The problem with white climate anxiety: 3 stories you may have missed

© Luana Luna

Editor's note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Conservation News shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.

1. Climate anxiety is an overwhelmingly white phenomenon 

Is climate anxiety really just code for white people wishing to hold onto their way of life or get “back to normal”?

The story: Though climate change stands to disproportionately affect communities of color, “climate anxiety” is a largely white phenomenon, writes Sarah Jaquette Ray in an op-ed in Scientific American. Ray, a professor of environmental studies at Humboldt State University who has written a book on this subject, contends this has implications for how societies respond to climate impacts.

The big picture: “Climate change compounds existing structures of injustice, and those structures exacerbate climate change,” Ray writes. “Exhaustion, anger, hope — the effects of oppression and resistance are not unique to this climate moment. What is unique is that people who had been insulated from oppression are now waking up to the prospect of their own unlivable future.” 

Given that climate refugees are framed as a security threat, will the climate-anxious hoard resources and limit the rights of the worst-affected? Or will they recognize, as Ray suggests, that their fates are tied to those of the displaced, and act accordingly? The world is about to find out. 

Read the story here

Protecting Indigenous land tenure is a potentially big win for climate, wildlife and more.

The story: A new report from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization suggests that securing the land rights of Indigenous communities across Latin America and the Caribbean could reap major climate benefits at low costs, reported John C. Cannon for Mongabay. Investing in Indigenous land tenure, the report’s authors say, also presents an opportunity to address biodiversity loss while helping hard-hit Indigenous communities recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The big picture: The stronger health and resilience of forests under Indigenous stewardship is well-documented. In one example, an analysis of the 2019 Amazon wildfires showed that in most cases, fires stopped at the borders of Indigenous-held lands. Yet Indigenous groups, according to the report, aren’t getting much help these days, notably with respect to cases of friction between Indigenous-held areas and protected areas: In Latin America, almost half the area occupied by Indigenous peoples overlaps with national parks and reserves, Cannon notes. 

“In just about every country we’ve looked at, government support for these Indigenous territories is declining rather than increasing at a time when they should be increasing dramatically,” David Kaimowitz, the report’s lead author, told Mongabay. 

Protecting these forests — and the people and wildlife that reside within them — will require a change of course.

Read the story here.

Speaking of forests and climate anxiety … 

The story: If you have been paying attention, news that the pandemic did not slow deforestation last year didn’t exactly “fly under the radar.” But it seemed worth repeating: According to a new report by the World Resources Institute’s Global Forest Watch — covered by, among many others, Nathanael Johnson in Grist — the world lost a Dutch-sized plot of forests in 2020. (For our American readers, that’s an area slightly smaller than twice the size of Maryland.)

The big picture: What stands out in the new report is that it’s not only humans doing the deforestation — the weather, fueled by a warming climate, is exacerbating the problem  as dry conditions and more severe storms spur more forest loss. “I mean, wetlands are burning!” Francis Seymour, a fellow at the World Resources Institute, said to Grist. “Nature has been whispering this risk to us for a long time, but now she is shouting.”

So what to do about it? As mentioned in our top story, panic and anxiety won’t help. Deforestation is the result of a million cumulative decisions made by humanity. This list can help you make better ones. Hey, it’s a start.

Read the story here.

Bruno Vander Velde is the senior communications director for Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates. Donate to Conservation International.

Cover image: The Amazon, Peru (© Luana Luna)