One 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.