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.
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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 Nëné 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