In the latest contribution to the Democracy Papers, Deborah Coen explores how human beings make sense of large-scale natural phenomena like climate change. What does it mean to “understand” climate change? Does it mean the same thing to concerned citizens as it does to natural scientists, or humanities scholars, or policymakers? Coen uses a brief history of climate science since the nineteenth century to explore these questions and to challenge the traditional dichotomy between scientific explanation and humanistic understanding.
climate and environmental change
Deborah Cheng, curator of “Just Environments,” concludes the series with a look back at the diverse set of essays that connect environmental justice to social-structural, political, and cultural inequalities. Cheng reviews the ways in which contributors to the series addressed the nature of environmental (in)justices, touching on a wide range of subjects across various regions. The authors also analyzed how individuals, communities, and social movements strategized and acted to redress injustice, and the ways knowledge and research can be part of both deepening and reversing inequalities at the intersection of environmental change and political and economic forces.
Lindsey Dillon, Christopher Sellers, and the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI) conclude the “Just Environments” series with a sobering look at the Trump administration’s dismantling of environmental agencies. In response to these threats, EDGI has been working to protect federal environmental data, monitor government websites, and analyze the impact of proposed policy changes. Crucially, EDGI calls for “environmental data justice”—a rethinking and remaking of environmental data and governance practices that combines grassroots monitoring with digital technologies.
Jaskiran Dhillon continues the “Just Environments” series with a reflection on the Standing Rock Sioux’s resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline, asking us to consider what this struggle teaches us about the dominant environmental justice movement. Pointing to a longstanding history of settler colonialism, which has heavily relied on environmental destruction and extraction, Dhillon argues that environmental justice must be framed as a struggle for Indigenous sovereignty. She connects Standing Rock to multiple frontlines of resistance around the world, highlighting broader linkages between political strategies advancing decolonization and the environmental justice movement.
This “Just Environments” contribution from Rick Hendriks, Philip Raphals, Karen Bakker, and Gordon Christie focuses on the adverse environmental, socio-legal, and economic impacts of Site C, a large-scale hydropower project in British Columbia. Based on in-depth analysis, the authors suggest that construction of Site C would violate First Nations Treaty rights, result in a loss of biodiversity, and generate greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, Site C is more expensive than other renewable alternatives. They call for the cancellation of the Site C project, raising broader questions about the role of hydropower in a carbon-constrained world.
The Anxieties of Democracy (AoD) program’s Working Group on Climate Change has released three substantive reports on the ways in which social science, particularly political science, can and should engage with climate change. Here, AoD’s Kris-Stella Trump and Cole Edick provide an overview of the reports, which address the political demand for addressing climate change, the politics of choosing climate change policies, and the ethical and normative concerns that underscore the need for political action. Each report provides a concise overview of current research and outlines suggestions for future work.
Manuel Pastor’s contribution to the “Just Environments” series interrogates how social movement organizations, often led by communities of color, pushed for progressive reforms in California. Through a set of sophisticated tactics—including mobilizing new constituents, marshalling research, proposing new policies, and working with political figures—these organizations played critical roles in shaping more equitable and sustainable agendas. Pastor suggests the success and lessons associated with California’s story offer one path out of our current national state of racial, environmental, and economic anxiety.
In this “Just Environments” essay, Ebunoluwa Popoola examines the transfer of environmental lawsuits from Nigerian courts to European ones as a means of circumventing legal obstacles at the national level. Communities in the Niger Delta face multiple barriers when suing multinational oil companies in Nigerian courts, in part because of high costs, delays, and a restrictive interpretation of legal standing. Moving these cases to foreign jurisdictions, where the multinational companies are based, has been one avenue through which environmental justice has been achieved.
Prasenjit Duara makes a strong case for the relevance of the humanities in understanding the human dimensions of environmental and climate change. Multiple aspects of the environmental crisis of the Anthropocene, not least questions of environmental justice in efforts to adapt to and mitigate climate change, can be engaged through humanistic inquiry. With a focus on Asia, Duara argues that questions of identity, representation, religion, ethics, knowledge systems, and more—central concerns of the humanities—are deeply embedded in imagining how to respond to present environmental challenges.
Contrary to the negative stereotypes associated with NIMBYism, Carol Hager’s contribution to the “Just Environments” series demonstrates how NIMBY protests can be beneficial components of participatory politics that result in social, political, and technological innovation. Contrasting case studies from Germany and the United States, Hager examines how, with varying degrees of success, local residents are able to resist unwanted development and environmental threats while imagining more progressive alternatives. In this light, NIMBY protests can be seen as initiating processes of community learning and innovation.