Climate Cages: Connecting Migration, the Carceral State, Extinction Rebellion, and the Coronavirus through Cicero and 21 Savage

34 Pages Posted: 25 Jul 2020 Last revised: 7 May 2021

See all articles by Nadia Ahmad

Nadia Ahmad

Barry University - Dwayne O. Andreas School of Law; Yale School of the Environment

Date Written: July 21, 2020


This article addresses the unmapped linkage of mass incarceration and encagement as responses to climate change and the coronavirus. I coin the phrase, climate cages, to highlight how public policy responses to atmospheric dynamics limit mobility, worsen prison conditions, and increase carcerality. In this article, I use the song lyrics of 21 Savage’s “A Lot” and his subsequent arrest as an example to highlight the intersectionality of race, climate change, migration, protest movements, and COVID-19. Further, I reexamine Cicero’s adage of “summum ius summa iniuria” to show problematic configurations of the carceral state and the edifice of the law generally.

A warming planet has decreased available land, freshwater, and clean air to live and earn a livelihood. The world’s megacities from New Delhi to Houston are choking from air pollution of their vehicles, power plants, factories, and industrial facilities. Not even rural areas are immune from the impacts of chemicals from agricultural activities. These natural resource stresses have served as threat multipliers for conflict, compounding centuries of economic and racial inequality. Economic and environmental chokepoints are leading to migration, movement, and higher rates of mass incarceration. Currently, the level of income inequality is at its peak, and record high and low temperatures are becoming the norm. The governmental response from the halls of Congress to the desk of the Oval Office has not been to find solutions to the climate crisis, but to restrict mobility and incarcerate black and brown people to maximize available land and space for those who are either more affluent and/or of the more preferred race, religion, and national origin. While historically human hierarchies and caste systems have existed for thousands of years, the impacts of intensified global warming have correlated with the increased prison populations and worsening prison conditions in the age of the Anthropocene.

Keywords: climate change, coronavirus, race, carcerality, environmenetal justice

Suggested Citation

Ahmad, Nadia, Climate Cages: Connecting Migration, the Carceral State, Extinction Rebellion, and the Coronavirus through Cicero and 21 Savage (July 21, 2020). Loyola Law Review, New Orleans, Available at SSRN: or

Nadia Ahmad (Contact Author)

Barry University - Dwayne O. Andreas School of Law ( email )

6441 East Colonial Drive
Orlando, FL 32807
United States
(407) 206-5731 (Phone)


Yale School of the Environment ( email )

195 Prospect Street
New Haven, CT 06511
United States

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