Climate Justice: two words which quite literally carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. What do they mean, you may ask? I would be unable to offer one distinct answer. Despite the phrase appearing self-explanatory, the notion in fact requires far more substantiation than one might first assume. Someone once described the endeavour to me as being like “juggling spaghetti”, with all its strands intertwined. In fact, if you were to gather 100 climate activists in a room, and pose them all this very question, you would be more than likely to acquire 100 different answers. Therefore, in this article, I can do no more than offer my own interpretation of what such a notion entails, as I learn what the term is coming to mean to me.
The term is one which is particularly prevalent within climate activism, and it is often only when one becomes familiar with such circles that one can truly begin to grapple with the load it bears. On first glance, it might be interpreted along the lines of ‘the need for greater respect and protection of the Earth’s climate and natural environment,’ whether that be in relation to species and habitats, or the delicate and refined balance of the ecosphere as a whole.
Nature has become reduced to a commodity; an entity whose inherent value can be defined and used to realise profit. Climate Justice wishes to undermine such an assertion, presenting the alternative ontology that nature must be granted the same right to protection from exploitation as any human individual, and, if such a right is not respected, we must take up the responsibility of correcting it. In this way, climate discourse can almost be seen to take the form of a custodial battle, in which, under the strange neoliberal court of the modern day, climate activists feel obliged to take on the role of the Earth’s defender.
However, Climate Justice can also be seen to have a human element. The victims of climate change are, cruelly, often those with little or no influence in relation to emissions production, and, oftentimes, live far more in tune with nature and its cycles. The Sundarbans delta, a set of low-lying islands in the Bay of Bengal, home to one of the largest mangrove forests in the world, annually becomes submerged as a result of unnatural swelling in the Ganges River’s flow levels, as well as volatile rainfall. Not only are the islands home to an incredible level of biodiversity, but also over 4.5 million residents, regularly displaced by the floods. Some islands have already become engulfed by rising water levels, and others are predicted to follow. The Sundarbans can be presented as one in an ever-growing list of cases in which those least accountable for the effects of climate change are forced to flee their home. We watch as cultures, histories, languages and species become swept from their homes, and civilians are crammed into already congested and overstretched suburbs. Rarely, however, as a result of some unforeseen tragedy, but rather, by a crime committed by those in another hemisphere entirely.
Moreover, the term vies to represent those affected by social inequalities that are compounded by climate change. For example, women have been found to be disproportionately affected by the consequences of climate change, particularly within developing nations in the Global South. To offer a crude summary, if economies become weakened by the impacts of climate change, such as drought, social roles already delineated within the impacted society will be exacerbated by resultant vulnerabilities. Climate change and social issues cannot exist in isolation, as if asymptotical to each other: rather, they intersect. Therefore, the notion of Climate Justice recognises that vulnerabilities do not merely have to have been created by climate change to be impacted by it. If we must carry out a complete overhaul of current systems, why incorporate the same flaws as before? Social inequalities are not indelible. If we can construct them, Climate Justice argues, then surely we can dismantle them too.
However, from preceding arguments, one might conclude that the idea of Climate Justice is one of mere idealism – a “white saviour” endeavour relating to those in far-flung civilisations. How does it have anything to do with the issues in immediate society? In the UK, 181,000 individuals are directly employed within the non-renewable and fossil fuel energy sector (UK Energy In Brief, 2018). This means 181,000 individuals who will inevitably become displaced from work in the not-so-far future, as the focus of the energy sector shifts, along with millions of others around the world. The idea of a ‘Just Transition’, however, calls for secure and fulfilling jobs to be offered to such individuals as society undergoes this transition. Thought of in this way, it suddenly becomes evident that Climate Justice has very real impacts, even close to our own homes. One could almost describe it as a die, with many faces, without any of which it would not be not be complete.
In light of all this, the notion appears horrendously overwhelming – like gazing at a mountain top with only a pickaxe to hand. Its manifesto appears to advocate for the entirety of nature and humanity, all the while offering no solutions. In this way, to campaign for ‘Climate Justice’ is literally to ask the world of someone.
However, those who campaign for Climate Justice empathise with this. In fact, in most cases, it appears more of an insurmountable task to them than anyone. These individuals are not naïve in believing that we can solve all these problems at once. However, there are very few pure voices with non-vested interests within climate discourse. Most of those involved have fingers in several pies, far beyond those solely of environmental protection. Therefore, such discussions must involve an impartial voice, one able to speak beyond material interests of economic policy or profit margins. That is the role of Climate Justice. To highlight the value of the Earth beyond that of capital, and to speak for the vulnerable affected in turn.
The verdict’s in. The judge steps up to the podium. The jury have spoken.
Justice must be served.
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