Facing Up To Climate Injustice

Monday, November 25, 2013
(Originally Published in print: Gazettenet Tuesday, November 26, 2013)

NORTHAMPTON — Could anything bring into sharper relief the killing effects of climate change and the injustice of the disproportionate effects on developing countries of a problem created by the industrial north (especially the United States) than the recent Typhoon Haiyan?

Typhoon Haiyan

Typhoon Haiyan

This was a monster hurricane of historic proportions, one of many recent category 5 superstorms created by oceans heated by greenhouse gas pollution from Europe and the United States over the last several decades. Five thousand people were killed, hundreds of thousands stranded or injured, cities and local economies destroyed in a country whose contribution to global warming has been minimal and whose poverty makes it extremely difficult to prevent such human disasters or rebuild after they happen.

This is the paradigm of climate injustice.

Ironically, at the same time, the United Nations international negotiations began in Warsaw to address climate change, probably the most important issue in our lifetime. What are the central questions being debated? Not only whether the rich industrialized countries will cut their contributions to climate change (mitigation) — something that the United States has refused to do over the past 20 years of talks — but whether, now that prevention of climate change has failed, they will aid developing countries to adapt to the damage caused by global warming.

These questions plumb the meaning of global justice. It is the most impoverished countries of Africa, South America, South and Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands (e.g. the Philippines) which will suffer the brunt of the storms, floods and droughts with their associated mortality and displacement. Stopping the march of climate change, protecting the victims and repairing the damage must be addressed by those, including the U.S., who have caused the harm.

Polluters Talk, We Walk COP19

Polluters Talk, We Walk COP19

Yet what has been the role of the U.S. in Warsaw? Minimal. When Australia suddenly trashed a pending agreement, effectively ending negotiations and leading to the walkout of over 100 country representatives, the U.S. did nothing. Leaked memos from the U.S. delegation lay out opposition to developing countries’ demands for support for adaptation and reparations for loss and damage.

What are those demands in dollar amounts? An agreement would mean rich countries paying $100 billion a year to such a fund instead of the $10 billion which is now promised. The money would go to sea walls and infrastructure to defend against rising seas, as well as rebuilding and developing the green energy capacity to allow those countries not to repeat the carbon mistakes of the global north.

It seems like a lot until we realize that the industrialized countries are now doling out $58 billion a year to huge energy corporations in government subsidies — tax dollars given to some of the most profitable companies on earth that are the perpetrators in the climate crime.

Can we let the status quo persist? We think not.

Science requires that we substantially cut our carbon emissions now with controls on — not welfare for — carbon emitters. It is way past time for a carbon tax.

Carbon Tax

Carbon Tax

Morality requires that we protect, defend and provide reparations for all those whom our policies have injured.

The global future requires that we negotiate in good faith toward an effective climate change agreement that will redirect us from what will otherwise be a very bleak future.

The authors collaborated in writing this essay with members of the community groups Arise for Social Justice, Climate Action Now and Westfield Concerned Citizens.