Black Chamber of Commerce CEO calls Barbara Boxer a racist — when she’s trying to stop future Katrinas and he wants dozens more of the most tragic reasons global warming legislation doesn’t have more public support is the (mis)perception that it will primarily affect the poor and disadvantaged around the globe.  In fact, Hell and High Water will devastate poor and rich alike — it’s just that the poor have fewer resources available for coping with the impending catastrophe, and they often to live in areas most vulnerable to extreme weather.

If any proof were needed how hard extreme weather hits the disadvantaged, including poor African-Americans, one need look no further than Hurricane Katrina.  While no individual storm can be directly linked to global warming, energy and moisture picked up from warmer Gulf waters produce more intense winds and rain.  And in the case of Katrina, that extra punch may be what destroyed the levees protecting New Orleans–the “straw that breaks the camel’s back,” in the words of Dr. Kevin Trenberth, head of Climate Analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

The deadly combination of sea level rise and warming Gulf waters mean that — unless we quickly get off our current emissions path — we’ll be seeing many more Katrinas (see “Why future Katrinas and Gustavs will be MUCH worse at landfall, Part 2” and “Nature: Hurricanes ARE getting fiercer “” and it’s going to get much worse“).

Those who want to take the strongest possible action on climate, like Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), are doing so in part because they recognize a moral responsibility we all have to both future generations and to the poor and disadvantaged.  It takes a great deal of chutzpah for anyone to accuse her climate leadership of have racist elements — especially someone who strongly opposes even the moderate climate action currently being considered by Congress, someone such as National Black Chamber of Commerce CEO Harry Alford, whose “group has received $350,000 from ExxonMobil since 2003 and [who] has a history of offering up climate skeptic talking points,” as Grist notes.

And yet Alford did just that in a Senate hearing yesterday. The National Republican Senatorial committee is already pushing this incident hard as if it reflects badly on Boxer, rather than Alford.  But that’s what we’re up against.

Below is the video of the exchange plus a description of this travesty by Brad Johnson, first published in Wonk Room.

In an Environment and Public Works hearing today, National Black Chamber of Commerce CEO Harry Alford accused Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) of being a racist. Alford, an opponent of the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act, attacked Boxer for being “racial” when she cited the NAACP’s support of clean energy and climate legislation. Saying he took “offense as an African American and a veteran,” he asked why she didn’t quote an “Asian” instead:

Madam chair, that is condenscending [sic] to me. I’m the National Black Chamber of Commerce, and you’re trying to put up some other black group to pit against me. . . .

All that’s condescending, and I don’t like it. It’s racial. I don’t like it. I take “” I take offense to it. As an African-American and a veteran of this country, I take offense to that. You’re quoting some other black man “” why don’t you quote some other Asian or some “” I mean, you’re being racial here. And I think you’re getting on a path here that’s going to explode, in the Post. . . .

We’ve been looking at energy policy since 1996. And we are referring to the experts, regardless of their color. And for someone to tell me “” an African-American, college-educated veteran of the United States Army “” that I must contend with some other black group and put aside everything else in here. This has nothing to do with the NAACP, and really has nothing to do with the National Black Chamber of Commerce! We’re talking about energy. And that “” that road the chair went down, I think is God awful.

Watch the exchange:

Alford, whose organization has received at least $350,000 from ExxonMobil, was invited by the Republican members to testify. He purported to have “a deep understanding of small and minority-owned businesses” and spoke on behalf of the “black community” in his opening statement. He cited a flawed economic analysis of Waxman-Markey commissioned by his organization that estimates extreme costs for reducing our dependence on coal and oil.

As Sen. Boxer noted, it seems “relevant” that other organizations with “a deep understanding” of the “black community,” such as NAACP and 100 Black Men of Atlanta, see the threat of global warming and the opportunity in a clean energy future.

Later in the hearing, Alford argued, “Let me speak for the African-American community, because I am African American.”

On WSJ’s Washington Wire, Siobhan Hughes notes:

The debate about race appeared to leave Democrats grumpy. When Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, the top Republican on the panel, interrupted Sen. Tom Carper, the Delaware Democrat snapped: “Damn it. I want to be given the respect that I gave you.”

On Blog For Our Future, Isaiah Poole writes:

Well, as an African American I don’t know what the hell Alford was upset about “” other than the fact that Alford was shown that his shilling for the right is not appreciated in much of the community he claims to represent….  For a man who compares seeking to organize a union through a person-to-person card-check drive to the efforts of Southern segregationists to violently suppress the black vote, a complaint that Boxer citing a resolution by the NAACP on climate change in a climate change hearing is somehow “racial” and something that would “explode” is certainly audacious. Condescending, though, is more apt.

So let’s be clear: Harry Alford does not speak for the African-American community. He does not speak for me. He speaks for a cabal of conservative obstructionists who are hell-bent on protecting the old order of oil companies being unaccountable to the environment, employers being unaccountable to their workers””and of African Americans who won’t pimp for the interests of corporate America being kept in their place.

9 Responses to Black Chamber of Commerce CEO calls Barbara Boxer a racist — when she’s trying to stop future Katrinas and he wants dozens more

  1. Chris Winter says:

    And where is RNC Chair Michael Steele in all of this? Oh, wait — we already know where he stands…

    “We are cooling. We are not warming. The warming you see out there, the supposed warming, and I am using my finger quotation marks here, is part of the cooling process. Greenland, which is now covered in ice, it was once called Greenland for a reason, right? Iceland, which is now green. Oh I love this. Like we know what this planet is all about. How long have we been here? How long? Not very long.”

    –Michael Steele on 6 March 2009

  2. Leland Palmer says:

    The significant point is the funding of the Black Chamber of Commerce by ExxonMobil.

    That is what is significant, IMO.

    One of the nastiest tricks of the network of conservative foundations such as the Scaife and Bradley foundations and also of ExxonMobil is the funding of a small stable of extremely conservative people of color, that they can trot out, as “secret weapons” in situations like this, I think.

    Poor Barbara Boxer. Bless her heart. She’s doing it for her kids and grandkids, putting up with the Republican tactics like making long opening statements and then disappearing before the witnesses have a chance to counter their mostly deliberately falsified talking points.

    These Senators on the Republican opposition are in the pockets of the fossil fuel industries, IMO. That seems the only reasonable explanation for their unreasonable opposition to the bill.

    ExxonMobil wants to drill for the 90 billion barrels of oil under our current polar icecap. They are blind to the ice/albedo feedback, and contribution of methane from thawing permafrost leading to runaway global heating and a methane catastrophe.

    From the oil industry dominated Council on Foreign Relations Scott Borgerson:

    Summary —

    Thanks to global warming, the Arctic icecap is rapidly melting, opening up access to massive natural resources and creating shipping shortcuts that could save billions of dollars a year. But there are currently no clear rules governing this economically and strategically vital region. Unless Washington leads the way toward a multilateral diplomatic solution, the Arctic could descend into armed conflict.

    It is no longer a matter of if, but when, the Arctic Ocean will open to regular marine transportation and exploration of its lucrative natural-resource deposits.

    All of their rhetoric about how bad Waxman/Markey is is B.S.

    They, and their Senate minions, want the Arctic to melt. They are willing to risk all of our lives, and the future of the biosphere itself, for oil and other Arctic “resources”.

    We are already being subjected to a very risky deliberate geoengineering scheme of deliberately melting the Arctic due to business as usual by the energy companies, who seem to be blind to the possibility that they may be destroying the biosphere itself out of naked greed.

    Unless there is some more sinister negative population growth or geopolitical gamesmanship going on here.

  3. Jenna says:

    I was watching this live yesterday, and it absolutely INFURIATED me. Thanks for posting about it, Joe.

    First, I find it ridiculous that someone can claim to speak for an entire community of many millions of people nationwide that – amazingly! – are diverse in their beliefs, opinions, and experiences. It’s a ludicrous assertion that the CEO of one organization representing black businesspersons can accurately represent the entire black community. Senator Boxer was entirely justified in bringing up other national and regional organizations representing African Americans whose opinions are opposed to what Alford was saying – specifically, that the African American community will by and large benefit from strong federal climate action.

    Alford made himself appear ridiculous at multiple points – citing a Charles River Associates paper (I’ve looked at them before, they are transparently ideological in their “studies”), claiming he doesn’t know what a green job is and hasn’t seen any evidence of them. This man made a laughing stock of himself, and Republicans looked ridiculous trying to appear like they care about minority and low-income communities.

  4. Mark Shapiro says:

    Money corrupts.

    Oil money corrupts oilly.

  5. Rick Covert says:

    Well it looks like Barbara Boxer is wrong on only one account. In spite of the oil companies who may endorse the legislation clearly, Exxon-Mobile does not want Waxman-Markey to pass and is doing everything in its ability to kill it.

  6. Jade in San Francisco says:

    Thank you for blogging on this Joe. To all of the climate progress readers out there we need you to call The National Black Chamber of Commerce and let them know that Harry Alford does not speak for the majority of African Americans!

    Harry Alford – 202-466-6888

  7. C’mon Joe, this is the tabloid version of what happened in EPW yesterday. The Exxon part is useful, but the guy was trying to get headlines with faux outrage, while the President spoke at NAACP. Right? Why help?

    The better story was the testimony by John Doerr, who Fast Company called “by all accounts, the most influential venture capitalist of his generation.”

    [JR: Yes. Good stuff. I’ve blogged on that endlessly. The GOP is pushing the tabloid stuff and it needs a response.]

    Here on my blog is coverage of that, plus his talk at the National Governors’ Association last year, and at TED the year before.

    By the way, you should find a way to make some overture to youth climate activists. Lots and lots of people are telling you that TBI and Energy Action are not joined at the hip. Sure they make some tactical errors, but what were you doing at 23? Without them, we wouldn’t have the President or the Congress we have debating climate.

    [JR: I am. The blog ain’t my whole life, even if it seems that way.]

  8. Valerie says:

    You know what, I’m beginning to understand the term “They Drank The Kool-Aid”. Geez guys, finally someone had the nerve to speak up to that royal [snip].

  9. David C says:

    “You’re quoting some other black man — why don’t you quote some other Asian or some — I mean, you’re being racial here. … Let me speak for the African-American community since I am African-American.”

    He answered his own question.