Climate Justice in America

 by Thomas Klikauer and Meg Young

coal plant

A few days ago, President Biden was urging climate action when saying, we don’t have much more than 10 years. Fighting global warming is inextricably linked to what Bill McKibben and others call climate justice. Commonly, many like to distinguish between climate justice and ecological justice. Ecological justice is about non-human beings and the wild unspoiled by human interference. It is about animals and their moral entitlements to an adequate and safe habitat, for example.

By contrast, climate justice is about the interaction between human beings and nature. It is about issues like global warming understood as an ethical and political issue. Necessarily, climate justice involves social equality, human rights, collective rights, animal rights and our common responsibilities to prevent global warming.

Despite the recent flooding of sections of New York, it is clear by now that there are disproportional impacts of climate disruptions on the world’s most vulnerable people. The promise of capitalism as the solution to global warming might turn out to be a hallucination. Instead, many climate justice advocates have been in the forefront of critiquing policy measures that aim to implement emission reductions through so-called market mechanisms.

It is even worse when one considers that less than ten years ago, the wealthiest 10% of individuals worldwide were responsible for 59% of resource consumption and the poorest half of the world were…only responsible for about 7%. At around the same time, many became aware that the wealthiest 10% of the global population are now responsible for 49% of individual emissions.

One of the problems of the global imbalance may well be biofuel causing a massive expanse of land away from food crops, polluting and then capturing and locking up pollutants in some carbon prison is not a new idea. It is a brilliant marketing spin. Yet, the focus on fuel can have additional consequences.

Many environmental groups have chosen to be silent on the issues of large dams for example, as they must choose their battles and have prioritized opposition to fossil fuel. The conversion of nature into biofuel production, large dams, and marketing spin can be easily observed in a country like Brazil. In the era of the world’s most dangerous man, President Jair Bolsonaro, the oil industry’s expansion policy is focusing on the privatization of Petrobras, Shell, BP, Chevron, Total, Statoil/Equinor, Repsol, and other companies from Portugal, China and the US are directly investing in the new frontier, opened up by Bolsonaro.

To some extent, it is fair to say that what happens in Brazil also happens in India where climate change doesn’t make nouveau riche in Brazil, the USA, and elsewhere vulnerable. Instead, it provides new opportunities to grow even richer.

To camouflage rampant global environmental vandalism and to delay serious action on global warming, climate change mitigation, une idée fixe of resilience, as well as, short-term adaptations to climate change remain largely a chimera used to camouflage the rapidly advancing destructiveness of an impending Anthropocene or better yet, Capitalocene. Caused by global warming, a different problem emerged in a different corner of the world.

Scientists announced that five Solomon Islands have disappeared due to rising sea levels. It does not stop there. Despite Donald Trump, who was president in the year 2018, in that year, the US Department of Defense predicted that more than a thousand low-lying islands risk becoming uninhabitable by the middle of the century – or possibly sooner – because of rising sea levels.

In the USA, rising sea levels will also impact on Florida, Louisiana, California, New York, and New Jersey, as well as Guangzhou and Shanghai, China; Hong Kong; Mumbai, India; Amsterdam, Netherlands; Lagos, Nigeria; Manila, Philippines; Dakar, Senegal; and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Much of this are the bitter consequences of a system that supports big businesses which is a system that, of course, also includes corporate lobbying where the oil, gas, and coal industries have spent a whopping $543 million on lobbying in 2009, while alternative energy companies spent less than $32 million. Outspending the people by 17-to-1, Big Oil, Kochland, etc. assures that US lawmakers pave the way towards the Uninhabitable Earth.

For those without corporate dollars, protest remains the preferred option to fight environmental vandalism and global warming. Many have been arguing that protest is more important than public opinion or legitimate advocacy in influencing federal environmental law. This is the case even when the other side operates what Earth First! Founder Mike Roselle calls, first they ignore you, then they sue you.

When all their corporate lobbying and court cases fail, polluting corporations offer compensation. Examining the case of African climate justice, the entire pathology comes to light when polluters offer compensation and when, as in one casetheir initial offer of an annual $10 million was not enough to buy us coffins.

This is only going to get worse and it will do so not just in Africa. In Africa. Desmond Tutu once said, we are facing impending disaster on a monstrous scale condemning Africa to incineration. This is what global heating means for the vast areas of the world – incineration. Perhaps Greta Thunberg, in her usual clarity, was not wrong when saying, either we choose to go on as civilisation or we don’tWe are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy-tales of eternal economic growth.

Yet, climate justice also relates to issues such as the impact of privatization of water can have on local communities. The people in and around Detroit, for example, not only suffered from lead contamination of the water but also from Detroit’s water shut-offs impacting mostly on the poor. Privatization is all but yet another mechanism of an ever increasing financialization of nature.

On a much grander scale, it means that, the Paris Agreement is a trade agreement, nothing more. It promises to privatize, commodify, and sell forested lands as carbon offsets in fraudulent schemes. Essentially, those responsible for the climate crisis do not only get to buy their way out of compliance but they also get to profit from it as well.

On much of this, ecofeminism would argue that we need a transition from life-denying capitalism to a life-affirming, post-capitalist commons. Ecofeminists might also say that all over the world, fossil capitalism has violated human rights and the rights of nature. It undermines local subsistence and communal social relations. Supporting this, climate justices would argue that we must resist the neoliberal imperatives for scalable solutions or one-size-fits-all roadmaps.

Overall however, there is no evidence that the environmental and climate change problems that we face today, or any complex social and economic problems of this scale, can be effectively tackled by economic incentives of the sort offered by capitalism – a sobering thought.

In the end, the concept of climate justice offer a theoretical or even philosophical discussion on how to understand global warming. Climate justice remains indispensable to the debate on global warming.

Thomas Klikauer (MAs, Boston and Bremen University and PhD Warwick University, UK) teaches MBAs and supervises PhDs at the Sydney Graduate School of Management, Western Sydney University, Australia. He has over 700 publications and writes regularly for BraveNewEurope (Western Europe), the Barricades (Eastern Europe), Buzzflash (USA), Counterpunch (USA), Countercurrents (India), Tikkun (USA), and ZNet (USA). His next book is on Media Capitalism (Palgrave).

Meg Young (GCA and GCPA, University of New England at Armidale) is a Sydney Financial Accountant & HR Manager who likes good literature and proof reading.

Originally published in Counterpunch

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