Re: Is climate change a human rights issue?

Well I tell you. I mean I’m thinking these days, as many people are and ought to be, about the impending collapse of the climate. And what’s really worrying me is that the human rights movement is not in the game, is not in the conversation. And I really think we must be because in fact if you look at the human rights implications of climate collapse, as I prefer to call it because global warming is far too gentle a term to describe what’s actually happening . . . If you look at the human rights implications of what has already happened and what we predict will happen in the very near term, they are enormous. I mean we are going to have, and already do have, tens of thousands, and will ultimately have millions of eco refugees. A country like Bangladesh, a low lying country, much of it will be under water, and all of those residents of the low lands will need to find other places to live. We saw that happen in New Orleans, and of course there’s lots of very credible speculation about the contributions that climate change had to that particular storm. We are going to see of course the poorest and the most marginalized groups on our planet most disproportionably affected by what’s happening with the climate. Massive bacterial spread of diseases heretofore unknown which couldn’t exist in the climates in which . . . in which they are now thriving. We’re going to see, of course, massive drought. We’re going to see increased wars over fossil fuels. And of course they are very much driving the conflict right now in the Middle East as we’re all aware. At a geopolitical level, you know, the underlying challenges we’re facing in terms of climate and our fossil fuel dependence are front and center in terms of very, very tense relationships that the United States now has with many other countries around the world, and of course what’s happening in the Middle East. So in terms of where we are right now, and what’s on my mind, and what I’m thinking about, is why we’re not having a much more focused, collective conversation about how we will survive; how this species will survive on this planet in this ecosystem.

I mean there’s already, in the context of discussions about health or access to clean water, you know, or people displaced by the wars over natural resources in various countries particularly in Africa . . . Human rights organizations are often dealing with these issues, but they aren’t framing them within the broader lens and the broader understanding of what’s happening to the ecosystem. And they aren’t actively allying themselves with the environmental movement as I think they . . . as I think they must. And I think the environmental movement has something to gain here too, because the environmental movement has been historically been understood, particularly in this country, as the province of a few elite, white men who are focused on the preservation of habitat for the spotted owl, when in fact what we’re talking about is again our survival as a species. Take a look at communities of color throughout the United States who are facing what are now slowly being described as environmental justice threats – toxic waste dumps for example – in their communities. The big players in the environmental movement have been very slow to inch towards those kinds of issues which are exactly the kinds of issues that will enable a much broader base of support and engagement in the movement they are talking about.

Recorded on: 8/13/07

Caldwell worries that the human rights movement isn't in the game.

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