The Case for Climate Reparations

When it comes to dealing with floods, droughts, heat waves, or other adversities that our lively planet throws at us, one classic solution for humanity has always been to simply pick up and leave. Mobility has always been a strategy for humans to deal with climate changes, whether they be seasonal shifts,  regional droughts, or mini ice-ages.

And we are all potentially vulnerable to displacement, whether it be temporary evacuation, regular movement throughout the seasons, or a more permanent relocation.

But what happens when huge numbers of people must leave, in unprecedented numbers—so-called “climate migrants”—as is already starting to occur with climate change? How do we not only react defensively to people on the move, but also proactively advocate for what I call “mobility justice”?

These questions are exacerbated by the fact that while we are ultimately all potential climate migrants, we are not all equally responsible for climate change. Some of us have high-energy lifestyles with excessive carbon emissions, causing climate displacement around the world. Those of us in the industrialized regions of the Global North (a term that loosely refers to more developed societies characterized by wealth, technological advancement, political stability, low population growth and dominance in world trade and politics) consume more energy and more fossil fuel than most people in the world, with the wealthiest 10 percent consuming much more.

Because of this situation, researchers such as University of California at Berkeley legal scholar Daniel Farber have argued that Americans are “responsible for a disproportionate amount of greenhouse gases and that we have benefited… from uncontrolled greenhouse emissions that have enabled our energy-intensive lifestyle and corporate profits.” Consequently, Americans have a moral obligation to compensate others displaced by climate change due to our collective failure to take reasonable measures to limit our emissions. Some governments in Latin America refer to this as a “climate debt” that developed countries owe to the Global South. [ Read More ]