Climate Change Is Racist by Jeremy Williams is an easy, quick read that shows the scope of structural and environmental racism and its impact in a digestible way.
It reads more like a research paper or thesis than a book at times. It’s very broad, and the author is talking directly to the reader, which helps internalize the terrifying numbers, facts, and statistics he is sharing.
Williams is a white (British) author. He says, in the preface and in a later chapter, that he almost didn’t write this book because he felt like it wasn’t his place to. But after researching it, he came to the conclusion that because the climate crisis has been caused by a majority white population, it’s the same white people who have to put in the effort to make a difference. And although not explicitly stated, he implied that those same white people might better listen to a white author.
Although digestible and accessible, this is not an easy book to read. You’re confronted by the huge stakes and impacts of the climate crisis over such few pages. The short chapters listing the various ways different communities are marginalized and impacted by environmental collapse and extreme weather hits incredibly hard. It’s unavoidable while reading Williams’s clear, concise writing to turn away from the horror.
This book offers a very interesting perspective on the climate crisis. Most climate narratives that I have read are written by American authors, and reading an outside perspective on climate change in the US felt like I was looking at myself and my communities from afar. The whole book is very broad and topics aren’t delved into in depth, but as someone who spends my free time fighting the very oil trains he talks about, it felt strange to read about them in his writing.
He talks about the slave trade from a British perspective, and I was horrified to learn that until 2015, British tax payers were still paying for the money given to slave holders after the abolishment of slavery! Williams also grew up in Madagascar and Kenya. Because of Wangari Maathai and the Green Belt Movement, we do tend to hear about Kenya and its role in the climate crisis and movement, but we never hear about Madagascar. Even though, as Williams points out, in 2018 Madagascar was hit by two cyclones and a drought in 2019 across the nation affected 2.9 million people. CARE International says that only 619 news articles were written about the devastation and effects of this drought, compared to the 50,300 about the Eurovision Song Contest.
Williams makes it very clear that climate change is caused by the Global North, but it’s the Global South that will be most impacted, something that we have focused on at the November 12 Global Day of Action Rally during COP27, across from Pioneer Square. He says that “expanding an airport, opening a new coal mine or pulling out of an international treaty are acts of violence. They are acts of violence perpetrated against nature and biodiversity, and against people of colour.” He also quotes Constance Okollet, a Ugandan farmer. She says: “it was not until I went to a meeting about climate change that I heard it was not God, but the rich people in the West that are doing this to us.” Williams calls for those of us with privilege to use that privilege to fight for those without. To acknowledge that making sacrifices in our own daily lives are nothing compared to those losing their homes, their livelihoods, their families, and their lives to climate change right now. He asks us to educate ourselves, and to do better.
Williams also makes sure to say that African nations are not waiting around for the Global North to act first. He talks about Ethiopia, and how after the horrible famine in the 1970s and ’80s they had one of the largest land restoration projects ever, the largest wind farm on the continent (at the time), and set goals in 2011 to be carbon neutral by 2025.
This is a very valuable read that I recommend to everyone. If you don’t have a lot of time, and want a quick dive into how colonial capitalism is a direct cause of both climate change and racism, read this book. It’s incredibly well researched with sources from all over the globe, both on the ground activists and huge institutions. And even if you’re someone who is deeply involved in the movement, you might still learn some things. I know I did.
Check out the book from the library or find it at a local bookstore.