Members of the Hamilton community gathered to hear Dr. Michael Dorsey’s lecture, “Pathways Beyond Paris: Toward Energy & Climate Justice” on Feb. 4. Dorsey currently works as the interim director for the Joint Center of Political and Economic Studies in Washington, D.C., but has previously worked for the Clinton and Obama administrations, the United Nations, the environmental departments of Ecuador and small island nations, and has served as a professor at Wesleyan University, Dartmouth College and several other institutions around the world.
The talk was sponsored by Hamilton’s Environmental Studies Department.
Dorsey began his talk with a series of questions; how do we get to a world with no warming? Does that world involve climate negotiations or not? He proposed that what our world needs is not global negotiations, but rather what referred to as “energy justice.”
Before delving into the details of energy justice, Dorsey explained the “where” and “what” of the real modern climate debate. After briefly introducing the basic facts of climate change -- that Carbon dioxide levels and temperatures are at unprecedented highs and increasing at astounding rates, that ice caps are melting, and that sea levels are rising -- he explained that the debate now revolves around the extent of anthropogenic impacts on climate extremes. With these facts in mind, Dorsey argued that the focal point of the climate change battle should be our world’s current “climate apartheid.”
Dorsey then delved into a discussion of the implications of climate injustice at a global level. Multiple studies show that the countries harmed the most and at the most alarming rates by climate change are the world’s most impoverished countries. Furthermore, those countries have contributed to the climate crisis the least.
Many studies involving healthcare crises and agro-economic vulnerability illustrate nearly identical nations, highly concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa, as the most impacted regions. As an expert on small island nations, Dorsey then shared several alarming, powerful images of Vanuatu Islands ravaged by record-breaking cyclones just months after United States negotiators blocked their appeal to the United Nations for a plan to save their island’s “climate refugees.”
In tandem with the topic of the climate refugee crisis, Dorsey went on to explain the ways in which climate change profoundly impacts marginalized individuals in our own nations as well. He demonstrated that this “climate gap” exists at multiple levels, within towns to cities to entire states, and society’s marginalized, impoverished, and struggling members who contribute far less to climate change than large industries with high concentrations of wealth face the most severe climate induced health problems.
After sharing these alarming facts and figures, Dorsey offered a primary solution to solving the world crisis of climate injustice: social and political mobilizations. While he supported current clean power plans, he claimed that their impact is far smaller than the world needs them to be, and called upon climate movements at local and global levels to ignite accelerated change and to convince the rest of the word that “we can do better” when it comes to discussion and action around climate change.