In this episode we discuss ethics and morality in the context of climate change and public health including geopolitical challenges, temporal justice, indigenous voices, and ways to make an impact.
Our guest Prof Ans Irfan is a multidisciplinary global public health expert with over a decade and a half of experience as a health equity strategist, serving on the faculty of Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California. As a scholar-practitioner, he has worked across cultures, continents, and countries, including Pakistan, China, and the United States, since the early 2000s. He is currently based at Harvard Divinity School, Harvard University, where he explores the complex intersection of religious moral philosophy, social ethics, and public health policies, focusing on conceptualizing religion as a structural determinant of health and its implications for public health and climate action. In addition, he is also affiliated with the Harvard Innovation Labs at Harvard Business School along with Harvard Climate Entrepreneurs’ Circle. He holds a Doctor of Medicine, a Doctor of Public Health in climate-resilient health systems, a Doctor of Education in higher education administration, and a Doctor of Science in information technology and climate innovation.
Our interviewer Dorothy Lsoto is a graduate student pursuing her Ph.D. in Environment and Resources at the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She holds an MS. Environment and Resources with a graduate certificate in Energy Analysis and Policy from UW-Madison. At the Nelson Institute, Dorothy lectures an undergraduate capstone course that she designed on Air Quality, and Equity in an African city with a focus on Kampala. Her doctoral research examines the persistent colonial city design of Kampala on its air quality and health. She studied Environment Management for her bachelors at Makerere University, Kampala. It is from here that she worked with renewable energy technologies and air quality in East Africa for over a decade.
Episode notes and references:
- Colonialism, the climate crisis, and the need to center Indigenous voices
- We Must Enhance—but Also Decolonize—America’s Global Health Diplomacy
Music by: Ritesh Prasanna
Podcast website: https://atmospherictales.com
AI: Ans Irfan (Guest)
DL: Dorothy Lsoto (Interviewer)
SG: Shahzad Gani (Host)
SG: I’m your host, Shahzad Gani, and welcome to another episode of Atmospheric Tales. Our guest today is a multidisciplinary global health expert with over a decade and a half experience as a health equity strategist, serving on the faculty of Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California. As a scholar-practitioner, he has worked across cultures, continents, and countries, including Pakistan, China, and the United States, since the early 2000s. He is currently based at Harvard Divinity School, Harvard University, where he explores the complex intersection of religious moral philosophy, social ethics, and public health policies, focusing on conceptualizing religion as a structural determinant of health and its implications for public health and climate action. In addition, he is also affiliated with the Harvard Innovation Labs at Harvard Business School along with Harvard Climate Entrepreneurs’ Circle. He holds a Doctor of Medicine, a Doctor of Public Health in climate-resilient health systems, a Doctor of Education in higher education administration, and a Doctor of Science in information technology and climate innovation. I’m excited to welcome our guest, Prof. Ans Irfan. Our interviewer Dorothy Lsoto is a graduate student pursuing her Ph.D. in Environment and Resources at the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She holds an MS. Environment and Resources with a graduate certificate in Energy Analysis and Policy from UW-Madison. At the Nelson Institute, Dorothy lectures an undergraduate capstone course that she designed on Air Quality, and Equity in an African city with a focus on Kampala. Her doctoral research examines the persistent colonial city design of Kampala on its air quality and health. She studied Environment Management for her Bachelor’s at Makerere University, Kampala. It’s from here that she worked with renewable energy technologies and air quality in East Africa for over a decade. Welcome to the show, Ans and Dorothy!
DL: Thank you, Shahzad, and welcome, listeners! Today, we have Ans, as you’ve heard from Shahzad, and we’re going to dive into our conversation today, which is very exciting. We’re talking about climate change, ethics and morality. So just to get right into this conversation—climate change now more than ever, is getting most people’s attention. We have witnessed increasingly extreme weather events around the world, including prolonged drought and flood events which threaten agriculture production, warmer ocean temperatures that usher in more powerful tropical storms, and decimate aquatic biodiversity. And this year, actually, Canadian fires blanketed the northern portions of the United States in particulate matter and ozone. And even as I speak today, as we speak today, we still have an air quality alert that is going on and, so that’s one of the issues we’re faced with right now in, at least in Madison, Wisconsin. All of these symptoms of climate change impact public health, and these impacts are often not equally felt around the world. And according to experts like yourself, the lives of people living in more developed countries and the consumption of those nations at large, are primarily responsible for climate change. And yet people living in the Global North will not feel the impacts of climate change as immediately, or as significantly as developing nations in the Global South, whose contribution to the problem is really minimal. And to explore this topic more deeply, I would like to ask you just a few questions about the historical and political background of climate change and public health, and how these issues are manifesting in the present, what we’ll likely be grappling with in the future, within the context of ethics and morality. So, according to the American Public Health Association, or APHA, climate change poses a major threat to human health; so, Ans, how would you define human ethics and morality in the context of climate change and public health?
AI: Hi, Dorothy, so wonderful to be here! I generally resist sort of like, defining things because I think they restrain our imagination, but it’s kind of, I think, you already alluded to it, in terms of like, both the power differentials, as well as our duty to do what is right, right? So I could sort of like, you know, comment on, in these like broad philosophical terms, in terms of like, you know, what is just and right, which really kind of boils down to, from a both moral and practical responsibility, to mitigate climate change and work towards a future where we’re actively adapting to the changing climate, right? So, it’s about how do you reduce climate change impacts, but also how do you advocate for those policies to make sure people who are most socially vulnerable both within these countries, or so called Global North, but specifically in the Global South as well. But what I will say is that, you know, we need to avoid the temptation of, you know, just sticking with these definitions, and just taking those without scrutinizing these, which is all to say that we need to scrutinize those terms such as like, you know, what is fair? And what is morally right, right? So, because science cannot answer those questions, those are questions that are going to come from ethics, they’re going to come from morality, and philosophy, and so on, so forth. And we have this colonial tendency, particularly in the Global North, where we use this vague colonial language, without scrutinizing those terms in a meaningful way. So my invitation has always been to, you know, fellow colleagues, academics, practitioners within climate change sphere, that whenever folks, especially those in a decision-making capacity are talking about, you know, that climate morality and ethics is about fairness and justice, like, what did they mean by that, right? What sort of actions does that lead to, right? So because like end of the day, what we need to keep in mind is that, you know, there are a couple of these, just really egregious statistics that are like, top 1% of the richest people in the entire globe consume more resources than the poorest half of the entire humanity, or like, you know, world’s top 10% richest people, they cause about half of global emissions, right? So like, you know, those are the things we need to keep in mind when we are talking about fairness and justice, when it comes to climate ethics and morality.
DL: Wow, that’s very interesting that you say that, actually, because sometimes we get very stuck on the definitions, right? And just the way you have broken it down for us makes more sense for me, because usually, it’s a blanket of like big terms. What does that mean to an individual? What does it mean when you break it down? So thank you very much for breaking that down for us. And maybe just to tag along a question that maybe would go along with what you just shared; when we talk about justice, how should we balance the needs and also the interests of the current generation, with other future generations? Like, what ethical considerations should guide decisions about like, the effects of climate change that you’re talking about, and how do we adapt to it?
AI: Yeah, absolutely. So I think, and this is something I’ll probably bring up again, in our conversation, but it’s really important for us to keep in mind that we should not be conceding to this incremental climate oppression, if you will, which is really that, in the US context, for instance, and I talk about the US, a) because it’s home, and b) because it’s one of the countries that has like outsized power and role to either engage in climate action or climate inaction, one way or the other. So in our context, for instance, there’s this broader conversation about that we owe it to the future generations from an ethics perspective, but there is very little about that particular mindset getting implemented. So examples would be, for instance, like Biden administration, which allegedly, Democrats are the ones who are supposed to be caring about climate action in the US context, if not globally, but Biden administration has sort of like, you know, approved all sorts of these projects, from Alaska Oil Project, Key West Gas Pipeline Project, expediting gas lines—it’s absolutely absurd how much there’s absolutely no care about the future generations, right? And, when I teach climate change, I teach this concept of past dependency to my students, where the idea really is that the choices that we’re going to make today are going to limit our choices in the future, so if you’re going to continue to invest significantly into fossil fuels today, it’s not so much that, oh, we’re going to automatically switch those off; we cannot because that is going to limit our choices for many decades to come. So, which is all to say that at the moment, sure, we do have the responsibility, but beyond these sort of like, you know, like metaphysical conversations, there’s very little action about implementing and incorporating that ethical, moral imperative into policies and programmes. You know, ing this up, that subsidies for fossil fuels, as well as agriculture, and so on, so forth are around like $7 trillion; so that’s about, I want to say about more or less 8-9% of global GDP, that we’re still spending on fossil fuels around the globe, which really is just an egregious statistic, knowing what the IPCC has been telling us, for many, many, many years, knowing what we know now, which people have known for a long time; but now, all of those climate impacts are manifesting from climate refugees to, you know, starvation and everything else in between, but despite that, there’s this massive investment going towards fossil fuel industries and these industries are at this point, getting propped up through these subsidies, and that’s where sort of like, you know, the challenge is. Often, the ethical considerations are completely lost altogether, and often, we don’t really push our politicians to do more and think about the future generations. The questions we really should be asking ourselves is that, you know, what is it that we want to explain to our children that, why is it that we did nothing to prevent a totally catastrophic future, which we’re going to leave with them? And often these conversations get shut down, whenever you’re just stating the state of affairs, be it the political economy of climate change, be the impacts of climate change. People often conflate it with oh, well, you’re pushing climate doom and gloom, when the reality and the lived experiences and the embodied experiences of poor people around the world, including the United States, are just those particular realities. But people want you to create, particularly a lot of climate scientists, they want you to create this cognitive dissonance basically, to not think about that intergenerational justice, right? Like, to not think about what is it that we’re going to be owing people in the future, and then they talk about this, like mythical technology and techno-optimism, that’s somehow going to fix climate change in the future, which it’s not. It’s a very complex social issue; until we start putting pressure on our politicians, until academics such as myself start explicitly, specifically, holding these politicians, and including our own leaders within these institutions, accountable, I’m not sure, like, if we’re going to be able to deliver what we owe to the future generations, unless we embrace this sustainable future as one of those really key priorities from an ethics and morality perspective. So, because I can pontificate about it all day long, but till we stop pegging our imagination to political expediency, it will not deliver an intergenerational climate justice.
DL: Yeah, thank you. Actually, when you say that, I’ll talk about all the oil that is being right now, you know, all the permits that are being issued out right now, it’s very interesting, I’m from Uganda, and we are 100% renewable, honestly, because we have hydro, and then we have solar, that’s all we use as energy, and you know, obviously, we have biomass, which is considered “renewable”, and there are issues around how you define renewable in terms of biomass. But yeah, so we discovered oil in the Albertine region, right? And so, right now, it’s a big talk of like, when do we start to drill and who is drilling? Who is investing in that space? And, you see the superpowers that are coming in, France, specifically; the French are like, really, really strong. They’ve really like, put themselves out there and they’re investing heavily. And it’s in the most beautiful space, the Murchison Falls National Park; it’s a wonderful place to go to, and I really want to go back and like take all the pictures that I need to get, because I know it’s not going to be the same anymore. But, it breaks my heart to know that the big powers are the ones who are investing in this space, and we’re not going to see the benefits of having a clean environment, clean air quality anywhere in Uganda. And, I worked with the native tribes in the US and they have a thing where they say, you should be able to use whatever you use from the land, and have seven generations after you come in and use the same resource or enjoy the same benefit that you are enjoying presently. So, thank you for putting that into context for us, and maybe, this goes right into what you just shared, so, within the intergovernmental organizations, it’s assumed that wealthy, wealthier countries have a moral obligation to the poorer nations in supporting adaptation and mitigation measures. How do you address the ethical implications of global power dynamics, right, in the context of climate change and public health? Because, these are the same people who are like, at the COP, they’re the ones who are in the Paris Agreements, and they are the very same people who are funding these big power projects or fossil fuel projects, so please help us, sort of, like understand this.
AI: Yeah, absolutely. So I think, my focus or rather critique in the Western Hemisphere, is more geared toward the so-called liberals, especially in the US context, which is kind of more like, the average person is a centre-right Democrat, and, but they consider themselves to be like, you know, liberal people who are socially progressive. But more often than not, you know, like they are more married to the ideas of respectability politics, and less so about delivering action or delivering benefits to those at the margins of the society. I say that all to say that, in my view, like, I don’t think proposals like climate reparations are radical, I think they are very much a pragmatic, practical policy solution to what’s coming with climate change. So, how do we go about it, in my view? I think like, from an ethics perspective, I’m not sure if it’s also complicated, to really aggressively advocate for climate reparations around the globe. Now, what shape or form that they take, that is something we can discuss and think about, and consider the voices, specifically of the people, of the so-called Global South, as opposed to, you know, giving into this tendency of speaking for the voiceless, in a very colonial mindset. But I think climate reparations is that good starting point, and there’s some action at the UN level, from a loss and damage perspective; we’ll see how aggressively it’s pursued and actually implemented, but these conversations have sort of like an intake in some shape or form. Climate reparations, in my view, is the only way to move forward if we are to actually incorporate climate ethics into these conversations, because wealthier nations, like they have a lot of resources that they’re constantly spending on things like, you know, militaries, like for instance, in the United States context, the sheer amount of money we spend on our military, just to bomb people around the globe, by an institution that’s one of the most polluting industry on the entire planet, the American military; so, just imagining a world where you’re repurposing those resources and giving back to the communities who never caused the problem to begin with. So kind of going back to some of the statistics we were sharing at the beginning of this conversation, that much of it, you know, it was created by people in the Western Hemisphere and rich people specifically on that, and it continues to be a problem that is being caused by the richest, and the prices getting paid by the poorest. I’m sure you’ve come across, at least in one capacity or the other, if you were on any social media, about the submarine that was, you know, trying to go see Titanic, with all these billionaires, right? So, it’s just fascinating that there was this other story about 700+, you know, people who were trying to get to the Greece coast—they’re just fleeing violence, they’re fleeing a lot of other social challenges that can be traced back to colonialism in the past, and to some extent, to climate change at the moment, because climate change, disrupts livelihoods, and so on, so forth—but, there was virtually nothing that was done for those particular folks. In fact, my understanding is that the Coast Guard was observing that ship calling or issuing distress signals, but they took a very long time to actually try to do something to help them, versus when you look at these billionaires, like multiple countries’ entire military apparatus was mobilized to try to find this little submarine, so like you know, say, Canada and Canadian Navy were mobilized, US Navy and Coast Guard, French military was mobilized, and you know, all sorts of apparatus and both, you know, from their policy position perspective, as well as practical resources that were poured into trying to find that. And, in my view, it kind of creates this sort of, you know, this like picture for climate change, right? Like, you know that when it’s happening to the richest, whatever is it that you know, whichever way you look, you know, that all the resources immediately appear out of nowhere, right? So, all of a sudden, we have the money and the finances to support these people. But if it’s about the poor, we constantly want to push this neoliberal scarcity mindset that, oh, we don’t have resources, when they actually do. So, long-winded way of saying that I think climate reparations is the way to go, and as far as like, you know, how do we think about kind of both considering the implications of it and practically moving towards it, in my view, the only way moving forward is to say, global solidarity among the poor and working class, across nations, both within nations, as well as across the globe, to really put pressure on governments around the globe. Because like these governments, even in the Global South continue to be controlled by these global regimes like the World Bank, or IMF, or the political pressure from nations like the United States, so even if people are demanding something, the governments have only so much capacity to do so, because there are all these other pressures that are imposed by the Western world. So thinking about like, you know, that particular global solidarity from, you know, again, Global South to Global North, but having a more ethical responsibility in the Western world, where we are putting a lot more pressure on our governments to do more, like in the case of United States, for instance, I rarely ever come across anyone in public health, and I’m talking about scholars, and other faculty and colleagues, who are engaged with climate negotiations at the UN level, let alone providing policy solutions, let alone just, you know, creating this mass mobilization to put pressure on our government, so, the government is negotiating on the behalf of poor people, both in this country as well as the Global South, as opposed to negotiating on behalf of corporations, which is something that the US government has historically done.
DL: Wow, wow. Well said, and well put. And it’s very interesting, because I did a class in my first year here for my Master’s—it was international law and climate change. That class broke my heart in so many ways, but it also like, got me thinking a lot about that I’m from Uganda, and it’s less represented in these international talks, right, much more like all the other countries that are struggling, right, basis the people who are representing us, so the people who are able to show up. When you talk about visa issues, are we going to get a visa to go for these talks, first of all, and are you going to have like good lawyers, because these countries have very good lawyers who can go and negotiate, right? Are you going to be able to afford the good lawyers to show up and negotiate for you? Who is going to show up for you anywhere? Like other people, they are sending their data scientists, but we don’t have that, right? Or if we do, there are very few. And so when you go in these talks, and if you’re able to go to the talks, how are you able to negotiate for your own country, for your own continent, for your own people—it becomes a big question, and I thought about it so much, it bogged me down, and I’m like, I’m tired of thinking about it. Because at the end of the day, there is so much unfairness that goes on around and around the world, and climate change is only going to exacerbate the unfairness around us because who’s going to afford, you know, to live a comfortable life when all this happens, so thank you for bringing that up.
AI: Yeah, I just wanted to interject just very quickly to say that you’re absolutely like 100% spot on, and I just want to share that I was at COP27 in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt, and the room charges at the particular resort where they decided to have that conference were like, I think sometimes, like upwards of $1,000 a night, like no one can afford it. I mean, forget people coming from, you know, in that context, local continent; you know, even people like poor people, or even middle-class people in the US context, and so no one can afford to actually go and join these conversations. And so, it becomes this question of like, you know, climate education as well, that are we educating our communities? Are we educating our students? Are we educating our faculty? Are we educating the masses, so they actually know what these conversations are about? And what is it that our government agenda is, that what are those simplified talking points that these people can actually push for one way or the other, right? Like, this is what you should be negotiating. And that’s where I think this colonial apparatus comes into play, coloniality of knowledge, and the reason that thing survives is, basically is that there’s so much confusion and vague and complicated language that gets used, and people are told that, oh, well, it’s beyond your comprehension, so you can’t do it. And then there’s this, like, you know, practical challenge, which you have to really point out that it’s not something that people can simply even think about going to, let alone actively participating in any meaningful way, at the global stage. And, then there’s this sort of, this language of, you know, civic society engagement, which is really that, you know, like, you create this venue where people can talk about it, and those venues are always vibrant at these international negotiation conferences, but at the same time, you know, like they are used to, you know, mask the actual inaction, across these particular conferences on a consistent basis.
DL: Yeah, wow. I mean, that’s where we are right now. Sometimes you think about it, and you’re like, I can’t think about it anymore, because there’s nothing, I feel hopeless, I can’t do anything, and it’s very crippling. In my case, I’m more of an action-based person, and so when I get to that point where I can’t do anything, I feel really bogged down. So one day, one day. Let’s just talk about, because this, this is a very interesting conversation, and just to tie into that, you know, like centering voices who are the oppressed, right? So in your article Colonialism, the climate crisis and the need to center indigenous voices, you mentioned that colonialism and capitalism are the root causes of climate change and environmental degradation, and we’ve seen this anyway. Could you help break this down for us, at least for those who don’t have an understanding of what colonialism is, in terms of climate change? And in terms of like, the importance of centering indigenous voices within these conversations around climate change, and public health, and you know, these big international platforms where decisions are being made for people who are not at the table?
AI: Yeah, absolutely. So, colonialism basically in my view, if you can just boil it down, it’s been this, like, extractive project by a very small percentage of the global population. It has been about commodification of resources and human beings, and it has historically reflected in literal extraction and colonization of all these countries, and current contemporary settler colonial nations like the one I am in, the United States of America. And that particular process itself, has always been about extracting labor and extracting value, and it has completely and absolutely disregarded anything that was outside of that particular singular outcome of extracting wealth, from everything that they saw, be it the global humanity, be the resources, be the environment, and so on, so forth. And that’s something that continues to pay dividends for those who have historically done that, and that gets sho wed in the global power dynamics that you were referring to earlier, and it shows again, in, like, rich people consuming most of the resources that we were talking about earlier, and so on, so forth. So that’s been the colonial project, right, you know. And, the contemporary understanding, primarily coming from, I don’t think it’s anything malicious, but for most scientists, particularly in the STEM sector—we don’t historicize our scientific developments, we don’t historicize how we got to where we are today. And often, things like colonialism are seen as these things of the past, when they’re not; they’re very much present today, they’ve just taken different shapes or forms, right? I’m not going to get too theoretical as to not bog down the listeners, but, what I will say is that, you know, I encourage them to check out this particular framework called coloniality matrix of power, where they’re sort of, you know, these scholars and theorists have been working on it for a very, very long time. And primarily, a couple of things that I’ll point out from it, is that colonialism basically, in our contemporary society, reflects in this notion of coloniality of power, which is really about structures of power control and hegemony. Right, so like, you know, think about the inescapability of capitalism that is, you know, beaten into our heads where we think that capitalism is the end of history, and we cannot move past it. And that’s one example of both coloniality of power and coloniality of knowledge, right? Like, you know, thinking about the neoliberal systems in the contemporary society that are pushed by Western worlds across the globe, and if anyone who resists it, we creates this entire made-up, conjured-up narrative about how much we care about human rights when we actually don’t, and impose all sorts of crippling, dehumanizing sanctions; so the example would be Cuba, for instance. So, things like that, you know, those are examples of coloniality of power, right, so like, you know, WTO, IMF, World Bank, the United States, and funding mechanisms around the globe, all of these serve to maintain that colonial power around the globe. And, that’s something, it’s not in the past, it’s not on the fringes, it’s very much our lived reality, but it requires that we question our ontological assumptions about how the world works, which very few people are given time to actually think about that part. And along the same lines, you know, there’s this similar notion of coloniality of knowledge, which is really about, you know, just basically making Western ways of thinking and Western knowledge as universal. So like, you know, like this very positivist way of thinking, that everything needs to be observed; these are the people who have difficulty entertaining the ideas of fairness and justice and ethics and morality, because you cannot quantify and reduce it down to a number. Because that’s where their comfortable and easier spot for them to perceive the world lies and that’s really kind of, I think, again, like it becomes incredibly important that we are interrogating our ontological assumptions about how the world works. And, in doing so, we can reject this binary thinking of, you know, just having one or the other responses to both climate change as well as to our political system, as well as to the current global world order, and really rethink and reimagine a world, which is just, and kind and humane, and without climate change.
DL: Yeah. Wow. I mean, when you just talked about that, I was just thinking about, I was going back to my own research, and what I’m seeing. I work in a space of air quality alternatives, as you know, back home in Uganda. and all the papers that are being written, and it’s only been recent, that people are doing research in air quality or at least ambient air quality, because we have not heard also monitors to monitor air, measure the specifics of what the particulates are in the air, because it’s very expensive, obviously. And we have to rely on like the Western world, to like get the technology there set up, and all the things that come along with it. And, probably I’m going to be very frustrated, because I like to think about why are things the way they are, and maybe I’m not supposed to do that and just go with the way business is as usual like everyone else, but I’m not that kind of person; I like to question things and why they are. And it’s also part of my research—I look at how colonialism shaped the air quality that we see. All the papers coming out right now, just talk about the numbers and I’m like, but, there is a reason why things are the way they are. And so for my research, we were colonized by the British in Uganda, right? And so where they designed the city boundaries, so we had the British settlements, we have the Indian settlements, and then we have the native settlements, and so you see that the air quality in these settlements is very different, but no one is talking about this. So I like that you have to question like, you bring the question of colonialism into, like, climate change, because you have to understand some of these things to make meaning of where you are currently. So thank you for bringing that to our attention.
AI: Absolutely, absolutely. And I think that you’re spot on. And I’ll also share that, you know, like I was born in Pakistan and grew up there. And that too, is just like kind of, a former British colony, because the British have been, the English I should say, have been the nightmare for the entire world. And there, you know, I grew up in a farming family, and you know, at the time, you don’t have the requisite knowledge to understand and analyze things. But looking back, much of the challenges that, you know, my family or my community was facing, you could trace those back to those colonial processes, right? Like, you know, kind of, you are doing this really incredibly ground-breaking work of thinking about your pollution and coloniality, and the still remaining effects of colonialism, both in power structures and physical structures. Like I’ve observed it in that sort of like, you know, Indian and Pakistani context. The British, like their interest was, again, like, you know, just the commodification of just about everything that they saw, and extracting value from it for their own benefit, not for the communities. And, there was this, like mass diversions of rivers at this, like large-scale commercial irrigation, and it led to sort of like, you know, destruction of many, many ecosystems. And, there are parts of Pakistan, that now have major flooding issues, because those systems were destroyed under this, like British irrigation systems that they develop for commercial crops, right? So a lot of it was about sort of like, again, like people lived in a lot more sustainable ways, but they were all about cash crops, and that ended up robbing indigenous populations of their autonomy to protect their natural communities and the ways they’ve been living for centuries. So like, you know, it created all sorts of these so-called mandi (which is a term for market) accounts, which was, again, all about cash economy, it was all about the superiority of urban population, it was all about creating local indigenous elites who can then do the bidding of these colonial oppressors on their behalf like, you know, the new canal system, the seepage from that water system, that increased water tables, and eventually sort of, their issues of waterlogging, and just, total crop destruction, around that country. And, those are just some of the things that come to mind, from that colonial process, that the country is still paying the price for, up till this day. So yeah, so, thank you for sharing the example of Uganda.
DL: Yeah, sure. I’m yet to publish the paper. I’ll share it with you, because I think the results that I’m seeing, they are very interesting. And, as we start to wrap up, I would just want you to speak more on like, I mean, you went to the COP27, but like the report of COP26 on climate change and health, states that the public health benefits from implementing ambitious climate actions far outweigh the costs. Could you speak more on this as it relates, obviously, to the ethics of achieving this?
AI: Let me just preface this by saying that the challenge isn’t that people don’t know, or, by people I mean, like, you know, scholars and practitioners of climate change; the challenge is that the way these like colonial regimes work around the globe, including and within countries and in countries like the United States, is that this notion of incrementalism, it convinces us that mass death and violence is acceptable. So bit by bit by bit by bit, of over the years and decades, we get convinced, and we just like, you know, move our goalposts even further. COVID is an example, for instance, before I get to the benefits of that action, COVID is an example. You know, initially, it’s a lot of mass deaths that was caused by this particular disease, and a vast majority of it was preventable. But our governments, two successive administrations, failed the population both in the United States, as well as around the globe, colossally, in epic proportions, where they basically actively made a decision that they’re going to prioritise the economy, and not the poor people; and the result was this mass death and morbidity and mortality, and the long term effects of COVID. But, that wasn’t a process that happened overnight; it was a process where they basically started convincing people that oh, X amount of death is acceptable, Y amount of death is acceptable, and then that bar kept getting lower and lower and lower and lower and lower, and, to the point where people were, are now convinced that millions of people who have died, and thousands, who are dying right now, and getting disabled, is an acceptable thing, as a society. I shared that all to say that climate change is pretty much along the same lines from an ethical perspective, because like, as the years pass by, as opposed to really harping on that urgency and putting pressure on the governments, what we’re really doing is we’re trying to convince that oh, X is acceptable, but that sort of like, value of that X continues to get changed to a point where again, like, you know, massive deaths and morbidity and mortality that’s caused by climate change continues to be an acceptable thing, as opposed to actively, aggressively thinking about trying to mitigate it; which brings us to our question of, you know, benefits, which is really, for the most part, I’m not sure like, there is any ethics-related or, you know, morality related debate about the action. Rather, the question or the framing should be that, what are the costs of inaction, because that’s the question that is not asked. So like, even when we’re talking about health inequities, or social inequities, or Global North, you know, inequities, often the conversation is always about, oh, look at X community who is getting impacted, but we don’t talk about the flip of it, which is really well, who stands to benefit from it? So, in this particular, sort of, like, you know, question, I mean, we know for sure that just that 0.5 degree change, 1.5 degree centigrade, which is something that we were aiming for, and now, we’ve been convinced both by the government and a lot of well-meaning scientists, who are pushing this sort of, like, you know, the narrative of climate optimism, which at some point, is scientific malpractice, in my view, you know. Now we know that the 1.5 degrees centigrade is, you know, we don’t think we’re going to be able to get there, right? So, now the conversation is about 2 degrees centigrade; so, even if we were to look at just that difference of 0.5 degrees centigrade overall warming, like, it’s a massive, massive difference. For freshwater availability, like that doubles in terms of like, you know, the reduction in it in the Mediterranean; I think that was one of the statistics I was looking at. From, you can look at the crop yield, you know, the production goes down, almost like you know, 0.5 degrees centigrade reduces the crop production by twice as much as it would have been at 1.5 degrees centigrade. And then similarly, with sea level rise, coral bleaching, and so on, so forth; the list goes on and on and on. But the point is that, you know, as opposed to using that 1.5 as an aggressive metric, now, we’re convinced that oh, well, we can’t do 1.5, let’s aim for 2. And, in a decade, people are just going to start pushing, well, you’re being a climate doomer and gloomer, maybe we should aim for 2.5, right? And, often these are people who are in positions of privilege; like, you know, these are academics, who have the luxury to sit in their, in some cases, literal glass houses, and talk about what level of acceptability they’re comfortable with when it comes to mass death of the poor masses of the globe. So, I say that all to say that I think the question should be reframed; the question we should be asking is, what are the costs of climate inaction? And that, in my view, would be a lot more generative, because like this thing, really, you know, reproduces all those talking points (like, well, it’s too expensive) but no one talks about how expensive inaction is going to be and what sort of moral challenges that inaction is going to create from climate refugees, and internally, displaced populations, and so on, so forth.
DL: Thank you very much, and it’s been wonderful speaking with you and over back to Shahzad.
SG: With that, I would like to thank our guest, Dr Ans Irfan, and our interviewer Dorothy Lsoto, for joining us on this episode of Atmospheric Tales. Thanks to all our listeners for tuning in; make sure to subscribe and share!