• Shake Up The Estab

Eco-Justice as Climate Action and Equality

Updated: Sep 30, 2019

Climate change poses an existential and pressing threat to global health (1). In response, the climate action movement has, in recent years, slowly grown from a fringe movement to a large, concerted, and motivated collective (2). We environmentalists recognize that at a biological level, everyone will suffer from the adverse effects of increased pollution and ecosystem loss; therefore, climate activism aims to preserve global well-being by advocating for a cleaner and more sustainable future for all (1). However, it is important to recognize that some people are disproportionately affected by climate change than others. Some communities, for example, do not have access to the government support necessary to rebuild in the wake of a severe hurricane or flood, while others lack access to clean water due to the activity of oil companies (1,3). This is because existing social, political, and economic structures work to unevenly distribute the resources and knowledge necessary to combat climate change. Climate activism must work in active opposition to these imbalances in order to truly secure a better future for all; otherwise, a green future for some may mean further oppression for others. Any climate action that will be successful, then, must utilize all voices, especially those that have been historically oppressed – this is the basis of the term ‘eco-justice’ (4,5).

In Canada, where we have continually branded ourselves as a hub of multiculturalism, it is especially important to listen to and amplify the voices that have long been ignored. To demonstrate the necessity of eco-justice in Canada, let us look at the recent announcement of a federal single-use plastics ban which received significant backlash from First Nations communities. Due to drinking water advisories in their regions, several First Nations do not have access to clean water and must rely on plastic bottles. As such, a single use plastic ban would effectively cut off water supply to such communities (6). Many urban communities, on the other hand, have the privilege of taking clean, readily available tap water for granted – and it quickly became evident that those who drafted the single-use plastic ban did not consider their privilege when devising it. This example is only one of many that underscores the fact that non-inclusive climate action cannot be successful. Eco-justice and climate action can only be successful when all voices are recognized and participating.

The issue of land conservation in Canada shows how eco-justice is necessary to achieve both environmental protection and socioeconomic equality. Indigenous peoples have, historically, maintained a perspective on life that prioritized the environment. In the words of Eli Enns and Danika Littlechild, “Indigenous economies [follow] Indigenous worldviews, which understand that human systems are a part of, and must remain in balance with, ecosystems” and “the outcome and effect of these worldviews and economic practices [is] abundant, thriving biological diversity” (7). Being so closely connected with the land, Indigenous communities must be actively included in, if not leading, all discussions regarding land protection. However, Enns and Littlechild explain that, for Indigenous voices to be able to come to the forefront of this movement, they will “require a close re-examination of the dominant narratives about the conservation and protection of nature” – narratives which they believe have never been fully challenged (7).

The connection between Indigenous rights and climate change is slowly beginning to be realized at a federal level – traditional Timiskaming, Dené, and Métis territories have recently been classified as protected land and placed under joint ownership by Indigenous groups and Parks Canada (8,9). Still, more work must continue to be done to ensure that Indigenous voices are heard, loudly, on the subject of land and conservation.

It is evident that Canada must re-examine its approaches to environmental action and policy in the face of a changing climate. Canadians must force this re-examination by being outspoken advocates, not only for the environment, but for environmentalism on equal and anti-oppressive grounds. For a more environmentally and socially equitable future, we must reorganize and rebuild the ingrained social, political, and economic structures which, until now, have allowed climate change to continue unabated.

Author Bio: Originally from Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Sam is heading into his Originally from Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Sam is heading into his 4th year of a Biochemistry degree at Dalhousie University in Halifax. He is doing honours research in a pharmacology lab, investigating calcium dysregulation and how to modulate it in endothelial cells. He is the treasurer of the Dalhousie Biochemistry Students Society, where he manages a small budget and organizes activities within the school and around Halifax.

Growing up on an island and living on the east coast, Sam spends lots of time around the ocean - he was initially motivated to get involved with climate activism because of the threats posed to marine ecosystems by plastic pollution and ocean acidification. In the future, Sam is hoping to pursue a career in research.


1. Almeida, P. (2019) Climate justice and sustained transnational mobilization. Globalizations, 16:7, 973-979, DOI: 10.1080/14747731.2019.1651518. Available from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14747731.2019.1651518

2. Hollis, A. (2019). Climate change isn't just a global threat—it's a public health emergency. Time Magazine. Available from: https://time.com/5672636/climate-change-public-health/

3. Roy, J., P. Tschakert, H. Waisman, S. Abdul Halim, P. Antwi-Agyei, P. Dasgupta, B. Hayward, M. Kanninen, D. Liverman, C. Okereke, P.F. Pinho, K. Riahi, and A.G. Suarez Rodriguez, 2018: Sustainable Development, Poverty Eradication and Reducing Inequalities. In: Global Warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty [Masson-Delmotte, V., P. Zhai, H.-O. Pörtner, D. Roberts, J. Skea, P.R. Shukla, A. Pirani, W. Moufouma-Okia, C. Péan, R. Pidcock, S. Connors, J.B.R. Matthews, Y. Chen, X. Zhou, M.I. Gomis, E. Lonnoy, T. Maycock, M. Tignor, and T. Waterfield (eds.)]. In Press. Available from: https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/11/sr15_chapter5.pdf

4. Walsh, E. (2016). Why we need intersectionality to understand climate change. Intercontinental Cry Magazine. Available from: https://intercontinentalcry.org/need-intersectionality-understand-climate-change/

5. Mohai, P., Pellow, D., & Timmons, J.T. (2009). Environmental Justice. Annual Review of Environment and Resources. 34:405–30. DOI: 10.1146/annurev-environ-082508-094348. Available from: https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev-environ-082508-094348

6. Johnson, R. (2019). Plan to ban single-use plastics has First Nations with long-term drinking water advisories worried. CBC News. Available from: https://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/single-use-plastic-bottle-water-advisories-first-nations-1.5176370

7. The Indigenous Circle of Experts. (2018). We Rise Together: Achieving pathway to Canada Target 1 through the creation of Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas in the spirit and practice of reconciliation. Available from: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/57e007452e69cf9a7af0a033/t/5ab94aca6d2a7338ecb1d05e/1522092766605/PA234-ICE_Report_2018_Mar_22_web.pdf

8. Blake, E. (2019). Thaidene Në​​​​​​​né​​​​​​​ National Park Reserve becomes N.W.T.'s newest protected area. CBC News. Available from: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/thaidene-nene-finalized-1.5253685

9. Stefanovich, O., & Romualdo, C. (2019). Parks Canada strikes 1st agreement with Indigenous group to run national historic site. CBC News. Available from: https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/stefanovich-romualdo-obadjiwan-fort-temiscamingue-1.5209461

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Shake Up The Establishment is a youth-led, registered (#1190975-4) national non-partisan non-profit organization that operates within the geographical confines of what is currently known as "Canada", but what is referred to by its First Peoples, as Turtle Island. Indigenous peoples have inhabited Turtle Island for over 10,000 years, and were the sole inhabitants less than 500 years ago. We acknowledge that our address resides on Treaty 3 land, and is the traditional territory of the Erie, Neutral, Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee and Mississaugas Peoples. Turtle Island is still home to many Indigenous peoples and we at SUTE are thankful to be able to live, learn and work on this territory, whilst continuing to create meaningful change for the climate justice movement. We are aware that our actions as an organization and the work we put out have an impact on our land, and on all that inhabit it. We are humbled to be able to follow the lead of centuries long Indigenous-led efforts towards the protection and stewardship of this land and the people that inhabit it. We are committed to continually evaluating & decolonizing our practices, and we do our best to incorporate the lived experiences of the land defenders and protectors within our work. We also want to honour the voices of Black, and non-Black people of colour within our work, and continually recognize their resiliency in the face of years of systemic oppression as imposed by the Canadian state.


Our enterprise is inclusive of all folx who call the geographical confines of what is currently known as Canada, home, and we celebrate the horizontal learning that comes from our diverse identities. As an organization, we will try our utmost best to ensure that only individuals with lived experiences are speaking on behalf of their communities, while still recognizing that Black, Indigenous and communities of colour as well as the LGBTQ2S+ community, are not a monolith. We firmly believe in accountability, and commit to being as transparent as possible in our activism space; to research our topics well, support and centre community care, and minimize any harm, no matter the intent. We have strict policies and procedures to uphold these tenets, and update these on a yearly (or as-needed) basis.

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