Oregon State prof blames 'White Christians' for West Coast wildfires

Susan Shaw, a professor at Oregon State, claims that “White Christians” are responsible for the extent of the California fires based on their “denial of climate science.”

She additionally claims that “the White church is mostly complicit with the intersecting systems of racism and global capitalism that underlie climate change.”

Oregon State University Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Professor Susan Shaw claims that the denial of climate change by “White Christians” is a contributing factor to the wildfires now ravaging California, Oregon, and Washington State.

The professor claims that “the intensity and scope of these fires are a result of climate change.” She then attributes the blame for the fires’ potency on “white Christians” given that, as she claims, “many Christians, especially white Christians, have embraced denial of climate science.”

“The West is burning while most white Christians turn away from the root causes of the devastation,” writes Shaw, before adding that “White evangelicals continue to support Donald Trump overwhelmingly, even though the Trump administration has tried to roll back more than 100 environmental protection regulations.”

When Campus Reform asked Shaw about the language she used, she responded by saying, “I don’t think that language is necessarily racially divisive or charged. It’s descriptive, and it’s the language the research I cited uses to look at climate science beliefs across Christians.”

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Shaw makes several assertions about White Christians including “many white Christians believe God won’t let climate change destroy the earth,” and “the White church is mostly complicit with the intersecting systems of racism and global capitalism that underlie climate change.”

She adds that “the system of white supremacy itself will have to be dismantled, if we have any hope of averting irreversible climate disaster.”

When asked why she chose to focus on White Christians, Shaw told Campus Reform that “the research shows that among Christians, Whites significantly more than Blacks or Latinos deny, minimize, or ignore climate science,” adding “that race and social class, more than theological beliefs, contributes to White Christians’ denial of climate science.”

Shaw is also very critical of President Donald Trump and the Christian Church, stating that “the disturbing link between White evangelical support for Trump and disregard for climate change that disproportionately affects poor people of color around the world should probably not be all that surprising.” Shaw then quotes Anthea Butler, Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, as saying “Modern evangelicals’ support for this president cannot be separated from the history of evangelicals’ participation in and support for racist structures in America.”

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Shaw also claims that “the White church is invested in white supremacy,” “White Christians will have to change,” and that “the issue is” one of “whiteness.”

Shaw, largely attributing the intensity of the recent wildfires in Western states to the climate change denial of “white Christians,” noticeably fails to recognize any other contributing or primary causes to the severity of the fires. Forest management, brought about in part by increasingly stringent environmental regulations, is often cited as a contributing factor to California’s fire crisis. 

Chuck DeVore, the vice president of national initiatives at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, writes in a Forbes article, that “it’s not climate change that’s burning up the forests, killing people, and destroying hundreds of homes; it’s decades of environmental mismanagement that has created a tinderbox of unharvested timber, dead trees, and thick underbrush.”

DeVore goes on to attribute this in part to the fact that, “the tree harvest on federal lands is now one-tenth of what it was in 1988.” 

Trump stated back in 2018 that, “There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor.” California Gov. Gavin Newsom more recently told the president that “no one disputes” his claims that Western states’ poor forest management has contributed to the fires.

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When speaking to Campus Reform, Shaw admitted that the Western state’s “fire suppression policies” did contribute to the severity of the fires and said that if she were to rewrite the article, she’d “explain that while fire suppression has also contributed to the problem, the drier and warmer weather has made the likelihood greater [that] the overgrowth will erupt into these incredible and destructive fires” and “that fire suppression policies have created a problem that is ripe for climate change to lead to these kinds of fires that are unlike what we’ve seen before.”

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In addition to blaming “White Christians’ denial of climate science” for the horrific fires sweeping across the West Coast, Shaw also attributes this for causing “more powerful hurricanes and tornadoes.” Her assertion comes despite the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration finding that “it is premature to conclude with high confidence that increasing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations from human activities have had a detectable impact on Atlantic basin hurricane activity.”