The authors of this piece are Earth Fellows from social and natural science backgrounds with specialisations in environmental sustainability, health, international development, and sociology.

Audience at Climate Justice presentation

The Edinburgh Futures Institute’s three-part event series on The Future of Climate Justice highlighted various stories and experiences with the climate crisis from activists, economists, international leaders, and academics representing the Global North and South. These conversations inspired the Edinburgh Earth Initiative’s Postgraduate Fellow cohort’s complicated feelings of anger and hope.

As Earth Fellows, we are in a position of privilege; we have a platform, the support of the Edinburgh Earth Initiative, and access to contacts and resources within the University and the wider city’s climate research groups.

Meanwhile, voices from communities experiencing the most devastating effects of climate change are often ignored. Like the indigenous Indonesian communities dying from forest fires and smog while the media covered only the orangutans’ plight, as described by Khairani Barokka during the event series, so many experiences are disregarded or mistranslated.

Acknowledging the climate crisis

There is generally buy-in when it comes to recognising that climate change is happening. However, these discussions are often circular and place too much emphasis on single issues or the theory behind climate change such as earth forcings, extreme weather events, and loss of biodiversity.

No, plastic straws are not the only threat to sea turtles; cows are not the only destructive component of large-scale agriculture; snow in winter does not mean we should not be concerned about rising global temperatures.

This critical time for action is an opportunity to push ourselves to ask uncomfortable questions.

What role has the Global North played in contributing to climate change? How has our community benefitted from the exploitation of resources in faraway countries? What consequences has this had in amplifying the effects of climate change? As Tasneem Essop, Executive Director of Climate Action Network International, speaking at the event pointed out:

“Climate injustice comes off the back of systems including colonialism, slavery, industrialisation, [and] the resource extraction of the global South.”

Recognising these often-ignored relationships is the first step in placing climate justice at the centre of programmes, projects, and policies intended as solutions within the appropriate structural and systemic contexts.

Become comfortable with discomfort to move forward.

Harnessing emotion

The members of our group, all of whom identify as female, have encountered situations in which we have been told to “leave our emotions at the door” or have not been taken seriously because women are viewed as irrational actors. Yet, through The Future of Climate Justice conversations, we recognised how deeply motivating anger can be, particularly in calling out injustice. It is no longer time to sit back and be quiet. To be overcome by emotion is not a weakness. It can provide purpose and direction in prioritising where to devote time to problem-solving and to sustain efforts until results are realised.

Simultaneously, we recognise that our voices should not be the loudest in this issue, as we have the privilege of distance from the effects of climate change. We are using our emotions to fight for the communities historically left out of research and policy; to uplift the voices of the vulnerable. As such, we are working on building active listening and facilitation skills to ensure that our present and future work is inclusive and that we revisit and improve past efforts to address where key perspectives have been left out.

Our appeal

To our activist audiences, we see you. You can reject the idea that you alone are responsible for adjusting your lifestyle in response to the climate crisis. Unlike some members of older generations, you do not need to accept that the consequences of our destructive systems will be felt outside our lifetimes.

Academia and those in positions of power in fossil fuel-reliant industries, for example, continue to emphasise the importance of individual actions and accept that these changes may not be fair but are essential to secure a future free from the catastrophic effects of climate change. While we recognise the importance of participating in these shifts, we must remember that these systems are set up to maintain the status quo. Stay loud.

To our readers who may not know how they can contribute to climate justice, now is your time to act.
• Recognise the responsibility that you have in historically contributing to the climate crisis. We all have by benefitting from our resource-intensive systems.
• Identify personal behaviours you can adjust or power structures you can challenge.
• Use your authority and expertise to pressure government actors and representatives to move towards participatory policy planning.
• Find ways to impact your professional or academic networks towards co-designing projects with community actors.
• Educate yourself, so you do not contribute to further injustice.

More specifically, to our fellow members of the University of Edinburgh community. We are lucky to be in the United Kingdom, shielded from the direst threats resulting from climate change. For those who come from similarly sheltered areas, we cannot understand the loss that already-impacted communities have faced. As an institution, we should seek to learn what these areas have done to salvage their communities and livelihoods and protect their longer-term security. This may mean separating ourselves from or redesigning existing research agendas and programmes that have yet to account for such local experiences. Climate justice will be achieved only when these experiences are considered.

Seeds of hope

Climate conversations typically come back to “seeds of hope” to lighten often distressing views of what our world could look like in the next five, twenty, or fifty years. Here, we see an opportunity for courage and increased engagement. Anger can be a powerful tool and help us better recognise, engage with, and fight misinformation that so often surrounds climate justice issues. It can fuel protests, assisting voters in giving courage to underdelivering politicians to interrupt the “business as usual” approach in our consumer culture. It can build networks and support groups that, through brainstorming and discourse, can identify innovative ways to tackle inefficiencies within their systems, barriers to entry for marginalised members of the community, and any number of technological improvements that could move towards a more resilient and inclusive future.

The Edinburgh Earth Initiative is placing climate justice at the foundation of all of its activities. To accomplish this, the team is working with students and researchers across the University of Edinburgh to develop a set of higher education commitments on climate justice, recognising the institution’s local and international positions of influence. This process will be participatory and feedback will be solicited from the community and global partners along the way.

How do you see your emotion as a productive force in addressing climate justice? What opportunities are there for you to challenge the status quo?