Article: Climate Change and Race

(for a more in-depth but academically inclined article, click here)

Climate Change and Race: a new project by Virtual Migrants

By Kooj (Kuljit) Chuhan, for Virtual Migrants

Recycling, carbon footprints, saving the planet, doing your bit.  We then say its still getting worse, but hopefully all of our changing habits will stop Climate Change getting too outrageous.  Its all about Carbon, which is in too many things that we use and abuse and ends up as Carbon Dioxide (CO2).  Put simply, CO2 created by human activity creates an atmospheric ‘blanket’ which traps heat inside the planet.  All of the solutions seem to need very careful management of this ‘human activity’ which will hopefully avoid the worst predictions, but its too late to avoid some degree of serious problems for which significant preparation is required.

With all this, it can come as a bit of a shock to hear the leading environmentalist James Lovelock predict that the worlds population will reduce to one quarter of what it is now over the next 80 years, due to climate change.  This would mean a vast number of deaths in a very short space of time, something beyond anyone’s imagination.  There are various maps, such as in a recent issue of New Scientist and also in the magazine Nature, showing the countries worst affected, and we find that the majority of these are in the Third World.  As Professor of Environmental Studies Jonathan Patz says, “Those least able to cope and least responsible for the greenhouse gases that cause global warming are most affected… Herein lies an enormous global ethical challenge.”

For example, Africa produces some of the lowest amounts of CO2, but is likely to have some of the highest death rates.  It is a ghastly irony that philosophies and ways of living which respected and lived in harmony with the environment have become despised by western values, aggressively greedy values which by causing climate change are then causing those harmonious cultures to suffer the most.  It will be no surprise that, according to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), the greatest single impact of climate change could be on human migration.  A recent issue of Forced Migration Review was devoted to Climate Change and Displacement, and it stated that this entire area of climate change is badly under-researched.

As people who have migrated to the UK or are descended from those who have, we remain close to our ancestral lands and our friends and families still in those lands.  Their ways of life often struggle to survive, while for us the UK has its own challenges.  So its no surprise that thinking of problems 50 years on, which is hard enough for people in the West to do, is even harder among our communities.  Isn’t it time for us to wake up, because the biggest damage which could result from climate change will be to our countries of origin?  Not only that, but this could become the biggest factor to affect race relations in the UK, Europe and other developed countries, with so many people from our countries likely to need refuge in places such as the UK.  We may have a special role to play, having links with the countries which may suffer the most while also residing in a country which is causing a good part of the damage.

We can see that this predicted super-holocaust will have been caused by the demands of the industrialised ‘first’ economies, in the same way that previous demands have meant mass exploitation and murder for many countries over the past few hundred years during slavery, colonial expansions,  exploitation by multinational companies and so on.  Along with the human casualties, the environment has also been exploited and there are many examples of damage such as the desertification caused by over-cultivation or unsustainable irrigation, and corporate mass poisonings as in Bhopal or the Niger Delta.  Thinking of it this way climate change is just one of a number of kinds of environmental damage, except it is affecting the whole planet – including the ‘first’ world who cannot ignore it any longer.

Virtual Migrants is a group of artists based in Manchester who focus on issues of race migration and globalisation.  We are beginning a major project titled “The Centre Cannot Hold” which will examine and discuss the ways in which Climate Change is a continuation of these imperialist processes.  ‘Part 1’ of this project is taking place in Bristol, and The Arnolfini gallery (in Bristol City Centre) have invited Virtual Migrants to present this, as a multimedia installation, for their “C Words” exhibition about ‘climate justice’.  There are also two performances with live speakers and music, the first of which is with BDA’s own Guy Bailey on Sunday 4th October; and then another on 7th November. Full details: .

We are inviting local people, activists, performers or artists to become contributors to our work and performances at The Arnolfini.  We can also offer a workshop or talk to local groups or campaigns; we could show work or do a performance at a local venue or centre.  Any Bristol people or groups who want to get in touch, email:  info(at) .  Or contribute via our blog .

“The Centre Cannot Hold – Part 1” is showing 3rd Oct – 29th Nov 2009 as a part of the “C Words” exhibition at The Arnolfini, 16 Narrow Quay,  Bristol  BS1 4QA.

One Response to Article: Climate Change and Race

  1. Anne Jacobsen says:

    Hello and thank you for this article. So-called environmentally induced migration is multi-level problem. According to Essam El-Hinnawi definition form 1985 environmental refugees as those people who have been forced to leave their traditional habitat, temporarily or permanently, because of a marked environmental disruption (natural or triggered by people) that jeopardised their existence and/or seriously affected the quality of their life. The fundamental distinction between `environmental migrants` and `environmental refugees` is a standpoint of contemporsry studies in EDPs.

    According to Bogumil Terminski it seems reasonable to distinguish the general category of environmental migrants from the more specific (subordinate to it) category of environmentally displaced people.

    According to Norman Myers environmental refugees are “people who can no longer gain a secure livelihood in their homelands because of drought, soil erosion, desertification, deforestation and other environmental problems, together with associated problems of population pressures and profound poverty”.

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