Climate and colonialism are two sides of the same culture war coin
Reparations have become a core fault line in both debates
In the week since the end of the COP27 conference in Egypt, there’s been a PR war. Predictably, the agreement that the world’s high-income nations would pay ‘climate reparations’ to poorer countries didn’t meet with universal delight. But the disagreements weren’t just about the impacts of climate change, and who should pay for them. The COP27 proposal sits right at the heart of the culture wars and the ongoing controversies about slavery reparations, as well as this week’s repatriation of the Benin Bronzes.
The ‘loss and damage’ proposal addresses the fact that low-income countries are on the one hand disproportionately affected by climate instability, and on the other have emitted the least carbon. It didn’t come out of thin air. At COP26 in Glasgow last year, campaign groups were angry that no agreement had been made on this $100billion fund to help poorer nations in the transition to greener energy.
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The world’s billionaires achieved $4 trillion profits in the first year of the Covid pandemic alone, but climate change ‘activists’ such as noted private jet collectors Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg didn’t step up. And so COP27 proceeded in the usual mould of disaster capitalism: having privatised pandemic profits, international governance turned now to climate change, and national governments agreed to step in to socialise the losses.
Reaction has been fierce. In Sunday’s Wall Street Journal, climate change ‘pragmatist’ Bjorn Lomberg set the tone, questioning the reality of these emission ‘sins’. According to the Daily Telegraph, the decision of Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives to comply would lead to yet more voters abandoning the Tories in ‘electoral annihilation’. Writing in the Spectator, Toby Young argued that low-income countries ought to thank Britain for kickstarting the industrial revolution and associated technologies which have lifted billions out of poverty.
The word ‘reparations’ is a touchstone for controversies around how we remember slavery, and the row over ‘climate reparations’ is a reminder of the fault lines. So what’s going on here, and how do the ‘history wars’ connect to arguments about climate and biopolitics? What’s really at stake is the question of inequality in the past and the present — and who is responsible for it.
The linking of slavery to climate is dismissed on the Right as ‘woke’. But a globally inclusive approach to the historical past is vital to understanding modern crises. Historians of Atlantic slavery have long argued that the Caribbean sugar plantation represented an early form of industrial workplace. It was also on sugar-producing islands such as Barbados that the model of environmental degradation alongside economic extraction took shape, a model which has produced a whole range of ecological problems worldwide ever since — of which climate change is just one. This is exactly why the reparations debate has long linked the histories of slavery and environment, well before COP27.
Moreover, while conservative commentators have decried Covid biopolitics as an unprecedented assault on bodily autonomy, there’s nothing unprecedented about these policies. The history of European colonial power in 20th century Africa involved the brutal use of medical power over the bodies of African colonial subjects. A useful summary was provided in July 2020 by the historian Florence Bernault, as the pandemic reached the end of the first wave. As she put it:
This shows the misfiring of the reactive response to the history wars. Rather than being worthy of dismissal through grandstanding editorials generalising about ‘wokery’, histories of colonial violence are crucial in understanding the dilemmas faced in the latest iteration of crisis capitalism which was rolled out during the Covid pandemic, and now at COP27.
Climate change is a technical problem and the solutions will be technological. It will fall to the advanced countries to develop them. Given the history of foreign aid it is much better to devote resources to that than give it to Mercedes-guzzling third world politicians and corrupt NGOs.
As to colonialism: if you want me to accept guilt for something my ancestors may or may not have done then you must first prove to me that your ancestors did nothing equally reprehensible and, crucially, that, had they had the opportunity, they would not have done. Otherwise you are simply complaining that my ancestors were more successful than yours – something for which I’m not inclined to apologise.
As for ‘disaster capitalism’, well …
Thanks for the comments. It’s worth looking beyond what is typically defined ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ to gain a more overall perspective. And the last 3 years have shown that there is massive corruption in the Western world, probably far more than anywhere else on the planet.
I always respect an author that is prepared to comment in the discussion section. However, in this instance you don’t actually address the points made by Hugh Bryant who did not mention the left and right, and while he mentioned corrupt NGOs the fact that the western world also harbours the corrupt is scarcely a good argument for extending the opportunities for corruption with some inherently corrupt reparations plan. The idea that the west is more corrupt than anywhere else suggests a rather myopic approach.
“Probably”? Do you have comparative figures? Do you even have a source for the claim that the last three years have shown massive corruption in the West (and where)?
Have you ever tried to do business in West Africa. I don’t think you have any idea what corruption is.
It’s always nice to be on the comment threads at UnHerd where most people are sensible, and even the trolls are relatively polite.
My American Thanksgiving was in part ruined by my having expressed a sentiment nearly identical to yours and my elder son, whom I was visiting, taking the view that pointing out the success of European civilization in comparison to other cultures was “Nazi s**t”, and refusing to spend the day with me (or my wife — I offered to spend the day alone so she could spend it with her son she had flown 1500 miles to see — because as she reported he told her that she sometimes agrees with me, as opposed to agreeing with him, I suppose).
The argument in this article is completely incoherent. Collective punishment is forbidden by Article 3 of the Geneva convention. The idea that one set of individuals who had nothing to do with what was done hundreds of years ago should compensate another set of individuals who equally did not suffer from occurrences in the past falls clearly within such a principle.
Why should a black African whose ancestors were captured enslaved and sold by one set of Africans and shipped to the US be taxed and pay reparations to the descendants of their enslavers? Or is it intended that only those without any African dna be required to pay the tax? The descendants perhaps of those shipped over as indentured servants or escaping the Irish potato famine? The descendants of those who campaigned to end slavery should pay the enslavers descendants? Complete lunacy.
Again why should the descendants of those who created the relative prosperity that nearly all enjoy compared to the past compensate another set of individuals whose ancestors had nothing to do with promoting such material advances?
This is just another socialist scheme to punish the Kulaks of the world. Blame one set of individuals and punish them. Yet another collectivist attack on the individual by the know nothings of the world.
The arguments for reparations rest wholly on guilt, and cynically seek to exploit that guilt for financial gain.
BLM feeds into a culture of guilt among Whites, and victimhood among the Black community. Rather than empowering those it claims to champion, it enfeebles them. It is frankly demeaning to suggest black people are perpetual victims of systemic white racism. It removes the idea that any Person of Colour has agency. It absolves such “victims” of the need to take responsibility for their actions, their choices and their future. Such infantilisation of an entire racial community has been the principle behind much that has held them back.
For all the undoubted evils of the transatlantic slave trade, and slavery down through the millennia, there is no moral case for reparations to anyone other than those who directly suffered it. No such person is alive today.
And why are the calls for reparations in the US only for African-Americans? There is plenty of evidence that ethnic Chinese slaves were treated worse than their African-American counterparts. Yet no one appears to be calling for reparations to Chinese-Americans – a group that now comfortably earns more than White Americans. A CLM movement would almost certainly be met with hostility from BLM supporters. It is because it has never been about achieving equality, it is down to the huge – and very lucrative – industry built up around grievance culture.
Even if you could get past the principle involved – which I would suggest you cannot – how would you administer such reparations? You cannot argue the principle as though it was merely a debating point, such a policy would require real-world application. If you somehow managed to win that argument you’d need to explain how reparations would be allotted.
No one can sensibly answer these basic questions:
Who do you imagine should pay these reparations – and to whom?
How should the monies be apportioned fairly?
If you’re mixed race, should you only receive half the money? – or as a sliding scale based on what proportion of your ancestry suffered under slavery?
Just as a quick aside, whilst investigating someone’s family tree to work out what they are “owed”, does one have to take note of those who are descended from Slavers as well as Slaves? Should the descendants of African slavers be receiving money? By what right?
Say you are descended from a long line of Navy men. The Royal Navy policed the oceans of the world to stop the Slave Trade. Once the British had outlawed the practice in the territories under their control, they set about dismantling the slave trade globally – and expended men and treasure to bring that about.
Should you, as a descendant of those who fought and died to end slavery, be on the hook for reparations? Should the monies you pay in taxes go, in part, as payments to those whose African forebears might have profited from the slave trade?
But such logistical quibbles, although insurmountable, are moot.
The real questions remain – by what right should the 4th, 5th or 6th generation descendants of those who have suffered injustice claim reparation for that injustice? Would such a move help heal divisions or exacerbate them?
Rather than cast about for answers to historical injustice, why not actually do something to help the real problem – Poverty.
That is not a race issue – much as BLM would like to pretend it is. There are better statistics for US society than here in the UK, but the point is the same – the number of white Americans living below the poverty line in 2018 was, at 15.8 million, considerably higher than the number of Blacks in poverty – 8.9 million. Of course the proportion of black people in poverty is higher, given the relative sizes of both communities, but surely anyone who wishes to look objectively at the numbers can see that they utterly explode the divisive narrative myth of “white privilege” on which much of this argument is predicated.
Thomas Sowell has been making these points for many years, now into his 90’s, and with BLM in the ascendency, his voice is needed more than ever. Thankfully there are other intellectuals taking up the challenge – Coleman Hughes particularly impresses me. Still in his 20s he cannot yet speak with the authority of Thomas Sowell, but he is a very honest and nuanced thinker. All too rare in these debates. The matter of someone’s colour should not add a jot to what they say – but we know it does. So it is crucial that we have young black thinkers able to articulate an argument that would not receive the same hearing if it was spoken by a young white man. Coleman Hughes may well fill Sowell’s shoes in time.
But in this country, when a Labour manifesto calls for “an audit of the impact of Britain’s colonial legacy to understand our contribution to the dynamics of violence and insecurity across regions previously under British colonial rule”, rather than dismiss such a thing, perhaps the Conservatives should embrace it and expand on it to contextualise the real history of it.
The transatlantic slave trade did not exist in a vacuum. Slavery had been a ubiquitous fact of life since the very earliest human societies of which we have record. As the race-obsessives of the left are always keen to tell us, Africa is the cradle of civilisation. Though they seem less keen to admit that that civilisation – as with every other historical civilisation – was built by slaves. For the comparatively brief period that Europeans and Americans were involved in the Slave trade, they were mere amateurs in comparison to Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
Slavery was an abomination. It is as close to a moral absolute as one can get that it is wrong for one human being to “own” another – but it is unjust, and arguably racist, to hold one race more accountable for that abomination than another. No one should ever try and excuse the slave trade, but they should, if they’re honest, set it in historical context and perspective. Why uniquely condemn the British and Americans when – as a simple matter of fact – they were involved in a hideous practice that had been going on in every part of the world for thousands of years?
The only unique position that Britain holds in the history of slavery is that in 1807, Britain was one of the first countries on earth to abolish the slave trade, not merely on her own shores, but across the Empire, and then policed the seas to end the trade worldwide. Teach that and you might lessen the sense of grievance that has been inculcated by the partisan and partial teaching of history.
And tackle the real issue, Poverty, rather than cast around for excuses and scapegoats to blame and hold responsible.
Brilliant comment, many thanks!
Interestingly it is only in what used to be called Christendom that anyone came to the view that slavery was (and, alas, is) an abomination. The first person to write that slavery qua slavery was evil was St. John Chrysostom. Unfortunately his views did not catch on, and the Greco-Roman version of the institution persisted until the Empire fell to the Turks, who brought with them the Islamic version. (And perhaps longer, I’m not sure of the genesis of Roma (gypsies) being held as chattel slaves in Romania, whether it was a continuation of slavery from the Empire, even as court rituals from Constantinople were copied by the Romanian princes, or a copy of the Islamic institution). In the West the view had enough currency that slavery was replaced with serfdom, and only revived in the “Age of Exploration” when the Portuguese found that the most valuable trade item from the coast of West Africa was Africans, captured and enslaved by other Africans — a thriving trade already with most of those not kept as slaves in West Africa sent across the Sahara to the Ottoman Empire, with slavers happy to have new customers.
It was only when Wilberforce and his generation of abolitionists in Britain and the Northern abolitionists on my side of the pond (mostly Quakers and evangelical Protestants) caught the public consciousness that the view you, I and all people of good-will in Europe and the Anglosphere regard as obvious actually took hold, and something was finally done about the now-recognized abomination. I believe some of the British colonies in West Africa were only established because it was necessary to extend British rule on land if the slave trade was actually to be wiped out. Perhaps someone more knowledgeable can fill in details about that?
History has always been a battleground – as modern ideas clash over how our past should be interpreted. But facts are now secondary to narrative in today’s teaching of history – and our broader society and culture suffer as a result.
The racial grievance industry is enjoying a boom time. There are careers to be had, books to be written and fortunes to be made. Who cares if we’re speaking the truth if we can make a buck from spreading falsehoods! No sense in trying to bring communities together when your lucrative career depends on stoking resentment on one side of the racial divide and feeding a sense of guilt to the other.
Activist academics like Kehinde Andrews, along with fellow race hucksters like Robin Di Angelo, Ibram X Kendi and the Guardian’s Afua Hirsch, are – as I see it – profiting as arms dealers in the culture war.
Those of their ilk that have been profiting from a hopelessly skewed version of history wish to silence those that dare speak out against it and they have been gifted an important head-start. The identitarian left has already captured most of the teaching profession and most of the cultural institutions of this country. Those who might otherwise push back against this pernicious and divisive agenda often choose to stay silent, mainly down to their fear of accusations of racism. The first, and to my mind, most important way to tackle these lies is through education.
Much of the current fashion of supposedly “decolonising the curriculum” has in fact narrowed rather than broadened what is taught. It’s decades since any children were told the British Empire was simply a force of unalloyed good for the world, but the pendulum has swung far too far the other way. The current fashion is to teach that it was simply a 300 year carnival of atrocities and depredation. What lessons can be learned from History if it is shorn of all context and nuance?
Wilberforce and like-minded abolitionists made the moral case to end slavery, but the men of the Royal Navy should also be feted for the part they played in the abolition of the slave trade. No other country had the will, or the naval power, to enforce the Act of abolishment that we passed in 1807. By 1870 the Royal Navy had captured 600 ships carrying slaves – freeing 150 000 Africans – and their presence prevented countless more slavers from accessing African ports to load their “cargo”.
The campaign began off the West African coast and lasted well in the C20th, by which time the RN was policing all the oceans of the world.
The Admiralty committed 13% of the Navy’s manpower to the West Africa squadron – which was overall the most dangerous assignment for any in the service. Between 1830 and 1865 the squadron lost 17,000 men – mainly to tropical disease.
Those who call for financial reparations never seem to take into account that the C19th costs of suppressing the slave trade dwarfed the C18th profits. Britain spent vastly more on enforcing the abolition than was ever made from the trade.
Outstanding and compelling. You outshine the author of the article for clarity and articulation.
Given that the left often were responsible for the worst errors of colonialism (extreme liberal laissez-faire hostility to famine relief, Dalhousie and the annexation of our Aawadh ally, the Whigs and slavery), and the right often opposed those errors and brought them to light (Wilberforce over slavery, Salisbury over the Orissa Famine, Burke over the 1770s Bengal Famine, Churchill and Birkenhead over Amritsar, Curzon and 1906 famine relief, and Powell over the Hola Camp Massacre), I do wonder if we’re missing a trick with the left.
What if a lefty turned up, said “we should apologise for X and give reparations”, and we said “Yes! GO! Give your money away (bye, bye, Labour War Chest!)! Examine what the left have done in Britain, the British Empire, and in China and Russia (and Cambodia)! Examine why your movement has produced Kim Philby, Dalhousie, Blair, and those people that looked aside when Rotherham happened!”
Sometimes left-wing guilt over empire feels like a golden opportunity. If they looked at themselves rather than blaming others, there would be far fewer problems.
It might even give conservatives the space to defend the better parts of our history. The EIC under Cornwallis coming to the aid of Travancore. Our great alliance with Rajputs such as Man Singh, Pratap Singh, or Ganga Singh (not to forget the Wadiyars of Mysore, or Purnaiah). The great victories of the Royal Navy (not just at Quiberon Bay or Cape Finisterre, but under the ice in the 70s and 80s, when Swiftsure and Warspite faced off against Victor IIIs under the ice).
There might be opportunities here, if the left could be convinced to stop, breathe, and think for a bit. I doubt they will though.
Thinking does not fall within the Leftist arena. For them its all about feelings, primarily guilt and self-loathing.
Feelz are easy. Thought is hard.
Amazingly, “biomedicine” is a real word, real enough to be defined on Wikipedia anyway. Good luck with working out what it means–it seems to be all medicine that doesn’t involve magic or prayer, which is all medicine, really. But I tried reading the article, and all I can say is, for the love of God, don’t bother. If you think as medicine has only three syllables, and to be a serious word it needs a couple more, then Florence Bernault‘s approach to language mangling may be up your street. (And indeed she seems to know as much about Africa as one would expect from a French woman who taught in the USA for 20 years and has recently returned to Paris.)
During and after this period, Africa played an essential role in the discovery and treatment of many diseases such as malaria, trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness), smallpox, syphilis, tuberculosis and plague (Packard 2007; Webb 2013). Major scientific institutions such as the Pasteur Institute in Paris (1887) and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (1899) played a part in circulating imperial knowledge.
It’s just guff. There’s a swipe at elegant variation as “played a part” becomes “played a role” in the second sentence, but look at all the very questionable assumptions that she attempts to smuggle in having bombarded the lay reader with the list of tropical diseases (which ends rather lamely with ‘plague’ but most readers would have stopped reading by then): how can a continent play a role in “discovery and treatment”? Where did this “imperial knowledge come from and where was it held before the Pasteur Institute “played a part” in circulating it? Apparently Africa (all of it) did the intellectual lifting and medical research departments supplied a bit of PR.
Even the passage the author quoted (and I’ve already forgotten his name, a mistake I shall soon rectify if only to ensure I never read his drivel again) talks about “the colonial regime.” What colonial regime? The French one? The Belgian? Does she know? Does she care?
Our government is hardly ‘left’. If anything it is right. So, how left is left? If everybody in government is left, doesn’t it make it right as well? How right do you have to be to avoid being left?
Isn’t it about time to stop blaming a fictitious left and starting to realise that the world is changing/has changed? We are no longer looking out for the Royal Navy to stop an armada; the armada has happened.
“Our government is hardly ‘left’. If anything it is right.”
Left and right are terms that no longer have any practical application. If that is what you are saying then I agree. We should give a defeaning blast on a trumpet whenever either term is deployed.
My point is that Wokeness is a disease of the right, not the left. Those people who are rich, have achieved things in life – highly paid footballers, US presidents, owners of big corporations are totally, unmissably ‘right’.
Being woke is a way for these right-handed people to say, “It’s OK, we’re just like you.” But they are not just like us. This is why Wilfred Zaha always refused to kneel; he saw it as rich, spoilt men pretending to be ordinary.
I kind of know what you are saying. Wokeness is not ‘left’ at all, but actual fascism cloaked as a civil rights movement.
I find people who keep trying to fix the meaning of “Left” as the Wobblies or Comintern era meaning rather cute. I hope you realize the original Left looked out for the interests of both the bourgeoisie and the peasantry against the nobility. Only later, post-Marx, did the Left regard the bourgeoisie as the enemy and the workers (peasants included) as the downtrodden they were championing. Now the downtrodden have morphed into a grab-bag of ethnic and sexual minorities, and the working class are sneered at as “white van men” (your side of the Pond), or “deplorables” and “bitter clingers” (my side).
If by “Left” you mean political movement championing the working-class, then the Woke are not “Left”. However, they are disease of the Left: their ideas do not derive from any opponents of the Left (the Right was very large back in the days of the Comintern — Trotsky was a “fascist”, but monarchists as well as Nazis, Tories as well as liberal advocates of the American Constitutional order were all “right wing”). No, the Woke are the idiot children of the Frankfurt School, Gramsci, Foucault and a host of anti- and post-colonialist acolytes of Lenin’s imperialism theory, and I’m afraid they now constitute the Left.
I would, thus, like to welcome you and all other Old Leftist still around these days to the Right. Someone better look out for the interests of the working classes, and it certainly isn’t the current iterate of the Left.
“The spread of biomedicine in Africa did however take place in an oppressive colonial context, providing the colonial regime with some of its most effective instruments of control: displacement of populations, cordons sanitaires, collective diagnoses, forced treatment, fertility and birth control policies, and invasions of the privacy of the body of the colonised peoples. “
Brings to mind British measures to save thousands of lives in Uganda by moving the population away from the malarial Lake Victoria. The author would presumably they’d rather have died.
I gotta ask, “What is biomedicine and how does it differ from real medicine?” This is a leftish trait — create a new, meaningless term, then throw rocks at it.
Usually “biomedicine” and its adjective “biomedical” are used in the context of research activities to cover both medical research and biological research which might in the long-run have medical applications, but is more fundamental and possibly undertaken without regard for or expectation of a particular medical application.
Its use in this context in place of “medicine” is bizarre. One might wonder whether Bernault is trying to insinuate, with out actually leveling an accusation she cannot support, that colonial administrations experiments on the indigenous populations.
No offence, but I honestly have no idea what argument the author is making here. He jumps from slavery to Covid, and links them together with climate in a way I simply don’t understand.
I think there’s a strong argument that climate reparations are another form of colonialism. The west intends to buy compliance of third-world nations towards green energy. This, of course, will leave them in a permanent state of poverty because the only way to achieve prosperity is through widespread use of cheap, reliable energy. We will deprive these nations of the very products that made us wealthy.
It’s happening already. The west is making it difficult for third-world countries to access financing for fossil fuel projects. Now it intends to justify this with reparations that will only perpetuate poverty.
Misguided European policies have created a devastating energy crisis. But it’s the third world that suffers most. Germany gave South Africa $800 million last year not to burn coal. Today, it has increased South African coal imports because it needs more. With a scarce supply of natural gas, European countries are outbidding the third world, leaving nations like Bangladesh scrambling to find its own supply.
Although there is a strong case that climate reparations are another form of colonialism, I think the author has missed the mark with this essay.
I think it is worse than you say Jim.
Global Warming is a symptom of population growth. The global temperature is estimated to have risen 1C since 1850 but the global population is estimated to have gone from 1B to 8B in the same period.
Obviously fossil fuels made this population explosion possible but it isn’t at all clear to me that were they phased out tomorrow, the temperature rises would stop. 8B-10B people create a lot of heat regardless of the energy sources they use!
The only solution is depopulation. Miraculously, it turns out that when people reach a (pretty low) level of material comfort and societal stability, they start having fewer kids.
Give it time and don’t deprive African and Asian countries of cheap fossil fuels and they too will go into population decline. In a couple of hundred years we will be back to a global population appropriate to the natural resources of the planet.
To speed up this transition we should stop stealing their best and brightest citizens by stopping all migration from the third world to the first and stop the foreign aid boondoggle that props up poor governments. We should also promote trade, especially in secondary goods (while of course protecting our own strategic capabilities).
Good for us, good for them, good for the planet!
We’ve already given a trillion to Africa. Why not waste another trillion?
Many more articles like this one and I will seriously consider cancelling my subscription to Unherd. We should expect better writing than this.
Everything these days is articulated within racist perspectives, not least the constant vilification of white people and denigration of their history. ‘Decolonisation’ is a euphemism for sanctioned ‘racisim’. I wonder how many people are sickened by this relentless brain-washing we now endure daily?
No offence, but this is exactly the way the left would react. I don’t like what he says and I don’t want to see it. What’s the big deal? Just ignore the essay, or better yet, rebut it with better arguments.
My biggest issue with the essay is it’s almost incomprehensible.
I agree with you that the essay is incompehensible – a combobulated jumble of poorly assembled thoughts. Hence my reaction!
It is a pity that Unherd gives space to an fundamentally stupid and malign argument that is regularly trotted out in the MSM, usually with a bit more coherence. Unherd it unfortunately isn’t.
Oh dear oh dear… What a heap of leftie claptrap all rolled into one article.
Once you start on reparations for wrongs done to our ancestors, the bickering will never stop. Danish reparations for the depredations of the vikings? Italian reparations for the massacres of the Romans? How about the muslim world paying reparations for all the slaves they took from Christian Europe – Saudi Arabia has lots of nice money we can use. Even Germany never paid reparations for WWII – on the very sound basis that reparations was part of what caused WWI to continue into WWII.
Money for climate change makes sense, since it is a huge problem, and western money is surely necessary to keep the developing world from burning lots of cold or starving. It does not matter what you call it. Anything else is just moral blackmail which no one will be willing to pay; it will only serve to make otherwise good causes unpopular (as this article very much does). As for the ‘brutal use of medical power over the bodies of African colonial subjects’, would e.g. Africa really have preferred to stick to precolonial methods of medicine and public sanitation? They can still do back to it, if that is what they want.
That should have been ‘keep the developing world from burning lots of *coal*’, not ‘cold’. Cannot edit for some reason.
Time to give the Overton Window a shove: given the worldwide economic / medical / cultural benefits of the enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, I would suggest the UK charge the rest of the world a modest £1M per person. I look forward to rest of world paying us £7,930,000,000,000,000 (together with 2.5% p.a. compound interest since 1760AD) 😉
No Toby, climate and slavery reparations are a crude cargo cult. Pay homage to me, say the activists, and the white men will deliver money and goodies to your door.
Whenever anyone rails about the evils of colonialism, they really must be asked, “Would the world really be better off had the Royal Navy not extripated the slave trade, Indian widows were still being tossed on their husbands’ funeral pyres, and Anglo-Saxon legal norms like the presumption of innocence, independence of the judiciary, trial by jury, habeas corpus, and the like had remained confined to Great Britain?”
Was Bernault describing the early twentieth century, or the early twenty-first century? Or did I just say the quiet part out loud?
…the Oba of Benin ran an exceptionally brutal slave-trading state…and the Bronzes were taken to offset the costs of a military expedition sent to put a stop to his slave-trading activities in 1897…an expedition that included a number of Black African soldiers, albeit as part of a British-led operation. And the bronze to make the sculptures was purchased from Portugal with…you guessed it…slaves, taken by the Portugese to Brazil centuries before…
…and my guess is that the final chorus in this incoherent act of a-historical stupidity will be sounded in a handful of years time, when a number of them re-appear on the international art market…with the proceeds of sale quietly trousered by the people who have just so gleefully reclaimed them.
If the arguments for climate reparations are as coherent as the argument for this act of purblind idiocy…then the idea deserves to be summarily dismissed, as this should have been…but I don’t hold out much hope…
Reparations? GTFOOH. They should be paying us.
What’s really at stake is the question of inequality in the past and the present — and who is responsible for it.
Who is responsible for it? That is a strange use of language when discussing the past since “is” is present tense for “was”. Does this suggest the writer has a moral presentist methodology when considering and understanding the past?
And so moral presentism feeds into what does the writer mean by is responsible. Does he mean the state or fact of being accountable or to blame for something[google]? If so, what justifications does he have for arriving at assigning blame for inequality in the past when the individuals involved may have operated under different notions of morality to those of today?
His thesis for linking past and present – as a line of argument for reparations – fails to take into account his assumed presentist frame of reference.
I thank God that within my social circles, having eco , racism or LGBTQ mania is the equivalent of holding ones knife like a pen, never having shot a gamebird, or seen a foxhound, hence I never actually come across any…
Fascinating to read the comments to see that pretty much nobody sees the obvious connections between the history of colonialism, the covid “pandemic” response, and the climate change “solutions” offered by the global elites. How is it not clear that the article is establishing that all these so-called “woke” solutions are nothing but a continuation of a long colonial history of control over people and nature, only now it’s globally synchronized, high-tech driven, and all of us are its victims. Let’s get beyond the ridiculous left/right divides, these camps have nothing to offer, and recognize the institutional corruption at the heart of our current global UN-2030-SDG style “solutions”, as it has been throughout the long history of colonialism. Great article to have at unherd!
Perhaps. But colonialism was the consequence of knowledge, beliefs and ethical norms that provided motivation for that behaviour. If present day events are to be classified as colonialism, then I would expect an argument to be made that the beliefs, knowledge and attitudes driving current events are symmetrically aligned to those of past colonialism.
Otherwise, why keep repeating the term colonialism, when such current events contain superficial similarities but arise from different motivations?
Fair enough, but when making any analogy to systems or ideologies, one always selects a few central characteristics of a particular system. The people who see the Canadian trucker protesters as fascists pick certain features of fascism (racism, nationalism, etc. [not that these are true, in any way]) that are very different from what people who see the covid response as fascistic do (corporatism, use of public health to control populations in totalitarian ways, etc.). Similarly, it is not a stretch to take some central features of European colonialism, such as control over populations, banning of certain practices, establishment of a superior scientific and ideological framework that eradicates the colonized’ s framework to understand one’s place in the universe, use of the colonized for economic gains, experimentations with colonized populations, etc. These and other central features based on a generalized control and domination over colonized lands and people lend themselves beautifully to making a comparison with the imposition of severe restrictions and mandates under the name of science used allegedly to save lives and the earth through technocratic controls. Somebody like Vandana Shiva makes similar parallels, in the context of India, but it applies well to other contexts as the forces of colonialism are similar everywhere, even if beliefs and attitudes drastically change over time and locations.
Lastly, it seems to me, using colonialism as a blueprint for the grid of control being drawn around us establishes a clear continuity of the corrupt elites who are controlling the strings of finances and data gathering.
Climate reparations is colonialism. We give the Congo $10 billion, but don’t even think about developing those gas fields. Some kleptocrat gets paid and the people suffer.
Writing from Zimbabwe I heard that the government here sent approximately 40 people to the COP summit.
Here’s a story to illustrate the madness of what is happening at COP.
I currently pay $USD 250 per month for water.
First, wetlands on which the water catchment system depend have been developed into housing estates when they should not have been (the Rhodesian government specifically kept them as wetlands for the purpose of safeguarding water supplies, something that was quickly overturned by corrupt Mugabe officials in the 1990s).
Second, there remain clear laws forbidding cultivation in wetlands and close to river banks. These are never enforced and have resulted in severe siltation of the major dam feeding Harare.
Third, corruption and mismanagement has meant that basic maintenance of the pipe system has been neglected for decades, with the obvious outcome that millions of gallons of water are lost each year to leaks.
This is quite separate from the fact that heavy industry has polluted the feed streams so badly that the cost of treating the water has risen 9 fold. And even after that it is not, in my opinion, safe to drink.
The net result is that I have had no water in Harare for close to 20 years. I pump my own water out of the ground with a 60m borehole when I can, but since everyone has now sunk a borehole for the same reason, and since the wetlands replenishing the underground aquifers have been degraded or developed, I only get ground water 6 months of the year, and the other 6 months, bowsers deliver it at a cost of $250/month.
My government has arrived in Egypt to package their home grown water crisis (and many other similar crises) as outcomes of Western driven climate change. Knowing the naivety of most Westerners, money will be forthcoming.
And then, as previously, we will see some nice new shiny cars on the road. And see some viral Instagram posts of minister so-and-so’s son downing shots of Tequila off some Go-go dancer in Paris.
Wow. Fascinating insight.
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