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  • Michael Roman

Climate justice

For small island states in the Pacific, the factors that characterize climate-induced migration — the inability to return, collective migration in large numbers, and the anticipated need for migration — might all occur in concert. The coincidence of all these factors militates for a rapid and comprehensive global response. With their relative lack of responsibility for climate change and their relative poverty, Pacific climate migrants and their home states have a moral, and perhaps legal, claim on wealthier and higher-polluting industrialized countries (Burkett, 2011).

Climate justice, often used in a social justice context, positions marginalized human populations as being most impacted by climate change, yet least responsible for its development.

Indigenous peoples themselves may argue that, despite having contributed the least to greenhouse gas emissions, they are the ones most at risk from its consequences due to their dependence upon and close relationship with the local environment and its resources (Crate & Nuttall, 2009).

The COP 6 meeting in 2000 hosted the first ‘COP-Climate Justice Summit’ as an official side event. While government delegates debated the details of market-based ‘solutions’ to global warming, Climate Justice Summit attendees shared their lived experiences. Speakers described human rights violations, and environmental devastation brought forth by environmental changes (Karliner, 2000). To many, climate blame rested on the shoulders of larger nations, and corporations invested in economic pursuits which put profit over people.

Global warming is primarily a product of global capitalism, which is characterized by a constant drive for profits and an ever-increasing emphasis on production and consumption. From the perspective of political ecology, capitalism is inherently at odds with the environment, which it views as a bottomless pit of resources and as a receptacle for the waste products of productions- the quantity of which tends to grow because of the intrinsic need of capitalism to relentlessly expand and increase profits (Baer & Singer, 2009).

Before independence, Tuvalu and Kiribati were colonies of Great Brittan. Known as the Ellis and Gilbert Islands, both gained independence in 1979 when colonial phosphate extraction operations on Banaba ended. Banaba Island is a raised atoll located 180 kilometers east of Tarawa. It had little value to anyone other than the native population until Albert Ellis discovered the island was made of phosphate.

For a long time, I had speculated that this rock had rich deposits of lime and decided to test it… A week or so later I walked into the director’s room and presented the test results. The analyst had recorded a ninety percent phosphoric acid reaction… the purest phosphate yet discovered in a natural state by man (Grimble, 1952).

Having the richest of phosphate, the British Phosphate Commission immediately pushed for a deal to mine Banaba for the next 999 years at £50 per annum. Under the auspices of ‘natural resource excavation’ operations began, and the native population was moved to Rabi Island in Fiji (Sigrah & King, 2001). Elders have not forgotten these tragic experiences.

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Though much of my Kiribati family had relocated to New Zealand by 2010, migrating into a new life with an overwhelming unfamiliarity of everything was still daunting.


British Phosphate Commission Phosphate Excavation

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©2020 by Michael Roman