Climate Justice: A multidisciplinary approach to a global issue

Climate justice in Egypt: Protestors in Cairo stand amidst a tapped water main and demonstrate the fine balance between human security and resource security.

I am currently taking a seminar on climate justice at the UW Law School.   The course is taught by Jeni Barcelos and Jen Marlow, Co-Executive Directors of the law school’s Three Degrees Project, along with David Battisti, Tamaki Endowed Chair of Atmospheric Sciences.

Prior to the course, I had not considered the issue of climate justice.  And even now, when asked to define it, I find that I am quickly out of my comfort zone.  Although we (scientists) often strive to apply our research to broader global issues, the terminology and ease with which we mention such buzz words as “climate mitigation” or “climate adaptation” is lacking.  This is why I love the class and whyI love having to discuss our weekly readings with my classmates (…lawyers, policy-makers, and other scientists).  To some extent, we are all uncomfortable, and thus, it makes for excellent discussions.

So what is climate justice? Climate justice is centered on the ability of international and domestic legal systems to deal with the climate impacts on communities, from local to global in scale.  One of its ultimate goals is to provide a global framework for helping disadvantaged populations who will be most affected by decreased water availability, food shortages, rising sea levels and increased droughts, to name a few.  It strives to provide legal and policy protocol for answering questions such as: how does the world respond to floods in Pakistan, what is the solution to human migration as a result of sea level rise in the eastern Pacific, and who pays for increased land slides in eastern Australia? In class, we have tackled these issues by focusing on the effects climate change will have on water, food and health and environmental security.  In the coming weeks, we will focus on equity and justice, too.  It can be an overwhelming issue, but this “five step” approach makes the subject a bit more manageable.  It also places a lot of current events into a completely different light.

A cause for climate justice: Devastating floods in Australia due to increased rainfall leave a mark on the human population and local biodiversity.

Thus far, the course has been phenomenal and has stretched my thinking beyond the realm of my discipline (oceanography).  A strong understanding of the science behind climate change is helpful in the class, but when we begin layering additional concepts on top of the science, the true nature of what multidisciplinary means, comes into play.   If anything, this class has motivated me to seek out more discourse with those in the social sciences, public policy and public health.  And although I have not abandoned the call for more interdisciplinary research, there is a definite need to address issues of climate justice with a broader approach than we are typically comfortable with, including involving all disciplines within the university.

I recommend perusing the Three Degrees Project website for more information and background on climate justice.


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