Without Centering Race, Identity, and Indigeneity, Climate Responses Miss the Mark
in Wilson Center and Adelphi (eds.), Climate Change, Equity and the Future of Democracy, 11 (2020)
10 Pages Posted: 15 Dec 2020
Date Written: October 25, 2020
In this essay, I argue that it is time we put an end to the epistemic silences in predominant climate change discourses, which erase and ignore the agency, knowledge, and experiences of non-Western, non-White peoples, and Indigenous communities. Effectively responding to the immense challenges posed by climate change requires a climate justice approach that centers the voices and experience of those most vulnerable. Foregrounding these voices and experiences, including those relating to traditional ecological knowledge, will serve not only to better understand and address the challenges raised by climate change, but also to end the “cognitive annihilation” of Indigenous heritages and world-views. It is simply not enough to focus only on the economic and scientific issues raised by climate change, without paying attention to those relating to race, identity, and indigeneity.
To make that claim, I examine three major approaches to thinking about climate change: sustainable development; social justice cosmopolitanism; and post-development. A comparative analysis reveals significant variation in the ways these approaches exclude the viewpoints of vulnerable communities. Furthermore, these approaches remain largely isolated from one another, which makes coordinating effective climate-change action an even greater challenge.
In contrast, climate justice theorists, practitioners, and activists acknowledge race, gender, identity, and Indigeneity; accordingly, they address the limits of development and market orthodoxy in the aforementioned approaches, and also highlight the “issues and concerns that arise from the intersection of climate change with race, poverty, and preexisting environmental risks.” These aspects of climate justice are critical because they make visible the most urgent impacts of climate change that have so far been peripheral in policy discussions that are dominated by scientific and economic considerations.
Ultimately, I make the case that climate justice is by no means a settled and uncontested concept, but more than any of the aforementioned approaches, it opens up climate change discussions to a broader set of considerations and should be embraced alongside the predominant economic and scientific approaches that currently dominate discussions on climate change.
Keywords: Climate change, race, indigeneity, environment, justice
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