Discussing Intergenerational Climate Justice in Cameroon.

Future climate changes, caused by past and present emissions, are very likely to have severe negative impacts on generations to come. In my research, I try to answer the question of why, and to what extent, these future impacts of climate change should be treated as a matter of justice. In other words, why should we think that climate change mitigation is about more than just avoiding future costs?

Many find it intuitively plausible to think that we have obligations of intergenerational justice, and that these obligations require us to respond much more aggressively to the threat of climate change. But we need to adequately justify this claim if we are to build a sound theory of intergenerational climate justice. My research assesses this intuition in greater depth, as I seek to formulate an account of the scope of climate justice that is both mindful of the impacts climate change will have on future people, and sensitive to the challenges that climate change poses as a new, and intrinsically intergenerational problem of justice.

Formulating a sound account of the scope of climate justice is important if we care about acting morally in a changing climate. It is clear that we should be wary of giving too little, or the wrong kind of ethical consideration to future people if, in fact, they are owed justice by us. At the same time, clarifying the scope of climate justice – and emphasising the reasons why it must include future people – can be valuable to climate policies on the ground. Highlighting that what is at stake are important claims of justice, and not just compensable financial losses, can strengthen our arguments in support of more aggressive mitigation policies. And action is more urgent than ever: we have known about the risks and impacts of our greenhouse gas emissions for a long time, and yet we are still being surprised by their severity and the speed at which they are happening (as was the case with the melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which we now know may be lost completely and irreversibly over the next millennium, adding about 10 feet to already rising sea levels).

Last summer I got the opportunity to discuss my research on climate justice for future generations in an area that is particularly vulnerable to climate change, as I travelled to the Yaoundé Seminar on ‘future generations and global inequality’ in Cameroon. Jointly organised by African and European institutions, and with participants from four continents, the conference brought together perspectives from African and Western philosophy as tools to address pressing issues of intergenerational justice. It was a wonderful way to connect with researchers from diverse cultural and academic backgrounds, both inside and outside the seminar rooms. As we were all hosted on campus at the Catholic University of Central Africa, we were able to get together discussing presentations and talks, but also over laid back dinners, beers, and even took a trip to the nearby beach in Kribi.

With all its facets, this trip was a memorable and exciting experience. But, most importantly, it was a much-needed opportunity to discuss my work with great minds from all around the world, from different cultures, and with diverse philosophical backgrounds, whose work reflected their own individual experiences, world-views, and hopes for the future. The exchanges I had with other participants were eye-opening: they helped me develop my research, but most importantly they showed me that – if our work is to be relevant to a global and intergenerational problem like climate change – we have to be mindful of how our own world views always influence, and possibly run the danger of limiting, our research. I took the seminar as an invitation to look beyond the books, theories and opinions I am most familiar with, and to search for and listen to other perspectives. Moving outside one’s comfort zone may be challenging, but – in addition to bringing both personal and academic growth – it is vital if we want to successfully tackle a global problem like climate change in an inclusive manner.

Livia Luzzatto, PhD Scholar.

The XR Backlash. A new breed of post-denialists reveal their on-off relationship with reality.

You know you are winning an argument when your opponents go after your background. When they start going after your tone, you know you’ve won. This is one reason why the supposed sneering bourgeois hypocrites of Extinction Rebellion should be congratulating themselves: not only has their campaign won broad support, it has managed to ruffle feathers in just the right places.

In the past few months, two grass-roots movements for action on climate change have had a remarkable degree of success in capturing hearts and minds, not to mention column inches. Youth Strike 4 Climate, begun by Greta Thunberg, and Extinction Rebellion’s succession of mass acts of civil disobedience have done a great deal to start conversations about the failure of governments to take meaningful action to forestall the environmental crisis already causing mass upheaval across the world.

The backlash against this energetic and inspirational new wave of dissent has been led by a familiar gallery of supertrolls, who have mocked Thunberg as both a bourgeois elitist and a ‘cultish’ doom-monger, and cast Extinction Rebellion as the reaction of the privileged few, punching down at the emerging beneficiaries of mass consumer culture by promulgating ‘hair-shirted Leftyism’ instead of their preferred ‘technological optimism’ (paywall – Telegraph).

The obvious reality is that Thunberg, far from being the agent of a lofty globalist cabal, is just a concerned schoolgirl, and Extinction Rebellion is fundamentally constituted to focus pressure on governments while avoiding criticism of individual citizens. That right wing commentators have chosen to return to these off-the-peg tropes – despite their fitting so poorly – speaks volumes about the bankruptcy of their position.

A critique has also been levelled against the movement’s whiteness: a take that has been embraced with uncharacteristic eagerness by commentators who usually declare themselves enemies of identity politics. When two young black women interviewed by the Guardian observe, ‘if this was anything but Caucasian people, there would have been armed police officers and a big problem’, this should give us cause for concern.

These movements are the imperfect product of an imperfect society, and the acknowledgement by some members that they are attempting to use their privilege for the greater good does not absolve them from the responsibility to keep doing better. But we should not lose sight of the fact this is, at worst, a critique of the movement’s organisational structure and tactical choices. It does nothing to undermine its objectives.

Extinction Rebellion is among several campaign groups that have made the decision to paint climate change as the great unifier, rather than the great divider. This is not inaccurate: climate change will touch people in all regions of the globe, and all sections of society. The wildfires that swept through California last year, destroying the homes of Hollywood celebrities (among many others), and causing $24 billion of damage according to reinsurance industry estimates, were a prominent reminder of this.

The harmful effects of climate change will, however, also be determined by the pre-existing pattern of vulnerability across societies, meaning they will reflect power relations both geopolitically and within particular countries.

The important thing to recognise is that these framings are not inconsistent with one another. By all means, we should be open to careful debate about which is likely to be most effective in motivating the appropriate form of action in different contexts. But we have no right to conclude from the fact an organisation chooses to characterise the fight against climate change in universalistic terms that it is blind to the politics of difference.

To unmask the cynical opportunism of jabs from the right against the green movement’s social credentials, we need only look to the reaction the Green New Deal bill has faced in the USA. This platform is championed Congresswoman and alleged bourgeois elitist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the daughter of a Puerto Rican housekeeper, whose last job before running for Congress was serving in a Mexican restaurant.

The key insight behind the project lies precisely in its recognition that the transition to a zero-carbon economy, if it is to be successful, cannot be conducted in a way that asks the worse-off to make sacrifices to protect the interests of the rich. The programme’s proposal to guarantee jobs and provide universal healthcare while transforming the US economy is therefore a fundamental plank of its evidence-based project.

The accusation that the green movement is a bourgeois reaction against the improving condition of the ‘masses’ clearly holds no traction here: exactly the reserve is true. The plan is inseparable from the demand to ensure that the burden of transition is not distributed in a way that puts social emancipation in jeopardy.

Predictably, however, the project has been accused both of utopianism, and of being a Trojan horse for a socialist conspiracy that has nothing to do with climate change. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the right’s critique of the green movement is purely reactive: it will demonise greens whatever framing they give the crisis, and whatever means they propose to pursue necessary changes.

There is a libertarian variant of the right wing critique that is in one sense more sophisticated than generic denialism: it at least flirts with a kind of intellectual honesty about the trade-offs we face. There is a strand of thought that, deep down, is prepared to accept that the potential destruction of the earth’s life support system is a fair price to pay for a few glorious years of consumer-capitalist luxury.

The prophets of progress find it difficult barefacedly to deny the results of mainstream science, given they take them to be the foundation of human advancement. They therefore choose to bite this rather awkward bullet.


It is only a kind of honesty, however, because they neither openly state the view, nor systematically defend it – recognising, presumably, its potential to appal the sensibilities of decent people. They prefer rather to employ the techniques of negative campaigning, sardonically redescribing their opponents as dour, patrician and misanthropic enemies of progress and humanism. It is this retreat into the territory of superficial mockery that exposes them: it reveals that what they lack is a good argument.

The monster of denialism has almost been decapitated. As David Wallace-Wells argues, outright denialism is now predominantly US-based phenomenon, which has rightly come to be viewed as a form of ideological extremism in both the developed and the developing world. But new heads are growing: those of misdirection, cynicism and devil-may-care anti-moralism.

When we have understood what science tells us, the libertarian doctrine of the individual’s unlimited right to acquisition is simply incompatible with our common concern for human welfare (to say nothing of our concern for non-human nature). Those who put ‘progress’ before people would have us preserve consumer capitalism, just so that its ruins can stand as a monument to its own arrogance in the desert it has wrought. They are no humanists worthy of the name.

Bennet Francis is a Leverhulme Doctoral Scholar in Climate Justice at the University of Reading.

Image credit, “Maximus”, XR.

Fieldwork in Chile.

On the 30th June last year, after some in-depth research as to costs, flight times, and accommodation options, I set out on the first leg of my actual research trip to Latin America. I boarded a 14-hour flight from Heathrow to Santiago, Chile, and settled into my seat on an improbably hot plane. This was not the greatest preparation for emerging from Santiago airport at 7am to an air temperature of around 7°C, but I was soon in my accommodation and getting my bearings, including spotting a spectacular view of the snow-capped Andes from the end of my street. I had gone to Chile to interview members of the government, in a variety of ministries, as to their participation in the UNFCCC climate change negotiations, and I ascertained that I was 5 Metro stops away, including a change, from the centre of the city which housed the Ministries of Environment, Energy, and Foreign Affairs. I obtained a Metro card and arranged times over the following three weeks of my stay with my contacts; occasionally this was easier said than done, as, being civil servants, their timetables are often hectic, especially as they are required to work on both international negotiations and domestic governmental priorities. I conducted a total of 4 interviews with Chilean negotiators in person, and managed to connect with another 3 over Skype, as their timetables meant that they couldn’t meet me in person. My questions related to their views on the status of the UNFCCC as a negotiating forum, as well as the role of the AILAC bloc, and its strategic behaviour in the negotiations. Everyone I spoke to was extremely helpful and friendly, traits which seemed pretty common to Chile as a whole, as far as I could tell from my time there. I was lucky enough also to be able to visit the coastal city of Valparaíso, which is stunningly beautiful, and well worth a trip for anyone thinking of going to Chile.

After three weeks in Santiago, doing my best to arrange interviews and then to deal with the semi-impenetrable Chilean Spanish accent for my interview transcriptions, I moved on to Peru for another three weeks. I had been to Lima before, and it was lovely to be back, especially to be met by my old friend Oscar at the airport. What was not quite so lovely was the air quality of Lima, thick and heavy with pollution, especially in the poverty-ridden district of San Martín de Porres, where I was staying, complete with gunfire ringing out across the neighbourhood most nights. I was absolutely fine, of course, and I aimed to do the same as in Chile – arranging to meet government negotiators and then going to interview them in person in their ministries, although with the help of Oscar as my taxi driver, given Lima’s lack of public transport – a badly-needed resource given the size of the city! Unfortunately, the Peruvian delegation didn’t seem to be quite as organised as the Chileans, and so, after many timetable changes and rearranged meeting times, I was able to procure 2 interviews in person, and 2 more over Skype. In my spare time, when not transcribing said interviews, I was also lucky enough to be able to go to a Lima derby football match between my adopted team, Sporting Cristal, and Universitario, Oscar’s team, in the national stadium. I have never known quite such an electric atmosphere, with both sets of supporters singing throughout, and even some “friendly” encounters between them on the far side of the stadium…

Next was a short hop to Mexico, to visit a former leader of the AILAC support unit, the mini-secretariat that organises the group’s submissions and negotiating positions when it comes to COPs and intersessionals. I was lucky enough to be able to go to Cholula, a pueblo mágico, or “magic town”, which has been designated by the Mexican government as a place of special cultural interest, and therefore any gorgeous place, and I was shown the sights, including the world’s largest temple mound, and a performance of traditional Mexican danza de los voladores, or “flying dance”, where performers swing from a giant pole in a circle, high in the air, to traditional music. That interview was possibly my most useful, given the former position of the interviewee, and I was also put in touch with several other contacts with whom I could Skype when back home a few months later. I also spent a couple more days in Mexico City, which I cannot recommend highly enough, and I met a couple of Mexican government negotiators for an interview; while Mexico is not part of AILAC, I also wanted to get an outside view of AILAC’s strategic behaviour, to triangulate with the information garnered by AILAC interviewees.

I returned home from Mexico for 10 days (narrowly avoiding a tropical storm over the Caribbean), and then went out to Colombia for another three-week stint, this time beset by quasi-endless immigration queues at my change in Newark, USA, and almost missing my connection flight; as it turns out, the second plane was then delayed by three hours after a fault in the computer system anyway, so my haring across the airport was all for nothing! I arrived in Bogotá late that night, and this time had much better luck in securing interviews. The Colombian delegation seemed to be the most organised, and I met 8 negotiators during my time in Bogotá, as well as managing to conduct Skype interviews with 2 more Colombians, and a couple of interviewees from some of the AILAC countries I wasn’t going to visit in person, namely Honduras and Guatemala. Bogotá itself is a verdant metropolis, well worth a visit should you ever get the chance, and I also managed to visit several museums of pre-Colombian civilisation and archaeology. Given a small part of my reason for choosing to focus on AILAC for my PhD was a lifelong fascination with all things South American, this was too good an opportunity to pass up!

My final fieldwork trip took me from Bogotá to San José, Costa Rica, although I did have one less day in Costa Rica than planned after two cancelled flights from Colombia (it really isn’t helpful when airlines put up these notifications at 5am…). Still, I eventually arrived in the noticeably more humid San José, and began trying to arrange meeting times with local negotiators. My hotel was quite a walk from the main office buildings I needed to visit, so I got a chance to walk through the city and take in its many parks and green spaces. I managed 3 interviews and 1 Skype call with Costa Rican negotiators, as, being a much smaller country than those I had previously visited, their delegation is in turn smaller as well. I had plenty of transcribing to do from my previous interviews, especially those in Spanish, so I was kept busy all the same! I was also kept busy by the necessary constant vigilance against insect intruders into my hotel room – I think the final tally was 5 cockroaches, 1 millipede, and an unquantifiable number of mosquitos. Not the greatest hotel experience ever, but even so, entirely worth it to be able to go to Costa Rica and speak to people I needed to interview.

I then headed home, and have since done quite a few more interviews, mostly over Skype, with people I didn’t get a chance to speak to while out in Latin America, as well as several negotiators from other blocs, again, so as to get a different take on AILAC’s relations and strategy in the negotiations. I had an absolutely fantastic time, and I would recommend Latin America over and over again to anyone thinking of studying the region. In a climate context, Latin American countries are pivotal to the outcome of the negotiations, being as they are the bridge-builders between the developed and developing world. But they are also home to vibrant, intoxicating cultures, and stunning displays of natural beauty, that really reminds you of how important it is to deal with the climate change threat, else these priceless parts of the wonderfully diverse tapestry of human civilisation, and the splendour of the natural world, could be in danger.

Danny Waite.

4th Year Leverhulme Doctoral Scholar in Climate Justice, Department of Geography, University of Reading.

On hypocrisy: Tackling climate change one tank of jet fuel at a time.

Emma Thompson recently flew from Los Angeles to take part in the Extinction Rebellion (XR) occupation of Oxford Circus, London. XR’s occupation of Oxford Circus and elsewhere was an act of civil disobedience with the aim of shutting down very busy London roads, thereby drawing public and media attention to the crisis of global warming, and so forcing the government to address their demands. All else being equal, a celebrity lending attention to a worthy cause is beneficial. But apparently all else is not equal in this case. If you type “emma thompson extinction rebellion” into Google’s search bar, the very first autocomplete suggestion is “emma thompson extinction rebellion hypocrite.”[1]

In general, I find purity tests distracting nonsense and I have defended Thompson’s actions to my friends. But then I remember that I’m not so forgiving of one of my favourite philosophers. As a committed egalitarian in principle, much of G. A. Cohen’s published work could be used to defend extremely high marginal tax rates for the richest in practice. So far so good, in my view. I am disappointed because when asked (by himself, as the title of one of his books) ‘if you’re an egalitarian, how come you’re so rich’ his answer was that it is very hard to give up one’s money voluntarily, but that the government should take it from him and he would vote for a party promising as much.[2] Cohen’s reply has always left a bitter taste in my mouth. But shouldn’t the same be true of Thompson? She, like Cohen, is imploring the UK government to act without taking on voluntary action. What could justify these differing reactions? Ultimately, I cannot find reason to evaluate them differently.

One way to distinguish the cases would be to say that Cohen devoted his career to a socialist philosophy and so we should hold him to a higher standard than Thompson who has less connection to her cause. But this is not how moral demands work: the injunction not to steal applies equally to the magistrate and the thief. Another way to distinguish the two is to say that Cohen is fully aware of the demands of his arguments whereas Thomson’s professional competence is as an actor. But this seems to expect too much of Cohen and too little of Thompson. While philosophers know the content of their arguments in greater detail, they are no less susceptible to weakness of the will. Likewise, although actors are less likely to have the professional competency to understand intricate ethical details, this does not mean they are unaware of the plainer implications of their views.

A more promising argument to distinguish the cases is that Thompson’s emissions might be offset by the reduction brought about by her protest. But even if this is true, I doubt this vindicates her. Suppose Cohen kept his wealth for vast philanthropic projects later in life. And assume that a great deal of money at once might make a bigger positive impact than the total positive impact of a higher rate of tax paid over many years. This would make Cohen’s behaviour like Thompson’s. The problem with this justification is that it allows a person to take on a disproportionate share of the responsibility for tackling important problems to the (partial) exclusion of alternative solutions. Failure to give voluntarily over time withholds finances from existing solutions to important problems such as poverty and raises the stakes for the ultimate success of the philanthropic project. Similarly, failing to reduce personal emissions continues to contribute to the problem—and further normalises emission-intensive behaviour—raising the stakes for action on climate change. Even in cases where the ultimate goal is realised, there are grounds to criticise this behaviour. This is because the philanthropist and the high-emitting activist make those struggling and exposed to risk overly reliant upon their own strategy for success. In effect, they move too many eggs to a single basket without consulting the owners of the eggs!

So, I cannot find reason to be harsher on Cohen than Thompson after consideration. Should I be less harsh on Cohen? No, I should have been harsher on Thompson. But that is not to say it is very important that she is something of a hypocrite. Ultimately, we should separate hypocrisy from the worthiness of the broader project. Once we have done this we should see that the broader project is considerably more important. Only then should we address the bitterness of hypocrisy. Once we see how relatively unimportant hypocrisy is, however, we should see this as a cue to work to reduce hypocrisy, rather than wasting time vilifying hypocrites.

[1] True at date of search: Friday 31 May, 2019.

[2] Listen to Cohen’s discussion of these matters on the Philosophy Bites podcast: https://philosophybites.com/2007/12/ga-cohen-on-ine.html.

Adam Pearce, PhD Scholar.

Climate Change in the Maldives.

The Republic of the Maldives is one of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) affected by climate change. Although there is still much uncertainty around the predictions of regional sea level rise, the future of islanders is a matter of importance. Migration is often presented as a solution to climate change, as a potential adaptive strategy and presented under a bright light of opportunities and advantages. It might be true that migration would bring new opportunities or facilities, but my research has shown that we must be careful about how we portray migration, and that if we are concerned about justice, and just climate futures, we need to be more nuanced and paint a full picture of what human mobility entails.

I have spent the last two months in two islands in the Maldives, Thulusdhoo and Rinbudhoo. I spent my time talking to mainly women, what it was like to grow up in the islands, their everyday lives, their migration histories, their hopes for the future and their feelings around climate change and the prospect of leaving their homelands. They told me about how as children, they would spend all their free time outside, playing on the roads, collecting shells at the beach and climbing coconut trees. I learnt that they have busy everyday lives, but that these are at the same time filled with peacefulness and freedom. I saw the deep connection that they have to their islands, and heard about how beautifully, those that have moved, talk about their original islands. I imagined their futures with them, where there are more education and health facilities in the islands, allowing them to stay and see their children grow without having to go to Male. I empathised with their feelings of being forced to migrate and witnessed the conversation become one about loss. A conversation about the loss of their way of life, their homes, their white sandy beaches, their memories, their dreams, their hopes, their identity, their culture, their language and their country.

If the inhabitability of the islands becomes threatened by climate change, migration might be the only option left but it does not seem to me that we can call it a solution. When we talk about migration today, we must empathise with those whose futures we are talking about, bring their realities and their feelings into account and understand what it is that would be lost if they have to leave their homelands behind. When we talk about justice, we must also take responsibility, acknowledge their pain and sadness and give it the recognition that it deserves.

Africa Bauza Garcia Arcicollar, PhD Scholar.



Positionality and Gender: Reflections on the Dilemmas of an African Female Researching in Africa.

At my confirmation of registration (COR) presentation in February 2019, I recall being asked “why I had chosen to study CSO networks in Kenya and Nigeria”. Without batting an eyelid, I responded saying that “aside from Kenya hosting the secretariat of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA), my identity as an African and a Nigerian creates trust that would allow for easy access to information”. In hindsight, I realized that I may have overlooked the inherent complexities associated with issues of my positionality as an African doing research in Africa, my gender as a female and the implications that these identities may have for both access to information on the field and my final research outcomes.

My fieldwork required that I travelled to Kenya and Nigeria to closely interact with my research participants through meetings, conference attendance, participant observations and in-depth semi-structured interviews. During my fieldwork, I found myself continually trying to negotiate my position either as an insider or an outsider depending on the context including regional, national and sub-national identities, social status, age and gender. My identity as an African granted me several opportunities. Being African, I was considered an insider and readily accepted, thus making it easier for participants to open during interviews. However, being part of the academia and schooling outside of Africa had its limiting factors. For instance, during interviews, I was continuously reminded of my status as an academic. A common assumption was that as an academic, I had purely theoretical knowledge and with no practical understanding of the existing realities. Also, because I was schooling “abroad”, it was assumed that I had attained a certain level of financial security and/or access to powerful individuals in the society. Some participants saw it as an avenue to subtly demand for gifts or favors in return for participating in my research. I clearly understood that a certain level of reciprocity was in order in exchange for their time and information. However, I did not offer any financial compensation as this had been clearly stated in the participant information sheet. In exchange, I informed them of my willingness to share the findings of my research with them and offer technical support within my capacity when needed.

Being an African female meant that I was conversant with conventional gender hierarchies that still dominated most of Africa. Hence, establishing a professional relationship yet getting close enough to male participants to create a conducive space for greater engagements was a challenge. I was highly aware of my vulnerability as a result of my gender during interactions with male participants. I purposely took on different identities to overcome this challenge. For instance, using my understanding of the Nigerian cultural sensitivity, I constantly navigated my identity either as a female, colleague and other cultural identities (i.e. religion, tribe etc.). My female identity dominated mostly in my interactions with fellow female participants, many of whom saw me as an ally and spoke openly in our discussions. They freely discussed some of the struggles that they faced either as an organization or network and were modest about their achievements. With the male participants, I consciously had to work to bring to the forefront my identity as a researcher and colleague based on my past work experience and continuing professional engagement in the field of climate change and environment. While I found many of them to be amiable, there were still situations where I had to challenge some of the information that was being given. The common reaction here was for the interviewee to either exhibit “aggression” as a result of their perceived higher status or age differentiation to demean my knowledge and/or experience. I overlooked these reactions and played the “student-master” role of being accepting to be naïve, nonthreatening and subjugated to sustain engagement for the purpose of achieving my research objective. In cases where it was initially difficult to get access to some participants, I had to rely on other forms of cultural identities such as tribe or other forms of kinships or social relation ties. A few participants derived comfort in knowing that we shared the same religious beliefs, originated from similar ethic background or spoke the same local languages.

Though similar in many ways, my experience in Kenya was somewhat different. Being my first visit to Kenya, I was unfamiliar with the socio-cultural context of the country. Since I was travelling alone, I had to rely on the knowledge and experience of a colleague at PACJA who was introduced to me by a mutual friend. Naturally, I found myself getting closer to him and seeking his opinion on issues such as accommodation, transportation, meals and other local matters even prior to my arrival in Nairobi. When in Nairobi for fieldwork, I spent time discussing with him and trying to understand the local context of Kenya as deem relevant to my research experience. Also, I utilized the advantage of him being Kenyan to negotiate access to likely participants in my research. Before long, jokes romantically linking us together were being passed around the organization.  My initial reaction was one of disapproval. Aside it being untrue, I was concerned about how this affected my status as a researcher within the organization. Still, I understood how invaluable maintaining the relation was for me to advance my research objective. Since no one made inappropriate sexual advances at me, with time, I joined in on the jokes and would often laugh at them. I strongly believe that this attitude made other employees and members of the alliance “adopt” me as one of theirs. Before long, I was regularly invited by the team to have my lunch with them and granted free pass to attend most of their engagements. This allowed me significant access to informal discussions that I would otherwise have not been privy to.

Away from the field, I find myself wondering whether I had taken the right stands in terms of my positionality on the field. What implication does it have for the quality of the data collected? I am also confronted with the issues of trust and disclosure of information. My obligation as a researcher and my ethical responsibility to protect the mutual trust I share with my participants means that I am sometimes conflicted over where to draw the line on certain issues when answering my research objectives. Does my positionality make me more biased, objective, less critical or overly critical? I recognize that this is a unique dilemma facing all qualitative researchers. Nevertheless, it makes me acutely aware of the role of a researcher’s positionality on the entire research process and outcomes. Would I do anything differently if I had the chance to redesign my research? Perhaps not. Did my actions and identities on the field in anyway encourage unethical comments and behaviors at the workplace or promote gender stereotyping in Africa? Well, I leave that open to individual critique based on unique worldviews.

Zainab Aliyu, PhD Scholar.

Climate Protests and Priviledge

Look at any pictures of the recent Extinction Rebellion (XR) protests, and you will see a sea of white faces. You may also make a judgement about wealth, class, education and so on, based on what you see too. Sure, this could just be media portrayal, a snapshot of a moment that doesn’t represent all that was going on – or is could be capturing something else.

From the off, let me be clear that I think social justice movements are made up of a variety of voices expressing their concerns and demands in a variety of ways; they are a coalition of the concerned, acting and speaking out in different ways that match their values and their circumstance – there will never be ‘one-size-fits-all’. Like when a choir sing a song, the different sections may be singing different notes, but they remain in harmony with one another. Social movements are rarely made up of one action – the civil rights movement had martyrs, marches, meetings, buses, letters, votes and so on. So to see pictures of just white faces at a climate protest in and of itself may not be reason for concern – but to see so many pictures of so many white faces might just start to raise doubts. However, it would be concerning if an arm of a social justice movement is moving in a way that actively excludes those who are suffering the injustice. Can a failure to recognise diversity, and a failure to create space for other communities, with different engaging actions, be actively excluding them? Or should a movement shout as much as it can no matter who is shouting it?

So much of a message is not about what is being said, but about who is saying it, how they are saying it, and how it relates to the context they are in. The concern is that XR claims to be a diverse group but that it doesn’t actually look or sound like a diverse group. XR explicitly outline again and again on their website that they are made up of people of all ages and backgrounds, of no political party affiliation. But if it just looks like a bunch of white, middle class lefties, then the movement can be dismissed as being such. Just saying that they’re “working to improve diversity” is not the same as actually providing a variety of actions that can actively include a diverse range of people – it’s just lip-service.

Others have shared their concerns on this too. The article on the BBC titled “Climate activism failing to represent BAME groups, say campaigners”1 describes how parts of London with high proportions of the population from BAME groups are disproportionately affected by air pollution compared to areas with a high proportion of the population who is white. And yet, BAME groups are underrepresented in activist groups, such as XR. Professor Akwugo Emjulu from the University of Warwick sees one of the main reasons for underrepresentation being due to the tactics used by these groups. Getting arrested is a very different experience for some groups who fear violence and hostility, as a result of racial profiling.  Simmone Ahaiku, fossil-free campaigns coordinator at People&Planet is quoted in another article2 saying “I do think Extinction Rebellions are exclusionsary to people of colour”, agreeing that XR’s “glorifying of arrests” and perception of other institutional structures “smacks of race and class privilege”.

Sharing that view are the Wretched of The Earth, “a grassroots collective for Indigenous, black, brown and diaspora groups and individuals demanding climate justice, made up of many groups in the UK and around the world”. They wrote open letter to XR appealing to them to make changes to their approach. In it they say:

“Many of us live with the risk of arrest and criminalization. We have to carefully weigh the costs that can be inflicted on us and our communities by a state that is driven to target those who are racialised ahead of those who are white. The strategy of XR, with the primary tactic of being arrested, is a valid one – but it needs to be underlined by an ongoing analysis of privilege as wall as the reality of police and state violence. XR participants should be able to use their privilege to risk arrest, whilst at the same time highlighting the racialised nature of policing. Those some of this analysis has started to happen, until it become central to XR’s organising it is not sufficient.”3

They then provide a list of demands deemed crucial for a climate justice rebellion as part of XR’s next steps in pushing for specific policies that will ensure justice for all communities.

Indeed, XR themselves have responded to criticism about their emphasis on getting arrested. Under the FAQ’s on their website, they say:

“Yes, we are aware of the structural racism in our policing and legal system. We give people information about arrest and those of us who are white have acknowledged our privilege, in the likelihood that we will be treated differently / better than our colleagues of colour. People can take a variety of roles. We think it’s important for white people to use their privilege. People of colour (PoC) have been more at risk for generations in defence of the environment and their lands, both here in the UK and around the world. It is time to for white people to take this risk too so that PoCs, who are threatened by structural racism, don’t have to. The ecological crisis affects PoC more than it does white people currently. Environmental activists of colour in other countries have been killed for defending their land. We also try to acknowledge the police as human beings and to be respectful during our protests, but this does not make us naive about what the police have done to activists and communities in the UK. Activists have been subjected to lies, assault, the spy cop trauma and worse.”4

It is encouraging to hear these exchanges and one hopes that the next steps taken by XR  acknowledge privilege and try to use it for actively dismantling privilege, and actively including those who do not experience privilege. This goes beyond just considering white privilege, but also reflecting on sexism, classism, ableism and others. This may mean that XR need to reconsider their emphasis on getting arrested – not something that they have mentioned on their website yet. Not doing so means that they will continue to engage just the privileged. Don’t get me wrong – the privileged need to be engaged – but saying that you are “open to all” whilst failing to nurture spaces that truly are inclusive is not being “open to all”. If you want a diverse movement, spaces need to be curated that are accessible for all to participate in a way that works for them.

By Lydia Messling


[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-48373540

2 https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/2019/05/232257/extinction-rebellion-middle-class

3 https://www.redpepper.org.uk/an-open-letter-to-extinction-rebellion/

4 https://rebellion.earth/the-truth/faqs/