The rise and role of social inequality in the production of climate change
This chapter addresses three key issues: 1) it examines the ways social elites treat the environment as a limitless resource and dumping ground for the by-products of production and use, including greenhouse gases; 2) it assesses the ways they impose the costs of climate change on poor and working people; and 3) it investigates elite strategies to blame the poor for their suffering while silencing their grievances by deploying tropes of personal responsibility, the innate goodness of economic growth, and the needs of national security, all of which are analyzed as a form of structural violence. Exposed by examination of this form of violence are the ways the bodies, communities, and social environments of the poor are in intimate relationship with macroeconomic structures. In this relationship, the poor are treated as if they have “expendable bodies” and their deaths are attributed to natural causes, poor habits, and inferior values. Climate change is not just a feature of a transforming environment, it is both an expression of social inequality and a force contributing to social inequality. The chapter uses the concept of “eco-equity” to clarify the importance of sustainable production and consumption as an alternative to elite strategies, arguing that there can be no sustainable ecology without social equity and no social equity without sustainable human lifeways.