Freedom and Climate Change

Writing and illustration by Hannah Udall.


In 2019 Greta Thunberg brought the world’s attention to a phenomenon called ‘Climate Justice’. Before then, Climate change was seen as being an event affecting everyone equally; however just as we have seen with the pandemic, universal crises affect people differently. The people worst affected are the already vulnerable and disadvantaged. These crises increase inequalities between developed and developing nations, and the affects are worse for those already subject to discrimination, disproportionately impacting, black, Asian and ethnic minority communities. It has also been shown that women are more strongly affected in comparison to men.


Climate justice addresses these inequalities exacerbated by climate change, compelling governments to look at climate change as an issue of justice. Danger of wildfires, polluted water, compromised food-producing systems are to name a few of the effects of climate change that threaten the human rights of many people around the world. And whilst human rights are not always attainable, the fact it is decisions made by human beings that are causing climate change, makes it preventable and therefore a moral issue. Something corporations and governments should be held responsible for in courts of law.


Some of the human rights directly impacted by climate change are the right to health, right to housing and rights to water and sanitation. Extreme weather is making the outcome of agricultural labour unpredictable. Men have started to migrate to find alternative jobs, leaving their wife to look after the children, do the housework and tend the farm. This has put extra stresses on women in less developed countries.


It can be convincingly argued that the effects of climate change are directly due to a westernised, patriarchal society. Treating Climate Change as an issue of justice highlights the intersectional issues of racism, gender inequality and class inequality, where treating any one of these issues helps the whole. The system is flawed and only through complete transformation of our ways of thinking can human beings looked towards a more positive future.


The upper house of Swiss parliament has recently proposed a plan to increase fuel used for flights to try and curb the use of planes. However this will disproportionately affect people from differing economic backgrounds and restrict freedom of movement.


Only this week was a column published in the financial times by a climate change denialist explaining the threat to individual freedom as governments put measures in place to curb the affects of climate change. Tackling climate change, just like tackling the pandemic, will require us to restrict certain actions (like air travel, food miles, variety of clothing, usage of plastic. So the task is to analyse whether this is indeed unacceptable. The problem is when you look at the affects of climate change on future generations. Greta Thunberg made this very clear when she said ‘ You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes.’ Getting to the crux of this means evaluating what freedom is. We have seen this problem with the pandemic; from people arguing wearing a mask is a restriction of freedom, to people saying not wearing a mask is a restriction of freedom, as you make spreading the virus easier, increasing the likelihood of lockdowns and affecting the most vulnerable is society. We are living in an age of individualism however we must not forget our collective rights. Only by looking at the collective can we make sure individuals are safe.


We owe it to the freedom of future generations to act climate consciously. Whilst it is difficult to live completely green, doing a little bit to help (like buying vegetables loose) all helps. And whilst it might seem like an additional effort right now, when compared to the threatened health of future human beings it is a minor inconvenience in comparison.


It is difficult to see how our actions affect the earth. This is because the chain of events linking us back to the beginning is so long- a pepper in a supermarket aisle is a far cry from the plant from which it was picked, and this leaves consumers feeling like fruit and vegetables, water, electricity has only the cost of money, and in all other respects is free. However this is not the case. As well as having a monetary value, these objects cost the earth. They require resources to be produced, and if the pepper is flown to the UK from Spain and packaged in plastic, both the air miles and the plastic are additional costs the earth has to cope with.


We need to be aware of these additional costs if we are going to keep the earth a place which is free for future generations. Where there is clean water to swim in, and plentiful unpolluted food. Overconsumption and additional costs such as plane miles infringes on the freedom of future generations to enjoy the planets gifts. Only by changing humanities outlook and transforming our definition of the word ‘free’ can we ensure a healthy future for the coming generations.


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