Climate research needs to be embedded in social justice, experts say

Panel discusses western industrialization and colonialism

Photo courtesy of Simon Fraser University

Written by: Karissa Ketter, News Writer 

SFU Public Square held a webinar to platform the voices of climate advocates, researchers, and policy-makers. The event highlighted climate justice and the barriers of embracing equity within policy making. 

Event moderator Am Johal described the event as “a response to a growing problem as more and more research is being done to learn more about the impacts of climate change [ . . . ] There’s been a failure to adequately integrate equity and justice in our response.

“The pandemic has highlighted the many ways in which inequity is deeply embedded in our society. How climate change affects certain [groups] more than others, tells us the same story.”

Eugene Kang, an environmental lawyer, explained that climate justice integrates equity and intersectionality into climate change. This approach puts environmentalism within the same conversation of politics and power dynamics such as “white supremacy, patriarchy, ableism, and colonization.”

Over the past few decades, the top 5% of wealth “was responsible for about a third of the increase in emissions,” according to the BC Office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives senior economist Marc Lee.

“The carbon footprint of the wealthiest among us is so much larger than those at the bottom.” 

Lee highlighted that society’s response to the climate crisis will need to be inclusive of a variety of socioeconomic conditions, in order to be effective. For example, Lee noted while some individuals can switch to electric cars, others in lower income households ride the bus. Therefore, suggesting lifestyle changes such as buying electric vehicles is applicable only to those already socioeconomically advantaged.

“We want to think about structural changes like shifting to more complete communities [ . . . ] that levels the playing field,” said Lee.

Researchers noted a need for climate studies to collect demographic data to understand what communities and people are being affected. “We need to have information on who those people are and their lived experiences,” said SFU professor Andréanne Doyon.

This approach can help researchers take data and use it to formulate policy recommendations with real world knowledge of the systems at hand, Doyon explained.

Lee said part of his work in the Climate Justice Project includes examining inequality within climate policies. 

For example, having established that the climate emergency affects lower income people disproportionately, it is often assumed that disadvantaged groups will be more vulnerable to climate change. 

Instead, Lee calls on researchers to look for “stories about empowerment and resilience and transcendence” within marginalized groups. 

Climate change was built on “the rapid industrialization” of the west and a “rise in capitalism,” explained climate justice activist Anjali Appadurai. 

The climate crisis continues to be worsened by the systems of the global north being imposed on the global south, she said. 

The global south’s climate justice movements are “resisting structures that are pillars of the Western neoliberal economic world order that has been imposed on those countries as part of a post-colonial agenda,” said Appadurai.

“That model is based upon the extraction of natural resources and exploitation of human labour. That was only possible because of colonialism. Colonialism was what made the capitalist exploitation of land and labour possible in the first place — by stealing Indigenous lands,” said Appadurai.

Elected leader within the Squamish nation Khelsilem emphasized the importance of collecting data correctly to measure the success of climate justice practices and then using that data to create plans, targets, and implementation strategies that “would materially benefit people in communities in our society that have not historically benefited.”

“Our movements must [ . . . ] have strong international solidarity, because climate knows no borders, and it must be rooted in the context and the knowledge of the deep inequities that created and exacerbated the climate crisis. That’s the only way that we will get through this,” said Appadurai.

Leave a Reply