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Louis J Kotzé
Despite important victories, human rights have been unable to respond effectively to the many deeply intertwined socio-ecological injustices in the Anthropocene. In particular, human rights have failed to practically address, in a meaningful way, the plights of billions of oppressed human beings (and failed to address the vulnerability of non-human beings), while conceptually human rights are proving to be ill-suited for the epistemic demands of the Anthropocene. As a trope, the Anthropocene presents an opportunity to re-interrogate the role of human rights as key mechanisms in the state's regulatory mix to address socio-ecological injustices arising within the context of a vulnerable Earth system. This article reflects upon whether a re-interrogation could be accomplished by utilizing vulnerability theory, which is an alternative approach to ethical evaluation. As a heuristic, vulnerability has the potential to inform an ontological change of stance away from a human-centred, neoliberal, and impregnably Western understanding of human rights, towards an altogether more porous and contingent understanding of the vulnerability of the entire living order as a starting point from which to critique the epistemological closures and regulatory challenges confronting the human rights paradigm in the Anthropocene.
This article sketches a transdisciplinary theoretical framework for understanding the so-called Anthropocene in terms of global inequalities. The concept of the Anthropocene has several profound implications that challenge central aspects of the modern worldview. Its relation to issues of global justice requires a cataclysmic reconceptualization of conventional notions of development, economic growth, and technological progress. The article refers to the asymmetric global flows of resources that were a prerequisite to the British Industrial Revolution to illustrate how technological systems and so-called energy transitions are not just politically innocent revelations of nature, but thoroughly societal strategies of appropriation. Contemporary observations regarding environmental justice, climate justice, and energy justice can be theorized in terms of the modern inclination to think of the economy as detached from nature, and of technology as detached from world society.
Edited by Louis J. Kotzé
Climate change requires global leaders to take domestic action to drastically reduce emissions and to engage urgently in adaptation and in disaster risk reduction, while developed countries need to fund developing countries to support their efforts. It also requires facing the prospect that the loss and damage resulting from climate disasters will not be avoided through adaptation alone, that there will be extensive uncompensated losses, and that millions of climate displaced people may be on the move. The Paris Agreement is the international community's attempt to deal with these challenges. Yet, this article claims that the Agreement, which sets the parameters for the way forward, is a largely neoliberal document that undermines the corrective and distributive ideals of climate justice. Relying on the capabilities approach and a modified version of Amartya Sen's The Idea of Justice, this article teases out the ‘clash of civilizations’ between neoliberalism and climate justice. It sets out the concerns about neoliberalism in the climate change space and proceeds to interrogate the claim that the Paris Agreement is a neoliberal document. Essentially, climate justice demands state-based responses, developed through democratic deliberation and participation, to ensure the survival, functioning and flourishing of humans and non-humans. Neoliberalism, meanwhile, posits that government is too large and complex and that regulatory activities unnecessarily disrupt the efficient operation of the market economy. Furthermore, libertarian ideas of justice undermine climate justice principles as the valorization of market mechanisms, private property rights and private sector actors remove the issues from political contention and democratic participation. Ultimately, I question whether any justice-based normative meta-consensus or discursive meta-consensus, such as the Talanoa Dialogue, might be found in the Paris Agreement to disrupt the international neoliberal agenda.