movements are nothing new and have been occurring since the advent of colonialism. However, much like the continuous struggle for liberation and full-citizenship of African Americans in the United States is silenced in popular discourse and education so are most of the indigenous struggles to topple the paternalism they suffer under and to escape the occupations of colonizing countries.
The lengths to which the government and its tool of indoctrination, the public school system is willing to go to restrict access to this truth take Tupac Shakur for instance. He was named in honor of Tupac Amaru, who was an indigenous revolutionary in Peru in 1780-1781 which at the time was under the colonial rule of Spain. The Crown dispatched a treacherous, rapacious, villainous, genocidal army who murdered the indigenous population of the Andes indiscriminately to suppress the uprising. This was followed by the disbanding and rewriting of the history of the Inca people and the Tawantinsuyu Empire that the Spanish Empire 'conquered' in South America. The government, the state, would like the people to believe that the indigenous people, first of all, no longer exist in the lands of their ancestors; and second, that they consented to their lands being stolen and their brethren being viciously exterminated because it makes occupying our lands much more palatable for the average American.
It is not the case that if indigenous people had only 'assimilated' into Western Civilization or 'made their own way' that they too would have the resources, technology and infrastructure to mediate the harms of climate change; harms which they are not responsible for. Many tribal nations in the United States and Canada during the nineteenth century attempted just that and the outcome was not any different. The United States Congress in contradiction of what the U.S. Constitution purports has not made the treaties it signed with tribal nations the “supreme law of the land.” The U.S. Congress has instead instituted the Doctrine of Discovery and plenary power of congress—which is the ultimate and unquestioned authority over subordinated peoples—into the U.S. law. So that even when a treaty guaranteed a tribal nation, such as the Colville Confederation in eastern Washington, a claim to the ownership of land that ownership could be subjugated at the discretion of the United States president. This was the case during the 1930s when the Grand Coulee Dam was being constructed that after its completion in the early 1940s submerged the town of Inchelium, which displaced hundreds of natives without their consent. The dam furthermore, also interrupted the annual salmon runs up the rest of the Columbia River destroying the way-of-life of many people and violating the treaties agreed to in the mid-nineteenth century. In addition, there have been countless cases of natives assimilating into American, Canadian, or a colonial culture, such as Rudolph Walton in Sitka, Alaska during the late nineteenth century who were denied full citizenship. Walton had converted to the Methodist religion and owned a shop, payed taxes and lived in a house in town, but when he wanted his children to be able to attend the white school the court denied that he was assimilated enough to guarantee his family that right. The arguments of assimilation were arbitrary and did not actually apply when questions of control of resources arose, so it is not the case that if indigenous people had simply assimilated that they would not be suffering lack of control of resources, access to technology, or control of resources.
There is no such thing as Reverse Racism and for many (myself included) the very term is repugnant. The argument that reverse racism is a thing first and foremost acknowledges that racism exists. The second thing acknowledged is that it does cause harm, and this is revealed by the fact that the perpetrators of it do not want the effects of racism done to them because of its harmful characteristics. And third, it acknowledges that they do not want to do anything to change the impacts of racism because the argument is usually made in response to a suppressed people or their allies promoting some project, policy, practice, or legislation to make the system more equitable.
A person who benefits from the hierarchical system of power that stratifies and relegates particular groups to positions of inferiority does not need to be cognizant of the benefit they receive from the system to benefit from it. Often times this is termed privilege and it could be male privilege, or more relevant to this discussion, white privilege. The fact of the matter is that a person or a group is privileged when they do not have to consider the impacts of the constraints that a person from a marginalized group do. For example, most men often do not have to be concerned with whether or not they will be raped if they decide to walk to the store at night. People in many Western Civilizations do not have to be—at least not at this moment and to the degree that people from the Global South are—concerned with desertification because much of our commodities used for consumption are imported. Sarra Tekola has says that climate change denial is a “white privilege” because white people often do not have to be conscious or cognizant of the impacts of climate change, given that they are not in the Global South.
This now brings us full-circle back to the issue of causality and the fact that the Global North is engaged in Environmental Racism against the Global South. Racism does not require that the person or group responsible for the discrimination be conscious or cognizant of the thoughts or practices they are engaged in that is causing harm to others. Furthermore, racism does require a system of hierarchical power that stratifies and relegates particular groups of people to positions of inferiority. Western Civilizations and the corporations that are instituted in them maintain control of a system of power, which relegates people of the Global South to positions of inferiority. Moreover, these corporations, the governments under whose jurisdiction they reside, and the United Nations, dispossess indigenous people and people of color of their rights to sovereignty and self-determination, disregard their concerns, and impose industries, practices, laws, and environmental degradations upon them that they have neither the power, nor the authority to overcome. Climate change is horrendous enough, and a problem of such paramount proportions that exposing the racism inherent in the phenomenon can make it seem insurmountable.
However, I have reiterated many issues that my predecessors have already given voice to; namely, rights of sovereignty, rights of self-determination, and indigenous control of resources that are systematically denied within the current national and international legal framework our country and planet now operate under, that if changed, could lead to dramatic shifts in the direction our practices are currently leading us. Patriarchy and anti-blackness are at the core of Environmental Racism and most other forms of oppression. So, by challenging and changing those ideologies and the subsequent disregard for people that result from them, much of the institutionalized discrimination ubiquitous in our system we could solve many of the social, economic, and environmental concerns we have today. Not to mention, that people would feel more empowered and free to act to improve their conditions. For example, there are many alternatives that have already been created and that are being created today, which could replace the extractive and exploitative practices with all their respective harms that we as a civilization could implement, if we would only permit them. The majority do not have to suffer, so that the minority can live more comfortably for a short time. We have a duty and an obligation to ourselves and our progeny to solve the problems before us while they are still our responsibility to do so and it is within our capacity to do something about them.
I understand why you might have felt like this did not concern you before,
They had us tricked, they had us believing climate change only effected polar bears,
And environmental issues were something only rich yuppies were to be concerned with,
But they were wrong, this effects you, this effects us all,
But it's effecting the poorest and most vulnerable the hardest, and it's happening now,
And we are all responsible, some of us more than others,
And since it took all of us to create this problem, it will take all of us to solve it,
It will take collective action to change our culture
From consumerism to community driven
From fossil fuel to fossil free
We can create this green economy
The climate is broken, 2 degrees of change
CO2 and fossil fuel, now come to be the bane
Of human existence, acid falling with the rain
Lakes are drying up, tides are rising in the bays
Sea walls are failing, Katrina, hurricane
And islands disappearing, underneath the waves
As the temperature rises, still dealing with disguises
For the truth, not peeping all the facts of the science
Economic spendin, needin power for the mendin
The government relentless in its aim to defend it
But we're over using carbon sinks, push us to the brink
Yet what will we think, when half the Tropics, go extinct
Can't convert the air we breathe, dealing with the enemy
Droughts become a common thing, stopping folks from growing wheat
Now we're starving, can't compete
Global markets, looking bleak
Farmlands turn to deserts only the rich can take the heat
The problem is unfortunate, the ones most responsible
The ones least impacted, nominal, demonstrable
Carbon foot print, we're using four earths worth
Of our resources, we're made consumers from birth
For the heat, the lights, the tv nights
Fast food, cheap gas, precooked rice
Cell phones, new clothes, boxing fights
Seahawks, loan sharks, all our lives
But over consumin the people that's doin the work we need to grow our food
We quicken to ruin while steady pursuin not payin no heed to slow the crude
Oil from spillin, gases, hit the ceilin
Atmosphere, limits revealing
Tragedy, the Commons appealing, dilemma the heart of the villain
It's killin the drive, the motive desire
To make a change, when people free-ride
Acting in their self-interest while discounting the public's
The government must assert its influence
Limit production, laden with taxes,
Research, develop, along renewable's axis
Revealing the truth of the cost of our actions
It's only a burden so long as we lack it
But reeling the slack in, unveiling the package
We're killin ourselves while practicing frackin
How can we fight against a problem so embedded in our system
When the victories we win are barely treating all the symptoms
And why are politicians able to deny with conviction
While climate champions in congress be playing the victims
The divisions a sick one, and points to one solution
With citizen's initiative, we can limit our pollution
And every single person chipping in their contribution
We can begin to take our power back and build the revolution
Through protests and petitions, we'll hit the streets with a mission
Use our passions to convey not just a crisis, but vision
Of a future where the people make the final decision
About the health and equity of the world we want to live in
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