What is Eco-Justice?
Note: The following was provided with permission by Joan Brown, OSF. Sister Joan is a Kansas native and a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Rochester, Minn. She lives in Albuquerque, where she is the Executive Director of New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light and is part of the non-profit Partnership for Earth Spirituality. She attended the UN COP21 meeting in Paris as a Franciscan International official observer and is also an OXFAM Sister on the Planet.
The article was in the first issue of Feminist Platform, provided by 8th Day Center for Justice, located in Chicago. The center was founded in 1974 by six Catholic religious congregations of women and men, including the Sisters of Providence. Sister Kathleen Desautels ministers at 8th Day Center for Justice.
Environmental justice surfaced as environmental advocacy in the mid-1970s. By the 1980s, faith denominations began writing about and calling for ethical and moral actions to address injustices faced by economically challenged communities of color who were disproportionately exposed to polluting industries. Environmental justice addresses connections between the well-being of earth and the human community with special focus upon those who are disproportionately affected by environmental degradation because of economics, race, gender and age.
While Environmental Justice is most commonly used, Eco-Justice more aptly describes the relationship between the systemic problems facing individuals, communities and the natural world. “Ec,” whose roots rest in the Latin word OIKOS – refers to the household or home. OIKOS implies taking care of the household, which is made up of a variety of relationships, including people, creatures, eco-systems, economy, environment, food, water, air, and rules facilitating social, cultural, spiritual and emotional well-being of all in the home which is held in common.
Increased implications of global climate change add to the complexity of Eco-Justice. Humans and future generations cannot live quality of life without recognizing their place as part of the natural world and caring for “Sister, Mother Earth who sustains and governs and governs us.”
The papal encyclical, Laudato Si: On Care of Our Common Home, lays out for all people the ethical and moral implications of climate change and Eco-Justice. As Mother Earth gasps for life, so do economically marginalized individuals, women, and children who experience lasting health and lifestyle effects of fossil fuel extraction. Implications of rising sea levels, increased heat waves, droughts, floods, storms, food insecurity, and violence increase. Women, children, and future generations are disproportionately affected. Life depends upon making the links between economic policy, trade, extractive industries, and energy, immigration, food and water security, war and peace, and climate change. Borrowing again from Laudato Si, what is needed is an “integral ecology” as we address policy and laws.
A new definition of progress must emerge. One not based upon the mythology of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) index, but one which considers the health and well-being of Earth, humans, and future generations. Economic, social, cultural, and ecological concerns must all be addressed together.
The voices and leadership of women are startlingly absent in making decisions, even though they are disproportionately affected most. Women’s perspective, creativity, and on the ground wisdom is essential in surfacing real solutions and meaningful policy. At the UN COP21 (Conference of Parties 21) in Paris, it was a woman leader from the Carteret Islands who explained how they led their island people, who are the first climate change refugees, to a new home where they are now creating a viable future by planting trees for food and commerce. She said, “Women must not dwell in despair. They must lead.”
It was Bangladeshi women who explained their national plan to install solar panels in order to bypass fossil fuel energy and ensure energy for the poorest households. It was the women of Durban South Africa, from the global south, who stated the importance of and the failures of the Paris agreement while emphasizing that “it is the best we can do at this time.”
In the United States, at all levels of civil society, it is imperative for citizens to ask political leaders and those running for office, “What will you do to address climate change?” Various policy directions are essential, such as those demands listed below. What the United States does or does not do in addressing climate change has immediate implications for the entire world.
- Ending neo-liberal capitalist policies which deregulate the market and allow corporations to ignore or circumvent environmental standards.
- Preventing super PACs and corporate funding of political campaigns and policies which allow corporations to do vast environmental damage.
- Reducing carbon emissions to reach the 2-1.5 degree temperature goal set in Paris.
- Keeping fossil fuels in the ground.
- Increased money for the Green Climate Fund, implementation of adaptation and mitigation.
- Highlighting real effects of fossil fuels and extractive industries.
- Promoting food sovereignty.
- Increasing representation of women among international decision-making addressing climate change and its impact on women and other marginalized individuals.
 Taken from St. Francis of Assisi Canticle of Creatures which is the foundational thought for the papal encyclical Laudato Si
 From Laudato Si. Integral ecology means “everything is closely related”. “today’s problems call for a vision capable of taking into account every aspect of the global crisis.” “…today’s problems call for a vision capable of taking into account every aspect of the global crisis.” “…we are not faced with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis which is both social and environmental.” As a result, “Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.” In such an “economic ecology,” the protection of the environment is then seen as “an integral part of the development process and cannot be considered in isolation from it.”