Emma Heins

Likely everyone has gotten in trouble at some point for their tone. Whether it’s talking back to your parents and teachers or not sounding ‘academic enough’ in a paper for school, it’s clear that the way you address situations and say something is almost as important as what you’re saying in the first place.

One thing that has really been sticking out to me lately in the news is the way people discuss climate change in the media but, especially, in regards to developing nations and the Global South.

More often than not, when western media talks about a climate crisis occurring in the developing world it is usually prefaced with the fact that Country XYZ is already struggling to maintain a stable economy and now, on top of that, has to deal with climate hardships.

People say, “if they could rely less on foreign oil” or “if they had better hospitals” or “if their government could do better” then they could be more climate resilient, but my problem with that tone is that it’s completely disregards how the Global North — the inverse of the Global South, like the U.S., UK, Germany — is responsible for their disadvantageous positions in the first place and climate change as a whole.

An extensive history of colonialism has led to many nations in Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia only recently gaining governing independence and sometimes not even full economic independence.

For centuries, western countries kept the Global South in a chokehold that prevented them from improving infrastructure, quality of life and average median income. Had they been left alone to develop on their own, they would probably be miles ahead of us in terms of technological development and standard of living.

Additionally, large American companies like Duke Energy, BP and the American government as an entity have contributed more to climate change and greenhouse gas emissions than many of the global southern nations, yet receive very little of the consequences.

Writers often use the tone in their writing that suggests somehow, it is the fault of the Global South that we’re in the climate crisis, and somehow, it’s their responsibility to fix it. These claims are condescending and far from the reality of how this situation came about.

I hope more people will start to notice this tonal shift and see how Exxon Mobil is “a pioneer in the field” and supporting an industry, while nations like South Africa and Indonesia are “struggling to remain afloat.” Could there be a connection?

I saw a video recently that poignantly explained that western countries are responsible for the destruction of a planet but are still holding disadvantaged nations responsible for cleaning up the damages. People in the U.S. are worried about their economic futures, but people in the Global South are worried about crops dying today.

Readers need to consider the larger picture of why their asking why the Global South isn’t just investing all of their tax revenue into solar panels and working off of oil dependency is problematic. If it were as easy as just deciding to, don’t you think they would have done it already?

So going forward, when you read about climate change in the developing world, start to question the writer’s tone and ask yourself the real reason why they might be saying it. Is it due to a genuine failure of that government, or is it because colonialism never gave them a fighting chance to fix it themselves? And to all the writers — watch your tone.

Emma Heins is a senior majoring in environmental studies. She can be reached ateheins@vols.utk.edu.

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