Global Warming, Global Justice

A new video released by Greenpeace’s executive director, Kumi Naidoo, proposes:

Our movement must be as global as the problems we seek to address. We need people organizing where these crimes are taking place. It will take an unprecedented alliance of people of all walks of life, from environmentalists to those who have never considered our natural words effects in their lives. Those in the movement for justice need to work together to force fundamental changes in the institutions that are holding us back. We must strengthen our willingness to engage in civil disobedience and push back against the forces that are making activism a crime.

Such a call demands that we again reflect on the nature of the relationship between climate change and other injustices. I have discussed such questions before in many posts on burycoal.com, originally in the article “Setting Priorities in Social Activism” (which was also published in a campus newspaper), and more recently in posts on care and imperialism (and ultimately this issue was central in my decision to leave the blog). There is no obvious end in sight, no simple solution to this problem, so I will likely continue to reflect on it. Below, somewhat edited, are my most recent and belligerent thoughts about those who would divide off environmental causes from all other causes of justice and treat them not only as important, but as a cause to dismiss other issues:

One can have an approach to global warming which ignores international justice issues. I don’t think it’s particularly respectable, but it’s something one can do. One can argue that Western states don’t owe a debt due to colonialism, due to the way they have used up the ability of the atmosphere to allow us to emit carbon. Or, one could make the arguement that these claims of “justice” are pipe dreams, and that we should be “realistic” and pursue “serious” development (neo-colonialist) policies which implement the market-style reality of the future which serves, which always serves, the interests of the powerful. In fact, it is possible to have an entire climate-politics analysis that remains totally orthogonal to issues of global justice, oppression, racism, genocide. No one needs to say this is impossible.

Just don’t expect it to make you friends in the broad activist community – or for such an analysis to serve as the basis of the larger alliances that Greenpeace is calling on us to build. Those alliances are already being built – and they are being built by groups like Climate Justice Montreal, Environmental Action Toronto, the Indigenous Environmental Network, and by events like Cochabamba, the climate camps which have happened in the UK and Canada, and even events like the G20 People’s Summit which happened the week before Harper pushed a neo-liberal agenda during now famous instances of police brutality and criminalization of dissent (which continues for some unfortunate organizers).

The alliances are not being built by liberals who are more interested in convincing (necessarily) corrupt politiciens of an argument than they are in the crimes being perpetrated by their state and their state’s strategic military and economic allies. The alliances are being built largely by those who experience no cognitive dissonance at statements like, “Our prime minister ought be hanged for war crimes and crimes against the planet”. Most importantly – the alliances are being built by those who do not dismiss other social justice campaigns in the name of the transcendental nature of climate change – they rather take climate change as the lens through which we see other struggles.

This is not a question of “standing on principles”, but of looking at the problems before us, and the people around us, and seeing what kind of orientation it makes sense to take as we move through the world. Moral principles are not so much “starting points” within us, but perspectives, bearings by which we see the world around us – and they make it show up in this or that way. The question about principles is of course about effectivity (“what works”) – but not simply about what brings about a desired end, because the end is also posited, partially, as a result of the principle. It is about, then, not only achieving ends, but aiming at ends that one can live with – that are adequate to the moral foundation we’ve undergone, such that we can work towards a world whose existence we could/can affirm.

In other news, I am currently in search of a climate-justice oriented blog to contribute to. I have several leads, but any suggestions would be welcome.

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9 thoughts on “Global Warming, Global Justice

  1. While it might be easier, it may not be terribly productive to blog somewhere where everybody basically agrees with you. It risks giving you a distorted sense of the shape of ongoing political arguments; also, there is a risk that faulty arguments and evidence will not be adequately challenged.

    While I do think there are some issues that are simply of a lower priority than climate change, I also think there are many issues on which you have an overly harsh and simplistic perspective that doesn’t take into account the full complexity of the issue and the legitimate claims of all those involved.

  2. It’s not clear to me that blogging is a central part of the way forward at all – it is exceedingly difficult to convince anyone of anything on the internet. In-person organizing, union solidarity work, and direct action seem more important. The internet is good for the exchange of ideas, but it is not itself a strong recruiting too.

  3. “While it might be easier, it may not be terribly productive to blog somewhere where everybody basically agrees with you.”

    The fact that you think “everyone basically agrees” within the justice-oriented crowd explains why you find the idea of a justice oriented convergence so meaningless. In fact, the left is unbelievably sectarian – and the current movements to solidify it against neo-liberalism and climate change are not easy – everyone does not “basically agree”.

  4. I agree that the internet is of limited use, when it comes to producing real action on climate change or other issues.

    On the issue of agreement and disagreement, it does seem that you left BuryCoal at least partly because I disagreed too much with your analysis. Presumably, you are looking for a site where people will be quicker to accept your assertions about what views and actions are just?

  5. I thought I made it clear that I left Burycoal because we hold different values, and these differences have become uninteresting, unproductive. I respect you as a person, and I respect the work you do – but I don’t respect some of your values, and these differences now seem irresolvable and unproductive – not something we can effectively argue about, not something we can convince each other of or even learn from each other. This became extremely apparently recently when I recognized that you still basically reject Rawls – which puts you pretty far on the right of the liberal-spectrum.

    I believe now that it is more useful and worthwhile to work towards educating and convincing people already involved in justice struggle about the importance of global warming and the need to support proposals in the short term to restrict carbon emissions, rather than argue with people already involved in global warming policy analysis about the importance of justice struggles.

  6. “Presumably, you are looking for a site where people will be quicker to accept your assertions about what views and actions are just?”

    I’m looking for a site where people are coming at the issues from a different angle – an angle where the wrongness of tyranny and oppression, of slavery and murder, and of imperialist war, needs no complex argument to condemn. The interesting issues concerning climate justice are not whether oppression is wrong – this is obvious, and those who can’t recognize it have had their moral perception damaged, presumably by various forms of ideological indoctrination. But rather, how can the universal issue of the climate be a glue which binds justice movements together – the practical questions about forming the alliances which Naidoo calls for.

    To those for whom the idea of justice is so much bad music, this may appear as “running away from an argument”. But, I’d suggest that if they want an argument – there is plenty of music out there.

  7. “While I do think there are some issues that are simply of a lower priority than climate change, I also think there are many issues on which you have an overly harsh and simplistic perspective that doesn’t take into account the full complexity of the issue and the legitimate claims of all those involved.”

    If you’re referring to Palestine, Iran, Iraq, or Haiti, you don’t even have a perspective you’re willing to describe in public, so you’re in no position to complain that my view is simplistic. I’ve asked repeatedly for you to criticize my view so I can understand it’s weaknesses and re-evaluate it, and you continually refuse to engage on this or any other political issue.

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