Updated: May 20, 2020
By J. V. Jayme,
Climate Justice is one of the latest entries in our collective vernacular in the past decade, and rightly so. With the ever-worsening state of the environment, people are becoming more aware and worried about the seemingly inevitable collapse of the world’s ecosystems. (Revkin, 2019) However, the last thing we need is for it to devolve into a mere buzzword, or worse, empty rhetoric. The need to concretize this idea becomes increasingly urgent.
Of course, there are efforts from different pockets of the globe to give this concept a specific meaning – from upholding the Paris Agreement to the overhaul of our social system. However, we won’t be delving into the details of such proposals here as they would require a more in-depth examination and we simply wouldn’t be able to do them justice here.
Instead, this article provides a specific lens on how we can pursue and understand Climate Justice. To be more precise, we shall be looking at the concept of political ecology as a specific type of environmentalism. It also delves into the relevance of political ecology in the developing world.
What is Political Ecology?
Environmentalism encompasses a myriad of theories, perspectives, and disciplines. For instance, some of these approach the climate crisis from a Neo-Malthusian viewpoint. (Walker, 2005) There is a need, therefore, for advocates to draw lines and state their positions. In this case, we are staking our claim in the camp of Political Ecology.
Political Ecology pertains to a social scientific approach, particularly in the field of geography. It makes, reframes, and uses environmental and policy analysis to understand and address the problems of the socially vulnerable. (Forsyth, 2008) It examines how the political-economy is intertwined with the environmental degradation we are dealing with today.
Political Ecology for the Marginalized
Whether we are aware of it or not, there is still a hegemony of narratives. The world of environmentalism, sadly, is not exempt from this as the voices of the most gravely affected by this crisis are often silenced and set aside. This is precisely why I subscribe to political ecology. Aside from being an indispensable tool for analyzing environmental issues, it also helps bring forward the experiences of the marginalized groups.
Political ecology helps remedy this historical silencing by forging a counter-hegemony. (Holden, 2013) In the World Economic Forum 2015 article, ‘What Does Climate Justice Look Like?’ Sherry Rehman laments: “It is a painful irony of climate change that those least responsible for the problem are often the most exposed to its ravages.” (Rehman, 2015) This perfectly captures the tragedy of the current situation that citizens of developing world have found themselves in.
The disproportionate effects of climate change and other environmental crises on the Global South is outrageous and undeniable. This is a fact that is further exacerbated by a wide array of factors, both internal and external, including development aggression, economic policies, regime changes, and social relations. Needless to say, historicizing and analyzing the forces at play helps paint a more complete picture of the climate problem.
Political ecology, therefore, helps peel back the layers and allows us to ask the pertinent questions on how the climate crisis is perpetuated and exacerbated. Moreover, it can help show they impact the most vulnerable. Hopefully, all of these can help in terms of how Climate Justice can be formulated.
Forsyth, T. (2008). Political Ecology and the Epistemology of Social Justice. Geoforum, 756-764.
Holden, W. (2013). The Least of My Brethren: Mining, Indigenous People, and the Catholic Church. Worldviews, 205-238.
Rehman, S. (2015, November 26). What Does Climate Justice Look Like? Retrieved from World Economic Forum: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/11/what-does-climate-justice-look-like/
Revkin, A. (2019, January 23). Most Americans now worry about climate change—and want to fix it. National Geographic. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/01/climate-change-awareness-polls-show-rising-concern-for-global-warming/
Walker, P. (2005). Political Ecology: where is the ecology. Progress in Human Geography, 73-82.
In addition, for further reading and curiosity, please also see the United States Environmental Justice Community Map here: https://ejscreen.epa.gov/mapper/
This map will tell you more about the demographics and environmental justice communities in your area.
Thank you for reading!