It’s 1902, a warm evening during the British Empire’s grasp on the Raj. A Boris Johnson-esque Colonial official reprimands an Indian child for not appropriating white behaviours.
Fast forward to November 12th 2021, and you can see this same dynamic being replayed by COP delegates frustrated with Indian representatives. Coal is wrong. You’re wrong.
There is a lot to unpack in these interactions. From the evident bullying to the more subtle and insidious paternalistic attitudes of wealthier countries who believe they have the authority to reprimand the same countries they have historically exploited and whose energy trajectory they have been entirely implicit.
Coal, for example, is out of fashion in the Global North and has been for some time. Whilst I don’t advocate coal as a sustainable energy form, I support global equality and truth. We must then acknowledge the historical power imbalances which have resulted in the timeline of coal’s decline in the North, whilst the Global South has been left dependent on nonrenewable energy sources like coal and other fossil fuels out of necessity.
It is not unusual for the capitalist supernations to deflect blame onto countries in the Global South. This power imbalance which Edward Said coined in his pivotal book Orientalism, published in 1978, is evident in the scapegoating India and China as the ‘bad guys’ in the aftermath of the disappointing COP26 climate deal.
Asad Rehman, executive director of War on Want, the anti-poverty London Based charity that challenges the root causes of inequality and injustice through partnerships with social movements in the Global South, described the deal as a betrayal in which only the fossil fuel industries will be celebrating. It is a deal where Global South countries received the blame, whilst the rich – the UK, the USA and the European Union (also the countries most accountable for the violence and destruction of imperialism) – bullied poorer nations by controlling the venue and negotiating rooms and barring members of civil society, whilst lobbyists had no issues of access both digitally and in person.
The UK, USA and EU also blocked progress on promises of loss and damage demanded by the Global South who make up 80% of the world’s population and whose inhabitants have already seen and lived through the threats imposed by the climate crisis, which intersects many areas of inequity these countries are constantly struggling with.
The colonial perception continues to manifest in the UK’s hosting of such a problematic COP, and the Western media’s shameless and unoriginal portrayal of the Global South through the binary of bad and backward to, while the North is heralded for change and progress. I’m currently reading Black Gold by British journalist Jeremy Paxman who celebrates the classic British mentality: the UK’s deeply connected social and economic history with coal, describing it as essentially the vehicle which birthed the British Nation as a major modern economic power. To quote Alok Sharma back to himself, he may be ‘deeply frustrated’ by India and China over coal, but what’s worse is the Global North’s refusal to look inwards at its history, and so their exploitation of the world continues.