The theory of climate justice tells us that the gap between rich and poor and the looming threat of catastrophic climate change are not simply unfortunate circumstances that demand our attention and action, but rather the result of active efforts on the part of rich nations, wealthy elites, and powerful corporations to profit on the backs of the global poor and the environment. In this telling, the failure to deploy plentiful renewable energy in the developing world is the fault of the developed world.
There is, of course, no shortage of injustices that have been visited upon the global poor for which the wealthy developed world bears some responsibility. But denying impoverished people their rightful access to clean renewable energy is not among them. Many parts of the developing world are indeed blessed with abundant wind and sunlight. But solar and wind energy are still intermittent, difficult to scale, and substantially more costly than fossil energy, which is why they require significant subsidies.
Demands for climate justice too often ignore basic practicalities of energy, poverty, and climate change, directing our gaze away from the issues that really matter to the future prospects of both the global poor and the planet and toward issues that don’t.
Contemporary demands for climate justice have been, at best, indifferent to these rather remarkable developments and, at worst, openly hostile. Some activists reject development and modernization altogether, lauding poor indigenous communities for living a simpler, more virtuous life in a closer relationship with nature. Others almost unavoidably find themselves reinventing archaic international socialist tropes in the name of sustainability.
Climate justice .. often doesn’t confine itself to redistribution and successful global amelioration of, or adaptation to, climate change. Rather it imagines a profound rearrangement of politics and society away from corporate capitalism and the consumption that sustains it ..
.. climate justice for what it really is: an essentially bottomless advocacy agenda that serves polarizing constituency-building politics, not a pragmatic agenda for shared global growth and prosperity. As a global movement for social justice, climate activists can tap sources of institutionalized sympathy for socialism and social democracy — strong trade unions, left-wing parties, indigenous movements, cultures influenced by radical egalitarianism ..
.. if one really wants to address poverty head-on, it’s unclear why climate change would be the place to start ..
.. “justice” activism has all too often failed to deliver on its promised vision for the poor. Even more, it has proven to be a distraction from more effective efforts. Rather than moralize about climate debt and reparations, those who truly care about poverty and the climate should focus instead on the kind of disciplined and pragmatic forms of advocacy it will take to build a prosperous and equitable future for the poor.