From the ARCADE Issue 35.1 feature, “Generation Anthropocene: Climate Change and Life After the End of a World.” Articles from the issue will release online over the following weeks.  Subscribe to receive ARCADE in print.


Photo by Lisa Sturdivant

Recently, climate change, pollution, and other environmental concerns have been increasingly thought of as social justice issues. In the US, environmental injustices disproportionately affect communities of color and low-income groups. And on a larger scale, environmental injustices in the future will be much more damaging to the Global South (poor and developing countries).

A few examples of environmental injustices beyond the US: the devastation of the Ogoni people due to oil drilling in Nigeria, the rapid deforestation of the Amazon in Brazil, and the increasing threat of climate change to the Inuit and other Indigenous populations.

Sweatshops are also a danger to both people and the environment, and countries that allow sweatshops also tend to have lax environmental laws. For example, in Bangladesh the leather industry is worth a billion dollars a year, but the tanneries release untreated liquid waste into rivers and groundwater. Because of this, the Buriganga River—which thousands of people depend on for transportation, irrigation of crops, and bathing—is now polluted. Sweatshops like this also discourage the formation of unions, and workers labor long hours for low pay. As a result, they have little opportunity to fight for environmental conservation. If the leather workers in Bangladesh had the opportunity to rally for their best interests, they would likely want to minimize their expo-sure to toxic chemicals and consequently reduce pollution levels in the rivers.

Some leaders of countries in the Global South defend pollution for the purpose of “catching up” with the Global North, but they are challenged by environmental movements that are paving the way for a worldwide alliance against climate change. And with the recent placement of an active climate change denier in the Oval Office, countries in the North and South are now stepping up in the fight.

To understand why the fight against climate change is so urgent, we have to look at the young and poor people in the Global South and the Global North.