Climate Change is a Social Justice Issue

My name is Audrey Holloway and I am a senior (’18) biology major with a minor in environmental studies. I have always been passionate about the environment and animal rights, but environmental justice has become a large part of what drives me since coming to Gonzaga. Being able to tie in a passion for others while also advocating for our environment is something I feel is so crucial in today’s world, and I love being able to be a part of a movement like this.

Climate change is an environmental issue, but it is also biological, economic, social, and political. How one participates in and is affected by climate change weighs heavily on your economic status and the abilities of one’s communities to cope with our shifting planet. If you have the money to be on a vegan diet or move from an area affected by heavy flooding, then great. But so many people are stuck in a poor socioeconomic situation that they do not even have the option to escape. And it is often the same people who are being most heavily affected that are contributing the least to the issue. It is so crucial to address climate change as an intersectional issue and emphasize that when we address one aspect of it, we can help so many more.

 

Tying climate justice in to the overall issue of climate change makes it more impactful for me personally. While I am very emotionally invested in the wellbeing of our planet for the planet’s sake, I also am a big believer in equality and social justice. I often think back to a specific instance when I was studying abroad. I had the opportunity to do a two-week road trip through Namibia at the end of my time, and Namibia is a country that is largely undeveloped. One of the byproducts of this rawness is that a majority of the country has a very primitive plumbing system, if any at all. I remember once, we were driving to a campsite one day that was deep within the desert. We were about an hour into our drive and so far the only sign of people that we had seen was a man walking a herd of goats. A little while later, we came upon a mother sitting under a makeshift canopy constructed out of branches, and her son, probably only five or six years old. As the woman sat under the canopy weaving, her son ran excitedly to the side of the road holding two empty plastic water bottles, waving them frantically. We pulled over and said hello and smiled and one of my friends filled his bottles with our huge three gallon containers of water and then gave him a few extra of our regular bottles. We gave the little guy high fives and his mother kept saying “Thank you” over and over as we gave her one of the most basic needs for human life.

It made me feel incredibly privileged and extremely guilty that I had the ability to unload so much water on them, while they sit on the side of the road during the day, hoping that someone will pass by to give them two water bottles. These people were not asking for money or food, but literally water because their country is experiencing one of the worst droughts in their history. This experience really amplified the concept that our climate changing affects people much more drastically than one could even conceive, unless you are living it. It is the epitome of injustice that people are losing food, water, and their homes over circumstances far from their control.

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14 comments

  1. Thank you for sharing your feelings about environmental justice. I especially appreciated reading about your experience in Namibia with the mother, her young son, and the water. We are so fortunate and take so much for granted every day.

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  2. Thanks for your blog, Audrey. I also am so struck by the imbalance of the people suffering the consequences of Global Warming vs. the quality of life of the ones causing the Global Warming. Pauline Druffel

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  3. Audrey, I appreciate how your post emphasizes climate change’s disproportionate negative effects to those who contribute the least to it. It is an unjust phenomena that is not discussed enough outside of the realm of environmental ethics/policy if at all. Thank you for writing your experience because it shows your genuine care about for social and environmental justice. -Tommi Gonzales

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  4. Audrey,
    Climate justice is what drives me too! I would argue that climate justice is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, social justice issue our world faces today because it interlocks with so many other injustices like racism and classism. It is incredibly unfair that those who contribute the least to climate change are the most affected. I also often feel guilty about my consumption habits but I believe it is better to be conscious of them than ignorant. Only with consciousness can we make informed decisions that can make some progress in the wake of climate change.

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  5. Audrey, environmental justice is also one of my greatest passions. One part of your blog post that I found most crucial is the intersectionality of the climate issue. On Gonzaga’s campus, and society in general, it seems that those fighting for environmental justice and restoration of the natural world are environmental studies students and professors. In my climate change class we discuss the ways in which the climate issue is one based on economic, social, political, and humanitarian factors. Therefore, the polarized nature of climate change is misplaced. We must find a way to work with individuals from different sectors of society in order to work toward a more just and viable world.

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  6. While climate change is a very pressing issue to me for a number of reasons, one that I have thought more about recently is its monumental role in environmental injustices that take place throughout the world. I have always been somewhat aware of environmental justice issues but they became more of a focus of mine through a similar experience abroad. I spent the last semester in Peru, primarily in the Amazon. I similarly had my privilege as a middle class American put on full display and it was a very humbling experience. Extractive industries and climate change are altering the Amazon and it is seeing unprecedented losses in biodiversity which is bad for its own sake, but also in that it is taking away many of the resources that the local people rely on and it is completely out of their hands. It just reinforces that all of our choices as consumers will affect people around the world in many more ways than we may expect and being in the positions of privilege that we are in, these effects are put out of sight and out of mind as it is the burden of those with less to deal with the problems that we have created and perpetuate.

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  7. What an important post Audrey! It is so inspiring to see peers be so passionate about shared interests. I agree that climate change is such a intersectional issue and has many moving parts. I think it is important to take into account peoples economic and socioeconomic status has an influence on environmental actions or lack of. Your story is heart wrenching but a good reminder of the world outside of our own and how as much as we have class discussion and learn about these issues it is easy to not realize how important these issues really are and that there are real humans and families experiencing these hardships every day.

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  8. I definitely understand your feelings of guilt and recognition of such a big gap in privilege that you have over the people you spent time with in Namibia. A few years ago, I did a service project in Cambodia in a fairly rural area where the people did not have as much access to even the most basic of goods and services that we take for granted in the US. At least for me, being able to help others with simple things like filling water bottles or providing small packets of school supplies is both powerful and almost overwhelmingly unsettling, as seeing such a difference in privilege and access really makes me think about just how great the global inequality is in today’s world. With regards to environmental justice and climate change, I think that it is extremely important to keep in mind the fact that our actions not only affect us and the nation, but the whole global population, most of which, as you have pointed out, cannot afford to simply pick up and move if their house floods from rising sea levels or other climate change-related impacts.

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  9. Audrey,
    I really appreciate this post. Environmental justice, over the past two years, has become increasingly important to me as well. One thing I am grappling with is how so many people remain not only ignorant, but indifferent to the suffering that permeates the lives of those with less privilege and fortune than us. I think your last paragraph begins to unwrap this topic though–with the privilege and guilt your speak of.
    Identifying suffering is easy, sympathizing with other human beings (I think) is part of our nature, but to empathize and recognize the injustices that cause their suffering is much more difficult. It may require a new worldview, it will ask us to analyze our own privilege, and then we will be forced with a choice of whether or not to take action upon recognizing our privilege–to alter our daily routines and way of life or to remain blissfully indifferent and continue as we always have. All of those steps require us to go out of our comfort zones and, if you are like me, to feel the full weigh of realized privilege for the first time, including the guilt that accompanies it. Thinking about every food you eat, shower you take, article of clothing you buy, piece of waste you create–having to constantly analyze and ask how your actions may impact others–is exhausting. No one wants to feel guilty about aspects of their life that bring them joy, especially the material ones. It is a constant battle between my previous lifestyle and my morals. Little by little though I feel as though this “battle” becomes less of an internal struggle and more of an act of moral alignment.

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  10. Audrey,

    Your post is very touching and I really appreciate it. I am also studying biology and environmental studies at Gonzaga and like you I am very passionate about climate change and environmental justice. I love when you mention that climate change and other environmental issues are interdisciplinary, combining science, politics, economics, and social justice As students, I feel like it is so easy to get wrapped up in a specific major and forget that the issues our world is facing need to be solved with many different skill sets. With this mindset and powerful stories like yours from across the world, I believe a strong base can be built to tackle these difficult issues. The emotions you discuss of guilt and privilege make me contemplate ideas of how we can best solve these problems. While it initially is helpful to provide aid such as water and supplies to those in need, continuing to do so without tackling the root of the problem (climate change) will not be as beneficial in the long run. This is a complex topic.

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  11. This is a great article post. The personal testimony about your time in Namibia was fascinating… it is unbelievable that people struggle to have their basic needs met all over the world. I think that whenever we can make a difference within our own daily lives at home, it may be able to have some impact on those unable to help themselves within these circumstances. The opportunity to see this first hand definitely makes the affects of climate change (that we do not see at home) evidently real. Thanks for sharing.

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  12. Audrey, I really liked your story of your road trip in Namibia, and how climate change is affecting those who are the least-equipped to deal with it. I agree that climate change is inherently a social issue, and that the actions of the wealthy are affecting the poor. Big companies purely driven by profit margins often do not care about their impact on the environment, and often lobby in our government to preserve their interests. The people working at these companies cannot relate to the struggle of the boy in Namibia hoping that his basic needs are met by a random passerby. The world needs more stories like this to show the privileged the impacts of their actions on the less fortunate.

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  13. This a great Audrey and I one hundred percent agree that climate change is not only a social justice issue but a moral dilemma. There is very little that frustrates me more than people stating that climate change is solely a scientific issue rather than a moral issue. Like you stated from your experience in Namibia, there are regions and communities in the world right now that are struggling for basic needs such as water due to drought from climate change that has disproportionately been caused by wealthy countries in the global North. Countries like the United States have taken the resources from the global south for their own enrichment and usage to not only wreak poverty and instability but also destroy the climate that largely affects them. Climate change is obviously an issue of science but it also way more than that. It is a moral issue that all of humanity must face to completely shift the way the world is run or else we are headed to extinction.

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  14. I complete agree with your point of climate change being a social justice issue. I think one of the main problems in dealing with climate change is simply how to pay for changes that need to be made and who pays for those changes. For example, the recent ballot measure that I was in favor of in WA, would’ve raised the cost of gas significantly over time. Although this isn’t a huge problem for a lot of people to absorb the higher price, as an returning adult student here at Gonzaga who’s essentially scraping by just barely while in school, even small increases in costs of necessary goods puts me in a bind economically currently. Individuals like myself, living paycheck to paycheck, often times simply can’t afford these expenses. The way in which Canada has gone about refunding the money directly to every citizen seems like a smart approach to raising taxes on fossil fuels without hurting the poorest people in the country. I think what’s most unfortunate is that poor people can’t pay the increase to switch from fossil fuels to renewables and also face the worst consequences when climate change hits home for them.

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