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The Language of 'Brown Finance' in Climate Finance is Racist

Originally published at http://www.commondreams.org/views/2020/06/26/language-brown-finance-climate-finance-racist

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Let’s just call it poacher finance. Or polluter. Or extractive. Or exploitative. Or …

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Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar

True enough. But if we lift the ethics of the matter away, we have a chance to see a practical point. If people go around calling a cigar a penis and a penis a cigar for long enough, it becomes hard to have a smoke without drawing attention.

We can observe that that word brown has suffered misuse.

Reverend Yearwood, by all indications a fluent and articulate writer of American English, cannot hear it without an association that neither I nor likely you intend. Likely he is not the only one. In practice, words do not mean whatever the speaker intends them to mean any more than they mean whatever the listener cares to associate with them.

I have written of “brown technology,” and in those terms. I don’t think I owe any special apology about it because to me the term opposes green field or forest to brown or dead field or forest, not an opposition between green and brown people. The term comes to me via David Holmgren and his Four Scenarios, a work that I found useful for its 1st-level approach to categorizing possible futures. My usage was not racist. But the term itself is neither inherently racist nor non-racist. And I have enough trouble making myself understood that I am not going to write about technology or energy as brown except in specific reference to the Holmgren or other similar text, and probably with some explanation of intentions.

Why not, really? I’d love to call this dead technology, though I don’t suppose that I will get away with that while it remains alive and in operation. I suppose I have called it dinosaur technology often enough–maybe once or twice too often, considering the sort of platitude that has become. Maybe while it lives, I may call it undead technology. Maybe because it is extractive, I can call it vampire technology or zombie technology–forever munching but never assembling an entire brain.

I’d rather not write and then have to wish that my words did not mean what I did not intend. I do not suppose that I will always absolutely get there, but I am happy enough for a heads-up to see that Yearwood’s speaking community might be hearing something different than I intend.

Hi bardamu:
I like “vampire technology,” as that gives a great picture of what it does. Or maybe they could use Blue technology to bring back clear skies and non polluted water. Or maybe someone that works with the muppets could let Kermit sing his song of, " it’s not easy being green…"
with pictures of what killer oil does to life—so Kermit could sing, " It’d not easy being green while he’s covered with oil!. Brown finance seems a confusing term because people always associate money with greenbacks! I do see the writer’s point though and brown finance sounds weird as ears are so used to finance and green being together.

Dirty finance works. I don’t like “grey finance” because it sounds sort of ageist. And, yeah, I’m old and grey, LOL. Vampire finance or vulture finance or even zombie finance would work, too. But “dirty” is explicit and easy to understand immediately.

I admit, I hadn’t heard the term “brown finance” before. About the only reference to “brown” I’ve heard used environmentally is in regard to brownfields - meaning so polluted they are dead, and all the vegetation is brown.

I get the point. Whiteness is so much the default, and has represented purity since at least biblical times. Brown and black are the color of the earth itself, and somehow came to be associated with “dirt”. It is extremely difficult to change language and connotations - witness the resistance to non-gendered pronouns. But this is something that needs to happen, and I know that I, too, need to be aware of using words - innocently - that wound another. I never want to wound anyone!