Nancy Tuana

(AL=Amy Lind, DT=Dr. Tuana)

AL: Dr. Tuana, thank you so much for being here today. Um, I’m gonna dive into some questions about your research. As you know, there’s much controversy concerning human-made climate change and not everyone immediately understands or thinks about the relationship between climate change and social justice. Tell me a bit about your background and how you became interested in studying climate change and social justice.

DT: My background is as someone who does feminist philosophy of science so I’ve always been taking a look at the way in which gender intersects with the ways in which we think about science but also the types of questions that we ask in science, so when I began to work with a group of scientists who were working on climate science, it was a pretty natural movement to start to think about the role of gender in terms of climate change. Now, initially that meant thinking about impacts and differential impacts cause that’s the most obvious movement, one of the things that a number of scholars in this field have documented is that because of differences in gender roles, men and women are impacted differently from the various, different types of impacts of climate change. For example, if you have a country in which primarily women are responsible for farming and you have a series say of droughts, one of the things that impacts is the time it will take for those women to farm because they are usually transporting water and that may require going out further in order to be able to carry water in in order to keep the crops alive, but you can’t make any simple generalizations because the same type of phenomena like droughts have had huge impacts on men who are farmers as well. For example, in Australia, where there’s been a series of droughts have had huge impacts on the farms there where men are the primary farmers. One of the things that’s happened is an impact on their livelihood, but also an impact on how they think about themselves as men. And as a result, there have been much higher levels of depression, and also much higher levels of domestic violence.

AL: Would you say then that women are more affected by climate change then men or how would you view that?

DT: I would always say women are often differentially impacted by climate change, but even that is too simple a way of putting it because you have to look at how women are positioned and when you look at impacts on men, how they’re positioned, so a woman who is living in poverty is going to be impacted in a much different way than a woman who is living in an affluent setting. The difference is that the numbers of women living in poverty is much higher than the numbers of men living in poverty globally, and because of women’s general responsibility for the caretaking of small children, when a woman lives in poverty, she’s struggling not just for her own survival, but for the survival of her children as well, so it puts a differential impact on her.

AL: You know, there’s an old slogan that came out of the United Nations that I’m sure you’re familiar with that illustrates how women own less land than men, they have less capital, and work harder. I’m wondering if land rights is related to this issue as well in terms of the gender impacts of and also perhaps the racial and ethnic impacts…

DT: So land rights certainly circulate in complex ways in these issues, so in those countries where women are the primary farmers for example, they’re much less likely than males to own land. In fact, in the figures that I’m most familiar with is that there are only 20 percent of women who farm in developing countries. Or in the least developed countries [women] are least likely to own the land, what that means is that they have fewer resources, they don’t have capital in the land that they’re working, and often times can’t use the land as a resource. And that means that adaptation programs need to be attentive to the differences between men and women, but again, not to generalize them, but rather to look at the specificities of the ways in which gender roles impact that particular community at that particular time and are having an impact on stressors and vulnerabilities to climate impacts.

AL: Can you take a step back? Can you tell us a bit about what you mean about adaptation strategies and also what you see as the top issues we face with regard to addressing global climate change and its origins? Something that many people consider a wicked problem.

DT: So there are two responses that are generally accepted in terms of climate change. One is mitigation. Mitigation is an effort to change the ways in which we, for example, power our countries, in order to switch to renewables that are less likely to omit greenhouse gases. There are mitigation practices that are designed to remove some of the greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, however, another response to impacts that are already happening are impacts that will happen because we don’t mitigate is adaptation. And adaptation measures are designed to assist people in continuing to live or live differently in areas in which the weather has impacted how they can live. So, for example, we’ve done some… I’ve done some work in New Orleans and New Orleans now is dealing with much higher flood risks than they’ve ever experienced before impart, but not solely because of, rising sea levels due to climate change. Now adaptation means thinking about how they can mitigate some of the vulnerabilities that they have due to climate change. In New Orleans, that’s by building a levee and trying to protect the city from higher storm surges. Adaptation happens in lots of different ways, um, sometimes it’s encouraging people to plant crops that are more drought resistant um, in other cases, it might be to give individuals resources so that they don’t have to cut down the forest area in their community. But, it’s very important that our adaptation or mitigation practices pay attention to the specificities of both gender roles as well as roles concerning an ethnic group or racial formation because you can actually make, for example, the impacts on gender roles much more negative if you’re not attentive to that. There was one case in Australia where one crop that was common was replaced by another crop, which was much more drought resistant and was much more successful in growing in the area given the precipitation changes, but what the specialists didn’t realize is that they replaced a crop that was considered in that community as a crop that was owned by women to a crop that was owned by men. And what that meant was that, the men took the profits from that crop whereas in the past, with the previous crop, women owned those economic returns and instead of the… The money from the crop going back into the family to feed the children, then we’re using it for things they wanted and families were starting to fall apart. So even with adaptation, we have to be very careful about attending to the specific dynamics within a community, typically ones due to gender roles, but also due to systems of oppression that are already in place. So to go back to that New Orleans story, when they increased the protection from the levee, one of the things that happened and it wasn’t intended, but the land that was the most protected by the levee, started to be able to garner more, much higher rents, or much higher property values, and as a result, the poor in the city and in New Orleans, a large percentage of the poor in the city are Blacks, were no longer able to afford to live within or in the area of the city that is protected by the levee. And if you live outside the levee, impart because of what happens when you have a levee that’s diverting water, those areas become even more at risk during storms.

AL: In your research, you’ve talked about redistributive justice and how that relates to climate change and adaptation strategies. Can you elaborate more on the New Orleans example? And tell us what you mean by that and why it’s important in particular in regard to thinking about race as well?

DT: So there’s various forms of justice that we might want to take into consideration and thinking carefully about as we start to address climate change issues and let me just go through the different types. One is distributive justice, which pays attention to differential impacts and one of the things that we’re seeing is that the differential impacts from climate change are huge problems. People who are already more vulnerable, due to economic disadvantage or various structural inequities are much more likely to not have the capacity to adapt or respond when impacts and changes from climate change occur, so many people feel that, as we start to think forward to adaptation, we have to not do it generally, let’s make sure that the city of Cincinnati, for example, is protected against higher temperatures or increasing precipitation causing floods, but to look at the parts of Cincinnati, where the people who have the least resources often because of economic disadvantage, to look to those areas and protect those areas at a higher level, than we might protect the areas in which people have more resources to um adapt who the impacts. Redistributive justice is an argument that in order for people to have the resources to adapt, we have to address past inequities and the ways in which past inequities have caused individuals to be far more vulnerable. And that might mean increased um social resources, it might mean better education for the least well off, it might mean that we direct our adaptation funds and we do this to some extent um the frameworks convention and some of the protocols, do direct resources in terms of economic resources to the least developed countries. Procedural justice is another very important component of justice, one of the things we’ve found out is that women have historically have had very little voice in the climate politics, so at the frameworks convention where the protocols are debated, the numbers of women representatives have been very low and until relatively recently when there’s really been an effort to bring more women to the table, but even in terms of the science, and remember when we’re talking about bringing science to um providing resources for communities, if you don’t have scientists who are attentive to the needs of women, you’re much less likely to have adaptation practices that will benefit all. And it’s not always the case that if someone is a woman, they will be attentive to gender concerns, but it’s certainly the case that if they’re a feminist scientist, they will be attentive to gender dynamics as well as other systems of disadvantage that intersect with gender.

AL: Thank you. You’re trained as a philosopher of science with a significant focus on ethics as part of what you do correct? Um… As a philosopher of science who focuses on ethics and thinking more broadly um as a humanities scholar, how do you view humanities scholars and advocates as best addressing these issues in their research, but also with the broader publics?

DT: So my training as a philosopher of science and in particular doing work in Women’s Studies and being in the early waves of Feminist Science Studies, I became very attentive to the ways in which values are embedded in scientific practice, the older perspective of science as completely value free is actually an inaccurate view of science. There are values that are part of science often times epistemic values having to do with how we go about knowing, but those often can have impacts on the ethical import of application of those theories and as theorists that do science studies have become more aware of these connections between epistemic and ethical issues. There’s been a greater awareness of the importance of paying attention to how are very scientific theories, which we think are just telling us about the facts, actually do more than that. And to pay attention to the values embedded in science to make sure that the impact that we’re having on society is one that is for… is… is an ethically acceptable and ethically responsible impact. Uh…

AL: Thank you. Now I just have a few questions that I’m hoping you can give shorter answers to that would be helpful to a broader public. What is your response to individuals who ask what they can do to prevent climate change?

DT: So when people ask me what they can do to prevent climate change, I ask them to start locally and then go globally. And by starting locally, to think about the ways in which within their own community they can have an impact whether it to be supporting their community’s efforts to green their city as well as ways in which they can green their own lifestyle by wasting less, by using public transportation, but also then to think about the global impacts that states in our country are having and in that case the best mechanism that I know of is being politically active. Voting, in order to make a difference, but also activist work to make a difference to raise people’s views.

AL: A number of observers talk about individual ways we can make change, but some observers also talk about the fact that big business and particularly three industries contribute the most to climate change, how can we best confront big business on climate change?

DT: One way to confront big business on climate change is to vote with our pocket books and not support businesses that we feel are not addressing the essential importance of moving to renewables and protecting our environment.

AL: You spoke earlier a bit about land rights and I know you’ve written about decolonization, I’m wondering if you see a link between indigenous struggles for land rights and sovereignty and climate change and if so, can you just explain very briefly how you view that?

DT: So the relationship between indigenous land rights and climate change is a complex one that happens differently in different places. For example, one of the most egregious problems is a mitigation effort to restore forests called Red Plus, in many cases, the idea is to take what is considered barren land and plant forests on them in order to capture um carbon. The problem is that so called barren land is often very important and used by indigenous peoples, but it’s seen as not um owned y them and thus people don’t even realize the importance of that land to people. On the flip side, there have been instances where the Inuit in parts of North America, who are losing lifestyles and lifeways because of warming temperatures and melting ice sheets that don’t continue to allow them the lifeways that they have always lived, one of the things we have to remember in North America is that most of the land we live on is land that we’ve taken from indigenous people and we might want to rethink how we use land and how that use of land is in our part responsible for that and the problems were facing today.

AL: That was fantastic! What would you say is the single contributing factor to human-made climate change today? How would you answer that question?

DT: It’s hard to just pick one example, but if I had to, I would say high levels of consumption. A lot of us consume more than we need to consume, we’ve started to move to a very disposable economy. We don’t… Things don’t have a long lifespan in our economies. Sometimes because they’re designed to have a short shelf life and sometimes because of our choices. We don’t want to drive the same car for ten years, we don’t want to use the same phone for ten years. I think we have to very much think about our responsibility to not only other people, but to ecosystems and other life forms here on earth and rethink the way in which we consume and dispose so quickly of materials because all of that consumption is leading to greenhouse gas emissions.

AL: Particularly in the United States, how do you view the use of automobiles?

DT: One of the things that we did in the United States was to remove public transportation. Um, I use to live in the city of Dallas and it had a very nice tram system that they removed at a certain point when the automobile industry was trying to encourage everyone to own their own car. Well, now, we not only own our car, most families own multiple cars usually one per adult. In order to address that problem, we really need to support inner-city transportation. We need to bring back those rail-lines. We need to really support for ways for people to move through particularly dense areas like cities without using cars. And it’s wonderful to live in a place where there is a good metro system and many of our cities have been putting those back in play, but in the meantime, there are things like bikes, there are wonderful ways with bike lanes, if we can start putting bike lanes in so they’re safe for people to not only get around more easily, but also to exercise while they’re doing it. It’s a win-win.

AL: What would you say is a strong, positive example of a concrete or region that has addressed climate change well?

DT: So there are various, different examples, countries, or regions… I think California is a state we might look to at this point, as one that is in the middle of a country that hasn’t as a whole, embraced its responsibility toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions, is doing some very good work to really think about how they can live differently and also protect the livelihoods of their citizens. California struggles with water security issues and there’s a lot of attention to how to make that happen. Public transportation has been or is being build in a lot of the major cities. In terms of adaptation, to sea level rise, the Netherlands, of course, are the star country in that, but that has meant that the country has devoted a tremendous amount of money towards their dike system in order to protect their country and they have much higher standards of protection than we would ever dream of in the United States.

AL: Thank you. Is there anything else you’d like to share that I haven’t asked?

DT: One of the things that is becoming more clear is paying attention to the legacy of racism as it functions within a particular country and the ways in which that legacy has made certain groups of people more vulnerable to the impacts of extreme weather events like we’re experiencing with climate change. In the United States, for example, both the history of Jim Crow and before it, slavery, has disadvantaged large groups of African Americans, making them far more vulnerable to climate change, but we also have to pay attention to the way or the ways in which the labor of groups of people, who have been socially disadvantaged, have actually contributed to climate change, it’s because that labor has been either illegally used at low costs through convict slave labor or paid very low wages as we do right now with farm laborers that we’re continuing to, whether it be mine fossil fuels or grow crops with pesticides that are actually harming the environment with impunity. We need to address some of these structural causes of inequities in the process of addressing climate change.

AL: In relation to that, some observers have commented that the growing refugee and asylum crisis is related to climate change. Do you agree with that? And what is your view on that?

DT: It’s certainly the case that, in terms of climate migration, changing weather patterns are having complex impacts on people within countries, everything from people having to move within country, in fact, most of the climate migrants right now move within a country. You saw that with, or in, New Orleans with a number of the people from the New Orleans area who didn’t have enough money to return once they had left um never coming back and settling in other parts of the United States and that same phenomena is happening in other countries in South Africa where there’s been a number of climate related problems. One of the things that happened is that men often moved into the urban areas, leaving their family in rural areas, causing stress on families, but it’s certainly the case in the US Department of Defense is keeping an eye on this climate related impacts on countries are causing higher levels of violence within countries and sometimes possibly contributing to war and all of those are situations in which people have often have to leave, staying safe and staying alive. So I think that you can find a signature of climate change running through some of migration policies, but it’s not as clear cut as some might believe it. I mean, Dorian would have hit the Bahamas no matter what, but those warmer ocean waters fueled the intensity of that hurricane. Now there are thousands of people in the Northern Bahamas who cannot continue to live there until it’s rebuilt. They are going to have to go somewhere. So are they a climate migrant? Yes and no.

AL: Thank you, as a very final question, last night, you used a term, moral obligation, it was slightly different than that… but I’m curious…

DT: Moral responsibility?

AL: Moral responsibility. I’m curious if you could talk a bit about what is our moral responsibility as humans to address this climate crisis?

DT: So I think as we start to think about our responsibilities towards the impacts that are happening from human cause climate impacts, we need to take a step back and recognize that humans are intricately interrelated with the other life forms and ecosystems that were a part of and that we sustain it and it sustains us. We can longer afford to see ourselves as separate and inseparable and able to do whatever we want with um our environments, but we also need to recognize that what we do in any country impacts other people in other countries, we’re a much larger population right now with the global economy and what happens in one country can have widespread effects in other countries, so I believe that it’s important that people appreciate our ethical relationality to others, to other humans, to other lifeforms, and to the ecosystems that sustain us all. And that means that we have an ethical responsibility to support life and well-being, not just of humans, but of other lifeforms.

AL: Thank you so much!