Never More Clear: Climate Denial’s Link to Racism

June 3, 2020

I’ve been saying this for a long time, finally folks catching up.
Climate denial is joined by bands of steel to racism. They always show up together. Always.
As good a time as any to discuss, I would say.

Start at about 4:00 in the video above, for example of Uber-denier “Lord” Christopher Monckton talking about President Obama’s supposedly fraudulent birth certificate – to obvious delight of a climate denial conference crowd.
Important point: Racism is not a bug in climate denial, it is an essential feature.

Ayana Elizabeth Johnson in the Washington Post:

Toni Morrison said it best, in a 1975 speech: “The very serious function of racism … is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being.” As a marine biologist and policy nerd, building community around climate solutions is my life’s work. But I’m also a black person in the United States of America. I work on one existential crisis, but these days I can’t concentrate because of another.

The sheer magnitude of transforming our energy, transportation, buildings and food systems within a decade, while striving to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions shortly thereafter, is already overwhelming. And black Americans are disproportionately more likely than whites to be concerned about — and affected by — the climate crisis. But the many manifestations of structural racism, mass incarceration and state violence mean environmental issues are only a few lines on a long tally of threats. How can we expect black Americans to focus on climate when we are so at risk on our streetsin our communities, and even within our own homes? How can people of color effectively lead their communities on climate solutions when faced with pervasive and life-shortening racism?

Here’s the rub: If we want to successfully address climate change, we need people of color. Not just because pursuing diversity is a good thing to do, and not even because diversity leads to better decision-making and more effective strategies, but because, black people are significantly more concerned about climate change than white people (57 percent vs. 49 percent), and Latinx people are even more concerned (70 percent). To put that in perspective, it means that more than 23 million black Americans already care deeply about the environment and could make a huge contribution to the massive amount of climate work that needs doing.

Ibram X. Kendi in the Atlantic:

The first volume of their Fourth National Climate Assessment, released last year, concluded that there is “no convincing alternative explanation” for global warming other than “human activities, especially emissions of greenhouses gases.” This year’s second volume, released into the mad dash of Black Friday sales and family reunions, stated, “More frequent and intense extreme weather and climate-related events, as well as changes in average climate conditions, are expected to continue to damage infrastructure, ecosystems, and social systems that provide essential benefits to communities.”

“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.

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.”


Biden has been hinting since April that he would expand his plans around environmental justice issues and proposed investments to address climate change. Originally meant to attract progressives, the plans are gaining importance as Biden tries to assuage black voters as protests over the killing of George Floyd erupt across the nation in response to police brutality and systemic racism.

Biden’s 1,500-word environmental justice plan boils down to four bullet points: Provide clean drinking water; step up EPA enforcement of illegal pollution; give preference to black communities for clean energy grants; and reverse President Trump’s deregulatory campaign.

Its policy prescriptions are thin, and its promises are often vague, some activists say.

During the primary, activist groups like Greenpeace and the Sunrise Movement urged Biden to weave environmental justice more tightly into his plan. Greenpeace called on him to provide more detailed proposals, while Sunrise said his plan was too weak on equity, remediation and inclusion of frontline and indigenous communities.

For instance, Biden promises to redress economic discrimination by ensuring that low-income and nonwhite communities “receive preference in competitive grant programs.” But his plan does not explain what that would mean in practice, nor does he set a benchmark for how much of the $1.7 trillion proposed for climate action would go to those communities.

That could soon change.

While many of Biden’s responses to the protests roiling the nation’s cities have focused on policing, he said he will unveil an economic plan in the coming weeks that would include racial justice components. That could dovetail with his effort to expand his environmental justice and climate platform.

Activists have urged Biden’s campaign to adopt plans from his former Democratic rivals, especially Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

The Ecologist:

Climate change doesn’t affect us all equally, with those in the developing world being far more ‘climate vulnerable’ to soaring temperatures which result in an increased prevalence of droughts and therefore famine and migration. However the Global North – which is primarily to blame for the climate crisis that we are in – is only just seeing the impact of this emergency.

Environmental disparities are real; for many years, the Western world has steamed ahead with plans for aviation expansion, more road-building, dirty energy such as fracking, as well as an insatiable appetite for environmentally damaging foods – ignoring the impact all of these have on developing communities. 

Meanwhile, inner city communities with higher numbers of ethnic minorities in Europe and The United States tend to have to deal with environmental threats which more prosperous sectors of society don’t. In my region of the South East of England, there are big pockets of deprivation: 25.5% of children in Crawley are living below the poverty lineandhave to live in the polluting shadow of Gatwick airport.

Outside of Europe, climate change is responsible for extreme weather events like Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and Cyclone Idai in Zimbabwe which obliterate homes, destroy livelihoods and kill people.

The Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures warned back in 2015 that around a third of the planet’s land has been lost over the past 40 years due largely to climate disasters and poor conservation, with more than 1.3 billion people living on agricultural land that is becoming less and less efficient – leading to failing harvests, poverty and famine.

D.R Tucker in Washington Monthly:

…to acknowledge implicit bias is to acknowledge that progressives are right about the race question—and the creed of conservatism holds that one never, ever acknowledges that the left is right about anything. Acknowledging that there is still implicit bias against nonwhites is as verboten in the right-wing world as acknowledging the reality of human-caused climate change: a true right-winger can never admit that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton—the two men Rush Limbaugh sarcastically labels “the Justice Brothers”—might have a point about America’s still-unhealed racial wounds, just as a true right-winger can never admit that Al Gore and Bill McKibben might have a point about the rapacious nature of the fossil-fuel industry. To acknowledge that progressives are right on critical issues facing this country is to show weakness in the right-wing world—and weakness means being kicked out of that world.

6 Responses to “Never More Clear: Climate Denial’s Link to Racism”

  1. Sir Charles Says:

    After the horrific murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police, and subsequent widespread protests, did Trump offer words of healing, a shred of empathy, or a commitment to fix what’s broken? No.

    This video was created in honor of all people of color who have been so grievously wronged throughout the United States’ troubled history:

  2. Climate denial is joined by bands of steel to racism.

    I’m sorry, but I don’t see it. The closest thing I see is one of the fringier character’s (Christopher Monckton’s) birtherism.

    The climate woke could use a bit of self examination. They are mostly prosperous people that want to enact measures that will be expensive for poorer people (especially blocking natural gas pipelines). I see Jesse Jackson and d Al Sharpton mentioned. Here’s an article that mentions their views on natural gas:

  3. […] posted a segment from Ayana Elizabeth Johnson’s recent piece in the Washington Post last week, and now I’ve come across several video clips of her further […]

  4. J4Zonian Says:

    People, corporations, and governments trying to delay meaningful climate action have mostly given up on outright denial that it’s happening. They had no problem telling blatantly stupid lies; they just realized those particular ones weren’t working any more. So they’ve retreated to back-up lines of defense—lies about economics, nukes, and clean safe renewable energy…and trying to spread the blame equally among billionaires and favela babies by calling it a “population problem”.

    Since that unavoidably blames poor people of color for problems caused almost entirely by rich people of mostly white, it’s racism and class prejudice, US exceptionalism, malignant narcissism, and neo-colonialism. Those all involve deeply-motivated projection so the links we see between them are only echoes of the real link, inside us.

  5. […] And just for good measure we must admit that all white Vermonters are racist. Remember… denying it means you are. If you have the gall to question Climate change dogma, then it only confirms that you are also RACIST!! […]

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