CLIMATE JUSTICE: THE CLIMATE CRISIS AND HUMAN RIGHTS

BY: LEAH FATTOR

Much of the dialogue surrounding climate change (what it means, how to stop it, etc.) is science focused. The climate crisis is talked about in terms of numbers, reports, estimates, evidence, tests, and conclusions. It is—after all—an ecological and environmental issue. However, it is also much more than that.

The climate crisis is also a human rights issue. All of the adverse effects of climate change (e.g. increased frequency of extreme weather events and natural disasters, rising sea levels, droughts, desertification, water shortages, etc.) threaten an extensive list of human rights, including the rights to life, food, water, sanitation, health, housing, self-determination, culture, and development.
 
In addition, the UN has found that the negative effects of climate change disproportionately effect already disadvantaged people and communities. In Bangladesh, due to coastal flooding, hundreds of thousands of people have been uprooted; many forced to make the dangerous trek to live in the slums of Dhaka, the capital. Pacific island nations face an existential threat due to rising sea levels. In West Africa, the drying of Lake Chad due to desertification has forced more than four million people into camps. In Kenya, due to frequent, severe droughts that kill crops and animal herds, many indigenous parents pull their daughters out of school and marry them off for a dowry in order to make ends meet.

Climate justice calls for community-led solutions that come from an understanding that climate change unduly impacts communities of color, low income communities, and indigenous communities worldwide. It also involves the understanding that developed countries must fundamentally restructure their societies, as their production and consumption habits are what threaten humanity and biodiversity.
 
To better understand what climate justice is and why it’s important, let’s take a closer look at a few advocates and activists at its forefront.

In the 1920s, the Navajo Nation Tribal Council signed deals with large energy corporations with the promise of major revenue and jobs from oil, coal, and uranium mining. Almost a hundred years later, despite these promises, the Navajo unemployment rate hovers around 54%, and the Navajo people face environmental degradation including air and water pollution from large coal-fired power plants and coal mines. Despite the relentless coal mining and burning, most Navajo households live without power.
 
Wahleah Johns is a member of the Navajo tribe and the community of Forest Lake, one of the many communities on top of Black Mesa in the Navajo Nation. She formed the Black Mesa Water Coalition (BMWC) in 2001 with the ultimate goal of shutting down all mines on the Black Water reservation and replacing all of the coal-fired power plants with renewable energy.

The transition to a green economy is not only about transitioning utility, but also transitioning societies that simultaneously depend on and have been devasted by energy development. 

So far, the BMWC has found some success in transitioning the Navajo Nation to a green economy. In 2009, it helped the Green Jobs Legislation to pass through the Navajo Tribal Council. It also helped establish a business incubator to help Navajo people create their own green businesses. It also helped Black Mesa Solar Coalition to start building a solar manufacturing plant and series of solar panels on abandoned mine land. 

Across the world, in Sweden, Greta Thunberg started a school strike for climate justice outside the Swedish Parliament. Within eight months, Greta went from being a lone, unknown fifteen-year old girl outside the parliament building to a figurehead for a world-wide movement for the largest demographic that will be affected by severe climate change: children.

After a record heatwave in northern Europe and forest fires that ravished across Sweden, Greta, inspired by students’ activism after the Parkland school shooting, decided to do something; on August 20, 2018, Greta sat outside the Swedish parliament building from 8:30am to 3:00pm (the normal school day). People started joining her after that first day, and soon, students were striking around the world. Since that August, Greta has become an important campaigner for climate justice: speaking at climate rallies, international forums, and even the UN Climate Change COP24 Conference while still attending school (when she’s not on strike). 

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim is a 34-year-old indigenous woman of the Mbororo pastoralist community in Chad. She made headlines in April of 2016 when she was selected to be the speaker representing civil society at the signing ceremony of the historic climate agreement reached at the 21st UN Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
 
She has experienced climate change first-hand, as indigenous peoples, such as the Peulu Mbororo, are on the front lines of the devastation: “Climate change threatens our basic rights, our cultural values, and the very survival of these communities. For all Indigenous Peoples from any corner of the world, livelihoods are linked to natural resources— for our food and medicine, for everything. So, if there are floods or droughts, the impact is greater for us.”

In her work, for example, developing a 3D mapping project to better keep track of changing weather and effected lands, she incorporates indigenous knowledge into climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies.
 
Climate change affects everyone, and its effects are felt most by indigenous communities, minorities, and women. It is incredibly important that all of us, one way or another, join the fight for climate justice. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Learn as much as you can! Read books like Mary Robinson’s Climate Justice, watch Greta Thunberg’s TED talk, or listen to Mother’s of Invention, podcasts about feminist solutions to climate change.

Donate or volunteer! Research into organizations, non-profits, and NGO’s that are on the front line of the fight for climate justice. Good starting points are Climate Justice Alliance and the deeply passionate and more extreme Extinction Rebellion.

Most importantly, get political! Call your national, state, and local representatives and demand that they take action. Participate in marches for climate justice. VOTE for politicians that will dedicate themselves to not just fighting climate change, but fighting for climate justice.