Most discussions about climate change, at least in my experience, are political or technological. However, I’ve learned in this class that with such a far reaching topic we should spend some time talking about the social and cultural angle.

In the “Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society,” Dr. Figueroa wrote a chapter to do exactly that, called “Indigenous People and Cultural Losses.” The effects of climate change and other ecological damages disproportionately impact groups with less societal power, enforcing the existing power dynamic. Environmental racism is the most common example of this, but there is also environmental classism, and groups that are impacted more than others. 

Dr. Figueroa talks about how indigenous communities are and will be disproportionately impacted by climate change, due to their closer relationship with nature. At the same time, indigenous people contribute little to the causes of climate change. That isn’t fair. It violates ‘distributive justice.’

Distributive justice is about how resources are allocated between people or groups, where greater costs should equal greater rewards. Wikipedia’s (sue me) example is a worker who works more hours being paid the same; this violates our sense of distributive justice. In this case indigenous groups are eating the least food at the restaurant, but they’re still picking up a big part of the bill – to give another example.

Dr. Figueroa didn’t write the chapter about distributive justice though, it’s about environmental justice, which he defines as a combination of distributive justice and recognition justice, “bridged by participatory forms of procedural justice.” I understand this as ‘fairness and recognition of past unfairness, with procedures for restorative justice.’

Restorative justice refers to a style of mediation where the victim and the offender meet (hopefully in a structured way) to decide how to move forward. It’s popularly talked about as a method for criminal justice reform.

With climate change being an extinction level event for many indigenous cultures, (the highest point in the Maldives is <8 ft over sea level) global society will need a good framework of justice to deal with climate refugees fleeing rising seas.

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