By Climate Justice editorial collective
April 4, 2011
This is the opening editorial of our 2011 special issue, A People's Forecast: The Climate Justice Issue. We'll be posting articles from this issue every Monday & Friday throughout April. For more about the issue click here.
The earth is trying desperately to communicate with us. Record high temperatures, crop failures, natural disasters, and the flight of ecological refugees are its surefire signs that climate change is wreaking havoc in the present, and promising much worse for the future. Nevertheless, these warnings have done little to stir political and economic elites in Canada. Unwilling to take action domestically to curb runaway climate change, Canada has become an obstructionist pariah internationally at United Nations negotiations.
The Canadian government’s reputation has taken a deserved beating, as the gulf widens between popular demands for action on climate change and the establishment’s commitment to business as usual. The Conservatives' attempt to re-brand the Alberta tar sands as “ethical oil”—unlike that produced by tyrannical Saudis, goes their argument—is one indication of increasing concern over its tarnished image. But no rhetorical footwork can change the fact that the tar sands, sprawling and unregulated, are an extraordinarily destructive and thus immoral enterprise—even if it is a liberal democracy presiding over its operations, not a dictatorship.
Prompting absurd apologetics from the government and its polluting partners is but a small part of ending business as usual. Meaningful change will only come about with a powerful climate justice movement—grassroots, democratic, diverse—that brings concern for the human element to the climate debate’s centre and makes social justice its top priority. We can do this best by organizing around frontline communities—Indigenous, racialized, working class or poor, in the North and South, the same communities that are most severely impacted by the ecological crisis and least responsible for it.
These communities are hit first and worst, and that is precisely why they fight back the hardest. Their struggles did not, however, suddenly emerge when someone cried, “Climate justice!” So instead of pondering how to win over these struggles to the banner of climate justice, we are tasked with building wider networks of support for the most-affected communities. Victories in these struggles—against super highways and for mass public transit; against industrial pollution and for universal health care; against mines and oil and gas extraction, and for a low-energy economy; against mono-crops and for sustainable agro-ecological farming; against wars for hydrocarbons and for democratic control over where we work, where we live and how we collectively make decisions—will ease and improve the lives of many and cool the planet.
Science has laid out the non-negotiable targets for carbon emission thresholds, beyond which catastrophe looms. But such targets shouldn’t become campaign centrepieces. Fixation on particles per million or emission percentages will encourage a carbon fundamentalism that can distract from the root causes of climate change and present opportunities for false solutions. Genuine solutions—for both the immediate crisis of runaway climate change and the enduring crises of an economic system committed to wastefully endless growth, resource wars and colonial land theft—are those advanced by communities everywhere, as they strive for healthier, richer and better lives.
While science sets out hard and fast limits, the notion of “climate justice” will shift and meld as the movement grows and becomes more inclusive and representative. If it is many things, it should at least be a call to address mass poverty and suffering, the energy and biodiversity crisis, and climate change within an integrated vision of human progress. As some Indigenous peoples say, let us “live well,” with each other and with the earth.
This is the enormous challenge for our movements. Our goal in this special issue of The Dominion is to leave with you an array of stories about the pursuit of such struggles in or connected to Canada, glimpses of communities on the front lines of climate change, and some pathways to collective action for resilience, for justice, and for survival.