Why do we need to start talking about Climate Justice?
There is no ‘saving the planet’. The Earth does not exist as an object with feeling, understanding or emotion. The human interest in saving the planet is rooted in how it can benefit us – how our own lives, and other life on earth, might prosper from its resources and environment. Despite the centrality of scientific research in tackling climate change, there has been a tendency to sideline the ethical dimension of these efforts in both academia and popular discourse until recent years.
The term ‘climate justice’ is a human centered approach towards the effects of climate change that considers the varying levels of vulnerability and resources among different groups of people, both across the globe and within individual societies. It addresses the differing capabilities of response and recovery towards climatic effects.
You may have already read and heard about climate justice – it has undoubtedly become more of a buzzword than it once was. As a geography student, I can certainly attest to its increasing focus within academia. This serves as no surprise, as the examination of the climate justice dilemma is fundamentally geographic; it is rooted in place based struggle. Climate change produces different realities of struggle across the world and we often speak of particular nations and states that are especially susceptible to danger. The truth is, most changes that are experienced happen at the localised scale; for example, areas of water or food scarcity often take place at a sub national level.
It is the fixation on scale that has led to an emergence in geographical work on climate justice within urban areas: 70-80% of anthropogenic emissions of global CO2 related to energy use come from urban areas. Naturally then, cities are key sites where the changing climate and the disproportionate nature of its effects can be studied at a local and intimate level. Much of this research explores the economic, social and health inequalities that affect marginalised groups such as the homeless, low income neighbourhoods and minority groups. It is also an extensive look into how policies, government and people create or allow such inequalities to exist – and how they might be working to fix it.
Another interesting vein of work has begun to focus on the gendered consequences of climate change, particularly during natural disasters in the Global South. Academics are becoming increasingly more aware of the ethical importance of this research, and have begun to consider the representations of women in marginalised groups, as narrated by scholars, NGOs and the media, and how this can serve to neglect or exploit their struggles. As Sultana (2013) states, it is vital to ‘recognise, rather than to romanticise’ the women who are bearing the brunt of climate change, and failing to do so reduces them to mere symbols of suffering, rather than real human beings who are vulnerable to real life suffering and change.
Of course, these examples are only a couple of the new ways that people are beginning to think about climate change. The ways in which individuals are impacted heavily depends on their socio-economic position, as well as the social organisation of different places and communities. Disregard for the boundaries presented by race, gender, ethnicity, wealth, and place runs the risk of overlooking those most vulnerable. By recognising that there is a politics to climate change, we can open up more nuanced and impactful routes towards protecting those who need it most.
It is time to look beyond the lines on the map and seek out the spatiality of justice.
- Zainab R.