In recent years, you may have heard the term “climate justice” in passing. It may have been in an article, on social media, during a protest. But did you understand what it meant?
It’s possible that you’ve heard the term used in a couple of different ways. This makes sense as there’s not only one definition for climate justice. In fact, it can mean different things to different people. However, we wanted to dig into what we mean when we say climate justice.
What is Climate Justice?
Climate justice is a subset of Environmental Justice which directly addresses the systems that cause climate change. Climate justice is the idea that the needs–physical, cultural, economic, and otherwise—of those populations most vulnerable to the effects of climate change should be considered at the forefront of decision making on Greenhouse Gas mitigation and adaptation strategies. The idea of climate justice demands an equitable response to the issue of climate change based on the fact that those who contribute the most to climate change, do not bear the brunt of its effects. This begins to explain why it’s critical to use the lens of climate justice when planning our response to climate change.
Why is Climate Justice Important?
Climate justice is important because we know that both the causes and effects of climate change can have dramatic and devastating effects on people. However, these effects are not equally distributed, as underlying disparities are exacerbated by climate change and pollution. The most vulnerable are the most impacted.
Climate Change Causes Natural Disasters
As climate change worsens, the frequency and severity of natural disasters increases. Low-income countries are the most at risk for the effects of natural disasters. The UN found that “low-income countries had the highest average number of deaths per disaster event” from 2000 to 2019. They accounted for “23% of total disaster deaths despite accounting for less than 10% of the world’s population.” This is even more of an issue once you take into consideration that 3 countries produced 50% of the world’s emissions in 2019.
Climate justice is important to protect the most vulnerable populations which are the most impacted by climate change and pollution.
Furthermore, as demonstrated in the United States, low-income and minority communities have the slowest recovery rates after a disaster. This is partially due to the fact that low-income individuals are more likely to live in areas that are more susceptible to storms. Areas near floodplains, with substandard infrastructure, or near industrial facilities, which are prone to spills and leaks from storm damage, are examples. Additionally, flood insurance, relocation, and repairs pose financial restrictions to low-income communities – which are disproportionately communities of color.
Climate Change is Connected to Air Pollution
Natural disasters are not the only worry when it comes to climate change. According to the National Institute of Environmental Sciences, “because air pollution and greenhouse gases are often released from the same sources, cutting greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to slow climate change also reduces air pollutants.” Air pollution can have major health impacts, such as long-term damage to the lungs, brain, kidneys, liver, and other organs. This can result in diseases such as asthma and even cancer.
Minorities and low-income communities are more likely to be located near major sources of pollution. This explains the disparities we see in air quality between racial and socioeconomic groups. In fact, in 2021, the EPA found that, in the United States:
“White people are exposed to lower-than-average concentrations from emission source types causing 60 percent of overall exposure, whereas people of color experience greater than average exposures from source types causing 75 percent of overall exposure. The disparity generally held across states and urban and rural areas and occurs for people at all income levels.”
This means racial minorities have more exposure to air pollution and will therefore experience a higher risk of the health issues. This increased exposure to pollution helps explain why minority populations in the United States experience higher rates of chronic diseases, like asthma, heart disease, and cancer.
These are just a couple of reasons why climate justice is necessary. That’s not even including other issues, such as the cultural and health implications of running oil pipelines through the lands of Indigenous Peoples. We know that climate change is a multifaceted issue that does not have a singular origin point. Climate justice must therefore have an interdisciplinary approach to tackle the many areas that have been affected by the systems fueling climate change.
Climate Justice in Action
Recognizing the need for a multi-faceted approach that helps address the interconnectivity of environmental, economic, and social issues is a key step in climate justice. You cannot separate the various effects of climate change on communities from each other. This is why there are a variety of ways to take climate justice action. Often, climate justice evokes images of protests and marches, but this is not the only way to take action. From diverse representation in the folks building the sustainability industry and climate solutions, to the focus on geographies and communities, below are a few examples of organizations that are helping to put climate justice into action.
Climate justice requires a multifaceted approach. That’s why there are several different types of organizations putting climate justice into action.
BOSS is the largest group of Black professionals working in the solar space. Their mission is to “combine and leverage [their] collective power to lead the clean energy sector on [their] terms for all communities.”
They have published a holistic policy brief, which includes aspects of voting, economics, solar project siting and design, workforce development, and more. The paper states that “[e]ffective, sound federal policy – centered in racial justice- that scales the deployment of solar, energy storage and energy efficiency will be indispensable to our nation’s clean energy transition.” You can read the full brief here.
The American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) developed the Accelerate program to help increase representation in the renewable energy sector. “ACORE is committed to social and economic justice as part of the transition to a greener future, and is actively working to cultivate a culture of inclusion and equity within the renewable energy sector. Equitable representation is an important step to increasing the availability of affordable, pollution-free renewable energy for urban and rural communities.”
Although not directly geared towards climate justice, the Student Freedom Initiative by Robert Smith provides “support to students that enable their future personal and professional success in a global marketplace and targeted support to participating institutions that increase their resiliency and competitiveness as anchors within their respective communities.” Having fewer financial worries gives people more time and energy to learn about abstract issues, like climate change. They might even take actions of their own. Furthermore, the program’s strategic outcomes encourage professionals in STEM and policy. These future professionals can make a direct impact on climate issues within their respective fields.
This shows that everything is connected, especially for such a large issue.
The Solutions Project is an organization that supports climate changemakers. They do this by providing grants, media capacity, communications training, wellness supports, and access to influential people.
“The Solutions Project envisions a world that is driven by purpose. One that combines and amplifies radical ideas and hard work from those whose voices typically might go unheard. A world where equity — for women, Black people, Indigenous communities, people of color; everyone — is a priority.”
At Clearloop, we’re working to do our part to ensure climate justice is a key driver in the work we do. As we look to clean up the grid in the most fossil-fuel dependent areas of the county, we’re cognizant that solar can do more for the social and economic well-being of those communities if we’re intentional about how we partner and invest.
We don’t have all the answers on how we tackle climate change and ensure that climate justice stays at the core of the strategy. We still have a lot to learn, but we’re encouraged by the increasingly mainstream discussions around this topic. We’re excited to partner with like-minded folks to turn those discussions into action.