Unsettling Climate Justice: Transition, transformation, and decolonization?

Type: Virtual Paper
Sponsor Groups: Cultural and Political Ecology Specialty Group, Indigenous Peoples Specialty Group, Human Dimensions of Global Change Specialty Group
Poster #:
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 5:55 PM (PDT)
Room: Virtual 49
Organizers: Nicole Wilson, Dawn Hoogeveen
Chairs: Nicole Wilson

Call for Submissions

Our session is full.


Urgent responses to climate impacts and root causes are needed, from the effects of raging fires in the Amazon to the dramatic reductions in the Arctic cryosphere (permafrost, glaciers, sea ice). Yet, there is little consensus globally on how to address issues of justice, inequality, and power to transition or transform the technological, political, social, and economic systems that contribute to climate change (O’Brien, 2012; Shah et al., 2018), and in particular, energy systems that support oil and gas economies (Williams and Doyon, 2019). Climate (in)justice scholarship and activism engages precisely with the potential for climate impacts and the ways we respond to these impacts to further exacerbate or ameliorate inequality (Jafry et al., 2019; Schlosberg and Collins, 2014). In this paper session we seek papers that unsettle climate (in)justice and explore the tensions between climate change, justice, transitions and/or transformation, capitalism and/or (settler) colonialism.

Indigenous climate justice scholarship has begun to explore the interconnections between climate change and (settler) colonialism (Jarandilla Nuñez, 2019; Scanlan Lyons et al., 2019; Whyte, 2016). Indigenous peoples, their territories and more than human kin are among the most affected by climate change (e.g., Blanchard, 2015; Norton-Smith et al., 2016). Scholarship and activism in this growing field go beyond the acknowledgement of the disproportionate impacts of climate change on Indigenous peoples to engage with the effects of colonialism as a root cause of vulnerability, a barrier to adaptation (Cameron, 2012; Wilson, 2014). Even more fundamentally, colonialism is a key driver of industrial development and thus climate change (see Whyte 2018). Against this backdrop, there is a need for more robust engagement at the intersection of climate change, political ecology, Indigenous studies, and transformations/transitions because while Indigenous peoples are at the forefront of global climate justice movements, non-Indigenous climate and environmental activism has an ongoing history of erasing Indigenous peoples or placing them in historical categories (Whyte, 2018).

For Indigenous environmental justice scholars justice is life-affirming and necessarily includes all beings of Creation – human and more than human (see McGregor, 2009). Thus, unsettling climate injustice is not only about understanding the complex linkages between colonialism, capitalism, dispossession, and climate change but also about acknowledging that Indigenous ways of knowing and being must play a fundamental role in advancing Indigenous futures that address these injustices (McGregor, 2018; Todd, 2015). In this call, we follow de Leeuw and Hunt’s move to unsettle human geography (de Leeuw and Hunt 2018) and ask how decolonization and Indigenous futurity advances theory and practices of just and equitable climate transformation and transitions. We welcome theoretical and/or empirical papers that critique the historic and ongoing erasure of Indigenous movements and peoples and/or misrepresentations of Indigenous histories and centre Indigenous resurgence, resistance, and presence amidst climate change that is necessarily implicated within the colonial present. We also welcome critiques and engagements with capitalism and climate change, climate justice, transition, and transformation.

This paper session includes contributions that address the following questions:
• What does it mean to create a “just” future and transition away from a fossil fuel economy?
• Can power dynamics, for example, those around scientific knowledge, that are latent in the (settler) colonial present be evaded, during dialogue and discussion around “just” future and just transition or transformation?
• How is justice being defined within climate change transition and transformation movements and literatures?
• What can engagement with critical Indigenous studies and decolonial thought contribute to debates around climate transition and transformation?
• How can settler responsibility for colonialism and climate change impacts and responses be acknowledged, while centring Indigenous self-determination?
• How are the transitions and transformation approaches, theoretically and practically, bound to issues of extractivism and/or heteropatriarchy and the settler-colonial present?
• What are the ontological and material politics of climate transitions/transformation for Indigenous peoples?
• What does resource development look like now, compared to how we might imagine a transformative future?


Blanchard, P.L., 2015. Our squirrels will have elephant ears: indigenous perspectives on climate change in the south central United States (Thesis). University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma. de Leeuw, S., Hunt, S. 2018. Unsettling decolonizing geographies Geography Compass
12 (7), https://doi.org/10.1111/gec3.1237614
Cameron, E.S., 2012. Securing Indigenous politics: A critique of the vulnerability and adaptation approach to the human dimensions of climate change in the Canadian Arctic. Global Environmental Change 22, 103–114. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2011.11.004
Jafry, T., Mikulewicz, M., Helwig, K., 2019. Introduction: Justice in the era of climate change, in: Jafry, T., Helwig, K., Mikulewicz, M. (Eds.), Routledge Handbook of Climate Justice. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, earthscan from Routledge, London; New York, pp. 1–10. Jarandilla Nuñez, A., 2019. Mother Earth and climate justice Indigenous peoples’ perspectives of an alternative development paradigm, in: Jafry, T., Helwig, K., Mikulewicz, M. (Eds.), Routledge Handbook of Climate Justice. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, earthscan from Routledge, London; New York, pp. 420–430. McGregor, D., 2018. Mino-Mnaamodzawin: Achieving Indigenous Environmental Justice in Canada. Environment and Society 9, 7–24. https://doi.org/10.3167/ares.2018.090102
McGregor, D., 2009. Honouring Our Relations: An Anishnaabe Perspective on Environmental Justice. Speaking for ourselves: Environmental justice in Canada 27.
Norton-Smith, K., Lynn, K., Chief, K., Cozzetto, K., Donatuto, J., Redsteer, M.H., Kruger, L.E., Maldonado, J., Viles, C., Whyte, K.P., 2016. Climate change and indigenous peoples: a synthesis of current impacts and experiences.
O’Brien, K., 2012. Global environmental change II: From adaptation to deliberate transformation. Progress in Human Geography 36, 667– 676. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0309132511425767
Scanlan Lyons, C.M., DiGiano, M., Gray, J., Kinney, J., Medeiros, M., Oliveira de Lima Costa, F., 2019. Negotiating climate justice at the subnational scale: Challenges and collaborations between indigenous peoples and subnational governments, in: Jafry, T., Helwig, K., Mikulewicz, M. (Eds.), Routledge Handbook of Climate Justice. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, earthscan from Routledge, London; New York, pp. 431–448.
Schlosberg, D., Collins, L.B., 2014. From environmental to climate justice: climate change and the discourse of environmental justice. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change 5, 359–374. https://doi.org/10.1002/wcc.275
Shah, S.H., Rodina, L., Burt, J.M., Gregr, E.J., Chapman, M., Williams, S., Wilson, N.J., McDowell, G., 2018. Unpacking social- ecological transformations: Conceptual, ethical and methodological insights. The Anthropocene Review 5, 250–265. https://doi.org/10.1177/2053019618817928
Todd, Z.C., 2015. Indigenizing the Anthropocene, in: Davis, H., Turpin, E. (Eds.), Art in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Aesthetics, Politics, Environment and Epistemology. Open Humanities Press, pp. 241–254.
Whyte, K., 2016. Is it colonial déjà vu? Indigenous peoples and climate injustice.
Whyte, K.P., 2018. Indigenous science (fiction) for the Anthropocene: Ancestral dystopias and fantasies of climate change crises. Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space 1, 224–242. https://doi.org/10.1177/2514848618777621
Williams, S., Doyon, A., 2019. Justice in energy transitions. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions 31, 144–153. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eist.2018.12.001
Wilson, N.J., 2014. The Politics of Adaptation: Subsistence Livelihoods and Vulnerability to Climate Change in the Koyukon Athabascan Village of Ruby, Alaska. Hum Ecol 42, 87–101. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10745-013-9619-3


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Presenter Sylvia Cifuentes*, University of California, Epistemic climate justice: An Analysis of Peoples Knowledges in Pan-Amazonian Climate Politics 15 4:40 PM
Presenter Sarah Hunt*, University of Victoria, Vanessa Sloan Morgan*, University of Northern British Columbia, Coastal Climate Justice: Reflections from the Water 15 4:55 PM
Presenter Mijin Cha*, Occidental College, Imaging A Just Transition: Deploying the Ideals of Justice to Guide a Low Carbon Future 15 5:10 PM
Presenter Nicole Herman-Mercer*, US Geological Survey, Rachel A. Loehman, US Geological Survey, Interconnections between historical colonialism and the vulnerability of present-day subsistence systems to climate change impacts: a case study in the Alaska Native Village of Chevak 15 5:25 PM
Presenter Nicole Wilson*, University of Manitoba, A climate justice lens for adaptive water governance: Attending to the impacts of climate change on Indigenous hydrosocial systems 15 5:40 PM

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