Opinion

ABC of Climate Justice

Climate justice is social justice

Have you ever asked yourself what does a jaguar or a tree have in common with you?

My short answer would be that we live in the same house called Earth, that our food comes from the same soil, and we all need water every day to live.

Being on this one planet, where everything is connected, should prevent us to live the rest of our lives disconnected from our origins. We cannot just keep on wondering where we are going to travel tomorrow, for example, without caring about the ecosystems or the people that live in that paradisiacal place. We should question ourselves how the actions and choices that we make and our nations governments impact people and ecosystems. Impacts that at the end are part of the global changes we face today, and one of the most challenging: the climate crisis.

So, how does climate change affect humans? The climate crisis encompasses effects of not only natural impacts, but also of societal complexity that include discrimination and oppression in the following levels: racial, gender, class, people with disabilities, generational, and biodiversity. All these oppressed sectors of society should be treated with equity. Equity recognizes that each person has different resources and opportunities, and it seeks to understand and provide what people need based on those differences. Justice without equity would be unfair. The reason why is that fairness accounts for diversity, therefore having awareness of the differences between the people strongly unites justice and equity. Everybody has different needs, realities, unconformities, interests, and all these factors should be listened to make a final fair decision. The participation, recognition between communities, and decision makers are essential in many of the climate justice conceptions.

Race

White men tend to perceive environmental risks as less serious than BAME (Black, Asian, and Multi-ethnic). Result of the so-called “white-male effect” that refers to the privileged position of this demographic group in society; adducing white males’ socio-economic resources, sense of control, worldviews, etc. This privilege makes the oppressed invisible. Thus, the impact of climate change on indigenous communities, for example, has been tremendous as governments do not protect indigenous territories. In Latin America, between 80% and 90% of the environmental defenders that suffer some kind of attack are indigenous, and up to 98 % of aggressions remain unpunished. Indigenous people have been taking care of nature throughout the years, and we should learn from them as well as support their rights in the fight against climate change, its consequences, and injustices.

Gender

Historically, there has been a constant struggle against the exploitation of nature as well as the exploitation of women. This is part of a system led by the patriarchal governments that violate our existence with their decisions. Women and children are the most affected by climate change. In the global south most of the women living in rural areas work in agriculture, the response and capacity of the women to confront these changes depend on the access to information, education and economy.

Figure 1: “La Milpa” by Angelica Cadena
Exposition “Entre cuidados y resistencias” of the ecofeminist project “Nahuala Indómita”

Although our safe space is in nature, the majority of the people has lost their connection with nature. However, that is not the case of the indigenous women in Brazil. They have been taking care of nature, they work the land, they depend on the rivers for the water, and the soil to produce their food. Unfortunately, such reality is not the same in other places of the world, where they cannot own them because of local laws that specify that only men can be the land owners. Recently, everything has been changing quite rapidly, and nature preservation has not been taken as a priority as it should. As Nahuala Indómita once said “My body, as the land, is not sold, it must be defended”.

Figure 2: Environmental-social group “Contaminantes Anónimus”
Photo by: Guillermo Espejel

Class

Everyone is responsible for climate change, but in many different ways. The rich countries, known as the global north, are the most responsible for this reality due to historical emissions since 1970. Reinforced through violence and repression, the establishment of the Imperial Globality, also responds to the resistant and re-existent exercise of local or regional autonomies. It is worth mentioning a resistance project in Mexico, called “Zapatistas”, as they have been resisting the colonialism and capitalism exercising an autonomous eco-political system.

In the global south, the consequences of the climate crisis are already happening; temperature changes, sea level rise and frequent droughts; just to mention some of the effects. A hard reality where people are forced to leave their homes and even lose their families due to climate migrations.

People with disabilities

One oft-cited estimate suggests 200 million people will be climate refugees by 2050. According to the World Health Organization, 15% of the global population has an intellectual or physical disability, so 30 million of those climate refugees will require different kinds of support. For instance, in a situation of an earthquake, people have to walk fast to evacuate the building; such scenario will be particularly harder for people who have difficulties to walk, to see or to decide by themselves.

Generations

Climate crisis is causing a lot of debts for the next generations. That is why Greta Thunberg created the movement Fridays for future, to visualize how all the actions from the past/present affect and will continue to affect the next generations. Plastic oceans instead of oceans with corals and fishes are the ecosystems that the children are going to have if we continue consuming as we do now.

Biodiversity

More and more pictures and videos are post on social media of polar bears swimming miles just to find a piece of ice where they can rest and then hunt. Or birds dropping dead from the skies because of the toxic substances that remain in the air. Recently, there were more than two forest fires in very important areas for biodiversity, e.g. Australia and the Amazon. It is necessary to connect how the loss of biodiversity affect us directly. If there is no biodiversity, there is no food sovereignty, no home for indigenous people, no more medicines, no more traveling to see the marvelous whales or all the cultural treasures and traditions that come from the nature.

Final thoughts

Every decision that we take daily could affect or benefit nature. Some recommendations are to consume local, reduce your clothing and meat consumption, research which products are you buying and where they come from, reconnect yourself with your roots, talk about climate justice with the people that surround you, question your privilege and use it in benefit of the others, and never as a weapon of oppression.

¡Por la Vida, la Tierra, el Agua, el Cielo y la Mar en la Justicia!
—Tribunal popular de justicia climática de México

References

Clima de cambios: Llegó la hora de la justicia climática. Ante proyectos que sólo buscan replicar las mismas desigualdades de siempre, es hora de apostarle a soluciones para el cambio climático. Extinción, 2021.

Climate Justice Charter. COPAC, 2021.

Equity vs. Equality. The Difference, and Why It Matters. Amy Bergen, 2021.

Exposición Luchas que germinan, un homenaje a ambientalistas asesinados. México, el sexto país más peligroso en el mundo para activistas. Fernando Camacho Servín. https://www.jornada.com.mx/2019/10/27/politica/012n1pol

Género y medio ambiente: entre cuidados y resistencias. Nahuala Indómita, 2020.

Robinson, M., Shine, T. Achieving a climate justice pathway to 1.5 °C. Nature Clim Change 8, 564–569 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-018-0189-7

Soriano Sánchez, M. (2014). Glocalidades re-creativas. Ecología-política de la diferencia desde los caracoles zapatistas. Iberoamércia Social: revista-red de estudios sociales, II, pp. 104-115.

The Intersection of Disability and Climate Change. Gianna Cacciatore, 2021. Harvard University.

Header photo credits: Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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Author: Priscila Tamayo Santiesteban

A biophilic woman that crossed the Atlantic to discover other perspectives and realities. Following my passion, I am also now a student of the GCE master programme. One of my interests is restoration ecology and collaboration between academic science and citizen science. I studied biology and scientific SCUBA diving in Mexico where I proudly come from. Making community is how we can positively change our reality, Contaminantes Anónimus, an environmental-social collective is where I learned this. like John Lennon said, “you may say I´m a dreamer, but I´m not the only one”.
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