Racism, Internalized Racism, and Climate Change 

Recently released reports highlight the immediacy and severity of the dangers of climate change. Damage from climate change is no longer something that will happen in a far-off, distant future. We are feeling the effects of climate change in the here and now—in our own lives, in the lives of people we know, and in our communities.

There are a number of ways that racism and internalized racism have affected our response to climate change. Four ways that racism has affected it include (1) lack of climate ambition among leaders, (2) communities of People of the Global Majority being disproportionately impacted by climate change, (3) communities of People of the Global Majority bearing a disproportionate share of the burden for doing something about climate change, and (4) the bulk of the decision-making and the resources for doing something about it being in the hands of white people.

I’ll expand on one manifestation of this racism and say something about a manifestation of internalized racism.


In the United States a climate change denier, put in office following a national campaign steeped in racist rhetoric, is in charge of national policy for doing something about climate change. This leader not only lacks the “enhanced climate ambition” needed by national leaders in this immediate period of time, he also promotes policies and programs clearly designed to speed up and deepen the effects of climate change. 

Supported by a base of constituents who publicly advocate vitriolic racism, this leader has withdrawn from participation in international agreements about climate change, such as the Paris Accord, and eliminated policies and programs that would slow or reverse the effects of climate change. Publicly advocated racism has resulted in a national climate in which, instead of doing something to slow or reverse climate change, national policies and programs, rooted in greed and racist ideologies, are helping to speed up climate change and worsen its impact.

Communities and nations of Black and Brown people have so far experienced the most severe impacts of climate change. The limited response of leaders of Western nations to climate change reflects racism. And the denial of climate change by national leaders in the United States, in the face of irrefutable evidence, is supported by a political base steeped in racism.


People of the Global Majority sometimes feel that care of the environment is not our issue. The racism in our daily lives is so overwhelming that we find little time or attention to think about care of the environment. Staying alive, and supporting our families and the people in our communities to sustain themselves and live good lives, takes over our attention and concern.

Racism has taken such a toll on our lives and minds that thinking about the future of the planet and the long-term welfare of all our people seems like a task best left to others. Internalized racism has left us with the notion that thinking about the future of our lives, our communities, and life on our planet might appropriately or safely be left to white people.

But now we know the immediate dangers posed by global warming and that avoiding irreversible tipping points for life on earth requires our best thinking.

People of the Global Majority must discharge on the possible consequences of climate change for our families and communities. We could manage to save our neighborhoods from gentrification only to find that our children cannot go outside because they cannot breathe the air. We get to discharge about the ever-growing reality that in many of our communities the rains come too much, or too often, or not at the times or in the places we need them. We get to discharge on how desertification and rising sea levels continue to claim our homes and way of life while tsunamis, cyclones, and other disastrous weather conditions bring trauma into our lives.

Dust from the African Sahara Desert covers the glaciers at Unstad, in Lofoten Archipelago in the Arctic Circle. The Saharan dust decreases reflectivity from snow and ice, speeding the melting of the glaciers and accelerating global warming. Clearly, no part of planet earth is isolated from any other. We are all in this together. People of the Global Majority get to discharge about global warming and then take charge of the movement to preserve life for humans and other living beings on planet earth.

 Barbara Love

International Liberation Reference 
Person for African Heritage People

Amherst, Massachusetts, USA

Last modified: 2019-01-06 02:12:09+00