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[00:00:04:23] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Welcome to Climate Conversations. I'm Rajesh Kasturirangan here at MIT'S Office of Digital Learning and in the studio with my colleagues--
[00:00:12:05] DAVE DAMM-LUHR: Dave Damm-Luhr.
[00:00:13:19] CURT NEWTON: And Curt Newton.
[00:00:15:06] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: And today we're going to talk about climate justice.
[00:00:18:17] CURT NEWTON: Yeah, listeners hopefully have heard our recent episode that started off being a response to the Warm Regards, Techno-Fix episode. And we really found ourselves getting deeper and deeper in that brief conversation into the fundamental questions of what justice is and what it looks like. And so we thought it was really time to just go right into that big, fundamental issue.
[00:00:43:27] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Mhm.
[00:00:45:08] DAVE DAMM-LUHR: And I'm thinking particularly in terms of the distribution of benefits and burdens. Those are the key things that are on my mind in terms of, how does climate change manifest itself to real human beings who have lives to lead?
[00:00:59:19] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: I want all the benefits and you want all the burdens.
[00:01:04:07] DAVE DAMM-LUHR: Sorry, no deal.
[00:01:05:09] CURT NEWTON: That's the way the world works.
[00:01:06:23] DAVE DAMM-LUHR: No way, man.
[00:01:08:10] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: All right. I have a question.
[00:01:09:18] DAVE DAMM-LUHR: What?
[00:01:09:26] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Is it climate justice or is it climate justice?
[00:01:15:13] CURT NEWTON: Emphasis on the first or the second?
[00:01:16:26] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Yeah, is it more about the climate part or is it more about the justice part? Are they the same? How do you draw the boundaries?
[00:01:23:12] CURT NEWTON: That's a really great question. And I think it's one that increasingly the climate activist community is trying to grapple with. I'll share my personal story of this, which is I came into climate change engagement over the last few years more as an environmentalist. I'll out myself. I grew up in fairly privileged circumstances, white, liberal--
[00:01:50:02] DAVE DAMM-LUHR: You're one of those tree huggers, ah?
[00:01:52:09] CURT NEWTON: Yeah, and who got to, by virtue of the way that this stuff works, be totally oblivious to the lived experiences of people who are on the other side of these justice equations. It just was not something that I saw on a daily basis. I had an abstract, oh, yeah, it's out there. It's important, sure. But it was not a thing I lived.
[00:02:13:24] And it's only been-- I'm embarrassed to say-- fairly recently that I've come to start, just start, to appreciate how big and systemic some of the justice issues are that lead communities to be vulnerable to things like climate. But I don't think they can be separated. Really, they cannot be separated from all the other things that push the justice button.
[00:02:39:18] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: So it's interesting you say that, Curt. I had almost a complimentary interaction not too long ago. A good friend of mine, who herself is an activist, asked me, why are you working on climate? And with the subtext being, you're a person of color in this country, and why are you choosing to work on an issue that, by her standards, was a white person's issue?
[00:03:09:20] DAVE DAMM-LUHR: Why do you think that is, that people associate climate activism with white people?
[00:03:14:20] CURT NEWTON: Well, I think there's a historical thing. For instance-- I'm forgetting her name at the moment, but she's doing work with Union of Concerned Scientists on some climate justice issues. One take on this is that communities that are under the thumb of some injustice don't have the luxury, in a sense, to pour tons of energy into these abstractions and future things. They're trying to deal with stuff right then and there.
[00:03:41:10] And she's found that it's when stuff like the recent hurricane hits, confronts them, oh, then those communities can turn their attention to think about this. But when things are chilled out, it's the communities that have the luxury of trying to do these benevolent things that get pulled into it. Rajesh, you look like you have a different take on this, man.
[00:04:04:17] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: I don't disagree with you, actually. I mean, some of it has got to be demographics. I mean, if you look at the mailing list of 350.org, I think that the demographics would skew differently than the population of this country would otherwise dictate, I think. But maybe I'm wrong.
[00:04:21:26] DAVE DAMM-LUHR: Well, as Curt was saying--
[00:04:22:12] CURT NEWTON: No, I think you're right.
[00:04:24:03] DAVE DAMM-LUHR: --people of the other demographics don't have the time or energy. They don't see it as being in their interest to step into this space.
[00:04:31:20] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: But I think there is one thing that I might want to draw out, which is, if you look at what are often the demands of the climate activist movement, they tend to be privileged people's kinds of demands. So for example, new technologies, like renewable energies, or new policies. I mean, that technology-policy speak is already marked by class and by race, I think.
[00:04:57:13] CURT NEWTON: Yeah, and that's a really hard thing, I think, for people to see. One of the things that hit me from our previous conversation is that there's an element of how these things are framed that's like, the fish can't tell that it's in water. Tip of the hat to David Foster Wallace's brilliant graduation speech, which y'all should know if you haven't checked it out. Yeah, it's been hard for me to grasp how much my preconceptions about what the solutions look like is colored by where I came from or I started from.
[00:05:30:14] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: And so one of the questions, therefore, would be, do we need to expand our idea of a climate solution or a climate action to include things that are not in the narrow technology or policy sphere? This goes back to our previous conversation, actually, doesn't it?
[00:05:47:15] DAVE DAMM-LUHR: Well, right. And if you look at the Drawdown Project, I mean, as we talked about a couple of weeks ago, one of the key solutions is educating women and girls. And on first blush, you think, well, what does that have to do with climate? But it turns out it has a lot to do with climate, and particularly in lower-income countries.
[00:06:06:29] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: And therefore, it also says it is clearly part of other justice-- like, you want to educate women because you want to educate women. I mean, whether it makes our climate actions easier or better is a secondary reason, in my opinion.
[00:06:24:04] DAVE DAMM-LUHR: I don't know. I mean, what I was hearing from Project Drawdown is that more educated girls and women make choices in terms of household size, for example, that are different.
[00:06:33:29] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Right--
[00:06:34:17] CURT NEWTON: But you're arguing his point [INAUDIBLE].
[00:06:35:08] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: --but that's exactly-- my point is that, because we want equality between the genders, it's-- I mean, it is fantastic that it also therefore has this positive impact on the climate. And in fact, it's saying that perhaps generally equal policies and equal social relations will be better for everything.
[00:06:56:24] CURT NEWTON: Yeah, it's analogous to the co-benefits thing that Noelle Selin talked about. If you go after cleaning up air pollution with a sulfates lens, you've got all these other subsidiary benefits. If you go after keeping girls in school and empowering women with economic opportunities, that in itself is a plenty worthy thing to be going after. And oh, by the way, you get these other things.
[00:07:21:06] I think it's really telling, in the Drawdown analysis, educating girls was a thing that they actually refused from an ethical standpoint. They refused to put a dollar value on its worth. They just said, this is beyond calculation.
[00:07:38:18] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: OK, which brings another one of our perennial topics, which is market forces, right? Because I think that justice, by its nature, doesn't lend itself to market calculations. Like, you do the right thing because you do the right right.
[00:07:55:02] DAVE DAMM-LUHR: It's a moral and ethical issue, really.
[00:07:57:09] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: And so I think there is. There's maybe a bifurcation here between an argument for climate action, which is primarily economic, saying that, oh, renewable energies will be cheaper and faster and better--
[00:08:09:29] CURT NEWTON: We can do this and it won't hurt our economy.
[00:08:12:05] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: --right, and saying that we're going to do this because it's just the right thing to do.
[00:08:17:10] DAVE DAMM-LUHR: Well. I think it's more than that. A couple of weeks ago at the MIT Alumni Leadership Conference, I met an alum who had moved out of the retail sector and into renewable energy. And he saw it as his mission to help affordable housing be paired with solar panels so that there would be a net positive for those households, at whatever income level, coming out of that at the end of the month. They'd get a rebate check from the utility.
[00:08:44:21] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: So I know this from talking to George Lakey, who works in Philadelphia primarily, right, that there is a racial component to solar panels, too--
[00:08:54:17] CURT NEWTON: No question.
[00:08:55:11] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: --and that one of the things that they were pressing utilities for is to hire people in low-income minority communities and train them to be solar installers, because that's a growing market for well-paying jobs. And so again, this could be a co-benefit solution.
[00:09:16:20] DAVE DAMM-LUHR: Right. So it's also part of the transition economy. Let's face it. If coal is no longer really viable-- I mean, two of the four major coal companies filed for bankruptcy in the last couple of years-- and people in West Virginia and Kentucky need a transition, a just transition, out of those either nonexistent or low-paying jobs, renewable energy is a possible source for that. So I think that's what comes up for me a lot. What is the just transition?
[00:09:42:15] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Absolutely.
[00:09:43:18] CURT NEWTON: Yeah, and another angle of this that we haven't touched on explicitly yet is the gender one. And we know at a high level that, especially in developing countries, the impacts of climate change will be disproportionately felt by women. In subsistence economies, they're the ones who are spending hours already--
[00:10:01:18] DAVE DAMM-LUHR: Four hours a day, I think.
[00:10:02:16] CURT NEWTON: --chasing after water and so forth. But I think there's an even deeper gender justice aspect to this. There's some scholars who are doing some really interesting research on this, but I think we have a ways to go in reckoning how to take care of that.
[00:10:17:16] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: And just to add another twist to it, fossil fuel labor is heavily gendered.
[00:10:24:12] DAVE DAMM-LUHR: Say more about that.
[00:10:25:18] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Well--
[00:10:25:24] DAVE DAMM-LUHR: I'm not familiar with that.
[00:10:27:04] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: --miners are much more likely to be men.
[00:10:29:15] DAVE DAMM-LUHR: Oh, I see.
[00:10:30:17] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: If you're in an extractive industry--
[00:10:32:21] DAVE DAMM-LUHR: Oh, sure.
[00:10:34:08] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: --there's a clear gender dynamic to who is a worker in that industry.
[00:10:39:14] DAVE DAMM-LUHR: Oh, yeah, good point. We saw that in the Bakken oil shale in North Dakota. It's primarily little communities of men.
[00:10:45:11] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Right, and so in this discussion of the just transition, we therefore have to ask, what are the new kinds of jobs that we're going to be creating, and for whom?
[00:10:54:22] DAVE DAMM-LUHR: And where?
[00:10:55:29] CURT NEWTON: Yeah, so throwing a little love back on our friends over Warm Regards, based on Twitter, I have the impression that they may be working on this gender question, in particular, [INAUDIBLE]--
[00:11:06:00] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Yeah, we'd love to hear from you.
[00:11:07:26] CURT NEWTON: --hopefully see what they come up with.
[00:11:09:26] DAVE DAMM-LUHR: Well, I'm pretty sure they've got a theme this year for folks in giving a spotlight on the people who are directly affected by climate change. And I don't know if you guys had a chance to hear it, but it's a really compelling podcast from [? Shishmaref. ?] It's a representative, a 19-year-old young man, very clear and articulate about how he and his family has experienced climate change in this arctic village.
[00:11:33:23] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Absolutely. Because that was tied to an ongoing climate disaster, maybe we should conclude our podcast today with a discussion of how climate justice intersects with catastrophic events.
[00:11:47:06] CURT NEWTON: Yeah. Boy, we've been smacked in the face with that over the past few days here. It'll take us a few days to get this podcast out, but we're recording this on a Monday, the weekend after Hurricane Maria clobbered Puerto Rico. And my Twitter feed was overwhelmed with outrage, justified outrage, that on the Sunday news shows here in the United States, the devastation was given one minute total across all of the news shows. And this is a US-- it's not a state, but it's pretty close.
[00:12:17:19] DAVE DAMM-LUHR: The Commonwealth.
[00:12:18:12] CURT NEWTON: And if we in the United States-- media can't pay attention to what's literally in our yard, boy, we have so long to go.
[00:12:26:10] DAVE DAMM-LUHR: So why do you suspect that is? I'm guessing that maybe all the news media were saying, well, we had enough of that. We haven't sold any advertising time since we [INAUDIBLE].
[00:12:34:27] CURT NEWTON: That's a great question. I look forward to seeing some assessment. Yeah, the saturation, we've heard enough about hurricanes from Harvey and Irma. But I think there's also unquestionably institutional racism going on.
[00:12:46:15] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: I mean, and the fact that the entire island is without water or power-- I mean, this is not parts of it. It's like the whole place has been devastated, right? And yet, the response seems to be, OK.
[00:13:01:19] CURT NEWTON: Good luck, folks. I think on Trump's Twitter account, he did one little thing about it, but way more tweets about--
[00:13:08:06] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: National anthem.
[00:13:08:20] CURT NEWTON: --his spat with, yeah, the national anthem. So we really got to question our priorities in what's going on here.
[00:13:14:27] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Though, I have to say that I remember when George W. Bush-- W.-- was president, he got a lot of flak for his response to Katrina--
[00:13:24:17] CURT NEWTON: That's how it was.
[00:13:25:23] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: --right? And I'm wondering if some of the, I would say, fake news about people kneeling or not kneeling or whatever they're doing, which they have perfect right to do, if that is also part of deflecting criticism from, actually, a much more substantial failure, which is you've got an island of three million people with no access to the things that you expect to have access to.
[00:13:51:03] CURT NEWTON: Right, I think that's a really valid theory, yeah, yeah.
[00:13:54:04] DAVE DAMM-LUHR: Before we end, there are a couple things that I did want to bring people's attention to.
[00:13:58:04] CURT NEWTON: Yeah, thanks.
[00:13:58:21] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Go for it, Dave.
[00:13:59:10] DAVE DAMM-LUHR: One of the things that I found really helpful in just get a sense of the landscape-- lay of the land in terms of climate justice is the Mary Robinson Foundation. I don't know if she's with climate justice.
[00:14:09:29] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: She used to be the--
[00:14:11:05] DAVE DAMM-LUHR: She was the--
[00:14:11:18] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Human Commissioner for Human Rights, right?
[00:14:13:16] DAVE DAMM-LUHR: She was also the president of Ireland. And they have-- really have seven principles that they've put together. And I think it's worth a closer look. We'll send out a link to that site.
[00:14:24:26] CURT NEWTON: Also, the recently ex-EPA Senior Administrator for Climate Justice, Mustafa Ali, has been out in podcast land over the last couple weeks doing a really great push, including on Warm Regards as well as several other podcasts. It's actually interesting to hear how he comes across a little differently in each podcast. Politically Re-Active was an interesting counterpoint. Check that one out. He's lived the broader issue of environmental justice for decades and he's got a really deep experience. And I think he's definitely a figure well worth following on this topic.
[00:15:07:05] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: [INAUDIBLE] listen to him. So we've been having these conversations now for a few weeks. I think I can say for all of us here in this room that the more we think about it, the tie-in between climate injustice and local solutions in communities around the world is increasingly more and more important. So as ClimateX listeners and readers on our site, I know that you're in 70 different countries, maybe more. And we would love to hear from you. How exactly do you want to address climate change in your community? What are the justice issues?
[00:15:47:23] DAVE DAMM-LUHR: Right, so send us an email, put a comment, any way of letting us know what's happening in your community or your region with respect to climate justice.
[00:15:56:18] CURT NEWTON: And I think we hope that there's-- there'll be a lot of power in people sharing their experiences from one community to the next. There are, of course, variations from place to place. But there's also, I think, great commonality. And we can learn from each other.
[00:16:10:09] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: So you might be in Columbia, you might be in Peru, you might be in--
[00:16:14:17] DAVE DAMM-LUHR: Bangladesh.
[00:16:15:00] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: --Bangladesh, or you might be in Australia. If you have experienced what you believe to be climate injustice or you want to share a story of how a community did enact a form of climate justice, please let us know.
[00:16:31:27] CURT NEWTON: So I think that's all we have for today. Thank you so much for joining us on the podcast.
[00:16:36:28] DAVE DAMM-LUHR: And stay tuned for more conversations about climate justice at ClimateX.
[00:16:41:17] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: And as usual, if you have any comments or feedback, you can reach us by email at climatex_feedback@MIT.edu or on Twitter and Facebook as well as the site itself, climatex.mit.edu.
[00:16:56:05] DAVE DAMM-LUHR: Looking forward to hearing from you real soon.
[00:16:57:21] CURT NEWTON: Bye.
[00:16:58:09] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Bye.
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