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Author Topic: Mechanisms of Prejudice: Hidden and Not Hidden  (Read 6684 times)

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April 19, 2019

Racism Rampant in Denierland, But Enviro Community Has Work To Do, Too

Yesterday, we talked about how WUWT seems to be finding some new life by exemplifying how denial can operate across issue areas. And that wasn’t the first time we’ve explored the sexist and racist dimensions of organized denial.

It’s important to understand, though, that there’s a larger cultural aspect to the warm welcome climate denial has received among the political right. In Megan Mayhew’s latest column at the Guardian, she travels to Natchez, Mississippi to see how the small town full of racist history is faring in the era of climate change. The piece opens, as you might expect, with Mayhew being told climate change is not “polite” conversation, a nod to how the concept of “civility” is used selectively to protect the status quo.

While some Natchez residents may be slowly coming around on climate change, it’s all too easy to look down at them and see the climate action community as the opposite: a shining beacon of diversity, tolerance and goodness. But that, too, would be denial.

The green world still has plenty of work to do when it comes to welcoming non-white communities. The growth of the environmental justice movement is encouraging, but the fact that it was ever divorced from the rest of the environmental community in the first place is a problem. Because that didn’t happen accidentally, and the community has yet to heal the damage it caused.

As Mary Annaïse Heglar wrote in Dame this week, despite the movement’s best efforts, black faces are all too rare in public venues like climate marches. Stories from black voices who were made uncomfortable by both micro- and macro-aggressions from their fellow marchers, meanwhile, are all too common. 

Framed around the exclusive nature of Woody Guthrie’s protest song “This land is your land,” Heglar exposes not only the current shortcomings of the community, but also its past, which is sadly, she writes, “steeped in oh-sh-it racism.”

That tragic history is the focus of another piece this week by Matt Mildenberger. Writing in Scientific American, Mildenberger explores the racist past of environmental thought and the hate behind the Tragedy of the Commons. The famous 1968 piece has become something of a cornerstone of environmental thought: if left unregulated, everyone exploits natural resources to their own benefit, leading to overconsumption.

The problem, Mildenberger explains, is not just that the author, Garrett Hardin, was a white nationalist who espoused virulent racist, islamophobic and eugenic ideology, but more importantly, that he’s wrong. Historians have shown that early common areas were informally regulated by local customs and institutions--turns out people aren’t quite as stupid or greedy as Hardin suggested. And so environmental concerns should not, as Hardin 😈 proposed, be used to justify eugenics or xenophobia or whatever other racist nonsense arises out of the perception of scarce resources.

So if Hardin’s overpopulation and overconsumption claims aren’t the root of the climate challenge, what is? Decades ago, Mildenberger argues, we had the chance to start taking the slow and steady steps necessary to transition to clean energy, and  had we done so, the “costs to most Americans would have been imperceptible.”

“But that future was stolen from us,” Mildenberger continues, “by powerful, carbon-polluting interests who blocked policy reforms at every turn to preserve their short-term profits.” To overcome that well-funded political power, we need to drop Hardin’s idea that individual consumption is to blame, and instead turn our attention toward bringing more people into the fold, “a commitment at the heart of proposals like the Green New Deal.”

So while it's important to acknowledge the racist roots in the environmental tree, as the climate community knows well, simply recognizing a problem without taking action to remedy it, isn’t enough.


"Technical knowledge of Carrying Capacity will not save us; only a massive increase in Caring Capacity will." -- A. G. Gelbert
Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life. Pr. 13:12


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