Climate Corner:‘Some animals are more equal than others’

Feb 10, 2024

Aaron Dunbar

One of my first actions as a fledgling climate activist was to deliver 100 books on the subject of climate and the environment to the office of my climate change denying Congressman, Bill Johnson. I harbored no illusions that this action would convert my bought-off Representative into some born again eco-warrior, but at the very least I figured that: A. it would rob him of the cover of claiming there was “insufficient information” about the subject of climate change, and B. it would annoy him, and that would be funny.

Among the works I included in this collection was Thomas Friedman’s 2008 book “Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution — and How It Can Renew America.” I enjoyed the book quite well at the time, and although I knew little else about the Pulitzer Prize winning author, I naively assumed that, because he was writing about climate, and because climate is the most important issue of our time, he and I must share at least a baseline similarity in terms of our overall worldview.

Fast forward to February 2, 2024, however, when the New York Times published the following article: “Understanding the Middle East Through the Animal Kingdom, by Thomas L. Friedman.”

Now, if that immediately sounds incredibly racist to you, don’t worry. It gets much worse.

Every Arab nation described in Friedman’s column is depicted as some species of insect, whereas the United States and Israel are “an old lion” and “a sifaka lemur,” respectively. Most notably, Friedman compares the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to a parasitoid wasp infecting its host, and flatly declares that “We have no counterstrategy that safely and efficiently kills the wasp without setting fire to the whole jungle.”

For the New York Times to publish something so blatantly racist and openly genocidal is shocking, though perhaps on-brand for the paper that helped lie us into the Iraq War and initially downplayed the threat of Adolf Hitler.

What’s perhaps more shocking to me is the amount of sheer indifference to the loss of human life on display from individuals like Friedman, who purport to be advocates for the survival of our planet.

Dr. Leah Stokes, an environmental political scientist, recently tweeted her support for Joe Biden in response to his administration’s pause on natural gas projects, stating that “President Biden is a climate leader. And Trump? He’s an arsonist.”

Bill McKibben, often worshiped by environmental activists as a veritable climate messiah, responded to this with “very well put.”

It’s unclear whether the two of them were unaware of or simply indifferent to the ongoing genocide in Gaza perpetrated by their dear “climate leader,” which to date is responsible for some 30,000 deaths, over 10,000 of them children. According to The Guardian, the first two months of Israel’s U.S.-backed bombing alone generated more CO2 emissions than twenty other nations annually — to say nothing of the immense reserves of natural gas in Gaza that are currently being eyed by “the old lion and the sifaka lemur” as they “set fire to the whole jungle.”

For years the climate movement has been inculcated with warnings about the extreme racism of the far right, and the danger of growing eco-fascist ideologies which seek to pin the blame for environmental catastrophe on issues such as immigration and overpopulation, particularly among the Global South. But by all appearances, this gross and racist callousness toward human suffering is being paralleled by relatively “mainstream” neoliberals who falsely label themselves as pro-climate.

As climate essayist Mary Annaise Heglar opined, “I’m super confused how anyone can call themselves fighting for a ‘livable future’ while staying silent in the face of a literal genocide.”

In December, the center-liberal Atlantic published an article entitled “War in the Congo Has Kept the Planet Cooler.” This disturbing title was swiftly changed in response to the predictable backlash it received, but not before offering a startling glimpse at how the publication clearly tallies the value of certain human lives.

“An argument for war being beneficial for the climate without stressing the human casualties enables discussions that can be unethical and perverse. It implies that lives, African lives, are disposable in search of climate solutions,” write Nteranya Ginga, Tshimundu, Koko Ginga, and J. Munroe in their response to said article, published via Brittle Paper.

And yet I can’t help but wonder, how is this any different from the multitude of those in the environmental movement who dismiss issues such as child slavery being used in Congo’s cobalt mines to power rechargeable batteries and electric vehicles? This is a subject frequently broached in bad faith by the right, but which largely gets hand-waved away by mainstream segments of the climate movement, and treated as a complete non-issue.

At the end of the day, it’s abundantly clear that there are those with so-called “environmentalist” leanings who view the lives of their fellow human beings as expendable. They’re more than willing to compromise and ignore the safety and well-being of others so long as their own interests are met — chiefly, the maintaining of their own comfortable lifestyles, regardless of the human cost.

True climate activism is about the sacred preservation of life on Earth. Any activism that runs counter to that goal, be it to defend war, industry, or ideology, is not climate activism at all. It must be vocally denounced and rejected out of hand, given no opportunity for purchase in our fight for a better, more equitable world.


Aaron Dunbar is a member of Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action.