Climate Justice and Human Rights

 

Basil Fernando*

 

There are times when children are wiser than the adults. We live in such a time. Today's children know more about the problems of climate as a man-made problem. They worry about it, talk about it and feel sad about it. They are wiser than the earlier generations. They are learning the folly of those ideas of progress, of development for which nature was sacrificed. They are beginning to see the way man became the enemy of the environment and is destroying the very climate that sustains human life.

 

We have some hope, because our children have begun to reject the inherently unjust notions about development that was called history. We are at a turning point of generational change. Perhaps the young of today, who will play their roles in not so distant future, may have the courage to decisively change the course of history by abandoning the notions of progress that earlier generations blindly believed in. The ideology of conquest as against cooperation, domination as against participation will be looked with greater suspicion than ever before. The doubts that the young have on all those aspects, including notions of gender and sexuality are why we can look to the future with some hope.

 

It is time for older generation to express its confession. Confessions when they are made genuinely have a great power effect change.

 

Need to Explain

 

There are many things about which older generations have to give explanations to the young. We have to confess that due to our unquestioning attitudes we have contributed many wrong concepts and ideas to be adopted as practices and this has led to the loss of our flowers, the birds, the rivers, the seas, clear skies, pure waters and everything that we treasure. Above all this unquestioning attitude towards development has caused the deaths of many millions.

 

This same unquestioning attitudes have kept us passive when millions of people were displaced in the name of development. Displacement meant death to them in terms of their lives and in terms of their inner spirit. The idea that the end justifies the means paralysed our minds so much that we remained unmoved when such deaths take place on large scale. It is this paralysis that we have to examine if we are to honestly talk about the climate justice and human rights.

 

Killer disease

 

In essence justice means the absence of this paralysis. The capacity for justice within a society exists only to the extent of people having the capacity to be critical of themselves and their beliefs. Blind faith that leads to blind obedience is the killer disease of humanity and we need to understand more about this killer disease. Admiration for obedience is being taught by all those who talk about stability. The economist is taught to obediently follow the economic plans whatever be the consequences to the population. The planners are taught to plan with complete disregard to the human consequences of their actions.

 

The media is being conditioned to not critically examine the society and the ideas which are deified in particular time. The servile nature of the media to the powers that be, has been one of the major causes that has contributed to the spread of this killer disease.

 

The creativity of the artist, of the singer, of the dancer and the poet has been sacrificed in the name of obedience to great ideas. The incapacity to question those ideas has lead to the paralysis of the mind and the will and is responsible for the climatic catastrophes we are facing today.

 

If we are losing the Himalayas and the seas are threatening us, if nature in all its forms is developing patterns of action that are altering its friendly course it has followed for centuries, it is because human beings gave into the false doctrines that nurtured in them the attitudes of obedience. If we wish to save our climate we must seriously grieve out emotionless obedience.

 

Human beings can remain faithful to their nature only to the extent that they are capable of grieving over the loss of things of on which they have had their roots. Human attachment leads to an understanding of the character of loss and in that process we should be able to grieve over such loses. However, the capacity to grieve is linked to the capacity to understand the overall processes of which human beings are just a part. If in the name of development these natural processes are destroyed then the price of that destruction  has to paid with the lives of human beings.

 

Our linkage to the natural world has to be discovered through the examination of the very forces that paralyses our creativity, our initiative, our response to the natural world; our capacity to smell, to feel the forces of nature, our capacity to understand nature.

 

Siri Aurobindo

 

India was one of the world's most creative nations said the great Indian thinker Siri Aoroboindo. He also said that this creativity dies sometime back in history. He went on to explain how India became a dead civilisation. He devoted the latter part of his life in trying to regenerate the creativity of India. To us, in South Asia, who owe so much to our roots in the Indian civilisation the previous creativity and its death has had enormous impact. In the periods of India's creativity the power of South Asia was nourished during the time of the death of the Indian civilisation and this also affected the other neighbouring nations and caused the paralysis of the minds and the souls and the hearts of those civilisations.

 

Therefore, in trying to understand the things that destroy us, some moments can be devoted to understanding the death of the Indian civilisation. That, of course, is too vast a subject. However, a few thoughts may be in order. When the concept of the end justifying the means became part of the Indian thinking that was the time when the death of the Indian civilisation started in the same way that such moments caused the death of other civilisations.

 

It is the Arthaśāstra, the philosophy of Chānakya that has contributed a great deal to the destruction of this great nation. When the rulers become indifferent to the suffering of the masses, when even religious philosophies are developed to divide the people , when the deepest dividing doctrines such as caste develops within  a civilization, there is no doubt that, that civilisation is embracing a suicidal path. These suicidal ideas which made rituals more important than reason and which thereby killed the creativity of the mind and the spirit also created the deep attitudes which made us indifferent to nature and as a result we have had the catastrophes not only of civilisation but also of climate today.

 

The adults of the earlier generations should now have the capacity to grieve over the contributions that they have made to these great losses by the adherence to these doctrines and the blind obedience with which they allowed their minds and souls to be paralysed.

 

The way to pave the path for the new generations to find a cure for these losses lies in the capacity of the older generation to look self critically at their own past, their own guilt in the contributions they have made to such losses.

 

A human being's greatest capacity is to grow creative by a process of self understanding and grieving. The path to creativity is this path, the path of introspection, self criticism, the revival of our critical minds and the revival of our emotions and creative capacities.

 

The climate justice

 

The problem of the climate is very much a problem about the people. It means the deaths of large numbers of people, displacement, loss of cultures and connections, loss of education and the loss of youth and the possibilities of life for vast numbers of people. It is this human tragedy that we talk about when we discuss the climate justice. The loss of the flowers, the seas and the rivers have all taken away many lives and also taken away what life means to those who survive. Therefore the talk about climate problems is to talk about the very fundamental problems of human existence in our times. We have to recover the theme that human being matter. Unfortunately, the very essence of all the development theories is that not all human beings actually matter.

 

The most neglected sections are the victims of these climate changes who are among the poorest. What happens to them is not recorded through our media. There are no records of this throughout history. Their lives and the memories are erased from our records.

 

The only real solution to the problem of climate is to allow those who are affected by these problems to be heard. Their voices must be heard, the faces must be seen and their stories must become part of the common discourse of humanity.

 

Creating opportunities for the voices of the victims of the destruction that is being caused today to be heard is a primary obligation of the human rights movements. Many human rights groups think that their primary duty is to parrot out the UN conventions, constitutional provisions and other declarations about rights. These documents can at best only provide certain principles in dealing with this problem. The most primary obligation in the implementation of any of these principles is to create the possibility of participation of the victims of the destruction that is caused by the development strategies to be the spokesmen of their own cause.

 

These people speak of their grievances privately but there is nobody to pick up their stories so that their voices may be heard and brought to the public discourse. All plans for development take place without listening to the voices of these people and without giving them the opportunity to be heard. Development plans are hatched and carried out in secrecy and the people have time to talk only after the destruction has happened.

 

To change that course is possible only when opportunities are created for the people to speak up. Today as the younger generation learns more about climate related problems and as they become more preoccupied with these problems their attention needs to be drawn to the fact that the solutions lie in the hands of the victims themselves. Without allowing victims to speak up, without bringing them to the public discourse, without allowing the victims to confront the planners there will be no stopping of the destruction that is taking place now.

 

Therefore the future of the human rights movement should be to find ways for the people and  to get them to speak up about the problems that affect them. Development discourse must begin from the bottom and consultation with the bottom in a genuine sense must be made possible by the affected people themselves being heard.

 

Vast change in human thinking is needed if human survival is to be guaranteed. The knowledge that the young people are acquiring about the climate is a good beginning for such change. However, that knowledge alone cannot resolve this problem. The solution lies in the affected people becoming their own spokesman and the decision making of humanity is changed and the process of genuine consultation between the ordinary people and the planners becoming a possiblility.

 


* Mr. Basil Fernando is currently serving as the Director, Policy and Programme Development, Asian Human Rights    Commission, Hong Kong.