Climate Justice, Climate Change Discourse, and the Failure of the Elite-Driven Democracy: A Think Piece

24 Pages Posted: 29 Dec 2013

See all articles by Maxine Burkett

Maxine Burkett

University of Hawaii at Manoa - William S. Richardson School of Law

Date Written: 2010

Abstract

Communities across the globe experience, and will continue to experience, climate change impacts unevenly. The most vulnerable - the 'climate vulnerable' in the U.S. and abroad - are set to suffer first and worst. Public concern in the United States at the collapse in livelihood of the vulnerable is, however, absent. Instead, the belated climate discourse has been dominated by talk of "caps," "trades," and "costs to the average consumer." This is the result of who has had the power to frame the content and pace of the climate change discourse. Indeed, in the context of the climate crisis, two kinds of American elites emerge: (i) the powerful industry leaders that have been a relentless obstacle to addressing climate impacts, particularly vis-a-vis the most endangered; and, (ii) leadership within the traditional environmental movement that fail to emphasize within the discourse the grave and disproportionate human impacts. Because of this active and passive obfuscation of the underlying crisis, the deep challenges to our democratic processes and the ethical framework that undergirds them become clear. At present, the United States and its elites celebrate a notion of justice and fairness in its democratic processes of law and governance. Yet the invisible plight of the 'climate vulnerable' exposes an obvious failure. Emergent climate justice theory addresses the issues and concerns that arise from the intersection of climate change with race, poverty, and pre-existing environmental risks. Climate justice, as I will demonstrate, provides a means to understand the ethical dilemma at the base of the climate crisis and helps craft sound methods of repair for the climate vulnerable - all the while aiding in the (re)construction of a true democracy.

Keywords: climate justice, climate change, environmental justice

JEL Classification: K19, K29, K32

Suggested Citation

Burkett, Maxine, Climate Justice, Climate Change Discourse, and the Failure of the Elite-Driven Democracy: A Think Piece (2010). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2372459 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2372459

Maxine Burkett (Contact Author)

University of Hawaii at Manoa - William S. Richardson School of Law ( email )

2515 Dole Street
Honolulu, HI 96822-2350
United States

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