Two Inconvenient Truths: Racism and Climate Change

Institutional Racism: “It’s not Just about Insults and Name Calling”

Many of us are gaining a broader and deeper perspective on racism. I’ve been exposed to concepts like “institutional racism” through training at work; you may have become more aware by reading books like the bestseller “So You Want to Talk About Race.” As author Ijeoma Oluo said in a LiveWire interview last year:

…we’re not talking about hurt feelings…we’re talking about what impedes our ability to live.

Ijeoma Oluo, 2018

It’s hard for me to write about racism without feeling uncomfortable (and a bit stupid). I’m a well-meaning white person with a good education, a fulfilling job, and great access to health care. Privilege has helped get me where I am today. And the system has helped me at the expense of people of color. But I find myself struggling to oppose that system. And that’s where climate change comes in.

Climate Change Affects People of Color More

The general disadvantages that communities of color face are particularly apparent when you consider climate change. Climate change already affects people of color disproportionally.  Two examples:

  • Underserved communities may be more vulnerable to intense storms (as with Hurricane Katrina) or sea level rise.
  • Communities of color may be nearer to polluters such as coal-fired power plants, a major climate change contributor.

A United Nations report states: “Developing countries are the most vulnerable to climate change impacts because they have fewer resources to adapt: socially, technologically and financially.”

“A Slide Show by an Ex-Politician”

Many of us have seen “An Inconvenient Truth,” the 2006 documentary about Al Gore’s efforts to educate people about climate change. The film presents the predicted impacts of climate change, which Gore says “is really not a political issue, so much as a moral one.” (Wikipedia).

Poster for An Inconvenient Truth:  "It doesn't matter whether you're a Republican or Democrat... your mind will be changed in a nanosecond."
This film was released 12+ years ago. What have we done since then?

In an oral history of the film, Gore and Director Davis Guggenheim discuss the origin of the title. Guggenheim describes an exchange with Gore:

So I ask, “Why is this so hard for people? I get the logic of the argument for climate change, but why is it so hard for people to grasp?” And he goes, “Because it’s an inconvenient truth, ya know?”

This point seems obvious, but as I discussed in a prior post, carbon emissions are on the rise. What are we doing?

We Face Two Inconvenient Truths

Many of us have been helped by privilege. I think that we have the ability and means to reduce our carbon footprint, but we do only what doesn’t inconvenience us. This problem is true for all but the most committed of us: myself included. For example, my house has solar power and I own a plug-in car, but it wasn’t that hard for me to make those choices.

I also would argue that many of us struggle with combatting systemic racism, for the same reason. It would inconvenience us to understand the problem better, to learn how it affects our brothers and sisters of color, and work to to do something about it. On most days, we get by just fine without having to face those issues. Harsh? Perhaps, but I am trying to be honest with myself.

If I act to fight climate change, I might also be helping communities of color. And by actively understanding and opposing systemic racism, I might also be working toward environmental justice. The inconvenient truths are linked.

Leave a Reply