Anatomies of Environmental Knowledge & Resistance: Diverse Climate Justice Movements and Waning Eco-Neoliberalism

Article excerpt

'Climate Justice' is the name of the new movement that best fuses a variety of progressive political-economic and political-ecological currents to combat the most serious threat humanity and most other species face in the 21st century. The time is opportune to dissect knowledge production and resistance formation against hegemonic climate policy making. One reason is the ongoing fracturing of elite power--including acquiescence by large environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs)--in era of extreme global state-failure and market-failure.

The inability of global elite actors to solve major environmental, geopolitical, social and economic problems puts added emphasis on the need for a climate justice philosophy and ideology, principles, strategies and tactics. One challenge along that route is to establish the most appropriate climate justice narratives (since a few are contra-indicative to core climate justice traditions), what gaps exist in potential climate justice constituencies, and which alliances are moving climate justice politics forward. This can be done, in part, through case studies that illustrate approaches to climate injustice spanning campaigns and institutional critique. But it is through positive messaging and proactive traditions of climate justice that the movement will gain most momentum for the crucial period ahead.

Birthing a Climate Justice Movement

Climate justice only arrived on the international scene as a coherent political approach in the wake of the failure of a more collaborative strategy between major environmental NGOs and the global capitalist managerial class. The first efforts to generate a climate advocacy movement in global civil society became the Climate Action Network (CAN). From 1997, CAN adopted as a strategy what proved to be a 'false solution', namely an emphasis on regular United Nations interstate negotiations aiming at minor, incremental emissions reductions augmented by carbon trading and related offsets. Along with corresponding national and regional legislation and the rise of emissions submarkets, this was meant to form the inevitable underpinnings of greenhouse gas regulation. The myth that this approach would solve the impending climate crisis was broken in practice by fatal flaws in the European Union's Emission Trading Scheme and by the refusal of the United States to participate in the Kyoto Protocol, as well as Canada's withdrawal and the difficulty in establishing targets for emerging-market economies like Brazil, South Africa, India and China (the BASIC group). For civil society, the cul-de-sac of CAN's commitment to carbon trading was confirmed when Friends of the Earth International broke away in 2010, but already by the time of the December 2009 Copenhagen Conference of Parties (COP) 15, the critical short film 'Story of Cap and Trade' (Leonard 2009) was launched and in nine months subsequently recorded a million downloads. CAN's critics in the climate justice community were able to make the case for an alternative strategy with sufficient force, that they gained half the space reserved for non-governmental delegations in Copenhagen's Bella Centre.

The Copenhagen Summit crashed on 18-19 December 2009 when, at the last moment, a backroom deal was stitched together by Barack Obama (USA), Jacob Zuma (SA), Lula da Silva (Brazil), Manmohan Singh (India) and Wen Jiabao (China), designed to avoid needed binding emissions cuts (Muller 2010). Instead, the Copenhagen Accord delivered business-as-usual climate politics, biased towards fossil-fuel capital, heavy industry, the transport sector and overconsumers. As the leading US State Department climate negotiator, Todd Stern, explained when asked about the growing demand for recognition of Northern 'climate debt' liabilities, 'The sense of guilt or culpability or reparations--I just categorically reject that' (AP, 9 December 2009). In doing so, Stern not only rejected the 'polluter pays' principle (which can apply to past environmental externalities) but also the principle of common but differentiated responsibility, a foundational principle of the climate governance regime. …