Climate Migration Is Well Under Way; and “The Unbearable Whiteness of the Climate Movement”

In my book, one suggestion I make to fellow eco activists is to face up to the scariest news about the environment, but not to an excess degree. If we totally shield ourselves from looking the eco/humanitarian crisis in the eye, we risk becoming complacent and dropping our efforts. But if we only focus on the crisis and never take in any news of solutions, we risk becoming overwhelmed and dropping our efforts.

Here is one article I consider to be necessary reading right now, for all humanitarian eco activists. (“The Great Climate Migration Has Begun”; by Abrahm Lustgarten in New York Times.)

“For most of human history, people have lived within a surprisingly narrow range of temperatures, in the places where the climate supported abundant food production. But as the planet warms, that band is suddenly shifting north. … the planet could see a greater temperature increase in the next 50 years than it did in the last 6,000 years combined. By 2070, the kind of extremely hot zones, like in the Sahara, that now cover less than 1 percent of the earth’s land surface could cover nearly a fifth of the land, potentially placing one of every three people alive outside the climate niche where humans have thrived for thousands of years. … The window for action is closing. The world can now expect that with every degree of temperature increase, roughly a billion people will be pushed outside the zone in which humans have lived for thousands of years. For a long time, the climate alarm has been sounded in terms of its economic toll, but now it can increasingly be counted in people harmed.”

The article starts out with an account of one Guatemalan farmer who is being pushed to leave his country in order to keep his family from starvation, after not having seen almost no rain for five years. He is only one of millions of people around the world who are facing such extreme hardship. We in the USA and elsewhere in the industrialized north have so far been artificially insulated from the worst impacts, but as drought-flood extremes in the Midwest farm belt show, it is happening here too.

And on this note, another article I consider to be essential reading right now is one that brings up the self-centeredness and white privilege of the mainstream “climate movement.”

(“The Unbearable Whiteness of Climate Anxiety”; by Sarah Jacquette Ray in Scientific American.)

“If people of color are more concerned about climate change than white people, why is the interest in climate anxiety so white? Is climate anxiety a form of white fragility or even racial anxiety? Put another way, is climate anxiety just code for white people wishing to hold onto their way of life or get “back to normal,” to the comforts of their privilege?

“The white response to climate change is literally suffocating to people of color. Climate anxiety can operate like white fragility, sucking up all the oxygen in the room and devoting resources toward appeasing the dominant group. As climate refugees are framed as a climate security threat, will the climate-anxious recognize their role in displacing people from around the globe? Will they be able to see their own fates tied to the fates of the dispossessed? Or will they hoard resources, limit the rights of the most affected and seek to save only their own, deluded that this xenophobic strategy will save them? How can we make sure that climate anxiety is harnessed for climate justice?”

When I saw the title of the Scientific American article, I didn’t get it at first. For me, “worry about climate change” makes me want to be sure we are growing food everywhere people live. And makes me want to promote social shift that will stop the USA from consuming a disproportionate share of the world’s resources.

And, makes me want to ensure that the USA makes room for climate refugees from other countries, since our policies and our consumption have accelerated the effects of climate change in countries in the tropics, Global South, Asia. There’s no point in “surviving” climate change, in a few selected temperate pockets of the world, if we lose our souls and go morally bankrupt in the process.

If we stop degrading land and wasting resources, we’ll have plenty to welcome everyone who wants or needs to come to the USA. Build a wall; lose our souls.

Also, if we act now, we might even be able to reverse some of the climate damage that’s threatening millions of people with starvation and violence, so they aren’t forced to give up their home and land. People don’t do that lightly. And I would say that given how our policies and our consumerist culture have contributed to the problem, we have a moral obligation to be part of the solution.

Please go read both of the above-mentioned articles; I think you will find them helpful in staying centered and grounded amid the clamor of climate naysayers and eco disparagers, so you can keep on showing up to do your chosen part of the work. Thanks for helping to build the momentum of the #GrassrootsGreenMobilization !