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Climate Justice in Global Perspective

I recently wrote a review for an introductory philosophy text on climate justice. I thought it was a good book. The only criticism of it that I raised felt somewhat unfair, and hypocritical, since it is really a criticism that applies to the book’s field rather than the book itself – and to myself as somebody who works within this field. Namely, that discussions of climate justice in analytic philosophy (of the kind that I was schooled in, at least) have a tendency to be problematically insular, or even exclusionary. My worry is that a lot of the literature I read on climate justice is written by people like me, and (implicitly or explicitly) addressed to people like me. Roughly speaking: academics working in the tradition of analytic ethics and political philosophy; writing in English; located in Europe, North America, or Australia; and relatively privileged in terms of their resources, opportunities for consumption, and low vulnerability to climate change.

As I said, this criticism feels hypocritical because I fear that it applies just as well to my own work. In the review, I stated that climate justice debates need to be inclusive; and, in particular, that they should not just involve people in a position of relative advantage, discussing what ‘they’ ought to do about climate change for the sake of more vulnerable others. But I don’t have many suggestions for how to achieve such inclusion. I’m not even sure who needs to be including who, here; or who gets to say where the climate justice debate is really taking place. Is it a debate that philosophers need to open? Or a debate that philosophers need to ask permission to enter?

My worries along these lines remain pretty inchoate. They are bound up with difficult questions about social location; the individuation of different fields and traditions of thought; and the proper role, subjects and impacts of academic theorising. So I can’t fully spell out what I think the problem is, how it can be fixed, or how important it is in the grand scheme of things. But I would be really interested in hearing any suggestions for how to identify or address parochialism in thinking about climate justice.

I am a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Sheffield. My major area of research is global justice and the environment; with a focus on the problem of climate change and rights over land and natural resources.


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1 Comment

  1. Lisa

    Hi Megan, this morning I heard on the radio that the Bonn Climate Change Conference, which is running right now, was opened by statements from some of the most affected countries. It’s co-hosted by the Fiji Islands and Germany. I don’t have any insider information about whether or not the debates at this conference and in similar venues are truly inclusive, and delegates can speak at eye level with each other. But it might be worth checking out how the “practitioners” organize their discourse – maybe philosophers could learn something from it!

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