Disruptions: Climate Justice is Social Justice

There’s a long list of reasons why climate change bores people. It doesn’t feel urgent or tangible. It’s hard to imagine how it will affect us as individuals. It seems like we’re powerless to stop it, up against petro-economies and corporations. To rectify this, we need a way of connecting it to issues that do seem pressing to us.

The UN Climate Conference in Paris is happening in December. It will be the biggest ever global gathering of world leaders around this topic. They will “aim to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C”, according to the COP21 website. But after decades of missed targets and broken promises, from the Kyoto Protocol to Copenhagen to New York, is this year going to be any different? Haven’t politicians made their neoliberal priorities clear?

The World Bank recently released a report detailing the ways global development must be considered in climate deals to stop millions more people from being left in poverty by 2030. Without funding and infrastructure, South Asian and Sub-Saharan African nations in particular will struggle to function under rising sea levels and shocks to agricultural systems. All the work that has gone into alleviating poverty will be undone. Climate change is not the great equaliser. As Naomi Klein writes in her book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, “it is doing precisely the opposite, stratifying us further into a society of haves and have-nots.”

The fact that this part of Europe will get by with only some gale-force winds for a while longer is not an excuse for apathy. When our government wields this much power on the world stage, the ball is in our court to affect action. In a globalised capitalist market, the most vulnerable land masses have the least power to protect themselves. “In poor countries, support from the international community will be essential to accomplish many of these measures,” confirms the World Bank report.

It’s time to give climate action the attention it deserves. If we recognise that the impacts of climate change are completely gendered, racialized and classed, they make more sense to our social justice-based politics. It is a feminist issue when women make up most of the agricultural labour force and bear the brunt of natural disasters. It is a public health issue when water supplies are being poisoned for financial gain. As the World Bank report shows, it is an issue of global development and foreign aid.

And yet, environmentalism does not have the sex appeal of other liberation movements. It has often been associated with dreadlocked white people in hemp clothing, or public service announcements telling you to switch off your appliances at night. No longer! Let’s make room for the new politics of climate justice which is inextricably linked to major systems of social oppression. The old rhetoric of “Save the Planet/Trees/Whales” is over. This discourse put humans in the supremacist position, with the power to degrade the Earth to a tipping point, then reel in the damage when we can’t stand the heat, saving the rest of the ecosystem while we’re at it. This idea is what led us to our current dystopia. No matter how much impact we have on the climate, the Earth will survive. Ice age or hot desert, the extremophile species will adapt and the planet will orbit the Sun. The next great extinction is humankind. When we lose sleep over climate change in the shelter of our rich European nation, it’s because we care about our own mortality. There are faces behind the science and statistics.

So let’s not leave it too late to mobilise. The University of Glasgow has pledged to divest from fossil fuels, so now what? We can turn up to the People’s Climate March, write a letter to a UK delegate ahead of Paris, and keep track of damaging trade deals like TTIP. We can pay attention to politicians like Green MSP Patrick Harvie, instead of the SNP politicians hell-bent on drilling for oil off the West Coast as well as the East. Westminster is still giving billions of pounds worth of subsidies to fossil fuel industries, despite G7 pledges to promote green energy. As oil prices fall in the midst of global conflicts, the myopic economic argument against renewables won’t stand strong. When the carbon bubble bursts under pressure, rich nations must be prepared to reshuffle their entire mind-set around climate action, and address the inequalities it entrenches.

[Ellen MacAskill – @ejdmacaskill]

– The People’s Climate March will take place in Edinburgh on 28th November, along with marches in cities across the world.

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