Reducing carbon pollution and averting the worst impacts of climate change is an essential part of the fight for racial justice, Ottawa-based policy advisor and former Globe and Mail energy reporter Shawn McCarthy writes in an opinion piece for iPolitics.
Pointing to last month’s call for a just pandemic recovery from 150 civil society groups, many of them also leading the drive for a green recovery, McCarthy notes that “environmental calamities exact the greatest toll on poor people who are ill-equipped to respond or adapt”. And on the international scene, “the push for international action on climate change has often been led by Black and Brown leaders, whose citizens face dire impacts from rising sea levels for island states, and from drought and unbearable heat for those in tropical and sub-tropical zones.”
On that basis, McCarthy calls for a merging of movements, so that a just and a green future can be pursued together. “Levying the burden of climate change on the poorest people, whether at home or internationally, is certainly no recipe for a just or peaceful society,” he writes.
The connection is that much more immediate because “the effort to transition quickly from a fossil fuel economy to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 will require deeper, structural changes that will leave no person unaffected,” McCarthy notes. “Done poorly, the solutions would impose further hardships on the poorest and most vulnerable populations, often those in racialized communities that will be hit hardest by the extreme weather and other looming climate change impacts.” But “done well, with principles of economic justice at the forefront, there is an opportunity to marry climate change policy with actions that address deep, structural inequities that result from colonialism, racism, and unrestrained capitalism.”
McCarthy does see some danger that the present moment will draw attention away from an urgent response to the climate crisis. “Those who oppose climate action or greater government intervention will redouble their opposition to any strategy that includes policies to reduce poverty and address systemic racism,” he writes.
“However, the coincidence of the COVID-19 pandemic and the anti-Black racism movement present an historic opportunity,” with federal ministers working on an economic recovery plan and “inundated” with green stimulus proposals from environmental groups. There is also “considerable talk” about a just transition for fossil workers and communities.
But McCarthy says it would be a mistake to “rely on the bureaucrats, technocrats, and business lobbyists to advise which programs and projects should get funded” as federal recovery plans take shape.
“Addressing climate change will result in massive changes right across the Canadian society,” he concludes. “Ottawa is gearing up for a major stimulus package that is expected to have a climate change focus. Meanwhile, there is an increased and justified focus on racial inequities in Canada. Together, those facts create an opportunity to transition to a society that is not only low-carbon and greener, but more equitable and just.”