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Are We all in the Same Storm? Blinders of Climate Privilege

Are We all in the Same Storm?

Blinders of Climate Privilege

George Zachariah

“How the Rain falls differently upon Māori” is the title of a recent article by Rawiri Taonui, on the controversy over the $15 million post-Cyclone Gabrielle Māori Relief Fund announced by Minister Willie Jackson. Mike Hosking criticised the announcement as unjustified “special treatment race-based funding.” According to him, while extreme weather events impact geographic regions differently, the rain does not “fall differently on Māori” nor flooding inundates by “race.”

In his response to Hosking, Minister Jackson explained the correlation between colonialism, settler capitalism, and climate change, and how Māori communities are disproportionately affected by climate change. According to him, Māori poverty, created by the “racist history” of Aotearoa, renders Māori more vulnerable to extreme weather. The Far North District Council (FNDC) outlines how colonisation forced Māori communities off traditional lands onto sub-optimal river and coastal floodplains with a higher risk of flooding, coastal erosion, storm surges and tidal inundations.

Taonui further observes that “Māori also encounter greater difficulties in recovery. According to the FNDC, lower incomes in flood-prone Māori areas reduce their capacity to both prepare and recover from extreme events. With a higher percentage of Māori working in storm-vulnerable primary industries, any decline in existing low incomes aggravates already difficult recoveries.” Yes, the rain indeed falls differently on Māori.

For Rhys Jones, “climate change is a manifestation of colonisation due to dominant capitalist values.” He further observed that “Climate change is just one manifestation of colonialism or an intensification of the environmental impacts of colonisation.” These discussions invite us to be conscious of our climate privilege and to discern climate change as climate injustice.

Mainstream perceptions and analysis of the climate crises are tainted by dominant interests. The diagnosis and solutions are informed by the logic of the prevailing order, protecting, and increasing the resources of the wealthy at the expense of all others. Mainstream climate politics is a betrayal of the communities who are forced to face the brunt of the problem. Our faith-inspired climate witness should begin with a critical interrogation of the mainstream discourses and informed by the perspectives of the victims of climate injustice.

An alternative theological and missional engagement with climate injustice requires a methodological shift, informed by the politics of intersectionality. Intersectional

environmentalism helps us to understand how injustices happening to marginalized communities and the earth are interconnected. It advocates for justice for people and the planet. It examines how different marginalized groups are disproportionately affected by the climate and ecological crisis. Intersectional environmentalism exposes the systemic nature of the crises and links our climate justice witness with the struggles of the Indigenous and subaltern communities for economic, racial, gender, and social justice. It uncovers state policies and practices that differentially affect or disadvantage individuals, or communities based on race, class, ethnicity and gender.

As Cynthia Moe-Lobeda rightly observes, “climate change may be the most far-reaching manifestation of white privilege and class privilege yet to face humankind.” This discernment challenges us to recognize the blinders of climate privilege that prevent us from realizing the consequences of differentials in privilege and power during disasters. Hosking’s seemingly factual and innocent statement, “the rain does not fall differently on Māori nor flooding inundates by race” is an example of such blinders of climate privilege. Faith communities and our ecotheologies and ecological ministries are also infected with climate privilege. Enabling the climate-privileged to recognize and remove their blinders of climate privilege requires the Church to immerse in the sufferings and struggles of the climate-condemned and become intentionally intersectional in our theological and missional engagements.