Still In Denial about Climate, and Racism

July 19, 2019

Years ago, I was the only one talking about the all-too-obvious relationship between racism, misogyny, and climate denial.

So, do we get it now?

Above, 2013 interview with General Colin Powell, who was once a mainstream Republican, focuses on the racism thing – but towards the end at 10:30 points out, oh yeah, the party is wrong about climate, too.

The Atlantic:

“I don’t believe it,” President Donald Trump said in response. “No. No. I don’t believe it.”

I have heard this before. I can relate.

“No. No. I’m not racist,” Trump has said repeatedlyEvidence be damned.

I feel how climate scientists probably feel when they hear Trump and others disbelieve what their scientific community says is beyond disbelief. Scholars of racism watch as individuals dismiss our scientific consensus as casually as they form a consensus of disbelief. Climate and racial scientists watch as the denials of climate change and racism combine for the denial that “marginalized” communities of color “are expected to experience greater impacts,” as foretold in the Fourth National Climate Assessment.

The disbelievers do not believe that either climate change or racism is real. Or they do not believe they are caused by emissions of greenhouse gases or racist policies. Or they do not believe that regulating them would be better for society.

All this disbelief rests on the same foundation: the transformation of science into belief. It is a foundation built from the economic, political, and ideological blocks that stand the most to lose from the aggressive reduction of carbon-dioxide emissions and racial inequities.

These defensive voices engage in the same oratorical process, attack the credibility of scientists, disregarding their consensus and reducing their findings to personal beliefs.

The effect: Science becomes belief. Belief becomes science. Everything becomes nothing. Nothing becomes everything. All can believe and disbelieve all. We all can know everything and know nothing. Everyone lives as an expert on every subject. No experts live on any subject. Years of intense and specialized training and research and reflection are abandoned, like poor Latino immigrants, like the poor body of our planet.

Instead of trained racial researchers, individuals decide whether they are racist, whether their ideas are racist, whether their policies are racist, whether their institutions are racist. Instead of trained climate researchers, individuals decide whether that worst-ever natural disaster, whether that record temperature, whether that rising sea level is caused by climate change. The great confrontations of our time are not between scientists, but between individual beliefs and scientific knowledge.

How many Americans, as they strive to be balanced and objective and bipartisan, to bring people together, think they can subscribe to both individual disbelief and scientific knowledge? How many Americans believe there are very fine ideas on both sides of these questions? How many Americans ask, “Do you think racism is still a problem?” or “Do you believe the globe is warming?” as if society should value ignorance in the face of scientific certainty.

I am relatively ignorant about climate science, and about every subject matter outside my own expertise of racism and anti-racism. The ridiculousness of climate-change denial is matched by the ridiculous of asking people like me whether we believe in climate change. The ridiculousness of denials of racism is matched by the ridiculousness of asking whether people believe in the persistence of racism.

And in their ridiculous answers to ridiculous questions, denialists evince more than disbelief. They explain their disbelief using examples in their direct line of sight. They do not trust the far-flung hindsight, foresight, and bird’s-eye view of the scientist. They do not believe the distant averages, likelihoods, disparities, and sweeping histories that show the ravages of racism and climate change on society. If it is not happening within their narrow field of vision, then it is not happening. They disbelieve. They call “believing” scientific findings stupid. They call their disbelief high intelligence.

“A lot of people like myself, we have very high levels of intelligence, but we’re not necessarily such believers,” Trump said of climate change. “You look at our air and our water, and it’s right now at a record clean.”

In disbelieving the present observable realities, they certainly disbelieve future projections. If they disregard the fact that white-nationalist violence has worsened and U.S. law enforcement does not know how to stop it, will they believe that it will get even worse? If they ignore the enormous racial disparities in wealth, will they accept the projection of the Institute for Policy Studies that the median wealth of black households will redline at $0 by 2053 and that Latino wealth will redline two decades later? If they cannot see the changing climate today, will they buy the assessment of the Fourth National Climate Assessment that “with continued growth in emissions at historic rates, annual losses in some economic sectors are projected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century—more than the current gross domestic product (GDP) of many U.S. states”?

6 Responses to “Still In Denial about Climate, and Racism”

  1. doldrom Says:

    Sceptical and wary as I am, I am always jealous of people who can manage to believe whatever suits them. While I don’t admire it, it often appears to me a blessing.

  2. dumboldguy Says:

    The more things change the more they stay the same—-in the original French, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”.

    So, do we get it now? Nope, the Powell clip is SIX years old, and things haven’t just stayed the same, they’ve gotten much worse. Powell’s comments are right on, and the Atlantic piece is terrific also.

    “The effect: Science becomes belief. Belief becomes science. Everything becomes nothing. Nothing becomes everything. All can believe and disbelieve all. We all can know everything and know nothing. Everyone lives as an expert on every subject. No experts live on any subject. Years of intense and specialized training and research and reflection are abandoned, like poor Latino immigrants, like the poor body of our planet”. That’s poetic, as is what follows.

    Hate to say it, but it looks like we are NEVER going to “get it” in time. Too bad.

  3. J4Zonian Says:

    But science, and more broadly fact and reality, [“racial scientists”?] become belief for reasons. Without explicitly pointing out those reasons, one hasn’t made the case that their coincidence is any more strongly linked or meaningful than anti-abortionism and climate denying delayalism, for example.

    In Don’t Think of an Elephant and other works George Lakoff talks about the constellation of issues and values cared about by conservatives vs. progressives. But he only goes as far as the cognitive links; to convincingly make the case that racism and climate denial are linked we need to be aware of the deeper psychological or somato-emotional reasons.
    http://www.markrkelly.com/Blog/2017/07/14/george-lakoff-on-the-conservative-moral-hierarchy/


  4. […] climate deniers have hated it when I’ve shown, again and again, that climate denial and racism seem joined at the hip. Almost as if there was some kind of structure in the Republican brain that […]


  5. […] made clear the connection between climate denial and racism many times.I’ve also mentioned misogyny, which is more in evidence this week with the arrival […]


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