Reframing IPCC and climate narratives
Away from overgeneralizing "humans"; seeing "privileged" as "disoriented"
After processing my state of being overwhelmed this past week, I'm here to present some reframing of perspectives on the IPCC's first report and climate justice narratives more broadly. Hope it sparks something in you, and thank you for resharing and supporting if it resonates! x kamea
Beyond what science can inform:
As you may have seen, the recent IPCC report on climate change has been circulating on the interwebs. I skimmed through the version meant for policymakers. And the overall message, as they share their analyses of different regions of Earth, is basically that they are “likely and almost certain” that [*insert various consequences we'd already been hearing about or worse*] are going to happen—if the global community fails to take drastic action.
This report was by the IPCC's Working Group I, which “assesses the physical science of climate change.” Further reports from Working Group II and III, focused on “the vulnerability of socio-economic and natural systems to climate change” and mitigation strategies, are yet to be published.
Although there have been critiques of the first report failing to point out the injustices of the climate crisis, I suspect that Working Group II will speak to this more substantively.
Even still, the current report misses the mark when it declares—with stronger words than they'd ever used before—that humanity is “unequivocally” responsible for the climate catastrophe. By painting this overly broad stroke, this statement dismisses the fact that particular, small groups of people, cultures, and industries have contributed disproportionately to the crisis. As such, it dehumanizes with a limiting purview of who is considered “human”—erasing and denying humanity to the Indigenous peoples and land-based communities who have lived regeneratively as a part of their lands.
These narratives are familiar, as they are actually rampant across the climate movement. Just consider how common these phrases are: “human-induced climate change”, “human-caused biodiversity loss”, “anthropogenic climate crisis”, etc. They have become widely used, widely normalized.
But just like the IPCC statement, all of these broad attributions to “humans” need to be deconstructed, challenged, and nuanced. After all, pointing to “human activities” as the cause of the climate crisis is about as helpful as pointing to “food” or “eating” as the cause of heart disease. Would we ever find, for example, The Heart Association saying that heart disease is unequivocally from food?
Specificity is always important. If the IPCC is aware of the injustices of the climate crisis—not just the injustice of its consequences but also its disproportionate contributors, then making broad statements like this as an authoritative voice in the movement is irresponsible. Instead, we should be directed towards looking at the “who” and the “how”. Otherwise, the finger-pointing at “humans” can further misleading conclusions such as that people are better off not existing, that humans do not belong “on” Earth, and that “developing” nations with higher birth rates are disproportionately the problem.
And such broad narratives are not helpful, as they distract from the fact that the 26 people who hoard the most financial wealth own more than the “bottom” 50% of the global population—a reality made possible through an exploitive global economic system created to reward those who have lost their senses of humanity and interconnectivity.
“[The attribution to humanity as the cause of climate change] is a universal application of all humans as responsible. It misses the point.
There are actually industries, 20 companies responsible for a third of global emissions. How is that everyone's responsibility?
That a lot of us have to consume oil or emit carbon to go to work is not necessarily our fault if we're trying to feed ourselves and survive. There's one economic system that's deciding the essentialness of a fossil fuel economy.”
This last part is critical. Many do feel hypocritical and ashamed for being a part of the problem without choice, as the dominant individualistic culture compels people to judge moral purity off of personal behaviors—dismissing how they are shaped by the systems we exist in.
A major reason why our entire economy is now locked in as one requiring such heavy energy use to function—with the dominant source of energy used today being fossil fuels—is because of decades of those in power embedding our global economy into this reliance. As fossil fuel plants continue to expand, still adding to the supply, still artificially suppressing their true cost with the help of governmental subsidies, the dominant system is only becoming further entrenched into this way of being.
This deeper analysis, contextualized with history, is necessary beyond just the “physical science of climate change”—if we really want to understand what needs to be done for “mitigation”.
"Science frames what is happening in the world, but it doesn't tell us about what subsidizes these framings. For instance, the Anthropocene says... we are all in this together and all humans are at risk of losing their planet. But it doesn't say that African bodies, Black bodies have subsidized the Anthropocene... It doesn't say who is paying.
It just wraps everyone into this humongous hoop or heap and calls them human. But many people have been denied access into 'human.'"
I look forward to seeing the IPCC's third report on their recommendations for addressing the crisis. I suspect they will be incrementalist and not systemic, but I hope to be proven wrong. Even still, it's not like political leaders have been really listening, anyway. I know it's depressing, but lately, I've been moved by what embracing hopelessness might do for us.
Regardless, I am calling for the IPCC to not just center on “scientific assessments”, but to also bring on a working group led by Indigenous historians and Elders who can provide the much-needed context of the relational severances that need to be restored and how the globalized, extractive system replaced various place-based, small-scale regenerative economies, lifeways, and land care practices. This, I believe, can better orient us towards not just “mitigation”, but deep, collective healing.
Reframing “privilege” to “disoriented”
Regardless, the report's findings of what are likely to happen are grim. It also points to the reality that the climate crisis is very much here—and not something that is impending for the future.
This is something that marginalized and land-based communities have long known, though something that disjointed peoples may have been able to ignore.
As supermodel Kendall Jenner recently commented in an interview she hosted on @FutureEarth, where she asked questions of climate activist Wawa Gatheru, “Some of the effects of climate change aren't super immediate, so I think what a lot of people think is that it's not immediate, and it doesn't matter.”
Jenner's statement isn't untrue—there are some who have been able to escape feeling the impacts of the climate crisis, whose social circles consist of “a lot of people” who do not recognize it as a concern of the here and now.
But, again, this kind of sentiment comes from a place of disassociation—or what is typically understood as "privilege”. (This did not go unnoticed, as Future Earth received backlash for having the celebrity host this conversation when Jenner has otherwise shown little interest in aligning with climate activism.)
Note here that I am intentionally reframing what is often understood as “privileged” to “disassociated”, “disjointed”, or “disoriented”, because it should not be considered a “special advantage” to be out of touch with reality.
This perpetuates a worldview of separation—over interconnectivity and wholeness.
Not being able to feel the pains caused by one's destructive politics, worldviews, and ways of being, to then be able to course-correct, should not be viewed as being “better off”—the same way we are not “better off” when we injure ourselves and have “special immunity” to feel no symptom or response that would be able to guide us towards acts of healing.
This is a perspective shift I'm making as I re-embody a more relational and holistic sense of “self”, which calls for blurring the line between the binary of “selfishness” and “selflessness”.
The reframing of “privileged” to “disassociated” is also important as it leads us to recalibrate what our dominant culture views as “success”, “desirable”, “better”. (My conversation with Charles Eisenstein first inspired me to rethink “privilege” and the worldviews it reinforces.)
We don't need to ensure everyone has the same “privileges” of “special immunity” as they are defined now. That may be “equality”, but it is one that perpetuates human separation and exceptionalism.
Instead, we need to bring out of touch and disoriented peoples who've lost their ways and atomized their senses of selves back down and into Earth—back into an awareness of their deep entanglement in our web of life, back into a felt-sense of their wellbeing as a part of our collective wellbeing, and back into a recognition of the complex currencies of life that their reductive idea of “riches” compromises.
Related resources and inspirations:
Inspirations to rethink “privilege” with Charles Eisenstein;
Dr. Bayo Akomolafe on the role of hopelessness;
Nick Estes's work at The Red Nation;
Farmer Rishi's reframing from our plight of disconnection to disassociation;
“Capitalism Is What’s Burning the Planet, Not Average People” by Chris Saltmarsh