In early 2019, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Edward Markey introduced the Green New Deal to Congress as a plan to reduce the use of fossil fuels in the United States to curb greenhouse gas emissions in an attempt to slow the rate of global warming. This plan includes several main strategies to achieve this goal of greenhouse gas reduction, including switching to renewable energy sources and restoring fragile ecosystems, especially through reforestation, to increase biodiversity and climate change resiliency. All the strategies constitute what Ocasio-Cortez calls the “Green New Deal mobilization,” a social and economic transformation equal in scale to the mobilizations during the New Deal and World War II.
Although this goal of net zero emissions is lofty, Ocasio-Cortez argues that achieving it is crucial to help prevent future global implications of climate change. She also argues that the United States should take “a leading role” in reaching this goal because of its responsibility “for a disproportionate amount of greenhouse gas emissions.” This argument adds a perspective on addressing the climate emergency that is rarely discussed — specific nations (especially those in North America and Europe) are more responsible for climate change than others because of their high levels of greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, in cumulative terms, the United States has contributed more carbon dioxide per capita to the atmosphere than any other nation. However, there has been no sign of urgency in the United States to correct this.
This may be due, in part, to the fact that climate change impacts haven’t really been relevant to the American people until recently, with the intensification of California wildfires and Atlantic hurricanes. Now that the Western lifestyle is under attack, a climate emergency has been declared, and millions of people across the globe have started to demand action from their governments. However, what many don’t realize is that there has been a climate crisis for many third-world countries for several years now. Despite contributing relatively little to global climate change, countries in South America, Southeast Asia and Africa are, and have been for years, disproportionately experiencing the consequences of global warming like sea level rise, massive drought and decreased availability of food and water. This disproportionate impact is termed climate injustice, a specific form of environmental injustice that describes how climate change does not affect all communities in the same way, wreaking havoc on the lower income countries/communities that simply don’t possess the ability to protect themselves.
Over the past few decades, the climate justice movement grew out of the environmental justice movement, which began only two and a half hours from Wake Forest in Warren County, NC It developed as a fight against a government decision that placed an unwelcome factory on cheap land in a predominately African-American community instead of in local white communities. This decision caused the residents to be more susceptible to health issues as a result of increased water and air pollution. As climate science has become more advanced and the impacts of global warming have become more apparent, local incidences of environmental injustices became just a small part of the pattern of larger global environmental injustice.
How is this justified? How can it be morally right to pursue further development (fueled by fossil fuels) at the expense of other lives across the globe? Reversing the severe global warming we have caused is no longer about ensuring a future for the children of our grandchildren.
Instead, it’s about ensuring a future for humanity across the planet. I encourage you to take action to reduce your personal contribution to climate change: opt for carpooling, walking or biking instead of driving, try to reduce your energy usage and eat less meat. Each decision you make is not inconsequential — small actions every day add up and do make a difference. Make these changes for the families who have lost their homes in severe weather, for the displaced environmental refugees, for the African women and children who walk miles every day to reach water supplies that are shrinking due to drought, and for the Pacific Islanders who have lost their countries to sea level rise. Human lives depend on it.