Picture this, it’s 1902, a warm evening during the British Empire’s grasp on the Raj. A Boris Johnsonesque Colonial official reprimands an Indian child for not appropriating white behaviours quickly enough. Fast forward to November 12th 2021, and you can see the exact archetypal figures spitting vehemently at Indian delegates, but this time it’s the words coal is wrong; you’re wrong.
There is a lot to unpack in these interactions, from the evident bullying to the more subtle but equally insidious patronising and 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 West 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 West, 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 Western capitalist supernations to deflect blame onto the Eastern countries of the world. This power imbalance which Edward Said coined in his pivotal book Orientalism, published in 1978, is evident in the scapegoating of Eastern countries 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 which challenges the root causes of inequality and injustice through partnerships with social movements in the global South and campaigns in the UK, described the deal as betrayal in which only the fossil fuel industries will be celebrating. It is a deal where global sized countries received the blame, whilst the richest countries, the United Kingdom, the USA and the European Union (also the countries most accountable for the violence and destruction of imperialism) bullied the smaller and poorer nations through treacherous omissions, and by controlling the venue and negotiating rooms by barring members of civil society whilst those big business lobbying corporations had no issue accessing platforms both digital and in person.
The guilty three 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 across the board of political and health inequity with which these countries are relentlessly battling against.
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 East as the binary of bad and backward to the West, which heralds change and progress. Consequently, I’m 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 Western refusal to look inwards at its history. So the domino effect of climate exploitation continues.