Re-Constructing Climate Change: Discourses of the Emerging Movement for Climate Justice

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Date
2012-10-11
Authors
Keller, Emily Margaret
Keyword
Social Movements , Global South , Indigenous , Climate Justice , Peasant Farmers , Environmental Justice , Social Justice , Climate Equity , Discourse , Environmental Change , Historical Responsibility , Power , Climate Change , Resistance , Differential Impacts , Foucault , Social Equity , Social Constructivism , Discourse Analysis , Climate Debt , Ecological Debt
Abstract
This thesis examines the discourses surrounding the subject of climate change, with particular emphasis on the discourse(s) of the emerging social movement for climate justice. Positioned within the social constructivist and critical research paradigms, the methodology involves a Foucauldian-inspired discourse analysis in which discourse is defined as a historically-situated, materially-embodied, and power-imbued set of statements and rules that comprise a unique and coherent representation of the world. A review of the climate change-related literature reveals four primary discourses on the phenomenon of rising greenhouse gas emissions: early scientific, climate modernization, climate change denial, and climate justice. The statements and rules of these four discourses, as well as the theoretical trends and sociopolitical, economic, and ecological factors affecting their historical development are described. A deeper analysis using 26 primary documents representing every major climate justice organization reveals that rather than a single coherent discourse, the climate justice movement encompasses four individual sub-discourses: global, peasant-oriented, Indigenous, and civil rights. Focussed on climate-related inequities in developing countries of the Southern Hemisphere, the global discourse constructs climate change as a problem of the structures and logic of the globalized capitalist economy. The peasant-oriented discourse emphasizes inequities to peasant farmers, and represents climate change as largely the result of industrialized agriculture and food systems. With specific concern for the wellbeing of Indigenous communities, the Indigenous discourse locates the cause of climate change in the “violation of the sacred” and the loss of harmony with Mother Earth. The United States-based civil rights discourse primarily emphasizes the rights and interests of African American communities and constructs climate change as a problem of externalized ecological costs and failure to incent a “green” economy. The relations of power between the four climate justice sub-discourses and the prevailing climate modernization discourse are tentatively explored on the basis of three indicators of strength (internal coherence, material foundations, and adaptive capacity), on which basis several questions related to discursive resistance are proposed as possible avenues of future research.
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