Three questions on climate justice with Briana Meier

This September, ESI welcomed a new post-doctoral associate, Briana Meier, to explore partnerships under the umbrella of climate justice, where ESI’s expertise can make significant contributions to efforts of marginalized communities to adapt to and help mitigate the impacts of climate change. She is currently partnering with the Indigenous-led nonprofit organization Se’Si’Le on an initiative to build place-based, cross-cultural solidarity across urban spaces and Indigenous territories.

Briana’s background is in urban and regional planning and social science, and in her doctoral dissertation and work with Landscape for Humanity, she has focused on “temporary urbanisms,” the informal and transient ways that communities build connections in public spaces, especially after natural and human-made disasters. To introduce her, we asked her three questions on the concept of environmental and climate justice.

How does a focus on justice help effectively address environmental problems?

Environmental problems are inherently about the distribution of benefits, burdens, and decision-making power among humans — and between humans and the nonhuman world. A justice lens brings greater specificity and nuance to our analyses, and reminds us that all research and researchers are situated within particular contexts and conditions. This orientation recognizes that environmental problems are collective problems which require systems of accountability to the nonhuman world as well as shared participation among divergent human groups. While justice is often conceived as a matter of rights and equity, a focus on justice can also entail a celebration of our fundamental interconnectedness. Justice, then, can be a joyful and respectful approach to addressing difficult circumstances.

What’s the biggest lesson you too from your research on temporary urbanisms?

My dissertation research examined the potential for participatory, informal, temporary urban interventions to instigate communities of solidarity across cultural and political difference, particularly in situations of disaster and disruption. This work demonstrated to me that it is possible to live well together across divergent and even conflicting worldviews. People do it all the time out of necessity and by choice. Disaster and disruption bring great suffering, and these situations also open pathways for new ways of living. Seemingly simple collective activities of music, art, ceremony, preparing food, and gathering together in public spaces can instigate lasting and resilient communities. One of the biggest insights from this research has been how building shared connections to everyday places can support community building among diverse groups.

What’s one thing to keep in mind when exploring new partnerships with a climate justice angle?

In my work, I try to remember and celebrate that justice means very different things to various communities and cultures. Climate justice means more than making sure that burdens and benefits are distributed fairly and that harms are addressed. For me, good partnerships for work on climate justice require recognizing that we live in a world of many worlds (as discussed by Arturo Escobar, Maria de la Cadena, and many others). For instance, what are natural resources for some are homes and relatives to others. Climate justice involves respecting, recognizing, and protecting the many worlds in our world rather than trying to reduce these many worlds to a singular one. The diversity of life on Earth includes irreconcilable realities. These are circumstances to celebrate and strengths to build on.