The much anticipated COP21, held in Paris, forces us to ponder our role in the preservation of our planet. In the doing this, we begin to realise that we are more than just heartless carbon emitters. The discussion is based on more than mere facts, it ventures to touch upon more abstract concepts: human guilt, fear, and anxiety. These are, of course, extremely complex considerations; in order for real change to be made, humans must confront, dissect and simplify our feelings toward our home.
First off, it’s established that we, as “guardians” of Earth, have an obligation toward it. We must strive to protect nature and the future generations of our species. With this, it’s important to think about our motives: do we protect other life forms for genuine belief that they deserve to exist? Or for a more selfish reason: the comfort we take in knowing that these species do still exist. Consider the notion of intergenerational justice. It’s one that comes up time and time again during climate change conferences. “What are we doing to our grandchildren?” activists often sing in chorus. In the fight for this justice, however, it seems as though the well being of other life forms is seen as something that exists in relation to us. Humans, as the likely the cause of the Earth’s 6th mass extinction, haven’t written much on the term interspecies justice. The idea of righteousness, especially when in regard to the lives and rights of any other species, has been largely forgotten. As expected from such an “encompassing” document that is not much larger than thirty pages, it can’t flawlessly cover all.
COP21 is more than a conference though. Flaws aside, it is positive in a sense that it’s a starting point for a larger, more mature discussion about the environment.
Between the lines of the Paris agreement, there is an exploration of justice. The term used: “loss and damage” shows this clearly, and acts as acknowledgement of various sufferings caused by climate change. For instance, small islands that haven’t played much of a part in creating the crisis, will be devastated by climate change. Countries have agreed, that it would be unfair for great emitters to be the biggest cause of natural disasters around the world – especially in countries that are smaller emitters. But it’s more than a simple question of equality – humanity’s footprint cannot be constrained by imaginary lines on a map. This recognition points towards a concept of justice that will eventually move beyond borders, socioeconomic divisions included. After all, global warming is an all-encompassing problem.
Most worries concerning “natural assets” treat life as a product that exists to serve something else. Arguments concerning wildlife can indirectly imply that we must protect wildlife just so our children can see exotic animals in the zoo. COP21 asserts that natural assets are a way to avoid extreme weather (hurricanes, wildfires, droughts, and floods) because these disasters kill people. At the same time, it fails to recognize, that these disasters have implications beyond its effects on human life. They have the potential to disturb all the fauna and flora on the planet. Perhaps COP21 should have striven to be more inclusive, and expand their scope.
As it stands, it’s easier to think of climate change impacts in terms of imaginary borders and national territories, and to ignore the fact that climate change will bring loss and damage that knows no borders. Destruction is quantifiable, but the price of life is not. There is the misconception that climate change is solely about humans and numbers.
This is not to say one should not be optimistic about the impact of COP21. It was unavoidable that some themes would be remembered and others forgotten. Priorities must be made. Some of the changes and agreements ratified by the conference were fundamental, like the cap on global warming. Very importantly, COP21 will open the discussion to topics pertaining to our impact on the earth.
In our future dialogue, we should aim to be more inclusive. Maybe there’s something that transcends intergenerational justice, legal justice, and even interstellar justice. We need plain justice, just that. This will inspire us to act with care and respect regardless of who, or what, the actions influence. Our increasing impact on Earth requires great responsibility and thoughts of an unfragmented world. Justice is the real “loss and damage” term – we must be more accountable, equitable and sustainable. Reducing carbon emissions is a great start, but far from the end of the discussion.