July 07, 2021
WITHOUT SOCIAL JUSTICE, THERE IS NO ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE
Insight by Sara Manisera, FADA Collective
Pandemics have always forced human beings to break with the past and imagine their world from scratch. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and another.
We can choose to go through it dragging with us the carcasses of our hatred, our prejudices, our greed, our databases, our old ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies.
Or we can cross it with lighter baggage, ready to imagine a different world.
And to fight for it.
Arundhati Roy, April 2020
If it is true that the pandemic has affected the whole world, it is also undeniable that it has hit the poorest countries and the poor in the rich countries the hardest. The same reasoning can be applied to the other climate and environmental emergencies that we will be forced to face in the coming decades. The highest price of the environmental and/or health crisis will be paid by certain communities, countries and territories, where forms of social vulnerability, inequality, exclusion and hardship already exist.
A recent study entitled Global warming has increased global economic inequality, published in April 2019 by Stanford University and authored by Noah S. Diffenbaugh and Marshall Burke highlights precisely the relationship between global warming and inequality. Although inequality between countries has decreased over the last half-century, global warming has slowed this decrease and, the study cites, "in addition to not sharing equitably in the direct benefits of fossil fuel use, many poor countries have been significantly harmed in terms of growth by the warming resulting from rich countries' energy consumption."
The Water, Peace and Security (WPS), has also presented to the UN Security Council a global warning tool that combines environmental data - such as rainfall and drought - and socio-economic variables to predict potential conflicts and tensions, because - as the Dutch funded institute points out - "it is the countries and communities that are already the most vulnerable that pay the price of the environmental crisis and water scarcity in the short and medium term and this will result in tensions and conflicts".
When we talk about a given territory or community, it is also important to keep in mind that they are not homogeneous, which means that even within a community, its members can be affected differently according to their income, gender, sexual orientation and their ethnic-confessional group.
Not all populations have the same capacity to adapt when they are being threatened by a pandemic or by environmental injustices and related problems, such as rising tides, drought, storms, air pollution, which can widen the gap of social inequalities. And this strengthens groups that are already in more powerful positions in society because their chances of survival in the same circumstances are higher due to the resources available to them. In many cases, moreover, marginalised communities do not have enough opportunities to make their voices heard.
We have seen this with the pandemic and the environmental crisis. It is mostly women, minorities, the poor, people in prisons, children without technological tools, people living in slums or inner city areas who pay the price. That is why it is crucial to combine social and environmental justice.
If we look at Italy, those who live in the overcrowded and chaotically developed suburbs, lacking in services, socialising spaces and environmental quality, suffer just as much as those who live in the country's inland areas. In these places, people do not have access to the same opportunities for well-being and citizenship rights and are exposed to greater environmental risks. This is because they live in houses that are less efficient in terms of energy and living comfort, in areas that are less well maintained and less equipped with local services, such as hospitals or schools.
"If we were to overlay the map of urban and inland areas with that of unemployment, school drop-outs and educational poverty, we would see the common thread linking environmental quality and social marginality. The feeling that unites these areas is that of being left to their fate, with a consequent reaction of frustration and lack of projection towards the future. These places where social and environmental injustice intertwine must be the new frontiers of commitment," wrote Vanessa Pelucchi, national vice-president of Legambiente, in 2019.
For Greenpeace too, environmental, social and racial justice are inextricably linked. "We cannot have a green and peaceful future without racial justice, equity, civil rights for all. We believe that systems of power and privilege that destroy the environment also deprive vulnerable communities of their humanity - and too often their lives. That is why we take a stand. That is why we act. And that is why we will continue to do so for as long as it takes to create the future we believe in. Black people should be able to walk in any neighbourhood, drive down any street and work anywhere without the threat of being killed by the police."
Interventions to ensure environmental justice, therefore, must have social and racial justice as a purpose and this means thinking about actions that guarantee more rights, more schools, more hospitals, a universal minimum income, more inclusion and more wealth redistribution. The risk otherwise is that environmental justice interventions are not socially acceptable and are paid for by those who already live on the margins. "There is nothing more unjust than making equal parts between unequal", wrote Don Lorenzo Milani in his "Letter to a teacher". Understanding that the "Gianni" - the children of the peasants and workers - are more disadvantaged than the "Pierini" - the children of the wealthy - is the basic condition for building a new world, holding together social and environmental justice.