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  • Writer's pictureAbel Rodrigues

Climate and Social Justice

The term “Climate Justice” became popular in the news around the world. It was the Oxford Word of The Year in 2019, and — in a nutshell — it describes the state of our planet where the harmful consequences of climate change makes human life increasingly difficult.

Fridays for Future Amazonia Climate Strike in Belém, Pará (Amazonia) — Brazil.
Fridays for Future Amazonia Climate Strike in Belém, Pará (Amazonia) — Brazil.

This fast popularization of the term has not been in vain, but it is the result of an unexpected wave of climate protests in the last two years, with millions of young people accusing their governments of being negligent with climate change, and demanding immediate actions to stop Global Warming. And in Europe, direct actions against new airports and the fossil fuel industry. Throughout these two years, another term began to appear in the media and speeches. It is so-called Climate Justice. The entry of the concept of justice to the climate cause has made climate activism cease to be a trend and become a physical, material issue. But, it’s actually hard to define “Climate Justice”. Even the interpretation is confused — is climate justice the seek for the climate’s rights?

The idea of a, “Climate Emergency”, as a more consolidated term, is abstract. But it shouldn’t be. We see increasingly more migrations due to environmental problems that make human life an impossibility in some regions — it generates climate refugees. Extreme droughts, giant fires, overwhelming storms and pandemics are directly and indirectly results caused by the environmental and climate disorder faced today by humanity. These problems won’t affect people in 50, 100 or 200 years, it affects us today. It is completely misunderstood to mention the Climate Emergency as something to avoid in the future. In fact, it is already a part of our present.

The dystopian reality created by the climate emergency affects poorer countries and people. From riverine communities on Asian islands to extreme droughts in northeast Brazil or disproportionate fires in Australia, the climate emergency makes populations more vulnerable to its victims. Social inequality amplifies these effects as it acts to make these people’s problems invisible. Although much has been said, for example, climate refugees are not even considered in international law — even though 200 million climate refugees are expected by 2050.

Fortunately, the mobilization agents who filled the streets in the so-called climate strikes understand the direct and clear connection between the climate emergency and the suffering of the most vulnerable segments of society. Climate justice, which can be understood as the quest to ensure a decent future for humanity, now sees its interpretation broadened to combat the harmful effects of environmental degradation that affects thousands (or potentially millions) of people around the world today.

The most practical example of this change is the evolution of the narrative of ‘Fridays for Future’, which is considered today to be the face of the climate movement. From an abstraction about the world’s destruction of this generation and the next generations to come, the movement is now focusing on more direct denunciations — not about a distant future, but a hidden present. On the COP, in Madrid, Greta Thunberg who is a Fridays for Future activist, used her huge media platform to amplify voices of indigenous representatives. And talking about more concrete actions, recently she donated 100 thousand euros in defense of Indigenous people from Amazonia against COVID-19, through a Fridays for Future Brazil project.

Youth’s determination to comprehend the real connection between the climate crisis and the most vulnerable social groups changes the global narrative about Climate Emergency, and promotes the democratization of the climate and environmental agenda. After all, why does the indigenous leader care to hear about a so-called climate crisis that can — in some years — exterminate humanity, when his people are already being murdered by prospectors and the Agrobusiness? But he cares to know that the same people who shoot his people are the same people who pollute the rivers, who spread the virus into his village and who eliminates whole animals species — and so on, there will be a real interest in collaboration and a real understanding about the many faces of this Climate Emergency.

Climate Justice is about Social Justice. The poor, black, riverine and indigenous people are the most affected by the climate crisis. Fighting global warming is therefore also about fighting for indigenous rights, for the rights of riverine communities, and of course being anti-racist. In the case of indigenous people, it isn’t just to defend who are already being affected by the Climate Crisis, but also to defend those who fight every day against this problem. Although few, indigenous people around the world are the ones who more maintain the biodiversity of the planet, the forests’ abundance of wildlife and the cleaning rivers.

However, the social aspect of the fight against climate change is not only issues related with the Global South. Actually, it is already present in Europe, where it is possible to see a huge wave of movements against petroleum and gas. Once we close Thermal Power Stations, for example, where will the workers work, after all? The fight against pollution structures cannot be a fight to promote the jobless. This is why we also have to talk about a green transition or green jobs. It’s not climate activism to close industries ignoring the jobless.

Climate Justice is a wide term, and it needs to be discussed in Academia and on the streets. But for sure, it is a term to be consolidated and which was already recognized as the most noble cause of our generation. Once we fear the economical consequences of the pandemic, the climate movement cannot be unaware of the social situation of people, mainly of the most vulnerable groups. The right to live with dignity, with water access, energy and clean air is what we are looking for. But we cannot live with dignity without having social rights. There’s no Climate Justice without Social Justice, and it is not possible to have Social Justice without Climate Justice.

Author: Abel Rodrigues — Brazil Review: Anna Kernahan — Northern Ireland

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