No Social Justice Without Global Cognitive Justice

We, right now, are in a unique moment in human history. A defining, and yet, rather grim development in our evolution as an intelligent and global species. Human beings, for the first time, have to honestly ask ourselves: Will we survive?

And given the current world events, if you haven't pondered over that question yourself yet, you probably haven't been directly affected by anything that's taking place. Or you're just not paying attention. But as we will realize, ignorance is bliss only for a short time—until it hits.

Within our short 300,000 years of activity on Earth, modern humans have been able to go from walking the Earth to hunting and gathering, producing and farming, and finally settling and building, a.k.a the Neolithic revolution. This gave way to settlements and farms, cities, societies, bureaucracies, ships, roads, transportation, industrialization, and technology which make up the globally-connected modern world we live in today. Humans have spent roughly all of our time here on Earth trying to create the ultimate utopia with little regard for our home which has been eons in the making.  

As our populations grew and grew globally, globalization gave way to modernity and vice versa. Modernity births industrialization which spreads across the world. We have always aimed to make our societies better than our predecessors and in doing so, we've paved a new stage in human civilization called "late modernity". We were able to get away with our growing presence without doing too much harm for a very long time. Then, everything changed in 1945.

In 1945, humans displayed that our acquired intelligence has created means to destroy life on Earth. We had entered the Nuclear Age. This new age was accompanied by a dramatic increase in the destruction of the environment right after WW2 ended. Our world population explodes over the next several decades, so does consumerism and pollution. We narrowly escape world-ending nuclear disaster multiple times. Then, around the turn of the millennium, an already-existing problem finally begs the attention of us humans. We called it global warming.

At this point, our species has grown into an interconnected, industrialized, cosmopolitan civilization dependent on commodities, products, and tech that help us live and enjoy our daily lives. At the same time, we have been destroying the environment for organized human life and threatening life with nuclear war. We shamelessly fixate on issues that are subjective to our homeland and identities, setting world issues aside.

At what point are we willing to change?

On October 8th, 2018, the world received a landmark report released by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that painted a bleak future for human civilization. It was climate scientists' last-ditch, blaring warning to our world leaders that the calamitous effects of climate change will reach irreversible levels as soon as 2030. This came after 2018's summer months saw the historic and unprecedented disasters from wildfires, heatwaves, hurricanes, floods, and droughts affecting every continent. It direly suggests that if greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current rate, the atmosphere will warm up by as much as 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) above pre-industrial levels by 2040. That would mean coastline inundation, famine, firestorms, hotter and longer heatwaves, bigger rain events, extreme storms, pandemics, and more unseen consequences are to be faced within a decade. In order to avoid the most severe outcomes, the world's economy, as well as our day-to-day lifestyles, would have to drastically change starting now.

Global warming and nuclear war are the two main threats to organized life continuing past this century. And yet, we have been painfully slow on acting to prevent final disaster from happening.

With the arrival of the newest Generation Z and the rise of social media, social issues have been receiving unwavering attention. Whether it's abortion rights, immigration, police brutality, women's rights, freedom for journalists, LGBTQ+ rights, and beyond, our western culture has been trending towards greater social awareness for a long time. As I mentioned, we want to create a better society than our predecessors had. Within the decade, we've seen many liberal changes and movements in our society and culture that were made possible by generations of activists who paved a way. We’ve also seen an acutely regressive wave in our nation as of late. But as crucial as these issues are, have we dropped the ball on recognizing climate change and nuclear war as the two most threatening, existential crises we face as a civilization?

Sure, scientists raise the alarm about climate change every year, that's essentially their job. The rest of the world's job is to listen and act, right? Yet, we as a society have gone by for a very long time letting climate change sit in the back of our minds. If another intelligent life form were observing our behavior, they'd definitely be wondering why more people aren't addressing the obvious irreversible death that looms for us. We take steps to solve present problems but ignore threats that face us in the future. Will basic human nature be our ultimate undoing? Will we let it be our undoing?

Unfortunately, I think so. Half of all global emissions come from about 10% of the world population—and that number relates directly to class. Those who are wealthy and live wealthy lifestyles are among the highest emitters in the world. Private jets, yachts, traveling, big dinners, throwing grand parties, having multiple cars & houses are all commodities and activities that produce huge carbon footprints. Sadly, the wealthy really enjoy their comfortable lifestyles (and power) and I don't see them handing that up easily.

It doesn't help that too many Americans deny human activity is causing havoc to our climate and environments. It's even more disheartening when the leader of this country, as well as the ruling party, refuse to accept the science. Maybe, if someone mentions that there will be more climate refugees in the 2020s fleeing from climate-ravaged developing nations to developed nations like the U.S, that will scare our conservative politicians into last-minute action. Maybe, they'll throw a wall at the problem. At this point, we have to look at the private sector and mayoral leadership to head the charge. However, if the U.S government does not commit to the necessary measures urged by the UN now, it will be impossible to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius because this is a problem that requires 100% global effort.

While problems pertaining to disenfranchised groups are important to fight for, fighting climate change first and foremost will certainly benefit us all and in the long run the most. We have to tackle the uncomfortable reality of climate change with all of our might. Every current issue pales in comparison to this and every current issue will be aggravated by climate change. Change is going to have to come from all of us.

There can be no social justice without global cognitive justice for each other and the environment. This is inevitably going to take dismantling the Western capitalist world order that has unevenly stratified nations, economies, cultures, and forms of knowledge for centuries. We need to end these hierarchies of exclusion that take place on a number of levels in our societies including the economy, education, technology, and politics. This also means science cannot remain the hegemonic standard within the social hierarchy of knowledge. This does not mean science is not important nor does it excuse religious intolerance or intolerance in general. We need to believe in science to explain issues like climate change, the importance of coral reefs, and interplanetary travel. But, the global North reinforces a Western world order by labeling some cultures not rooted in science as culturally inferior. What ends up happening is other forms of knowledge are suppressed and groups of people are excluded from modernity. This cannot continue. A true utopia defined by global equality can only be achieved when cultures enter a dialogue based on mutual respect and acknowledgment of all the different forms of knowledge.

Hopefully, tackling the epoch-making issue of climate change will eventually bring humans closer to global equality. I mean epoch-making quite literally, in fact, because we are truly in the dawn of a new geological epoch that geologists call the Anthropocene: a period where human activity is having severe and deleterious effects on the environment in which human and other life cannot survive. This is an issue of unprecedented magnitude that you and I are facing for the first time in human history. It's hard to even fully grasp the situation we are in. It's going to take the global North and the global South to come together if humans will survive climate change and avert a nuclear doomsday.  

There is no having our cake and eating it too with climate change. If we all commit, our future world should be nothing like it is today.

Damon BarnesComment