Making Climate Justice: Social Natures and Political Spaces of the Anthropocene
Derman, Brandon Barclay
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The global connections of climate change produce profoundly uneven geographies across social and physical space at many scales. In general, however, those who have benefited most from climate-changing fossil-fueled development are also most insulated from its deleterious effects, while those who have contributed and benefited least suffer such effects first and most dramatically. Regulatory response frameworks are challenged by, and may exacerbate, these challenges to justice. This dissertation draws on interviews, participant observation and documentary sources in a relational analysis of social responses to climate change framed by law, governance and political mobilization. The methodological approach examines the socio-ecological, socio-spatial and governmental connections these initiatives acknowledge, construct, elide or erode. Part 1 demonstrates how institutionalized practices and epistemologies of disconnection have compromised the efficacy and justice of response efforts structured by international human rights law, multilateral treaty negotiations, and economistic modes of governance. Part 2 explores the construction of and tensions within what I call a politics of connection, as pursued by a subset of civil society actors engaged in advocacy and activism for climate justice. These politics consist in challenging separation and highlighting or constructing connection in each relational domain. The analysis suggests that response efforts are not likely to halt the progression of climate change or resolve its multi-dimensional justice issues without recognizing and accounting politically for the various facets of its embedding in socio-ecological processes and relations at scales and sites from the global to the local. The politics of connection, then, presents possibilities for transformation toward more effective and just responses to the climate crisis. The study contributes to theoretical development and political debate by addressing (1) the spatiality of transnational social movements, (2) the political relevance of the more-than-human, and (3) the role of “civil society” in constituting governance and contesting socio-ecological power. Linking (1) and (2), I argue that more-than-human assemblages constitute conditions for constructing transnational solidarities and, more importantly, for grounding a politics of socio-ecological justice that can socialize, historicize and politicize global change in the Anthropocene. I propose the term socio-ecological conjunctures to index the objects of activist analyses that articulate globally-extensive socio-ecological processes with the community- and place-based concerns of established and incipient political identities. Analyses of socio-ecological conjunctures can more broadly politicize climate change, both superseding the militant particularisms of place-based politics and grounding tenuous transnational alliances. Addressing (3), I argue that the urgency of imminent disparate impact incites multiplicity, pragmatism, and ongoing experimentation in the pursuit of protection from and redress for climate harms, which operate in tandem with the purer politics of radical political ecological critique. Civil society emerges therefore, in these ecological politics, as an indeterminate figure encompassing these and other engagements; its presence in both official and “outside” political spaces marking both as contested terrain.
- Geography