Climate Change, Migration, Race

The Environment and Climate Change - Lecture 7

Lecturer: Dr Andrew Baldwin

17 Nov 2022

Climate change is often said to be a pending form of injustice because it stands to force millions of people from their homes. This idea is now so widely accepted, we hardly ever stop to think about what it means or how it might be challenged.

In this short lecture, I develop an argument that challenges the taken-for-granted assumption that climate change is a problem of migration. Building on the ideas of Edward Said and Dipesh Chakrabarty, the argument is that the figure of the climate migrant/refugee stands today as a unique form of racial other—the other of climate change—that western humanism has had to invent in order to adapt to climate change.

The lecture provides some theoretical background to the argument, it identifies some of the racial tropes that construct the figure of the climate migrant/refugee as other than human, and it demonstrates how the political discourse on climate change and migration can be understood as a form of racial rule called ‘racial futurism’.


  • Ahuja, Neel (2021) Planetary Specters: Climate Change, Migration and Race in the Twenty-first Century (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press)
  • Baldwin, Andrew (2022) The Other of Climate Change: Racial Futurism, Migration, Humanism (London: Rowman and Littlefield)
  • Baldwin, Andrew (2017) ‘Climate Change, Migration and the Crisis of Humanism,’ Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 8(3): e460.
  • Bettini, Giovanni (2013) ‘Climate barbarians at the gate? A critique of apocalyptic narratives on ‘climate refugees’,’ Geoforum, 45: 63-72.
  • Bettini, Giovanni (2017) ‘Where next? Climate change, migration, and the (bio) politics of adaptation,’ Global Policy, 8: 33-39.
  • Hiraide, Lydia Ayame (2022) ‘Climate Refugees: A Useful Concept? Towards an Alternative Vocabulary of Ecological Displacement,’ Politics, DOI: 10.1177/026339572210772.
  • Hulme, Mike (2011) ‘Reducing the Future to Climate Change: A Story of Climate Determinism and Reductionism,’ Osiris 26(1): 245-266.
  • Kothari, Uma (2014) Political discourses on climate change and migration: resettlement policies in the Maldives,’ The Geographical Journal, 180(2): 130-140.
  • Methmann, Chris and Delf Rothe (2014) ‘Tracing the Spectre that Haunts Europe: The Visual Construction of Climate-induced Migration in the MENA Region,’ Critical Studies on Security, 2(2): 162-179.
  • Paprocki, Kasia (2021) Threatening Dystopias: The Global Politics of Climate Change Adaptation in Bangladesh (Cornell: Cornell University Press).


Questions for Discussion

  1. Are the categories ‘climate migrant’ and ‘climate refugee’ useful descriptors?
  2. What sorts of actors (I.e., institutions, people, non-governmental organisations) claim that climate change is a problem of migration? Why do you suppose they do so?
  3. If climate change is said to be a driver of migration, how should we account for the history of the places migrants are leaving?
  4. What might it mean to say that ‘whiteness’ is adapting to climate change?