At our recent event, The Climate Emergency in Dacorum – How You Can Speak Truth to Power there was debate on the questions posed by the climate justice movement.
Some citizens felt that reducing inequality between richer and poorer nations would simply result in a greater output of emissions as countries achieved higher levels of production.
This is a complex issue so we were pleased to receive the following thoughtful and informed letter from a Quaker at Luton meeting, Colin Hall, who is also the secretary of the Bedford Climate Forum.
Dear Friends at Hemel Hempstead
Many thanks for organising this event on Climate Emergency, and to Rebecca Woo for leading it. Action on climate the environmental crisis is so utterly important, yet it seems to figure so little in current UK government planning, as far as we can tell. Thanks too for the links and follow up material from Rebecca.
I have been thinking about the vital concept of climate justice and in particular the searching question asked about whether reduced financial inequality (desirable in itself) would actually lead to reduced GreenHouse Gas (GHG) emissions, i.e. as suggested, would not the poor produce more GHG as they become richer?
I can think of various related reasons to be hopeful that greater financial equality if enacted could help to address climate catastrophe – there may be many others:
- More equal societies do better in many key respects, one of which is greater environmental awareness.
- Now is not forever. Great financial equality could lead to different values and mindset that in turn might lead to changed behaviour. Rather than competing one with another, we might think and act more with and for others, and the whole world at large, with a greater sense of both service and connection with our neighbours and indeed the whole world. Thus, becoming somewhat richer might not mean that we would behave like the present over-consuming rich.
- Related to this the “converge and contract” model, often used at UN level, outlines relations between richer and poorer countries, but is also applicable within societies. Poor countries must first of all be brought up to an acceptable level of wealth, then all countries can agree to rein in environmentally destructive practices, including those based on fossil-fuels.
- The Earth can no longer afford the rich. Huge current inequality means that the rich are inherently dangerous, often committed to an extractive economic, world-endangering system and status quo, with the connections and influence to maintain it in their own interests because of their wealth (OXFAM Report). Redistribution from rich to poor could weaken this power that threatens democracy, as well as life on earth. By “the rich” we can mean both very wealthy individuals and very powerful corporations within the whole system of financialised capitalism.
- A carbon fee (or tax) and dividend could help both to reduce financial inequality and promote carbon savings. In this scheme, fossil fuels are taxed as close to source as possible. The revenue raised is repaid to all citizens equally as a dividend. The rich use carbon resources proportionally far more than average or poorer members of society (e.g they fly much more), and so they pay higher carbon fees. The overall effect is to redistribute from rich to poorer. Fossil fuels and goods that contain them become more expensive as the tax is included in prices, discouraging consumption of them. An advantage claimed for carbon tax and dividend is that it will secure “buy-in” for action on climate emergency from most people. To be effective it must be charged at a high rate as soon as possible in order to provide a kind of basic income (or ingredient of it) and to reduce carbon consumption sufficiently.
However, we should support the compelling concept of climate justice as an end in itself because it is morally right. It has been framed in a related manner in terms of Human Rights by the Quaker United Nations Office. See: https://quno.org/sites/default/files/resources/QUNO_A%20Negotiators%20Toolkit_May%202018_SPREADS.pdf
We should argue for a universal system of climate justice that includes future generations (we are stealing from the yet unborn) and rights for all species of life on Earth, together with ecocide as a crime in national and international law, as proposed by the recent French Citizens Convention. https://www.conventioncitoyennepourleclimat.fr/en/
As Quakers, we aim to build the republic of heaven on Earth, no less.