By: Dania Ahmed
When thinking of environmental justice, I particularly enjoy reading articles such as “”People and Planet First”: On the Moral Authority of Climate Justice and a New Economy” because they are not only insightful and inspirational – but they directly call out our contemporary environmentally ruinous ways of living. Naomi Klein was quite attention grabbing as this was the address she gave at a press conference held at the Vatican following Pope Francis’ encyclical letter on ecology. Klein criticizes our current economic system and urges for significant change. She touches on the role of politicians in the environmental crisis and of corporations. I enjoyed this article mainly for its very down to earth approach. Klein calls upon us to humble ourselves and to recognize that we are not above nature. It is a mutually dependent relationship, we need each other and need to work with each other. Klein also calls out the economic “experts” and claims they have failed us miserably. This reminds me of an article condemning the UN for their inadequate climate change solutions.
The article “Welcome to the US, Greta. With your help we can save the planet and ourselves” by Rebecca Solnit was also well articulated and delved into the historical context of the divide between Americans and Europeans versus the Indigenous. The author begins to detail the current state of the climate change crisis in America and how the current social and economic systems are insufficient. This text was captivating as it introduced me to the Greta, a young Swedish environmentalist, and it specified many current environmental issues that require immediate attention. It also mentioned certain environmental movements that are helping to deescalate the crisis but implores Greta for help. This text was intriguing simply because it highlighted many of America’s faults and attempted solutions to those faults.
I personally was unable to make the connection between intersectionality and global warming but this article of “Youth Activists Are Building An Intersectional Climate Justice Movement” by Maya Carlson introduced the concept of climate justice to me. I found this illuminating because I had never thought of the environment from this perspective. I was awestruck by this reading because it clarified the concept of environmental justice for me immensely. I was able to check my own privilege and realize that I have had advantages that have been ingrained in me to take for granted, that other marginalized communities have been struggling with their whole lives. For example, I take for granted the fact that I live in a clean, non-polluted area but the article touches upon communities that have been forced to live in polluted communities. These communities that have been forced into these living conditions had never even crossed my mind, so I am grateful for the clarity this article provided and feel inspired to take action for these peoples as well.
Lastly, the article “I work in the environmental movement. I don’t care if you recycle.” by Mary Annaise Heglar was very raw and simple. I relished the colloquial language and casual tone as the author attempted to prove how individual environmental change can only go so far, and that governments and corporations must begin to make significant adjustments if we are to save the planet. I find myself agreeing with the author that there must be a balance between individuals and corporations and to focus on assigning blame or guilt is not helping the problem, but instead perpetuates a nihilistic perspective that begins to spread like the plague. However, I disagree with the author’s overall characterization of individual accountability being “victim blaming”. I personally do not regard myself as a “victim” per se of climate change, because I enjoy privileges that allow me to live an efficient and clean lifestyle. A lifestyle where I do not have to encounter the waste I throw away. I do not think we are all victims. I believe this comes back to the concept of intersectionality, and to blame marginalized groups who face climate inequality is victim blaming. The low-income families who inhabit the lands in close proximity to landfills while using the least resources are the victims. We who do not suffer this struggle cannot be the victims. Therefore, a general characterization of individuals as victims is inaccurate in my opinion, and this label can only be applied to those who have been and are being directly affected by the crisis. Overall, I was very pleased and engaged with these readings, they were quick and straight to the point but effectively informed the reader of their main argument.
One thought on “Climate Justice”
Before I started reading the above article, I was already drawn to it just from the title and the cover photo, the latter of which reads “THERE IS NO PLANET B.” This statement is not only true, but also pinpoints the reason why we need to work together to solve the climate crisis on Planet A, or the Earth. Indeed, as I was reading through the four readings that were being referred to in this article, I began to realize that this statement is what accurately and concisely states the motivation behind all the environmental (justice) movements that will hopefully pave the way to saving our only planet. I have also noticed a common theme among those four climate justice-related readings: the emphasis on the role of current economic and political systems in addressing climate warming.
It is equally important to note, however, that each of the four articles approached this common theme in a different way. In “‘People and Planet First’: On the Moral Authority of Climate Justice and a New Economy”, Naomi Klein claims that it is on the basis of the ideology that we (humans) are nature’s “masters and possessors” that is fuelling the dominating actions of industries, economists, and political leaders, the consequences of which manifest themselves as climate change and many other issues. Since they are the ones who hold the most power in society, we, as the general public, need to come together and demand for change to the existing systems of which they are in charge, and to hopefully help them shed such beliefs so that they can learn to respect and live in harmony with nature. This is relevant to what I learned about environmental ethics in one of my ENV222 (recently re-named Pathways to Sustainability: An Interdisciplinary Approach, then called Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies) classes two and a half years ago, where we talked about quite a bit of terminology and their corresponding definitions. The two words that I remember the most from that lecture were “intrinsic value” and “extrinsic value”. The intrinsic value of something is defined as its worth solely because of what it is, while the extrinsic value is its instrumental worth, such as what it can do and provide for others. These two terms are worth bringing up when discussing Klein’s argument because many industries, economists, politicians, as well as members of the general public are alienated from nature in the sense that they only care about the extrinsic value of Mother Nature. Extrinsic value as in its resources, how humans view nature as a resource bank and extract from it for direct use or to be processed into the necessities and luxury items that are being used in their everyday lives. Our toxic relationship with nature due to failure to see that everything on Earth is somehow connected is super problematic because this allows us to continue what we are doing right now and prevents us from taking the necessary steps to reverse the damage we have already done to our natural environment. Rebecca Solnit in “Welcome to the US, Greta. With your help we can save the planet and ourselves” touches on many of the problems in her troubled country—with a focus on those that pose environmental concerns—from the time of European colonization of the Americas up until the present, as well as the progress that has been made to date in solving some of them. She goes over how the U.S. is divided in where people stand with respect to the climate crisis, with many of the corporations and political leaders being “climate destroyers” and the current, flawed social, political, and economic systems being particularly conducive to the worsening of the climate crisis, and all these factors are actively hindering our progress towards a greener and more sustainable future. Despite all, Solnit still tries to sound hopeful and optimistic by telling Greta Thunberg about her encounter with a young but “powerful climate organizer” not so long ago, who told her that she hopes to start by getting people to “recognize that this is a moment of great possibility, of openings and momentum, and a growing alarm and commitment to what the changing climate requires of us.” Maya Carlson in “Youth Activists Are Building An Intersectional Climate Justice Movement” delved into her experiences and what she learned as part of group of youth activists who were trying to speak with U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein to demand for change, especially climate justice for marginalized communities, and to ask for her help in saving Earth. The fact that Feinstein refused by saying that “there was not enough money to enact the Green New Deal and that she knew the right way to get things done” exemplifies how we should not be counting on the people in power to make the first move towards a better tomorrow for both marginalized and non-marginalized communities, emphasizing the importance of the young (and marginalized) to speak from their own experiences as victims of a number of problems in society and to act as leaders of change. Lastly, “I work in the environmental movement. I don’t care if you recycle” by Mary Annaise Heglar urges us all to focus on systemic change and a bit less so on what we can all do individually, with the latter being more than just consumerism, and that there needs to be a good balance between personal change and systemic change for climate change mitigation efforts to really be effective. It also goes into the interesting discussion of victim blaming when it comes to the roles played by individuals in climate change, and the distinction between shame and guilt from a psychological perspective as consequences of victim blaming. However, there are two things that really got me scratching my head and questioning their view as I was going through this article: 1) calling the need for individual change “victim blaming” and 2) victim blaming is considered shaming us for what we do on a day-to-day basis. First off, like Dania noted, we are not all necessarily “victims” of climate change, as this word is more suitable for describing the marginalized individuals and communities in society since they are the ones who are being affected the most. I mean, sure, we all live on the same planet and thus currently or will experience the repercussions of climate change, but not to the same extent or way as do or will marginalized communities. Also, while I concur with Heglar that our society is flawed and that it is often a bit hard to make wiser choices and that systemic change at the various levels of government, energy companies, and agriculture industry are more effective in producing large-scale changes than the collective actions taken by many individuals, I do not think that victim blaming instills only a sense of shame in the general population. I feel like it is both shame and guilt at play, but maybe more guilt than shame. If we were to go by Brené Brown’s definition of shame, an overemphasis on individual action does, to a certain extent, shame our existence for what we do and what we cannot avoid doing in our everyday lives by making us feel like we are bad people simply because we have to consume to satisfy our needs and desires; however, it does not necessarily make us unworthy of love or belonging since consumerism is what all humans around the world are taking part in survive at the very minimum, and therefore not something that only a handful of people are doing. In this case, I would say that guilt may be even more accurate in describing this feeling as it focuses on the “psychological discomfort” caused by our own actions and a bit less so by the fact that we are humans and are doing human things. Personally, I feel guilt more than shame when it comes to being a consumer.
Overall, I, too, enjoyed the four readings, as I learned something different from each of them and all of them were powerful in their own ways. If you were to ask me to rate each of these articles on a scale of 1 – 4, with 1 being the article of greatest importance and that should be read first and 4 being the article of least importance and that should be read last, I would give a 1 to Klein’s “‘People and Planet First’: On the Moral Authority of Climate Justice and a New Economy”, 2 to Carlson’s “Youth Activists Are Building An Intersectional Climate Justice Movement”, 3 to Solnit’s “Welcome to the US, Greta. With your help we can save the planet and ourselves”, and 4 to Heglar’s “I work in the environmental movement. I don’t care if you recycle.” Before we make any attempt to resolve the climate crisis in any country, I think it is most important for all of us, especially those in power, to first come to the realization that humans are connected to the natural environment in which they live and that the damage they do to it will ultimately affect them in the future. It is only with this mindset that humans can start to understand the importance of protecting and caring for nature. Next, once this idea becomes deeply ingrained in people’s minds, it is important to also consider climate change from the perspective of the marginalized populations in society, as they are the ones who are usually more susceptible to risks posed by climate impacts due to factors like race/ethnicity; wealth, household income, and social status; disability / accessibility issues; and even where they reside. With this in mind, it is important to then learn about some of the other contemporary environmental issues that are troubling everyone in a big country like the U.S. and become inspired to take action like some of the young but powerful and inspirational leaders of change today, such as Greta Thunberg. Finally, although Heglar’s article may be a bit inaccurate in describing individual change as victim blaming and for not really bringing guilt into the discussion of victim blaming, it is still nice to read about her view on how we need to hold policy makers and industries accountable for the consequences of climate change, and the fact that the changes we make personally, or at the individual level, are not enough and must go “beyond what we buy or use.”