CLIMATE JUSTICE FOR ALL?
Written By: Calli Lambard
Published: February 10, 2021
In this country, we often think of climate change in terms “if” it comes for us, not when. What many people do not realize, though, is that climate change is already affecting many
people around the world. especially in developing countries.
In Climate Justice , former president of Ireland Mary Robinson shares the stories of those
who are on the frontlines of the fight against climate change. When I read this book, I was
astounded by the ways in which climate change was already wreaking havoc on communities,
The recovery process was slow, which left Constance and the other women in her village
frustrated. So, in 2008 they formed the Osukuru United Women Network. Through this group,
the women advocated for better farming equipment and even set up a credit union to help women
save money (Robinson 23). Still, the community felt that the erratic weather and farming
problems were a punishment from God. It wasn’t until Constance went to an Oxfam meeting
about food insecurity that she learned what was truly going on. In her own words, here is what
Constance found: “‘I learned that overpopulation from developed countries had caused real
changes to the climate...I felt bad because I knew that people in developed countries are our
friends. We are the same people; we have the same blood. But these people were enjoying their
life while we were suffering. I wanted to know why they were doing this to us. I wanted to know
whether the people in developed countries could reduce their emissions so we could have our
normal seasons back’” (Robinson 23).
She wasn’t about to sit and wait for other countries to come to their aid, though.
Constance instead told her neighbors that it was time to take things into their own hands. At the
climate meeting she had attended, Constance learned that deforestation can lead to soil erosion,
making land especially vulnerable to heavy rains. Alongside her community, Constance planted
trees to protect their farmlands.
Constance’s story truly gets to the root issue of environmental justice. As she said, we are
all connected by the environment, no matter how different we may seem. It follows, then, that
the actions of people in developed countries such as the United States affect the lives of people
across the globe. However, due to our belief that climate change is a far-off problem, our
national mindset tends to be pollute now, deal with it later. Emissions from our country and
others have drastically changed the way many people live their lives.
Her story is also a reminder that real people are feeling the very real consequences of
climate change right now. While we consume fossil fuels and assume the consequences will
come after we are long gone, people currently suffer those consequences. Overall, Constance
proves that community action can be a powerful force for change, and that climate change is an
immediate threat to many.
One such story is the story of Constance Okollet, a farmer from Uganda. Since 2000, her village had been hit by “drought, flash flooding, and erratic seasons,” making agriculture a “‘gamble’” (Robinson 16). Initially, Constance and other members of her community feared that God was punishing them for something. When a devastating flood in 2007 led to severe damage in the community, this became even more worrying. Many of the villagers’ mud-brick homes had “crumbled,” and “‘there was no clean water to drink...members of [Constance’s] family became ill with malaria’” (Robinson 19-20).
Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland
Photo from Mary Robinson Foundation
Another stark reminder of the immediacy of climate change comes from the story of
Anote Tong, former president of the Republic of Kiribati. Kiribati is a nation made of
“thirty-three coral atolls and reef islands,” lying at about “six and a half feet above sea level”
(Robinson 86). With climate models predicting a sea level rise of “two to four feet by 2100,”
Tong had to face the fact that his country may be swallowed by the sea (Robinson 86).
In 2014, Tong “purchased about six thousand acres of forested land on Fiji’s
second-largest island, Vana Levu” as a place for the country to move to if sea level rise becomes
an issue (Robinson 86). This would mean the sovereign state of Kiribati would move to another
physical location in order to preserve its culture and people.
Can you imagine losing parts of the United States to the ocean? Imagine if the Grand
Canyon sunk below the waves, or if Disney World settled in a watery grave. Iconic parts of our
country and our culture would be gone forever. Imagine if just Pennsylvania was lost - what
pieces of your life and experiences would be gone? To many island nations like Kiribati, this is
not a “what if” scenario, but something that is a very possible future.
Is all this to say that we need to feel guilty for any environmental faux-pas we commit?
Not at all. My goal is not to make you feel guilty about where and how you live. Instead, I ask
you to listen to these stories and recognize that something we view as a doomsday scenario is
actually occurring all around the world.
If you can’t give up your car or your air conditioning (as most of us can’t!), there is
something you can do: vote with your wallet. You can do this by purchasing sustainable items
from ethical companies. This shows companies that sustainably sourced items are the only
products we want to purchase.
One of the most important things you can do, I think, is share these stories with someone
you know. Then tell them to share with someone else. Not many people know that climate
change is already a threat, so make sure they learn. As Constance Okollet says, her story and
others like hers are like “water cascading into a lake”: “‘If we continue to talk, if we continue to
tell our stories, the people in power, the polluters, will realise that we are still here[...]We should
not stop speaking. We should continue the struggle. One day they will change’” (Robinson 25).
Share these stories, and one day, things will change.
Robinson, Mary. Climate Justice: Hope, Resilience, and the Fight for a Sustainable Future .
Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019.