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If climate justice is social justice, then social justice is climate justice: they go hand in hand and are anti-systemic tools

9 December 2015

We know that most of our governments are not particularly keen on reaching an ambitious climate goal at the COPS 21 conference starting in Paris to-day. It looks as if once again the conference will fail to save humanity from the hardships of climate change. As they have also failed at the Copenhagen Conference in 2009. As they have failed with their ‘war on terrorism’. As they have failed with the ‘the war on poverty’. As they have failed with the financial crisis of 2008 …

It is true that all these different and fragmented goals are not easy to reach, particularly if climate and economic interests have to balanced, and if in the end financial interests are dominant …

Why do we accept this fragmented way of looking at things? We know that everything is linked to everything else, and if it is true that it can hinder to look at particularly urgent matters if we only adopt a birds’ eye view on problems, it can also help to get priorities right.

Climate justice is often and rightly presented as being a fundamental matter of social justice. Advocates of this thesis then go on to explain how it is poor people that will be the first victims of climate change, while experts will try to distribute the ecological efforts as equitably as possible over different populations.

One could also take the opposite view. Instead of trying to find out what and how ecological measures have to be taken to be socially just, one could also wonder what social measures have to be taken to have positive ecological results.  

I want to argue that the answer might be: social commons. If framed correctly, they might help to design a policy that cares for people and for the planet, they might even contribute to change our economic system. And could they not also help to eradicate terrorism?

Let me try to briefly explain.

Basically, social commons are a democratic and participative way of organizing social protection. It will be decided on, conceptualized, implemented and monitored by a political community, at different levels, with the help of a partner state.

Social protection has to take care of people’s social needs, which means that very rapidly an equitable implementation of social and economic rights will be faced with economic problems. How to put into place a preventive health care system if we allow Coca Cola to produce unhealthy products, or if we allow Monsanto to produce dangerous pesticides?

The same happens to environmental concerns: how to achieve a healthy planet if we allow Exxon to pollute the Amazon, or if we allow rich countries to deforest or introduce monocultures?

Social policies and environmental policies both need the economic system to change. But there is more.

Social protection can never be complete if some environmental rights are not included in the social and  economic rights. Think of the right to water. Or the right to land for farmers.

In other words, reflecting on social policies rapidly brings you to the necessary environmental rights and the need for systemic change.

And there still is more. Because we could and should finally take into account the important lessons of feminist economic theory that put care in the centre of our concerns. When we do, we see that care, as well as nature have been externalized by the dominant economic system. Both have to be brought into a new economic thinking.

In other words: if we start with care, than we see that the economy, in the first place, has to take care of people’s needs, by producing the products they need for a healthy life, so that social protection can take care of their and society’s social needs, whereas environmental policies have to take care of the planet and of the people.

Social movements have been saying for some time that climate justice requires the economic system to change. They are right. But do we have to wait for this or can we start with environmental – and social – policies in order to change the economic system? I think the second answer is right and urgent.

We have indeed to start with environmental and with social policies, not only because there is an urgent need to save humanity from climate change and to solve people’s problems of health, employment and wages, housing, etc., but also because it seems to be the most rapid way to tackle the economy.

Taking feminist economy seriously, putting care at the centre, the social commons can contribute to systemic change, they can promote a healthy environment. In fact, social commons promote the sustainability of life of people, of society and of the planet.

The concept of the commons has re-emerged through the environmental movements and has then been adopted by social justice movements. In fact, it opens the way for rapidly promoting climate justice, social justice and, in the end, also economic justice. Why not try it?

I also mentioned terrorism. While military action might be necessary to stop the brutal fighting in the Middle East, it is very clear that a lasting solution can only mean to restore all civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights, in the North as well as in the South. Work should urgently be undertaken to promote equality and social convergence. Globalisation can become a positive force if it stops to promote social dumping and inequalities. Modernity can be once again an emancipatory force if we undo its eurocentric and anthropocentric focus. We urgently need progressive alternatives, other than radical islam. Without serious care for the environment, without stopping climate change, we can only promote more conflicts. As the ILO said in 1919: peace is not possible without social justice. Today we should add: it is not possible without climate justice.

Climate justice, social justice and economic justice go hand in hand. We should promote them together, and the social commons offer a perfect entry point to start the urgent work.

Read more about it on www.socialcommons.eu.

And read all the articles on the SDGs and on the climate conference on www.globalsocialjustice.eu.

Enjoy it.

Francine, member of the International Council

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