A change is gonna come | Scottish Human Rights blog | 12 Sep 2013 | Amnesty International UK

A change is gonna come

Rea Cris is the Parliamentary Office Administrator at Scottish Environmental LINK and Communication Co-ordinator at the International Union for Conservation of Nature. You can find her on Twitter @MeecoYoueco

Scottish Environment LINK were delighted to be asked to chair the Climate Justice session at Amnesty’s Imprisoned Writers Series at the Edinburgh Book Festival this year.

Climate change is quickly becoming the single biggest threat the human race has faced and is self-inflicted, too. Frustratingly, many politicians and governments downplay the importance or the need to act, but for many populations across the globe, the threat is very real, and very literally lapping at their feet.

Climate Justice issues fall primarily into three categories: justice, whether economic or representative, for those who have contributed least to climate change, yet are most hard hit by it; justice for citizens of any nation trying to hold their governments accountable, testing the laws of their country or simply saying no to profit-before-people decisions; and, finally, justice for the thousands of species on this earth who have no human voice but every right to exist.

The four readings selected by Amnesty Scotland were poignant and encompass these big and complex thoughts. Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, a poet from The Marshall Islands, writer and journalist introduces the concept of climate refugees in her poem "Tell Them", where she asks friends in America to tell people that the Marshallese can see the water level rising, but more importantly "we don’t want to leave / we’ve never wanted to leave / and that we / are nothing without our islands". Becoming a refugee is not a choice; it is a last act of desperation. Deng Duot, a Sudanese refugee, sums it up well in his poem "Becoming a Refugee": "What an irony / To become a refugee". All the more so when those who do become refugees did nothing to contribute to their predicament.

We are not all selfish in the Western world; in fact, recent studies have shown that tapping into people’s sense of equality and cultural values are more effective in getting people engaged in climate change than doom and gloom theories. People are more motivated by living with a fairer and, therefore, smaller share of the world’s resources to address the imbalance and injustice to those who’ve contributed least to climate change.

Increasingly though, many of us have fights to deal with on our own doorsteps. The question and answer session after the readings was dominated by the growing issue of fracking and two of the readings were from imprisoned citizens arrested over fracking protests. Sandra Steingrabers’ "A Poem for the Marcellus" is a foreboding chant with classical undertones, a war cry not to be ignored. An American biologist, Steingraber, was imprisoned this year during a non-violent direct action against fracking a timely reminder that this treatment can be given to someone who is merely exercising their right to say no. Tim DeChristopher’s official court statement shows a citizen exercising his right to test the law, but has found his government lacking.

For what is to come, DeChristopher says it best: “The US Attorney’s office makes clear that their interest is not only to punish me for [challenging the government], but to discourage others from challenging the government, even when the government is acting inappropriately. Those who are inspired to follow my actions are those who understand that we are on a path toward catastrophic consequences of climate change. The people who are committed to fighting for a liveable future will not be discouraged or intimidated by anything that happens here today. And neither will I. I will continue to confront the system that threatens our future."

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