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The Brutal Racial Politics of Climate Change and Pollution


The Brutal Racial Politics of Climate Change and Pollution

Basav Sen

As I watched coverage of Harvey's flood damage in Houston, Irma's wreckage in the Caribbean, the devastating record monsoons in South Asia, and the fresh nightmares of Hurricane Maria, I thought back to another place: Charlottesville, where racists openly rallied to their cause—and were later defended by the president.


The regions having large scale industrial processes typically have, within their immediate vicinity housing for the, mostly poor, with a large percentage being people of color. These corporations don’t care about any people, except for their top executives and share holders, and continue to spew vast amounts of toxic pollutants in the environment. This has been going on for decades and the poor pay for these indiscretions with their health and lives. It’s bad here in the US but in other parts of the world it’s far far worse. The day of reckoning is coming soon when the toxic poisons will poison the very land, sea, and fresh water needed for survival. So we can all perish due to poisoning, warming to the point of unsurviability, or perish quickly, relatively speaking, in a blaze of dazzling brilliance of a nuclear exchange. Time’s short folks and I’m certainly not the only one to say so. Neil Degrasse-Tyson also said as much recently in a CNN interview. Sorry no link.


It’s all connected. Poverty, Racism, War, Climate Change, Environmental Destruction, Pollution, Economic Inequality, Social Injustice, Mass Incarceration, Drug Addiction, Police Militarization, Terrorism, Vulture Capitalism, the “Security State”, Corporate Media, For-Profit “Health” Care, Crumbling Infrastructure, Failing Education,
Proliferation of Guns, Political Gridlock, all are affected by any change in any one of the others.

It doesn’t just happen. It is directly or indirectly a result of policy choices, incompetence, lack of planning, short-term selfishness, endemic corruption, or most likely a combination of all of these factors, and more.

We, as in the larger collective “we”, have somehow lost all control and understanding of what is going on. We know a bit about whatever affects us personally, but most of us show little compassion for things that we (wrongly) perceive as not a direct threat to us. Our nation generally
shows itself to be pretty callous and backward in terms of seeing our connections with other people in the world, and with the natural world. Chris Hedges described this in his book, “Empire of Illusion”.

I am just making observations, I do not have the solutions, except to say that somehow we need to make better choices, and not let ourselves be manipulated by emotion, greed, fear, hatred or jealousy. We must do better the next several years than we have the last several.


The basic human evolutionary condition is the necessity to guarantee survival; it’s extreme is greed and it’s maximum extreme is greed to the extent of necessity that supplies unnecessary luxury. Greed is an inherited visceral response to the need to assure the resources necessary for survival are present absent the ability to predict the future i.e. how severe the winter might be. The inability to judge the future guarantees that those who can, accumulate more than what they might need to merely survive. Greed is the unwillingness to predict when enough is enough and is compounded by the modern technological society which offers so much more than is necessary for survival. Today people are accumulating, at the expense of the survival of others, not only more than what is necessary to guarantee survival but enough to survive in what might be considered extreme luxury. Should any person today think that they are entitled to frivolous vacation air travel at the expense of another’s basic survival? I think not.


But . . .  but . . .  If “the Gubmint” tries to impose zoning laws forbidding construction of homes in what appears to be an inexpensive & suitable location (e.g. bottomland along a river during a 10-year dry spell or downwind from a chemical plant) then “the &#%(!) Gubmint is over-stepping its limits”, and then (after a fifty-year flood that covers the bottomland with six feet of water or a fire that spews toxic smoke) when the “victims” who set­tled there illegally aren’t reimbursed 100% so they can rebuild, “the &#%(!) Gubmint is shirking its responsibil­ities.”  At some point we as individuals have to get together and compromise with one another for the common good (isn’t that why we formed a &#%(!) Gubmint in the first place?), and in today’s highly polarized political environment that point of compromise seems to have receded to a place that’s very far off indeed.

Speaking just of the U.S. (as you point out, the rest of the whirled is MUCH worse), I hope that common sense prevails and homeowners in Texas and especially Florida are strongly encouraged – and enabled – to move to higher ground and not rebuild only five feet above current flood zones or high tide.

IF any of us survive the catastrophe coming in the next fifty to eighty years, I hope we do a better job next time.