Social Justice Usage
We see the effects of the climate crisis all around us in hurricanes, droughts, wildfires, and rising sea levels, but our proximity to these things, and how deeply our lives are changed by them, are not the same for everyone. Frontline groups have been leading the fight for environmental and climate justice for centuries and understand the critical connections between the climate crisis and racial justice, economic justice, migrant justice, and gender justice. Our personal experiences with climate change are shaped by our experiences with race, gender, and class, as the climate crisis often intensifies these systems of oppression.
New Discourses Commentary
“Climate justice” is mostly a term used in activism used to take a Social Justice approach to the issue of climate change, particularly issues corollary to and tangential to the issue of climate change itself. While the scholarship on climate change remains largely scientific, a largely distracting interest in climate justice has arisen within activism and some scholarship in the humanities to document how issues related to climate change are best understood primarily as Social Justice issues. In particular, climate justice seeks to reframe the debate about climate change to one about the ways in which climate change will be more detrimental to oppressed people and less detrimental to privileged ones, which compounds injustice. This, the activists involved believe, will increase, rather than decrease, the sense of imperative with regard to addressing climate change.
In practice, climate justice means diverting focus and resources away from pressuring governments to produce, enable, support, or subsidize technologies for carbon-neutral energy production, carbon capture, and energy sustainability and toward more focus on gender, race, previously colonized status, and sexuality as those can be contrived into issues related to climate change. For example, a climate justice approach might argue that programs teaching intersectional feminism and critical race Theory are needed in developing countries, like in Africa, because better understanding how issues relevant to women and racism from a social-theoretical perspective will better inform and motivate us regarding the making of climate-relevant policy, especially with regard to preserving cultural identities and practices (in a pre-industrial setting—see also, cultural relativism). This, rather alarmingly, may also include teaching ideas from postcolonial Theory like that science is a white, Western cultural product and just another “way of knowing.”
The proposed mechanism of climate justice is therefore to prioritize the voices and knowledge(s) of marginalized people on climate, life around climate, and climate change, and an experiential approach is often taken. While good scholarship and activism can focus on the ways in which poorer communities can be less able to mitigate the effects of climate change, and this can be used to craft policy that might mitigate these issues or better take them into account, it is unclear how rooting activism against climate change in theoretical constructs like indigenous queer feminisms (see examples below) will help the situation rather than serve as a politicizing distraction that, at best, makes climate change activism look frivolous and unfocused. Indeed, activism that does posit climate change to be a common struggle is likely to gain more support than one that makes it a problem of people with many overlapping vectors of marginalization. The co-optation of climate change into identity-based activism—and thus making it a far-left political issue—is probably aggravating and certainly not helping to ameliorate climate denialism among those on the right wing.
Of note, this pressure is also attempting to make its way into scholarship. The science of glaciology, for example, is of crucial importance to the rigorous study of climate change, and the now-infamous “feminist glaciology” paper from 2016 was an attempt to push feminist and indigenous identity studies into the science of glaciology, ultimately on an agenda consistent with climate justice. That paper advocated, among other things, that paintings of glaciers (by women) should be taken seriously alongside satellite photography of them (which it called pornographic and exhibiting a “God’s-eye view from nowhere” as a means of attempting to criticize objectivity in the science—see also, positivism).
Colonialism; Critical race Theory; Cultural relativism; Eco-feminism; Eco-warrior; Feminism; Gender; God’s-eye view; Identity; Indigenous; Injustice; Intersectionality; Knowledge(s); Lived experience; Marginalized; Objectivity; Oppression; Positivism; Postcolonial Theory; Privilege; Queer; Race; Racism; Science; Sexuality; Social Justice; Theory; Voice; Ways of knowing; Western-centric; White
Source: P Brown, Organizer with SustainUS and Our Climate Voices, same source
As a black, queer, femme-identifying organizer, a core aspect of my being is honoring the wisdom and power of Black feminist leaders, like Marsha P. Johnson and Angela Davis, who have fought tirelessly to build movements wherein strategy roots itself in the needs of those directly impacted by systemic violence. As people living in a world where we simultaneously experience privilege and oppression, a key lesson we must acknowledge is that we all have capacity to erase, silence, and exploit the voices of marginalized peoples with which we don’t share a common struggle and/or identity.
I’ve come to recognize that the mainstream climate movement’s shift in strategy to “center” the narratives of Black, Brown, and Indigenous peoples on the front lines of crises has actually meant exploitation of our labor and resources. Beyond mobilizations, there’s little genuine, long-term effort to build the deep relationships and trust needed to facilitate authentic collaborations that Black, Brown, and Indigenous feminist leadership demands. Instead, our traumas and struggles continue to be tokenized. We need to shift these relationships to redistribute resources and funding to grassroots movements pioneering solutions that impact people’s day-to-day livelihoods.
If we’re rooted in Black, Brown, and Indigenous queer feminisms, we must acknowledge those on the margins of society are already tackling the problems we face. We must invest the time and energy needed to build mutual aid and underground disaster relief networks to hold space for folks to feel safe, secure, and prepared for climate crises.
Revision date: 7/8/20