Climate Politics and Race in the Pacific Northwest
2. ‘… [T]he Problem Is Bigger than Parts per Million … and Will Not Be Solved If We Are Willing to Let Some Communities Continue to Be Thrown under the Bus’4: The Political in US Climate Justice
… I don’t see things in buckets like environment, immigration, I see that we don’t know how to live in relationship with each other in a way that puts value for life first, and not just human life. We don’t think about the tiny phytoplankton in the ocean … We have a hierarchy of humans that is highly problematic. Once we slap the term criminal on somebody, we treat them in ways that we generally agree is torture, but if you’re a criminal, it is OK … I fundamentally believe that our system is unsustainable, not just because of parts per million in the atmosphere but because it dehumanizes people … I would like for the climate movement to never talk about environment without also thinking about equity … [My work] is challenging the predominantly white climate movement to recognize that the problem is bigger than parts per million, that it won’t be solved if we are willing to let some communities continue to be thrown under the bus and while it is very urgent, we should certainly not use the urgency of climate change to justify and replicate unjust systems that are affecting those people who already didn’t consume very much and who already are going to be deeply affected.
3. The Racial Politics of Climate Justice
“We will elevate the frontline communities who are leading the day of action. The Portland Climate Movement will not just focus on carbon-reduction and sea level rise (though those issues are vital, and impact our communities first and worst), but on all the intersecting issues facing communities on the frontlines of environmental and climate justice … The proper role of mainstream groups in climate justice is to uplift and support the vision of frontline communities”.
4. Investing in the People We Are Becoming?
5. A Demand for Public Social Consumption and De-Growth against Racial Capitalism
6. Conclusions: Toward Abolition Climate Politics
Conflicts of Interest
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Most scholarship found using keyword ‘climate justice’ deploys the term as a conceptual framework to theorize scale, responsibility, vulnerability, debt, and burden primarily with respect to future generations and the global south in light of climate change (e.g., Caney 2014; McKinnon 2015; Popke et al. 2016; Roberts and Parks 2009; Vanderheiden 2016). The meaning of justice is the focus. The paper acknowledges but does not address this literature.
Activists and organizations identify as members of the climate justice movement or with the climate justice framework discussed in the sections below. It is a contested term, masking internal questions, divisions, and conflicts (Chatterton et al. 2013). Cognizant of these arguments, I use ‘climate justice’ as short hand to discuss the dynamics of a tendency in thought and action while recognizing the danger that in so doing, I create the impression that climate justice is more coherent than it actually is.
For this paper ‘Pacific Northwest’ refers to the states of Oregon and Washington although the region technically encompasses the US state of Idaho as well as British Columbia, Canada. Unlike Idaho, Oregon and Washington have been active on climate mitigation since the early 1990s.
Mariama White-Hammond (2017, np), cited and discussed on page 5.
The Jemez principles date from 1996 and outline an approach to collaboration that recognizes how people and organizations are situated differently in hierarchies of race, class and gender. The principles include bottom up organizing, inclusion, self-transformation, and allowing those who experience environmental racism, for instance, to speak for themselves. See https://www.ejnet.org/ej/jemez.pdf.
In 2013, the national organizations, Sierra Club and 350.org released statements expressing solidarity with immigrant justice (Black et al. 2016).
Counting state and local sales, excise and property taxes, people making $21,000 and under pay 16.8 percent of their total income in state and local taxes. The wealthiest 1% (making over $507,000) pay 2.4 percent (Davis et al. 2015).
The AJCE’s carbon tax proposal will be on the November 2018 ballot.
On lobby day (spring 2018) at the statehouse in Oregon, one CJ organization supportive of the cap and trade bill sent its constituents to advocate for legislation concerning reproductive health equity, tenant protections, cultural competency, ethnic studies, and racial profiling—but not the cap and trade bill.
In this point, Akuno is responding to debates among Black radicals concerning the National Coordinating Committee of the New Afrikan People’s Organization’s decision to run a candidate for mayor of Jackson Mississippi as a Democrat, which, the latter argues, was done in order not to abandon its residents to the ongoing ruin created by neoliberalism and white supremacy (Umoja 2017). Reference thanks to Daniel Denvir’s newsletter for his podcast, The Dig, 24 April 2018.
The form Jodi Dean suggests is the communist party.
Sometimes climate justice positions belie the complexity society faces when the pursuit of CJ principles jeopardizes the future. In Massachusetts, Sierra Club and other social justice groups demanded immediate closure of Pilgrim nuclear, a plant already slated for (eventual) closure, but they also rejected hydro power from Québec because it endangered indigenous lands. Why was immediate shut down necessary when, without hydro, emissions would rise (see tweet thread) (Jenkins 2018; Roberts 2018)?
Low-income households (those living at or below 80% of area median income) across the largest cities in the US experience higher energy burdens than average households (they pay more for utilities per square foot) (Drehobl and Ross 2016, pp. 1–4). By raising household efficiency to the median, the excess energy burdens of 42% of African-American, 68% of Latino, and 97% of renting households could be eliminated (ibid.). Programs for low-income energy efficiency measures that benefit renters are generally the first to be cut (Stein 2018); federal funds for heating fuel assistance are also inadequate. During discussions of the EJ and Just Transition working group for Oregon’s cap and trade bill, lawmakers wondered whether an on-bill assistance program to help lower-income people pay their energy bills once a carbon price had been implemented might raise emissions because it would encourage people to waste energy or they might use those funds to buy consumer goods from out of state (food?), ideas that are not born out in the data (Baranzini et al. 2017).
According to the Portland Housing Bureau, “[t]here are no neighborhoods affordable to rent for the average Black, Latino, Native American, and single mother households” (Portland Housing Bureau 2017, p. 9).
In deeply unequal countries like the US, the carbon price has to be very high to alter the behavior of the wealthy who contribute so substantially to emissions, unless there is an additional tax on luxuries (Gough 2017).
Even now, facing climate change, Marxist theorists will be critical of any longing for Sweden’s democratic socialism (e.g., Dean 2017a) and proposals to use the state to redistribute wealth from carbon pricing. While their critiques may reflect an accurate reading of capitalism and the state, they offer few alternatives (Pearse 2014). Meanwhile, right-wing lawmakers propose regressive carbon taxes, emissions rise, more people join the precariat, and more migrants meet hostility as they flee north.
Chancel and Picketty’s (2015) proposals include: all emitters above the world average contribute in proportion to their excess emissions (effort sharing: US and Canada 36%, China 15%); all top 10% emitters contribute in proportion to their emissions in excess of the threshold (US and Canada 46%, China 12%); and the top 1%, those who emit over 9.1 times world average emissions are taxed (US and Canada 57%, China 6%). Noting that their proposals are unlikely to be instituted, they suggest a global tax on air tickets. Based on the share of air travel, the US and Canada would contribute the most (29% of the total). They would use revenues to finance the $150 billion per year adaptation costs of the global south.
‘Fossil fuel abolition’ is a phrase I take from Tim DeChristopher who, in turn, was able to imagine it from the license and courage that prison abolition gave him. He served 21 months, including 3 weeks in solitary confinement, for bidding on oil and gas leases as an act of civil disobedience. Before being taken to jail, Tim DeChristopher told the judge, “[a]t this point of unimaginable threats on the horizon, this is what hope looks like … with countless lives on the line, this is what love looks like, and it will only grow” (Peaceful Uprising n.d.).
In theorizing utopian demands and the affect necessary to make them, which she calls utopian hope, Kathi Weeks (2012, p. 202) asks “[w]hat would it mean to respond to the prospect of our own ‘perishing’ in a different future, a future in which neither we nor our children—to note that common trope by which we still might imagine a place for ourselves, or people bearing family resemblances to ourselves—would exist, and to respond, moreover, not with fear and anxiety but with joy and hope?” Utopian hope requires affirmation of the present without either denying suffering of the past or resenting the present it has produced, and then willing a new future in which the self, so affirmed, no longer exists.
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Slocum, R. Climate Politics and Race in the Pacific Northwest. Soc. Sci. 2018, 7, 192. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci7100192
Slocum R. Climate Politics and Race in the Pacific Northwest. Social Sciences. 2018; 7(10):192. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci7100192Chicago/Turabian Style
Slocum, Rachel. 2018. "Climate Politics and Race in the Pacific Northwest" Social Sciences 7, no. 10: 192. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci7100192