The Women’s Network for a Sustainable Future (WNSF) Seattle Chapter recently hosted an event at the University of Washington Law School featuring the story and work of two women, Jeni Krencicki Barcelos and Jen Marlow. The two came to law school to reframe climate change as a justice issue, not a technical or economic issue, where they discovered their mutual passion for addressing global climate change, and co-created Three Degrees. Three Degrees’ mission is to promote fair and equitable adaptation strategies for the world's most vulnerable communities. Here is an overview of Three Degrees, an inspiring story of the power of identifying real problems in the world, and setting out to solve them.
Based on the idea that “climate change threatens basic rights to health, food and water, security, equity, and justice,” Three Degrees has developed a fascinating framework for thinking about and understanding climate justice.
- Health: The effects of climate change seriously impacts global health and leans disproportionately on the already weak. For example, extreme heat events kill more people than all other natural disasters combined. Low-income people, who often cannot afford expensive cooling systems and may not have sufficient access to water, and the elderly, who are more naturally susceptible to extreme heat, are the most vulnerable to extreme climate situations.
- Food & Water: Climate change directly impacts global food and water supply. David Battisti, a food security scientist with the University of Washington, has estimated that for every degree of global temperature change, crop yields will decrease by 10%. Similarly, temperature increases have left bodies of fresh water around the world severely depleted. Africa’s Lake Chad now holds only 20% of the water it did 50 years ago.
- Security: In many countries, climate change is a major contributor to national political instability. Cambodia – a country that depends largely on a network of NGOs that cripples its weak internal government – is just one of several countries particularly at risk for national unrest. Flooding and other climate disasters are common occurrences that create national upheaval and the government is largely unable to provide assistance to its people.
- Equity: Economic hardship is disproportionately affecting the poor. Small-scale farmers, for example, can no longer rely on age-old farming practices to make their living because of changes in seasonality and sea level. Oftentimes, those living in poverty cannot afford the re-education or investment necessary to sustain their means of livelihood or to switch professions.
- Justice: Those who are harmed or displaced by climate change cannot easily seek retribution through the justice system because there are few legal precedents or policies in place to prosecute those who commit climate-related injustices. Some are fighting to create precedents in these areas. Kivalina, AK filed a lawsuit against a group of oil giants that includes BP and Exxon-Mobil. Residents claim the companies are responsible for the global warming that has caused the erosion of their town.
As leading climate researcher David Archer has written, even if we stop emitting carbon dioxide now, the long tail extends to tens of thousands of years and raises profound questions for intergenerational justice.