A new study claims that whites disproportionately harm blacks and other minorities in regards to the pollution they emit relative to the pollution they consume. This is a pristine example of activism masquerading as science.
Every single person on the planet emits a certain amount of pollution per year. You could rank order them (assuming the data were available) from least to greatest and you’d find people of every race, ethnicity and religion at both ends of this pollution hierarchy. As the study states, the representation of the groups at the arbitrarily defined top or bottom of this hierarchy would not be equal: there would be more whites at the top, and blacks and other minorities at the bottom, at least in the US. As the researcher also states—but quickly brushes over—individual pollution emission is primarily dependent on consumption of goods and therefore wealth. It is not, however, dependent on race, but is a consequence of societal group differences. To equalize pollution distribution and consumption by race, you would have to equalize wealth and consumer goods usage by race. That would be communism with a racial element. Hierarchies, both good and bad, are natural and, unless you’re literally in the last place in the pollution hierarchy, you will always be victimizing someone else. This is an inescapable fact.
Does the skin color of the person emitting the pollution she is breathing really matter to a poor person, white or black? If I’m a poor white person living in downtown Chicago, why does it matter if people who look like me are the ones polluting my air? And, if I’m black, why does it matter that people who don’t look like me are predominately emitting the pollution? Isn’t the problem the pollution itself? The source of the pollution is important—but the author relegates the source (consumption of goods, correlated with wealth) to a footnote and chooses to mislead people into thinking this is some type of racial warfare, inadvertent or not.
This manner of analysis only matters if you’re looking for people to hate. It only matters if you want to frame one group (and it’s always the same few groups) as an oppressor victimizing another group. The article is explicit about this: “Is it fair (that) I [the study author] create more pollution and somebody else is disproportionately affected by it?” This is a perfect example of the logically vacuous conclusions often drawn from disparity studies. Just because a data set has an average, doesn’t mean that you can use that average to draw a conclusion about a single data point. In other words, just because white people as a group emit quantitatively higher levels of pollution than other races, doesn’t mean a specific white individual necessarily emits more pollution than a randomly sampled black individual. This would be comically fallacious reasoning if it weren’t so often celebrated. James Damore articulated this fundamental fact particularly well. His memo is worth reading for this point alone.
Unless you’re at the bottom of this hierarchy, you cannot possibly avoid disproportionately affecting someone else—yet the author only seems to care about minorities, despite the fact that there are presumably millions of whites in the same boat. This is a perfect example of white guilt in action.
Identity politics, which groups people based on immutable characteristics, is the foundation of pseudo-scientific racism, and used to be used almost exclusively by the right. The ways the far right and not so far left talk about groups are now nearly identical. For example, Affilia, a feminist social work journal, published a portion of Mein Kampf rewritten from a feminist perspective, as part of the recent Sokal Squared hoax. The vilest ideology in human history was indistinguishable from intersectional feminism when presented to academics. The danger identity politics poses cannot be overstated.
Professor Robert Bullard interpreted the pollution study as confirming “what most grassroots environmental justice leaders have known for decades, ‘whites are dumping their pollution on poor people and people of color.’” He took this study to mean that the white population is victimizing both poor people and people of color, simply by living their lives as any normal person (black or white) with at least a moderate amount of wealth would. If whites are dumping their pollution on these other groups, that could be considered a macro-aggression. It’s not much of a leap to conclude that macro-aggression can be met with macro-aggression. Far lesser causes than the endangerment of physical health have inspired calls for violence or actual violence in recent years. Some argue that certain words constitute violence in and of themselves. How might these same people rationalize responding to the supposed physical harm whites are dumping into black and brown communities?
So, if you’ve identified a supposed problem (disparity in the pollution hierarchy, not pollution itself), what is your solution? Should we implement a progressive white tax to incentivize whites to reduce their consumption and give that money to black and brown folks to allow them to increase their consumption, thereby leveling the playing field? At what point would you consider this problem fixed? When the exact average of black consumption of pollution divided by black emission of pollution was the same as that of whites? How many groups would you look at? There are a seemingly endless number of ways to group people. And if you don’t include all groups in your Social Justice study, aren’t you discriminating against excluded groups? Are there any areas where disproportion between groups is not emblematic of a systemic problem? Should we consider the disproportionate number of men in prison to be a systemic injustice?
Ultimately, identity politics leads to this type of reasoning. If you look at people based on the groups to which they belong through no fault of their own, you can’t draw conclusions without blanket judgments of an entire group. If these judgments are viewed through the lens of an oppressor/oppressed dichotomy, they will lead to a call for group-based retribution—though it is never framed as retribution, but as equity. It often comes down to Group X has this unfair advantage, it’s Group Y’s turn, rather than X policy is unfair for Y reason, let’s change it for the betterment of all. Of course, getting people to agree on why Y reason is unfair when people disagree on fundamental values (such as the merits of individualism over collectivism) is a complex issue beyond the scope of this article.
Alt-right and white nationalist types also reveal a group-based retribution mindset. Jews hold a disproportionate number of positions of power within business and media, according to the extreme right—and they use this power to victimize whites. I don’t know what percentage of Jews actually hold such positions, but it’s irrelevant—the validity or otherwise of this alt-right viewpoint doesn’t rest on the accuracy of the statistic. The problem is that they use this statistic to justify abhorrent policies with which no rational, neutral observer would agree. This group-based view of the world is increasingly becoming the mainstream leftist (but not liberal) view as well (just replace Jews with whites or whiteness). Only one side of the political spectrum takes heat for this abhorrent worldview in the mainstream media, however. Tucker Carlson, for example, derided illegal immigrants for making the country dirtier and was blasted for it. The author of this pollution study says whites make the air dirtier and his research is “praised” by “outside experts.”
Our culture is heading towards a very dangerous place. Whoever said that those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it appears to have been mistaken. The people who are most focused on historical atrocities appear to be the ones doomed to repeat them. I highly doubt we will ever see concentration camps for white people or men, but enough mainstream institutions on the left have regressed to an extraordinarily similar mindset to that of the far right extremists to warrant serious concern. Many self-professed champions of Social Justice either remain silent or applaud such ideas.
My prediction is that the continued promulgation of regressive ideologies will soon yield policy more closely resembling Jim Crow than 1940s Germany—and it looks as if that prediction is quickly becoming reality.
Your comparison to Tucker Carlson is absolutely ridiculous. The difference between him saying “Hispanics are dirtying America” and someone saying “Whites are dirtying the air” is that we can objectively say the second if we consider particulate matter as the dirt in the air. Saying that Hispanics are dirtying America requires you to operationalize “dirtying” in that context—that is a much more collectivist argument; the collective being white America that is being dirtied by illegal immigrants, is what Carlson would be saying. It’s much more likely that Hispanics would suffer the gulag or death camp if they are thought of as “dirtying” American society. In the comments section you call this a “study masquerading as science” because of the comments by Robert Bullard—who was NOT part of the research team! He was just someone who was interviewed about the study. In your essay and comments, your repeatedly refer to him… Read more »
You say that the differences we have on this have to do with individualism and collectivism. That’s an absurd assumption. The difference is that I at least read the actual study instead of just an NBC report on it. Your essay is really just about the one sentence someone said when they were interviewed about the study, which is fine if you made that clear. Instead you use that to condemn the scientific study, which you don’t actually talk about at all.
If you’re going to write an essay on a scientific study, please actually read the study instead of an NBC report on it. You might not confuse someone who was interviewed about the study with the scientists who actually did the study.
Keith, please see my response to Marian’s and Erik’s replies, I believe this addresses many of your concerns with my piece.
As for your point about wealth disparity, the author is not just trying to say the wealth disparity causes the pollution disparity; he relegates this point to not much more than a footnote. He specifically states the pollution disparity is an “inequity”, meaning it’s unjust. The data does not support this conclusion as this is a value proposition. Specifically its a left wing value proposition. Whether or not you can derive values from facts has been fiercely debated by philosophers for centuries, but he presents this injustice as an objective fact derived from the data.
This is why I call the study activism masquerading as science.
“the validity or otherwise of this alt-right viewpoint doesn’t rest on the accuracy of the statistic.” Erik, I repeatedly draw connections between what I call the “leftist” view point and the alt-right view point. Sub out alt-right in my quote and replace with leftist and this perfectly addresses your critique. Please answer me this, why is it wrong for Tucker Carlson to say illegal immigrants are making the country dirtier, but not wrong to say whites are making the air dirtier. Is it simply because Tucker doesn’t cite any data? Assume that he did have the data to back up his assertion. Or even assume he had the data to back up his (hypothetical) assertion that Mexicans in general are making the country dirtier. Worse, say he had the data to back up his (again hypothetical) assertion that Mexicans are not only making the country dirtier, but the bulk of… Read more »
Thanks for your comment. I don’t know anything about the DAPL pipeline, but from your comment it doesn’t appear you quite understood the point of the article. I’ll take your comment and your proposition as true, for the sake of argument, that the DAPL pipeline is being purposely routed through Native American lands to spare “white lands”. In other words the routing of the pipeline is based on racist intent (white identity politics) if we take your argument at face value. If this is the case, and there is not some confounding variable that reasonably explains the routing of the pipeline, then the conclusion based on the available evidence is sound. But that’s not what we have in the environmentalism study I discuss in the article. The source of the pollution disparity or pollution “inequity”, is due to the disproportionate consumption of goods. White people, on average, are not consuming… Read more »
The fact that the groups at each end are not homogenous is not some sort of refutation of the statistical analysis. I’m not aware of any statistical theory that says that if a given segment of the results is not homogenous that no statistical conclusion can be derived from it. It’s disingenuous to say “well, there’s rich black people, so, it’s not a white thing.” That’s just not how statistics or proportions or trends work. I think it’s reactionary to paint an impact study that finds racial disparity in environmental impact (on both cause and effect vectors) as a vehicle of white hate. The nugget of truth here is that it’s not *really* race that determines pollution output, but wealth. So what? The question that you avoid there is — *why is that?* You pooh-pooh the notion of adjusting things such that non-whites would make up a proportional amount of… Read more »
This was a TERRIBLE article. It did not accurately portray the research nor did it even engage with the report. The author is clearly uninformed on the empirical research on race and pollution–because he doesn’t discuss it. Some of the research on these connections (and there’s much more, all quantitative as opposed to this qualitative Areo essay): https://www.sesync.org/project/collins/disproportionality-inequality-vulnerability
Great essay, clear and compelling writing style.
I would say the left are the major Jew haters today. Ironically they are seen as ultra-white, their high incomes evidence of extreme privilege. Genociding the 6 million Jews in Israel is increasingly becoming a mainstream left opinion, so I wouldn’t be sure concentration camps or gulags aren’t on the horizon. Recall the left interned the Japanese just a few decades ago.
An example of racializing environmental politics which does show prejudice is the routing of the DAPL pipeline away from white-majority Bismark, ND onto the lands of the Native American lands in the Dakotas. The Bismark route would have been more cost-effective, so what other reason could there have been for the decision to re-route the pipeline?
Good essay. When we’ve racialized everything, we’ve lost all that the Civil Rights movement fought for. If we are to salvage the gains in consciousness made since the 1960s, we need a new progressive movement to beat back today’s faux progressives, who are sadly doing most of the damage.