Many scientists think that they should avoid taking a moral stance in any of their communication. Just show the facts, they say, and society will use the information to make rational decisions. Leave the debate about justice and doing what’s right to the politicians, or the social scientists.
The “just the facts” approach hasn’t worked with the climate crisis. Since the 1970s, those with vested financial interests have corrupted the public discourse with remarkable success. They’ve reframed the debate to serve their interests, obscuring the urgency of the problem, presenting fake solutions, and introducing false dichotomies like “jobs versus climate protection.” This framing has maintained the power of fossil fuel executives and other elites, while climate pollution has skyrocketed.
It’s not all about big corporations and their disinformation tactics. Climate scientists are in part to blame for the predicament that we’re in. Scientists have presented facts about climate research without acknowledging predictable ways that they would be distorted. Scientists have often communicated in a reactive manner to industry talking points while keeping the same dishonest frame for debate.
Science communicators have parroted fake climate “solutions” straight from the mouths of corporate public relation firms, even those that are clearly unjust and against the will of the people. They’ve ignored messages from communities who are suffering most from pollution. Although often inadvertently, scientists, with their disproportionately large megaphones, have helped to uphold existing power structures.
This free textbook is an attempt to remedy this hole in science communication, providing a framework for learning about the science of the climate crisis for those who don’t accept the status quo. Climate, Justice and Energy Solutions is for visionaries, dreamers, utopian thinkers, and social justice advocates. It’s for those who can imagine not just surviving in a world without fossil fuels, but truly flourishing. The hope is that activists in a wide range of fields can use this text to help bolster their knowledge of science-based climate action when they’re building the next wave of social movements, renewable power networks, and regenerative communities.
This book is written from a justice perspective. What does a justice approach mean? It means highlighting the demands of the people who have suffered most from extractive industries, and those who have benefited the least. The justice approach acknowledges that there are interlocking systems of oppression such as hetero-patriarchy, white supremacy, colonialism and economic class. These systems are both root causes of the climate crisis, and amplifiers of vulnerability to climate disasters, not just for the oppressed but for everyone. These systems must be broken down for any of us to be truly free.
The justice approach means skepticism about capitalist “solutions,” which necessarily put profits before people. We are similarly skeptical when privatization is prioritized over democratically determined public investments. We’ll highlight opportunities to address multiple problems at once: pollution exposure and wealth disparity; transportation and housing justice; food sovereignty and access to nature, among many others.
The justice perspective recognizes that transformations may come out of many philosophies: we will present radical theories of change that come from movements such as eco-feminism, Indigenous knowledge systems, eco-socialism, eco-anarchism, degrowth, disability rights, LGBTQIA+, Afrofuturism, environmental justice, and many others. We write in solidarity with each of these movements and seek to find common struggles even between philosophies that are diametrically opposed in some aspects.
Is it unscientific to teach science from a justice perspective? Not at all! Communication always comes from some perspective; there is no purely objective description of reality. It is impossible to be neutral, especially with issues like climate where so much money and entrenched power are involved. Scientists that claim to be presenting facts without bias are probably supporting the dominant culture and modes of thinking, either knowingly or unknowingly.
Science that comes from a justice perspective is especially effective if it adheres to the rules of science, as defined by the standards that need to be followed for peer review, the system for publishing scientific papers. There are rules to doing and communicating science!
- Openness: State where all your data comes from and allow anyone to access it themselves.
- Reproducibility: Describe your methods in enough detail that anyone can reproduce your results, with the means of analysis provided if possible.
- Honesty: Don’t exaggerate conclusions or claim your work has broader implications than is justified.
Informal rules of science (that are not always followed by professionals) include:
- Humility: Keep an open mind and reevaluate your conclusions when evidence is presented to the contrary. No one can ever see the whole picture.
- Diversity: Seek out perspectives and voices that are often ignored.
- Heart: Look for ways in which science can be used for good, especially those who lack privilege.
The climate crisis often feels overwhelming and can lead to eco-anxiety in many who study it. You’re not alone, and we’ll provide resources to help you manage these emotions as you learn. But the struggle towards climate justice is also full of joy. The path of justice is the right path, and there are so many ways to contribute to these movements and enjoy the beauty of life on Earth along the way.
One of the most effective ways to face feelings of despair is to get involved in collective action. Working to make a positive change alongside other concerned citizens is a proven way to keep those very natural feelings of worry from getting overwhelming. At the end of each chapter, there is information about climate justice organizations and advocates who are working right now on solutions to a variety of aspects of the climate crisis, in locations all around the planet. These groups are not just fighting into the void: they’re facing powerful opponents and are winning huge policy victories, and are building self-sufficiency and resilience in their communities. I hope that these chances to “Connect” can serve at least two purposes: to inform you about climate justice goals and progress around the world, and to inspire you to take action in your own chosen ways.
The arts are another great way to process strong emotions like anxiety or despair. Throughout the book, there are landscape paintings from across North America by my mother, Virginia Wright-Frierson. I hope that her images will help you to process the depths of the climate crisis with empathy for both humans and non-human species, and that they’ll help you notice the beauty and resilience in even the most battered settings.
I’m a musician, and sing songs in my classes to help clarify topics and add some color to what might otherwise be a bland lecture. In this book, we’ll occasionally use songs (written either by me or by those with much more lyrical talent) to help supplement the material.
Let’s start our learning with a song about how much “Science Rules!” and also about the rules of science described above. It’s about how the world would be a better place if we all played by the rules of science. I wrote “Science Rules” for the March for Science in Olympia, Washington in February 2017.
Think 💯% is a climate justice project founded by Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr. in 2018 as a part of the Hip Hop Caucus. The number of the course at University of Washington (ATM S 💯) and the subtitle of this book were inspired by the Think 💯%: The Coolest Show podcast, which features interviews with leaders in the climate justice community.