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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Climate Change, Race, and Migration


This article examines the relationship among climate change, racial subordination, and the capitalist world economy through the framework of racial capitalism. It argues that climate change is a logical consequence of an economic system based on extraction, accumulation through dispossession, and white supremacy. Climate change imposes disproportionate burdens on racialized communities all over the world, many of whom will be expelled from their homes in record numbers as the climate emergency intensifies. International law has been deeply complicit in the project of racial capitalism and is now being deployed to address climate change-induced displacement. This article evaluates the emerging legal and policy responses to climate displacement, and proposes alternative approaches based on the perspectives of states and peoples facing imminent displacement, including their demand for self-determination. Climate change is not an isolated crisis, but a symptom of an economic (dis)order that jeopardizes the future of life on this planet. Through a race-conscious analysis of climate change grounded in political economy, this article seeks to engage scholars in a variety of disciplines in order to develop more robust critiques of the laws, institutions, and ideologies that maintain racial capitalism and pose an existential threat to humanity.

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