Firstly, what are we talking about? The terms “racism” and “sexism” have been part of the language for so long now that the full depth of their meaning is often unrecognised, allowing many who benefit from either to exclaim: “but I’m not a racist/sexist.”
Racism and sexism are both the product of two primary components: prejudice and power.
Racism/sexism can be expressed as Prejudice + Power and, crucially, the power to define what is “normal.” Thus, for example, the oft heard claim that “we are all the same,” “there should be one law for everyone,” or “if they don’t like it, go home,” can be heard from those with European heritage. Those espousing this claim also avow that they are “not racist.” If racism was simply a question of prejudice, they may have a case (albeit a spurious one). However, it is the power that those with eurocentric views have to define what is “normal” – what it is to be “the same.” It is the “normal” of eurocentrism.
So, how does racism and sexism relate to climate change?
Climate change racism.
|Source: World Health Organisation|
It is becoming increasingly obvious that the people who are worst affected by climate change are those from Africa, SE Asia and the Pacific Islands (see map). In short – people with dark skins. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that over 150,000 people are killed every year by the effects of climate change.1 Analysis of the WHO estimates indicates that people in Africa and SE Asia are 20 – 50 times more likely to die from climate change effects than are their counterparts in Europe, North America and Australasia.
It is no secret that people from Africa, SE Asia and the Pacific Islands have been subjected to centuries of racist aggression, mostly in the form of colonialism. Africa has been exploited by the nations of Europe for centuries; mining its mineral wealth, stealing its people (slavery), and decimating its environment for agribusiness. India and the rest of SE Asia have seen much the same.
Indigenous people in the Pacific and Australia have been subjected to social and environmental racism also. They have been the unwilling victims of atomic bomb testing since the 1950s by England, the US and France. Today, it is their lands that are stolen, mined or farmed for export to, and the use of, the rich, white, nations of the world.
We have to face it. The world economic order and its attendant industrialisation (the major contributor to climate change) has been built to a large extent on colonisation of the world by the nations of Europe. It has been built on the racist ideology of white supremacy, or, if you prefer a milder term – eurocentrism.
That colonisation and exploitation contributes to climate change.
Climate change sexism.
In 2013 the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) published a policy brief that noted that women and children are 14 times more likely than men to die during a disaster.2 The report went on to say that “climate related disasters (e.g. storms, heavy rainfall, floods, droughts, landslides, water stress and heatwaves) could overturn years of progress made towards achieving sustainable development objectives and the Millennium Development Goals.”
Not only do women bear the brunt of climate change, sexism is also a contributor to climate change. Throughout the world women are largely excluded from positions of authority, business leadership and decision-making.
It is telling to look at the entities that contribute significantly to the emission of carbon and methane into the atmosphere. Between 1854 and 2010 just 20 entities contributed nearly half (48%) of all industrial carbon pollution into the atmosphere. Many of these entities are well known corporations – Chevron, Exxon/Mobil, BP, Shell and ConocoPhillips being the largest five.3
Is it any surprise to find that the CEO (or equivalent) of each and every one of those 20 entities is a man? Not a single woman amongst them. Political leadership fairs only slightly better. Of the world’s 10 biggest emitters by country4 only one (Germany) has a woman as its leader.
White Male Mindset (or Eurocentric Patriarchy)
If there is a single mindset that underpins both racism and sexism it is violence towards the other. Racism exists because those who are white view those who are black as being something “other” than white – something inferior. Sexism exists because men see women as separate to themselves, undeserving of being considered an equal partner to men. The “other” in each case is considered by the White Male Mindset to be “not normal” and hence to be dismissed, abused and in the extreme, victims of violence.
This idea of “otherness” and separation further manifests itself in the way that white men rape, pillage and plunder the earth – directly contributing to climate change.
Many indigenous cultures understand this. For many such cultures the earth is viewed as having female characteristics – Mother Earth. Indigenous cultures recognise that the environmental degradation of the earth is another form of violence against the feminine.
If we are going to have any influence upon averting our path towards climate change dystopia then we are going to have to address the issues of racism and sexism also.
1. World Health Report 2002, WHO
2. Gender and Disaster Risk Reduction, UNDP Policy brief 3, 2013
3. These five corporations contributed 12.5% of global industrial carbon pollution.
4. Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Russian Federation, USA. These 10 countries contributed in combination approximately 2/3 of global carbon emissions.