“While the earth is enslaved, none of us is free. While the earth is ‘a nigger,’ … so are we.”Alice Walker, Everything is a Human Being
“My turn to state an equation: colonization = ‘thingification.’”Aimé Césaire, Discourse on Colonialism
This piece looks at the issue of ‘climate control’ versus ‘climate change’ in the hood. There is separation in our communities around what exactly has caused the rampant, more severe, more frequent superstorms, earthquakes, monsoons, and wildfires we are witnessing across the planet. Some people embrace the idea of climate change, which typically states that levels of wasteful overconsumption by everyday people has caused a destabilizing level of environmental alteration that the planet has never seen. On the flip side, many embrace the concept of climate control, in which it’s not average population members and their participation in the day-to-day economy ravaging the ecosystem, but rather people at the upper echelons of society who cause modern catastrophes for their profit. Importantly, the climate control line argues that a literal machine or piece of technology is being used to significantly alter mostly weather patterns, etc. while the climate change line argues that our species’ cumulative addition to pollution is a logical outgrowth of natural mechanisms in our genetic makeup. Both sides see the other as conspiratorial.
Climate change theory makes sense according to a mainstream liberal logic. It is often focused on getting political leaders and scientists to push governments’ regulatory action around this issue. It’s particularly appealing to a huge number of Black people who have experienced or been organizing around environmental injustices (like the well-known travesty of water quality issues in Flint, Michigan)—and seek State restitution for damages. Climate control theory, though, makes more sense according to an anti-establishment logic, as it often focuses on inspiring regular people to expose the rulers of society and push some degree of intellectual autonomy from the mainstream or practical oppositionalism to the establishment. It’s especially appealing to a huge number of Black people who have lived through environmental injustices as well, but who would never trust scientists because of brutal histories of mistreatment (like the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment)—and who don’t necessarily find a resolution in the government either, for the same reason. Both sides of this debate in our communities regard the other position as tied up in white supremacist propaganda; the mainstream liberal line identifies ‘climate control’ theory with right-wing, conservative agendas, and the anti-establishment line identifies ‘climate change’ theory with left-wing, postmodern agendas. Both of these poles share one thing in common: a somewhat critical/conscientious orientation—the underlying force in the Black spirit which pushes us to be concerned about the racial/class connections between the struggles of our people and the fate of our planet.
Both climate change perspective and climate control perspectives in the hood make us somewhat aware that the climate problem itself, whichever way you frame it, has something to do with racism. Yet, they both fail to fully express that critical conscience in its most logical and ethical form, due to a few key analytical gaps. These gaps can only be filled by a radical stance. This piece seeks to articulate a third, revolutionary perspective, by first further reviewing ‘climate change’ theory and ‘climate control’ theory right beside each other, revealing how they are ultimately both wrong; before finally, describing a different ecopolitics, one that can effectively and accurately confront the stamp of racism upon our planet’s current climatic conditions.
‘Climate change’ theory is often tied to discussions about an ‘anthropocene’ or ‘anthropogenic environmental impact.’ Both of these words are based on the Greek word anthropos, which means ‘human.’ They basically describe how the human species has had a unique, unrivaled impact on nature, climate, ecosystems, biodiversity, available natural resources, etc. compared to other species or forces. Scientists seeking to understand the role humans play in this altering of the planet work to measure and trace a combination of economic and biophysical factors, such as consumption (the use of resources), pollution (the introduction of waste or contamination), deforestation (removal of forests), and reproduction (additions to the population through creation of offspring). They identify that there are discernible shifts in the usual flow of things about our natural world, shifts that are markedly distinct from how ecological conditions have unfolded in history before: such as how parts of the ocean are becoming dead zones, ice in the Arctic is melting, carbon levels are getting up there, creating temperatures that are unusually high too consistently, massive flooding of the coasts is on the way as sea levels close in, plant and non-human animal species are dying off or being seriously endangered at alarming rates. While the planet has undergone extreme, inhospitable conditions in the past, the rate at which these patterns are happening within a given time frame or —compared to how old the planet is—that’s causing concern for many and motivating them to look back across human history to see if our species is the unique factor that brought us here. What happens next is many scientists and environmentalists take their analysis of human history and flatten all of its complexity into one narrative: to say that it’s simply ‘human nature’ to overexploit resources as if our species is biologically doomed to destabilize the earth system. From there, we find that a lot of climate change talk becomes focused on policy and laws being passed so that they can regulate the economic affairs that supposedly arise from the supposedly unsustainable and ‘competitive’ nature of humanity. But it’s the economic participation of struggling workers, of everyday people, of poor people facing the brunt of it all—despite the fact that we are exploited people, disproportionately closed out of access to resources. How can those who have the least be the main ones held responsible for ecological wastefulness and thus blamed for climate change? The people who do not own the oil companies leaving huge spills in our oceans and waterways are being asked to stop driving to work at least twice a week and walk instead to ‘reduce greenhouse gas emissions’—as if our participation in the economy is the main source or anchor of pollution. It all starts to sound even fishier when you think about the fact that almost all of the historical moments environmentalists and scientists point to as evidence that humans are ‘naturally’ predisposed toward unsustainable habits actually correlate to European social formations. At this point, working-class Black people are gonna rightfully be skeptical of this entire story about changing planetary conditions, about the economy, and about scientific studies of humanity—and instead, turn to climate manipulation theory. Especially since climate change talk is often mixed in with phrases like ‘the tragedy of the commons,’ and ‘survival of the fittest’ and ‘overpopulation’ that have eugenicist histories. This is happening along with a larger history of racist practices within white environmental movements, such as the conservation organizations and wildlife preserves criminalizing Baka peoples on their own lands, Central Park being formed in the name of green sensibilities but on the displacement of an entire Black community, media hype around poaching in Afrika that scapegoats the Continent as politically incompetent and socially backward in comparison to the West.
Climate control theory at least allows one to regard the rich (and white) people and their governments as adversaries. From a climate control standpoint, you can identify that rich, white people are the ones behind all the ecological calamity and that they are just blaming it on poor people’s ‘natural’ habits to advance a plot for world domination under the guise of sustainability regulations. This is a valid conclusion. It represents a somewhat more politically ‘conscious’ disposition toward the world. It identifies the powerful as arbiters of these catastrophes and resonates strongly with those who know something about how ecological devastations often impact working-class Black communities much harder and more frequently than white, affluent ones. It makes even more sense when you consider how many hurricanes and earthquakes and droughts have hit the Global South as opposed to the Global North. It’s not hard to presume that the ‘change’ in weather patterns is a purposeful assault on the darker and poorer peoples of the world when you consider that after such climate devastation occurs, companies and the like will scramble for impacted zones to make a profit. A very well known example is development projects in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, but there are several other horrifying examples. Then, when you find out that a lot of talks about ‘greenhouse gases’ has something to do with some scientists trying to develop something known as ‘geoengineering,’ or when you discover that the US military actually spent a huge top-secret operation when fighting in Vietnam trying to produce rain clouds and influence the monsoon season—it becomes easy to put all the pieces together and say to oneself that the people who have taken ahold of our homelands and continue to start wars to steal the planet’s resources have also mastered the earth enough to weaponize its processes against us for their gain. What happens next is that climate control theorists then take the complexities of this more conscious perspective and flatten it into one narrative: satan runs an elite circle of human beings, namely the Illuminati (composed apparently of Jews, or queer people, or communists) who possess some kind of secret machine or technology they use to manipulate the world’s affairs in order to maintain their economic power and keep everyone else poor. From there we find that a lot of climate control talk focuses on populist appeals to the ‘common man,’ that oppose any and all ideas and people and social movements which are seen as operating in service of the satanic plot. But much of this ‘conscious’ opposition is directed at fellow marginalized and underclass Black people —despite the fact that all Jewish people, queer people, and communists cannot actually be conflated with white supremacy because Black Jews, Black Queers, Black Communists exist. Someone’s religion or sexuality or ideology cannot be framed as inherently invested in forces of domination, blamed for planetary devastation—not when many of the people being scapegoated this way are exploited people too, on the front lines fighting against fascist and imperial violence, including as a way to resolve the same environmental catastrophes that climate control theorists rightly identify as having white supremacy as a cause. Further, the notion of an ‘Illuminati’ is false, and was put out there by rich white colonizers who needed to invent scapegoats to hide their deeds while exploited peoples continue fighting amongst each other, erroneously; so it’s a contradiction for anyone who bases their perspective on the climate in how oppositional they are to the ‘Man’ and his lies if we then try to use white supremacist logic to our advantage.
It should be clear that there are serious both logical and ethical problems with both climate change and climate control lines. They place undue focus either on the ‘nature’ of poor people (and their individual choices) at the bottom of the structure of society (like liberal climate change talk does), or on the secret machinery of queer people/Jews/communists (and their individual choices) at the top of the structure of society—because they serve to hide the fact that the structure of society itself is the source of all these problems. They create fictional enemies out of those being exploited in this hierarchical structure because both liberal climate change and conservative climate control theory are not interested in abolishing the structure. Those pushing climate change and climate control theory are often more interested in reforming and reclaiming and redefining the structure of society in some way—whether through liberal petitions for State redress or policy change, or the right-wing populism-fascism that seeks to snatch the reigns over the State and capitalism into common people’s hands.
An alternate lens is needed, motivated by a revolutionary commitment to abolish the entire structure of the world system by radically resolving the contradictions of the State and capitalism. This perspective theorizes modern environmental crises as a ‘problem of the color line’ instead of just due to some ‘climate change’ or ‘climate control.’ Color line theory seeks to accurately and conscientiously explain what/who reinforces and benefits from changing ecological conditions by focusing on the structure of society as a whole (rather than just what supposedly happens at the top or bottom of the structure). Because of this wider analysis, color line theory does not push false and illogical biological reductionist, anti-poor, anti-queer, anti-Semitic, anti-communist misrepresentations of what’s going on at the bottom or the top of the structure, which ultimately blame exploited people for the present ecological crisis. Instead, color line theory understands the hierarchical arrangement that is the modern world system itself—and its history, how it exists and impacts the planet and our people by imposing particular material interests on us—in terms of ‘Man’ versus ‘thingified,’—colonizer versus colonized.
A colonizer describes one who benefits from “a system of land occupation and theft, labor exploitation, and/or resource dependency that is to blame for much of our modern concepts of racialization. [Colonization] is an act of dominance in which a forceful state overtakes a “weaker” state; this means that colonization is the act of forcefully stripping sovereignty of a country through acquisition of land, resources, raw material, and governmental structures. Systems of colonialism are based in notions of racial inferiority, as they perpetuate white/European domination over non-white colonial subjects… The most obvious (and broad) example of colonialism is the expansion of Europe into Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and the subsequent creation of colonies. Through violence and manipulation, a relationship of control and influence was exerted economically, socially, politically, religiously, and culturally.” (Understanding Colonialism, Devyn Springer)
The form of control that is enacted by colonization is a Capitalist one. Under capitalism: “open access to [natural resources] is foreclosed to us: instead, it is mediated by racialized/colonial class rule. It is a hierarchical arrangement that renders our activity in the environment and relationships to one another as now redefined by and subject to the logic of a ruling class and their “rights” to “property.” Their property is secured by a State or government apparatus and its armed forces. Under the hand of the state, a small subset of people exercise material ownership over the natural resources of the planet and determine who has access… The rest of us are placed in a position where we are forced to… [T]here is no other option allowed by the ruling class and their government protections (i.e., there is no other way to get direct access to our material needs without coming under the fire of the State/armed forces who are here to hold down resources for the most powerful). The purpose of this rigged setup, and the theft/coercion of our labor, is to make every relationship in our society about producing and selling commodities on a market. This market allows for the constant accumulation of resources… This process seeks to commodify everything from land to water, to food and even air. Capitalist thought tends to portray this market-based growth and gain seeking as good for the collective and as the best economic system our species has to offer but its basis and starting place is in an alienation of the masses from the material means of survival, the earthly source of our power. And, in the end, it only truly benefits the few” (Anarkata: A Statement).
Put together, an analysis of capitalism and colonialism helps us affirm that the primary means by which the planet is transformed for the Man’s gain is through a violent mode of production that imposes a rift between working-class Black people and the earthly source of our empowerment; climate catastrophe is therefore upheld by a global social structure of ‘thingification.’ Because of this analysis on capitalism and colonialism, Black Radical Traditions reject climate change talks which blame every environmental issue on consumerism rising from innate greed. Black Radical Ecology will, by contrast, point out how roughly 3/4ths of greenhouse gas emissions is caused by only 100 companies. Or how the US military is the world’s single most polluting institution. Or how the State fails to address climate catastrophe and ecocide and will greenlight and partner with capitalists, all for profit. Or how since capitalism reduces the ‘natural’ to a constant pursuit of profits, it will always extend and expand ecocidal devastation, and can never actually be sustainable. And that since it relies on inequality and it allows overuse of resources and exorbitant amounts of waste (even in the production process) by the vampiric First World, the Third World is shut out of access to even the most basic resources and forced to live with the pollution and toxins that the privileged irresponsibly and violently discard. Environmental catastrophes always have more to do with the technological and politico-economic/social machinery of capital than with the population numbers or consumption levels/habits of working-class Black people. By this same token, Black Radical Traditions reject climate control talks that highlight the use of machinery by a satanic group by pointing out how when it comes to things like white scientists trying to perform ‘geo-engineering’ or ‘cloud seeding,’ all of it goes back to capitalism and colonialism. For example, with Operation Popeye by the US military, the archives show that the US is simply speculating on or stating its aims to harness already apparent or pending weather patterns to their tactical advantage, not that they are the actual arbiters of such patterns but because their whole motivation for any attempts at or discussions on weather manipulation have continued to be hopes for success in militaristic, capitalist, imperial pursuits. This is important to understand because it affirms for us that they are not as powerful or capable of controlling the planet as they say they are—and that they are simply in the speculative or experimental processes of trying to get closer and closer to mastery for their colonial aims. Our people and our planet are therefore in no way completely held under or doomed to ‘Man’s’ rule (whether that rule is supposedly secured through a technology or because of human ‘nature’) because it is a system of exploitation that makes up the ‘machine’ is used to alter the planet (as climate control theorists call it), or that comprises the ‘Anthropocene’ (like climate change theorists call it). It is through capitalism and colonialism that ‘natural’ qualities such as our capacity for labor, along with our bodies, lands, are stolen and reduced to mere ‘Things’ (objects) to produce wealth for the colonizer. When we understand this, we understand that white power and modern ecogenic crisis is maintained and operationalized by way of the color line, and so we know that ecocidal ‘machinery’ or ‘anthropocenes’ can be stopped and broken down—since their major components are simply white authority over our bodies, lands, resources, etc. This authority can, therefore, be resisted and destroyed through anti-colonial and anti-capitalist movements, which allow human and natural resources to return to and become anew within the earth, no longer being used for a violent mode of production rooted in unchecked growth and greed. The emphasis and distinct value of Black Radical Ecology as compared to the two mainstream responses to the modern climate crisis is that both the societal structure of exploitation and ecological catastrophe can be put to an end because they are neither caused by some universal ‘human nature’ nor hidden technology beyond our apprehension or reach. No, we can apprehend the problem, and change it, for sure, because its sources are sociologically instituted; they are lived and embodied through our literal class exploitation and the theft and control of our labor, land, resources, cultures, etc. This enables us to know we can bind up the Man and burn down Massa’s house because we can reclaim those ‘things’—our people, and our planet—which colonialism and capitalism either have already stolen, is currently taking ahold of or is seeking to take captive.
The Principles of Environmental Justice by First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit
Ecocide and Genocide are the Secret of Capitalist Efficiency by Bruce A. Dixon
Words Mean Things: Understanding Colonialism by Devyn Springer
Land, Bread, Water: Decolonization as Material Struggle by Alieu Bah
The Future of Science is Black by Cynthia Malone
Burnin’ Down Massa’s House: Notes Toward a Black Radical Ecology by KD Wilson
How To Overthrow the Illuminati by Will, Chino, Saudade, Mamos
Making It Rain: The Science of Weather Manipulation by Kelley Mcsweeney
The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells