Book Review: Climate Change Is Racist: Race, Privilege and the Struggle for Climate Justice by Jeremy Williams

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My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jeremy Williams is one of the top writers on climate change. His book, The Economics of Arrival, written with Katherine Trebeck, is arguably one of the best modern books tackling climate change and economics. His website – The Earthbound Report – is recognised as one of the best on climate issues. Williams is particularly skilled at writing short, comprehensible pieces packed with facts and figures which educate rather than bore.

In many ways, this latest book from Williams is an extension of this kind of writing. Indeed, it often feels like and extended academic essay – a PhD thesis if you like – albeit one which is a joy to read. It is short (for a book), clearly structured and not a word is wasted, as though a word count was secretly in play. This is no bad thing. William’s book has a use beyond just reading once; you can easily refer back to it and pick up information swiftly with each chapter fully referenced. I have some quibbles with a few points and I don’t find the book as well written as his aforementioned work, but on the whole, this book convincingly raises the issues of racism inherent in all aspects of the climate change debate.

One might ask, what is a white, educated and privileged British man doing writing a book concerning racism? Williams deals with this from the start, not just detailing his own fight with the issue, but also his own experiences of living in Madagascar. He doesn’t cry #metoo in doing so, but leads us on a short journey explaining why it is because he is a white, educated, privileged British man that he needed to write this book. Indeed it becomes the crux of his message.

So what is that message? In essence: white people caused this mess and white people need to take the lion’s share of fixing it.

There’s more to it than that, of course, and when put so bluntly, it sounds like another round of ‘white bashing’, instantly turning off empire supporters and those on the fence. Williams tackles the issue more carefully. He gives overwhelming evidence to support the view and (in some ways much more importantly) demonstrates how many – if not most – of the former colonies are suffering the effects of white industrial revolution systems right now. It’s hard to come away from his arguments and not believe that Britain, Europe and USA are wholly responsible for the mess we’re now.

This would be academic – a case of arguing whose fault is it in an abstract way and just for the sake of it – if it were not for William’s most cutting point: it’s the non-white man today but it will be the white man tomorrow. Asia and Africa particularly are feeling the effects of climate change now with famines, droughts, floods etc. creating suffering and havoc throughout the year but we in the west hardly hear of it. Rarely is a flood in Bangladesh deemed newsworthy. It’s only when fires ravage Australia or floods wipe out an inhabited area of America that we take note and the scientists take the opportunity (again) to tell us this is climate change. But very quickly we have the likes of Matt Ridley (with whom Williams opens chapter 7, Climate Privilege’) who tell those of us from rich nations that it’s all actually really good stuff and we can all enjoy nice warm summers now (I kid you not).

Williams argues that while we are so distanced (at least for much of the time) from the effects of climate change, it will get to us eventually. And when it does, then that’s really game over for the human race experiment. Again, his arguments are convincing. Climate change is real and it is coming this way. It is time, he says, to grow up and accept our responsibilities.

That’s not his whole fight on the cause of ending racism. Williams is far more nuanced than I’m portraying here. Racism is wrong even if somehow climate change was never going to affect us. But it is the major takeaway to use for those who want to deny there’s any racism in climate change issues at all. No one likes to be told they (or their ancestors) are wrong and that they need to cough up the cash to fix past sins. But the fact of the matter is: we need to. Not just for the benefit of the many peoples who are suffering now, but for ourselves too.

Time is short. The academic arguments need to cease. Williams’ book is a call to arms. But that call is made intelligently, rationally and with a ton of careful research behind it. Quite simply: it’s a must-read.

Social Entrepreneur, educationalist, bestselling author and journalist, D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Listen to his life story in interview with the BBC here.

His latest book is ‘Try not to Laugh’ and is a guide to memorising, revising and passing exams for students.

Both ‘The Old Man on the Beach’ and ‘Sonali’ are available on Amazon for kindle and paperback. Published by Shopno Sriti Media. The novel,’The Pukur’, will be published by Histria Books in 2022.

D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at dkpowell.contact@gmail.com. Alternatively, he is available for one-to-one mentoring and runs a course on the psychology of writing.

Ken writes for a number of publications around the world. Past reviewer for Paste magazine, The Doughnut, E2D and United Airways,  and currently reviews for Lancashire Life magazine and Northern Arts Review. His reviews have been read more than 2.2 million times.

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