Climate justice on Earth Day 2021

This Earth Day we are discussing climate justice and things that you can do as an individual to mitigate your own carbon footprint whilst being mindful of the issue of climate justice. We feature clips from interviews with climate activists Kelo Uchendu and Godiya Zambwa who discuss climate justice in terms of their experience in their local communities. We will give you some helpful tips to live a greener life and the disproportionate impact of climate change on developing countries and rural communities. This episode will give you some serious food for thought.

My first awareness of Earth Day was over a decade ago when we observed an electricity free hour in South Africa. At the time I was studying environmental law at the University of Cape Town and was cramming for an exam in the Kramer library on UCT’s middle campus.

This year Earth Day is a particularly difficult one for many UCT alumni like myself, because just this weekend our beautiful law library as well as many of the historic buildings on the UCT campus were severely damaged by a huge wild fire that swept through the suburbs surrounding the university grounds.

Whilst wild fires of this nature are not uncommon in Cape Town particularly as the campus lies on the side of a mountain, the fires have never before got to the five hundred year old university campus so to see the complete devastation of the oldest university in Africa is something which hits deep in my soul.

Maybe the fires had nothing to do with climate change, but the hardest part is the knowledge that a country like South Africa does not have money to throw at this particular problem. Whilst I’m sure there will be a huge outpouring of donations to UCT, I highly doubt that it will be anywhere close to what they need to restore the campus quick enough to not disadvantage the students and staff who rely on it.

(If you want to donate to UCT, you can follow this link to an article which gives the details of where to make a donation.)

The reason that this is hitting me so hard is because of the disproportionate impact of an event like this on the local community that relies on UCT. When Notre Dame burnt down donations totalled over €100 million and whilst there is great cultural significance in historical buildings like Notre Dame, a university in a country with significantly fewer universities than they need to serve the local population serves a far greater purpose in terms of actual utility.

On this week’s podcast, Rux and I discuss climate justice and the disproportionate impact that climate events have on developing nations or rural communities. As I mentioned before, it’s hard to say whether the UCT fire would have been as bad without the well-documented effects of climate change in sub-Saharan Africa (reference the extreme drought Cape Town faced a few years ago) however it has made me think.

Featured on our podcast is an interview with climate activist, Kelo Uchendu who outlines four pillars of climate justice.

  1. Acknowledging that some countries are more responsible than others for the rising atmospheric CO2 emissions. It's been proven that climate change is a result of the greenhouse gas emissions.

  2. The countries that are most affected by the impact of climate change are the countries that contributed little to nothing to the rising atmospheric greenhouse emissions.

  3. The potential impacts of climate change in this community is not just a mere inconvenience, but there are also catastrophic destruction of their communities and their homes, and the destruction of the ecosystems that these communities depend on. This is evident in poor and developing countries, for example Nigeria and other countries in the global south.

  4. These countries or people living in these countries, the people who are disproportionately affected by climate change cannot petition their governments to protect them. The countries or people who are responsible for these high emissions should do what is ethically right to cut down the emissions.

Climate justice is social justice.

In my interview with Kelo, the point that stood out to me was that there is no endpoint at which ‘climate justice will be achieved’. It seems to me to be an ongoing acknowledgement of responsibility by developed/highly polluting countries to the rest of the world. But to do what? How can this be managed or enforced? If a polluter is a developing country itself like India - is the obligation there at all?

This conversation leaves me with more questions than answers.

As Kelo suggests, perhaps it lies in the mandate of developed countries to meet their obligations under the Paris Agreement sooner than developing nations. Maybe there should be an obligation to provide infrastructure support and direct investment into communities and technology transfer… who knows?

The problem is endlessly complex and if you are a person like myself who likes answering questions and finding solutions, then something like climate justice will boggle your mind, because there is no answer.

Reflecting on the complexity of this issue, Rux and I discuss our learnings from producing this podcast and the various rabbit holes that it has taken us down, distilling our learnings into three key actions when attempting to address the issue of climate change and climate justice. Rux and I agree that there is no climate action without climate justice.

The first step is education. Educating yourself and spreading awareness around you to those that don’t know about climate change or the small ways that they can contribute to mitigation. We discuss some of the issues surrounding climate literacy with youth activist Godiya Zambwa.

The second is about operating in your circle of influence. Influence breeds influence. The scale of the challenge that we face is enormous and trying to address the entire issue is pointless and overwhelming. You should start by operating in your circle of influence - whether that’s in your personal life (friends and family, or even just your own daily activities) or you have wider influence (social media following, taking action in your office, making your summer BBQs veggie). This is a great place to start for your actions will have a knock-on effect. They will start to educate the people around you and so create a domino effect.

The third is collaboration. We are all in this together. Whether you start a podcast for change like Rux and I have, or you want to help your mom start composting in her home, we need to acknowledge that climate literacy is not exclusive so we can’t act as if it is. Without helping others we will get nowhere.

The final point I want to make is that we need to proceed with kindness. The snobbery and virtue signalling needs to end within the climate movement. Some people don’t know or don’t care about climate change, but it doesn’t mean that we should be mean, rude and dismissive of those people. We need to continue to find ways of educating, collaborating and influencing these people until they come around.

At the end of our episode, Rux asked me the hardest question I’ve had in a long time which is: Why does climate justice matter? And it got me thinking about why equality is a big deal... something which I need to ruminate on (beyond the obvious superficial answers). We are going to pick this up in a later episode.

This Earth Day is an emotional one for me personally and for many people around the world for different reasons. Let’s practice some compassion in the way we talk about Earth Day this year, not accuse people of inaction where it is unhelpful to do so and to spare a thought for those who are already feeling the impact of climate change by contemplating ways that you can use your privilege (big or small) to make a difference to someone else’s experience.

Happy Earth Day folks.

Here are links to the resources mentioned in our episode:

And to listen to this episode of the Be Loud: Climate podcast, you can find us on all the major podcast platforms or follow this link on your browser:

Additionally, the Be Loud: Climate podcast is a supporter of the Climate Ad Project. Their current campaign relates to carbon offset. We encourage you to support this project aimed at promoting climate literacy. You can see more information about their latest campaign here:

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