What does justice have to do with carbon emissions?
Language is so pivotal to understanding each other because we all come into the environmental work from different places, it also means that we have different lexicon of what doing 'environmental' work is.
One way of understanding it is through higher education, or perhaps just engaging with environmental organizations, carbon is at the center of understanding what is going on with climate change.
Carbon, however, is not something that was necessarily a focus of attention or a problem before globalization, capitalism, or neoliberalism. In the book Carbon Democracy, Timothy Mitchell draws a timeline of how exactly the economies of today became so dependent on oil through carbon. How carbon fueled military states to have the control of 'technological zones' to limit the development and consumption of this raw resources in countries abroad. Democracy, as the book argues, was utilized as a tool to take control of these zones.
The period of structural adjustments, as well as the 'shocks' that Naomi Klein refers to in her books, are still ever-present in the developing world. For example, in the book the Open Veins of Latin America, one can learn about how the United States continues to utilize these forces to extract from Latin American countries beyond carbon. Carbon is beyond just an element in the periodic table, it is intertwined with a democratic agenda, that sought to 'liberate' people in countries with resources.
Another way of understanding environmental work is by uncovering the ancestral knowledge of natives people around the world. How a community takes care of their elders, how they moar their loses, how engaged they are with each other when eating food. Culture, food, community, language are all means of how people manage their relationship with the environment. Having been gifted the opportunity to be in spaces with these communities, I would argue that the wisdom and knowledge that these communities have will never be matched by any higher educational institution.
How then does one find clarity in the systems at play that caused so much carbon in our atmosphere? How do you talk about carbon with people who perhaps will never have an opportunity to obtain formal education to understand the western science behind climate change? Why is it important that justice is part of the dialogue taking place in countless meeting rooms that aspire to develop a carbon-free future? Why is it challenging for organizations seeking to develop this future to engage with native communities and communities that are at the front-line of climate change?
Let me be clear, there is no simple answer. Practitioners and organizational change agents, in their best effort, seek to build relationships with the communities. Build capacity in organizations, trust, so that these communities can send their leaders to a meeting and have a seat at the table. A step in the right direction.
Yet, I would point out the differences between the changes that are needed in order to take real climate action. The differences between a transactional change and a transformational change. While small wins should be celebrated, does the celebration cast a shadown on those at the front-line and put a spotlight on the solutions, to bring certainty, consistency, and predictability to the business as usual agenda. Transactional changes seek to problem solve now and does not allow time for reflection, self-learning, self-healing.
"Justice is what love looks like in public" - Cornel West.
Beyond a seat at the table
A transformation change, of course, involves the evolution of a person or institution. In a transactional change, the doctor meets you, checks you out, and gives you a prescription. In a transformational change, the doctor takes time to reflect and asks who is the patient?
A transformational change builds relationships between leaders, it builds common language. A transformational change has taken place when organizations stop bring community leaders to the table, instead they built trust, a relationship, and bring the meetings to the community to crafts plans to work in collaboration.
What is the value of a transition into a decentralized energy system if we continue to exploit copper and lithium mines? What is the value of recycling plastics if we continue to put demand for raw resources from our behavior? What is the value of building dense, public transportation accesible cities if people are displaced to areas further away (and end up consuming more gas)? What is the value of tackling climate change if not everyone is involved? What does the world look like when those at the front-line of climate change define progress?
I invite you to step into a space of discomfort, a space of growth. I invite you to dig deep within yourself and find the courage to sit on these questions, to not answer them but rather reflect. There are complex, wicket problems all across this globe -- chaos. I invite you to find calmness in the chaos, because ultimately this is what those who are at the front-line have done. Let your reflection and empathy guide you to establish bonds, relationships that edge you closer to the front-line. This looks different for everyone, for some it may mean investing money and giving up priveledges, for others it may mean seeking support to elevate your voice. Environmental justice because at the end of the day we are only as strong as our weakest link.