What Climate Justice Means – Review

What Climate Justice Means and Why We Should Care, by Elizabeth Cripps, February 2022. Bloomsbury, ISBN 978-1472991812, 224 pages. RRP £12.99 (paperback)

Elizabeth Cripps is a philosopher and ethicist who has been exploring issues of climate change and justice for over 16 years, including as a senior lecturer at the University of Edinburgh and as the author of Climate Change and the Moral Agent: Individual Duties in an Interdependent World (Oxford University Press, 2013), which makes the case for collective action on climate change and for individual responsibilities both to promote such action and to help those most harmed.

Her new book is addressed to a less academic audience, though it draws effectively and deeply from scholarly work in philosophy, politics, law and other disciplines. As a “philosopher’s toolbox” (p.15), it begins with the stark and shocking reality of existing climate injustice, and proceeds to examine and elucidate concepts of justice, capabilities, responsibility, privilege, intersectionality and the environmental principles of polluter pays, ability to pay, beneficiary pays and climate and ecological debt.

A persistent thread throughout the book is the insight that, “[a]ny climate policy makes assumptions: about what takes priority, who to protect, whose voice to take seriously.” (p.15) The relationship between climate and other forms of injustice, especially racism, misogyny and the disregard for Indigenous experience, can be masked by lazy uses of “the Anthropocene” and perpetuated by the oppressive pseudo-solutions of geoengineering, population control and the “grandfathering” of inherited rights to emit.  She also explores the issue of climate justice for non-human entities in a non-ideal world where it is already too late to fulfil the primary human responsibility, of non-interference with other species and ecosystems.

Building on these philosophical foundations, she goes on to discuss what climate justice requires in terms of practical and political action, the principles of just transition and the ways in which international instruments such as the Paris Agreement fall short of delivering either justice or effective emissions reduction. She reminds us that a failure to act is not morally neutral but that not all action constitutes justice, highlighting what Annalisa Savaresi has described as “mitigation colonialisation” which excludes communities from decisions about their own place and future. (p.148)

As its final chapter, the book asks But What Can I Do? The conclusion is holistic and multi-layered,  recognising the value of personal action but reminding us that “[w]hat you do as an individual and what happens politically are not two separate spheres.” (p. 163) She advocates focusing on what we can achieve while working with others who share our concern about climate justice, accepting, where necessary, some degree of ongoing complicity, rather than seeking to live in pure but sterile isolation. Self-care matters, but we should not misuse the threat of burnout as an excuse to avoid significant personal cost. “Most of us living comfortable lives in affluent countries don’t need to know exactly how much we should do. Because we already know this: it’s more than we do now.” (p.183)

Climate justice, as this warm, readable and rigorous book illuminates, is desperately urgent, but neither simple nor self-evident. To do justice, with compassion, respect and effectiveness, requires appropriate language, concepts and arguments. The Christian tradition offers some of these, but we need also to build relationships, correspondences and conversations with secular actors who are seeking the same outcomes. Elizabeth Cripps’s wise, humane and unflinching vision dovetails with the Gospel imperative to active love, educating and challenging us to make that love a reality in a burning and broken world.

Tanya Jones



Author: Ed Beale | Date: 6 September, 2022 | Category: Book Reviews | Comments: 0

Comments on "What Climate Justice Means – Review"

No comments found.

Add your own comment to "What Climate Justice Means – Review"

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.