This week the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) dropped its landmark climate change (6th) assessment. It’s the verdict: global warming will hit 1.5°C by 2040 without radical intervention.
In the IPCC’s most up-to-date special report on climate science, AR6 Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis, scientists have written that “it is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean, and land.” Looking back, scientists found that human activity has increased the global average temperature by about 2 degrees (1.1°C) Fahrenheit since the Industrial Revolution of the 19th C.
The mainstream “White” press following the report are framing this disaster as all our fault and all our responsibility:
It’s all our fault (Morning Brew)
Earth Is Getting Hotter, and It’s All Your Fault (Bloomberg)
IPCC climate change report: summary of a wake-up call for the world (Telegraph)
“Climate change is widespread, rapid, and intensifying – and it’s down to us” (BBC)
“The good thing is it also lets us all know how we can get out” (Guardian)
“We are changing the planet. It will continue to change no matter what we do in terms of our emissions, for hundreds to thousands of years…” (New Scientist)
“Cut yourself a little slack” (Los Angeles Times)
“ALARMING NEW UN CLIMATE REPORT SAYS HUMANITY HAS REALLY SCREWED ITSELF” (Vanity Fair)
The government went in too:
“…a wake-up call to the world to take action now” and that the “next decade is going to be pivotal to securing the future of our planet” (Boris Johnson)
“The next decade is decisive, follow the science and embrace your responsibility to keep the goal of 1.5C alive” (Alok Sharma)
“It should be a wake-up call” (Kwasi Kwarteng)
We were awake, Kwasi.
The reality is that it is not all our fault, certainly not everyone’s fault equally. The impending climate catastrophe is largely the result of the colonial logic of White supremacy. What about China? China was late to the game–becoming the world’s biggest emitter of CO2 per year in the 21st C, with the US remaining the biggest contributor of cumulative CO2 emissions over the past three centuries by far (as of 2019, and four of the top five on the cumulative list are in the West). Either way, China is a rebooted version of Western imperialism having entrenched itself into the Western political and economic system. Climate change is racist; as a White author and climate activist Jeremy Williams, writes:
“When we talk about racism, we often mean personal prejudice or institutional biases. Climate change doesn’t work that way. It is structurally racist, disproportionately caused by majority White people in majority White countries, with the damage unleashed overwhelmingly on People of Colour. The climate crisis reflects and reinforces racial injustices”Jeremy Williams, Climate Change is Racist, Race, Priviledge and the Struggle for Climate Justice (Foreword by Dr. Shola Mos-Shogbamimu)
Despite this reality, the IPPC’s findings by the world’s “top” scientists, put forth in over 3,949 pages of analysis from over 14,000 scientific papers, does not include the words “racism,” “race” or “racist.” That said, two more reports, concentrating respectively on impacts and mitigation, will be dropped over 2021 and 2022, as part of the IPCC’s sixth major climate assessment since the one in 1990.
“The reason that race matters in all this,” Jalal Afhim writes in a recent MIP piece, “is that the root cause of global warming, land degradation, and plummeting biodiversity, is the hegemonic economic system of racialized patriarchal capitalism.”
The industrial revolution led by the West set us on course for this mess, powered by slave-produced commodities. A Kehinde writes in New Age of Empire, “European slavery produced untold wealth which fired industrial development and formed the bedrock of European advancement.” Britain, one of the leaders of the industrial revolution were also the leader in the transatlantic slave trade of the same period. This was not a timely coincidence. The West brags about being founded on industry, one of three (science and politics) great revolutions, with no mention of genocide, slavery, and colonialism that made it possible. However, the achievements of their so-called “enlightenment” framework came at a huge cost to Black and Brown lives. It still does with communities of color being disproportionately affected by climate change. This applies to those in the underdeveloped world as well as those in the West.
The West was messing with the global climate before the Industrial Revolution when the genocide of most natives from the Americas led to global climate change and the “Little Ice Age” of the 17th C. Although the Little Ice Age declined at the beginning of the 19th C., the depopulation allowed for the Industrial Revolution.
As the “world” takes stock of the IPPC’s report and we make more changes, the West (and China) will claim that it’s saved us all from climate catastrophe. Changing the narrative and taking credit from the Rest for solving the problem the West created. Intentionally Whitewashing the true impact of their legacy as (rewritten) history repeats itself:
once a leading pollute, Britain takes lead on climate change.
Britain celebrates its role in slave abolition yet forgets its own role in creating the slave trade in the first place. Britain’s Queen headed one of the largest empires the world has seen that was made possible through colonial violence, yet now Elizabeth II is viewed by some like “Uncle” Calvin Robinson as “the biggest [benevolent] decolonizer.”
The missing thread in this whole narrative is that BIPOC founded this climate movement. They spearheaded the movement via groups on the front end of climate disaster, mobilizing against colonial violence and protecting their lives and lands. Sadly it’s a thread that has been whitewashed by calls for consumption changes instead of colonial reparations and then forgotten. Forgotten in the same way that slave abolition is ignored as a hardwon victory led by Black campaigners. Overlooked like the Black and Brown struggle in the fight for sovereign independence is omitted from decolonization.
If the West (and the still rising East) want to adapt to meet the climate challenges of today, it must have a rethink. If not, the current logic of empire will erase us all; the IPCC predicts that in continuing at current levels of emissions we would see the global surface temperature increase to almost 3°C.
So maybe “indigenous knowledge systems should be a guide for the future,” Vehia Wheeler, co-founder of Sustainable Oceania Solutions said in a recent tweet. And be given credit
“[Scientists have] been telling us for over three decades of the dangers of allowing the planet to warm,” the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) executive director Inger Andersen, said at the IPCC press conference. “The world listened but didn’t hear.”
As the West finally wakes up, Indigenous peoples from Africa to the Americas have long been observing the effects of uncontrolled actions on the natural environment. They bear the least responsibility yet are bearing the most effects and there is no where for them to run that is safe from colonialism or White supremacy driven environmental destruction.
The world never listened.