As we transition away from an extractive economic model based on the use of fossil fuels, we must do so in a way that leads to repairing the past and present harms of environmental racism. Communities affected by industrial pollution, climate change and unsafe labour conditions are disproportionately communities of colour, Indigenous, Black and lower income people. A “Just Transition'' means that communities affected by the pollution, unsafe labour conditions, and unfair economic conditions lead the transition through a bottom-up approach, rooted in civil rights and social justice.
In order to adequately address the climate crisis, which is one of the most urgent issues currently facing humanity, there is a need to transition from an extractive economy to a regenerative economy. Our current economic model relies on the extraction of resources such as biomass, fossil fuels, metal, and minerals in order to produce goods and sell them at a profit. This extraction of resources comes at an environmental and human cost, as threats such as greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, and environmental destruction result directly from extraction activities and disproportionately affect local communities. Traditional territories of Indigenous people have been the centre of many such land disputes all around the world. Furthermore, marginalized people living near hazardous industrial processes bear the brunt of the environmental and human health toll of these activities. Those with few economic alternatives are forced to work in hazardous industries for inadequate pay.
In contrast, regenerative economies are stable, sustainable, healthy and just. This means that resource extraction and consumption must be reduced, and our economy must shift to considering social justice a baseline requirement and environmental restoration and conservation must be the norm. The environment must be taken into consideration in terms of ecological resilience and restoration of biodiversity, while paying restitution for past and present harms to marginalized and disadvantaged peoples. The Climate Justice Alliance states that this transition requires a “re-localization and democratization of primary production and consumption by building up local food systems, local clean energy, and small-scale production that are sustainable economically and ecologically.” (From the Climate Justice Alliance.)
A Just Transition ensures that the shift to a new economy, complete with new technologies and systems, creates high quality jobs and training opportunities for those whose industries will no longer be applicable. This helps to prevent communities and workers from bearing the cost of transition through job loss, unemployment, and poverty, by fostering grassroots leadership of those most affected. As our economy transitions to new, environmentally sustainable industries, jobs will continue to be lost in the extractive industries. This is why it is imperative that the transition occur with justice as a priority, not allowing those already disadvantaged by history to be further disadvantaged by the greening of our economic system.
A Just Transition must also address past harms. This involves meaningful reparations to communities and social groups that have had their culture, traditions, land, and rights negatively impacted. In order to move forward and create a world where environmental and social relationships are just, inclusionary spaces must be created and there must be an equitable redistribution of resources and power. One step towards a Just Transition is divesting your personal investments from extractive industries that cause social and environmental harm and investing in environmentally sustainable and socially just projects. Consider investing your time and money in community projects that meet community needs, remembering to allow those most affected to lead the conversation.
Organizations like the Climate Justice Alliance and Just Transition Alliance are actively working towards a Just Transition through concrete actions and raising awareness about energy democracy, food sovereignty, resistance to social injustices, and reinvesting in communities. Through organizations such as these you can become educated on the issues, lend support through developing relationships, and contributing your time and money to a Just Transition. Consider how you can do your part!
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