The Disproportionate Impacts of Climate Change

Humans (our species, Homo sapiens) have struggled for survival for more than two hundred thousand years. During all that time our minds have been improving in their ability to think about our survival, while also accumulating distress recordings that have impaired our ability to think flexibly.

Several thousand years ago, we had learned enough to live together in larger numbers and developed what we call “class societies” to improve our chances for survival. These societies worked well enough that today more than seven billion people populate our planet.

But the accumulated distresses (fears of scarcity, feelings of wanting more, pulls to compete, patterns of entitlement and superiority) have led class societies to legitimize using oppression and force (including war, genocide, enslavement, colonialism, and imperialism) to make it possible for small minorities of people to amass great power and wealth and live luxurious lives of privilege and domination. At the same time, the majority of the world’s population has been exploited to create this wealth and left to fight over what remains. And most of us—divided from one another by oppression and geography, and confused by distresses and by misinformation about the actual situation in the world and our human nature—have gone along with the situation and focus on survival or improving our individual circumstances.

The distresses that have justified using violence, oppression, and so on, to acquire and maintain resources have exploited our planet as well as its people. To generate profit under capitalism, corporations and states extract huge amounts of resource from the land. They take more than the planet can handle or regenerate and use unsafe methods that contaminate the surrounding areas and the planet as a whole. Our global environment is degraded, and one result is climate change—which we must solve in a short period of time before too much damage is done.


Many of the countries most ravaged by colonialism and imperialism are those that have been the most harmed by climate change and are the least economically equipped to address its effects. This is through no fault of their own. Climate change is hitting especially hard in these countries because the colonizers (and global economic policies) have left them with few resources to develop their infrastructures, educate their populations, and provide services to their people.

In the 1700s, 1800s, and 1900s, by means of colonization and military intervention, some European nations and the United States took a tremendous amount of wealth from Africa, Latin America, Asia, and the Pacific Islands, impoverishing these areas and enriching themselves. (China and Japan colonized and exploited the people and resources of many parts of Asia.) The colonizers killed those who fought back, turned groups of people against each other, installed corrupt leaders, and crushed local religions, languages, and cultures as well as people’s sense of power and self-determination.

After the colonizers physically withdrew (though the United States, England, France, and the Netherlands still have de-facto colonies), neocolonialism[2] took colonialism’s place. The former colonies, in dire straits economically, were forced to look outside themselves to institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund for funds to rebuild their societies. Because these institutions are controlled by the Global North,[3] the funds were available only on the terms and at the interest rates dictated by the North.

The North imposed strict economic and social measures on the former colonies. This saddled them with crushing long-term debt and limited their ability to build resilient societies that reflected their own cultures and values. Thus they became vulnerable to even more restrictive conditions to obtain further aid. And many of their leaders adopted the values of capitalism, hoping to abolish poverty or enrich themselves.

Many of the people in these countries live close to the land and depend on farming and fishing for survival. With the changing climate, the patterns of rainfall are changing. When the rains don’t come at the right time, the crops don’t grow, or don’t grow as well, and people go hungry. If climate change brings too much rain all at once, floods wash away the crops, or the village, or the path to where people had gone to gather food, fuel, or water. As temperatures and sea levels rise, some land is no longer productive or inhabitable, water supplies evaporate, wildfires devastate large areas, and whole communities must relocate. And where are these people welcomed and helped to start a new life?

At the same time that Europeans were spreading across the world, people discovered how to burn coal (and later oil) for heat and power. Thus the industrial revolution was enriched not only by stolen resources and the enslavement and exploitation of people but also by the extraction and burning of fossil fuel.

Fossil fuel was a far more efficient and profitable source of power than any of the earlier sources. Therefore gaining and dominating access to it became an important part of colonial expansion and remains an important part of economic world domination today. How many wars have been fought, how many corrupt governments installed and supported, to gain and control access to oil?

Recovering from the legacy of colonialism in the age of global capitalism (when colonialism has formally ended but neocolonialism and economic domination are very much alive) has been difficult. Some of the ex-colonies, even as they are hit by climate change, are looking to use their fossil fuel reserves to pay off their debts and develop their economies. Historically, global financing mechanisms have primarily subsidized fossil fuel industries or mega-dams (which present their own problems) for power. The Global North needs to quickly offer these countries support for using renewable energy in place of coal, oil, and gas, and get rid of the fossil-fuel and mega-dam promoting global financing mechanisms.

What if the former colonies had been free to develop their own fossil fuel and other resources? How many of them would have had the resources to build human-centered societies and would now be able to respond effectively to climate change (and perhaps not be desperate to develop their countries even if it means more greenhouse gas emissions)?

At my workshops I use a couple of excellent graphics to show the disparate impact of climate change. See <> and <>. These graphics are horrifying but can help us understand how much bigger the impact of climate change has been on countries populated by People of the Global Majority. Please take them to sessions for discharge.


The racism and other oppression toward the people hardest hit by climate change—Africans; South, Central, West, East, and Southeast Asians; Pacific Islanders; Latin Americans; and Indigenous peoples worldwide—is a big reason why people of the Global North have been slow to pay attention to and care about climate change.

Climate change has first harmed people who aren’t white, who are living in places most white people don’t care about, and who are poorly represented in global decision-making—which is dominated by wealthy white men focused on economic growth for themselves and their own people. If the destructive effects of climate change in the places that have been hardest hit had been felt in Europe and the United States, they would have received a lot more attention from policy makers and the large environmental organizations, which are also predominantly white.

(Another reason people in the Global North have been slow to pay attention to climate change is that Big Oil, to keep profiting from the use of fossil fuels, has spent billions of dollars, over decades, in a carefully crafted campaign of deception and attacks on science and scientists to hide the accurate information linking fossil fuels to climate change. But that is another article.)

Those of us who have greater resources or live in wealthier societies can temporarily insulate ourselves from the direct effects of climate change. In the Global North many of us can use air conditioning if it gets too hot, can buy air filters so we can breathe the air, can move if the land we live on gets flooded or burned, can buy food in shops instead of growing it, can get medical care that protects us from the worst effects of new diseases. We can temporarily insulate ourselves from the big changes that are happening to the physical world, which is almost impossible for poor and working-class people, Native people, and People of the Global Majority in the United States and other parts of the world. Our governments can spend billions of dollars to rebuild infrastructures that are destroyed by fires, storms, and floods. Most poor nations cannot afford to rebuild or to prepare for the next disaster.

Racism and classism affect who gets help the fastest, who gets the most help, who is harmed the most, and who is eventually abandoned completely to their own means. In the United States, instead of having a national program that acknowledges climate change and helps the people impacted by it, the population must rely on private insurance and individual initiative. Poor people can’t afford insurance, and the insurance only gets more expensive as climate change worsens. (Insurance companies understand the reality of climate change and are adjusting their rates and what they will and will not insure.) The effects of climate change cannot be responded to effectively by individuals acting on their own.


We know that within a very short time we must abandon the use of fossil fuels and make a transition to safe and renewable means of power: solar, wind, micro-hydro, tidal, and so on. All this would be possible, on a global scale, if we would invest what we now spend on oppression, war, and excess consumption in developing renewable resources for everyone.

The old ways human beings have thought about people, the planet, and the planet’s resources don’t lead to a good future for anyone. We need new answers. And to find the answers we have to understand the many intersections between oppression/exploitation and what we have done to the environment.

We also need answers that work on a global scale; we cannot focus only on solutions that benefit the Global North. And we need to financially support the solutions to climate change that the poorer nations develop. (Promises of global assistance to these countries have been made, but acting on the promises has been slow. And increasingly, as the effects of climate change become more pronounced, countries—like the United States—are backing out of their commitments.)


Generations of humans struggling for survival have resorted to oppressive and exploitative acts that have become institutionalized in our societies. Discharge has been suppressed, and (until very recently) there hasn’t been the slack to uncover its importance. Without full access to flexible thinking and connection to others, humans have done the best they could.

In RC we have identified and are trying to free ourselves from the distresses, especially oppression and greed, that have been institutionalized in class societies. We know how to face hard things and come together to discharge what has confused us and limited our thinking. And what better challenge to take on [undertake] than playing a leading role in finding solutions that work for everyone, everywhere, and in the process preventing unimaginable loss of life.

Diane Shisk

Alternate International Reference Person for
the Re-evaluation Counseling Communities

Seattle, Washington, USA

With input from Barbara Love, the International
Liberation Reference Person for African Heritage People;
and Azi Khalili, the International Liberation Reference
Person for South, Central, and West Asian Heritage People

[1] I am a white USer addressing huge issues in a very abbreviated way. Please excuse omissions of important information and write articles from your understandings. —Diane Shisk

[2] Neocolonialism is the use of capitalism, globalization, and cultural imperialism, instead of direct political or military control, to dominate poor nations.

[3] The Global North is the wealthy nations (the former colonial powers) that dominate the world today.


Last modified: 2019-02-08 16:17:11+00