Skip to main content
Read page text

Stir Issue 23


The book also explores the idea of ‘climate apartheid’, evidencing the claim that certain communities are more vulnerable to climate change than others. Is addressing inequality – decarbonising through decolonising – the most effective way to mobilise a climate movement? Definitely. One of the struggles for climate activists over the past few decades has been that climate change can seem to be remote: temporally remote – it’s happening in the future, or geographically remote – it’s happening in another place. This is primarily because devastating storms, droughts, and heat waves have, above all, affected former colonised countries in tropical latitudes, not Western countries. But all of this is obviously changing as the impacts of climate change become stronger.

To appeal to people in the most immediate fashion we need to foreground issues of inequality as we struggle to adapt and mitigate. Within cities in the rich world, such as the UK or US, one of the most devastating impacts of climate change is the Heat Island Effect – which is produced when concrete absorbs heat and makes the city much hotter than the surrounding countryside.

Cities, though, are not homogenous, they're sites of extreme class and race inequality. When the Heat Island Effect is triggered, it's almost always the most marginalised communities that are affected. You can see this in the higher mortality rates of communities that cannot afford quality air conditioning and lack public facilities. So this is one way that ‘climate apartheid’ can play out, even in rich countries.

The tragedy is that a disaster does not end when the strong winds and torrential rains die down – a natural disaster can ramify the longstanding results of inequality. The recovery efforts can even make the situation worse for those communities, as emergency management bodies offer loan programmes that load vulnerable communities with increasing levels of debts, or completely ignore them.

Communities that are economically and socially marginalised can be even further marginalised by the recovery and restoration efforts. You can see this over and over again, from the disaster capitalism after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, to the thousands of deaths in Puerto Rico during and after Hurricane Maria, to Latinx and African American populations in Houston still living in floodgutted houses a year after Hurricane Harvey.

Then there is the Global South, where the question of ‘climate apartheid’ is far more evident. Climate change is creating a ‘tropics of chaos’ and this is in a part of the world that has barely any carbon emissions – yet they are the predominant victims of climate chaos. This is where you see ‘climate apartheid’ most clearly. Worsening all of this is the reaction of wealthy countries who engage in anti-immigrant hysteria. Half a century ago Hannah Arendt explored how the colonialism of European countries can lead to fascist dictatorships in the colonial heartland. Of course she was referring to German colonialism in Africa in the 1920s and 1930s, and how that impacted on the rise of the Nazi Party. But I think we are also seeing similar things with the recent anti-immigrant hysteria in the European Union in response to Syrian immigrants, which has catalyzed a major shift rightward across the EU.

To follow on from the question of inequality,  you share research that suggests ‘equal ownership of resources’ is the best protection against disasters. While we’re primarily reacting to the impacts of climate change through post disaster initiatives, what is the role of preparedness and what does it look like?

The ability of societies to resist disasters has been shown by researchers to be a function of the strength of social networks – the capacity of people to help one another. When there is a complex and large social phenomenon, like a city, state authorities can only do so much to help people in the event of a crisis, and by far the most effective forms of reaction are community mobilisation and mutual aid. And so the strength of social networks have a direct impact on the capacity of mutual aid, and when you have a unequal society, segmented by racial, gender and class inequalities, it's much harder for this society to weather any disasters.

In Extreme Cities I looked at how Occupy Sandy activists tried to support communities in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. They went to poor neighborhoods and they used an activist framework of mutual aid. There was wide acknowledgement in New York and the US more broadly that Occupy Sandy succeeded where official relief organisations like fema and the Red Cross failed. As a result, authorities have

My Bookmarks

Skip to main content