humble ramble. Vol 5: equity
The story of equity is all around us. Its manifestations permeate and even define the world as we see it and are reflected in even the smallest of details of our lives. The presence or absence of equity informs and contributes to our lived experiences and often goes unnoticed and unnamed.
At its heart, at least in my mind, equity is about relationships. While equality is similar, it is more about math than people, and sometimes even arbitrary sameness. Statistical ‘equivalence’ is not the whole picture, as it does not engage with the nuance and uniqueness of individuals and communities in our human family. To me, equity holds within it, notions of fairness and justice and imbues a reciprocal approach to interacting with one another, with elements of responsibility and recognition.
Broad awareness of the importance and value of equity has increased in recent years partly as the recognition of the math (inequality) amongst people becomes increasingly pervasive, stark and violent. The exploitative nature of capitalism requires this unequal distribution of resources and thrives when hierarchy and discrimination abound. As equity (social, economic and expressions therein) has strong relational aspects, its discourse is often located deeper than the prevailing news cycle or typical. organizational processes allow for. If we don’t have time to reflect, or we are too distracted, or too inundated with anxiety-inducing news, or optimized towards short-term, financial wins — we are far less likely to truly see those in our community and understand their needs (and likely not even our own) and act in an equitable manner.
Equity also entered into mainstream western vernacular through the momentum to create better experiences for all humans within institutions and organizations through Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) frameworks. Diversity and inclusion are outcomes of approaching relationships and organizational questions with a lens of equity. DEI work is responding to systemic capitalist (read also patriarchy, colonialism, white supremacy) underpinnings that marginalize and exploit humans for profit. A lens of equity is as relevant for small local organizations and for international relations.
A few weeks ago, the IPCC released its latest report: Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. The report does a masterful job articulating our current planetary circumstances. The brilliant and unpaid work of the world’s greatest minds in climate science— all of whom (270 authors plus another 670 contributing authors) must agree with every line of the report shows what our species is capable of, all rounds of comments facilitated virtually. Despite the increasingly unpredictable and unprecedented nature of our current climate and biodiversity, those with the ability to affect change have never had such a sophisticated picture painted for them upon which to act.
With so much to digest related to the science and the imperatives for the broad-based collective transformation of our lives as we know them, I was struck by the recurring theme of equity shared by the co-chairs of the report as they shared the findings. While adaptation was a recurring theme throughout the report, the need to build equity was highlighted as vulnerability is not evenly shared, but rather reflects our global system’s entrenched exploitative and unequal nature.
Many countries have already experienced and are currently experiencing major to catastrophic disruptions to their lives from intensifying climate events. This reality is not yet articulated in the mainstream media’s narrative of climate, and thus serves to alienate those vulnerable people living through climate chaos now.
“We are not yet ready for what has already happened.”
-Alex Steffen, futurist and author
Think about the dissonance that must be felt in island nations whose way of living has already been irreversibly upended while the wealthiest nations talk about setting targets for electric cars for 2050. Or about the sense of powerlessness of the citizens of the world (including in Brazil) watching the attempts to deforest the Amazon, which would significantly exacerbate the climate emergency throughout the world in a myriad of ways we cannot even comprehend or predict. Or in Canada where much of the discourse revolves around how to secure a stable supply of oil and gas as the war in Ukraine disrupts established sources from Russia, and that, it is proposed in this piece that Canada could increase fossil fuel production and do something it has never done, reduce emissions. This narrative is in stark contrast to a recent study that included Canada, stating (my emphasis):
To comply with the carbon budget for a 50:50 chance of not exceeding 1.5°C of warming requires immediate and deep cuts in the production of all fossil fuels. There are no exceptions; all nations need to begin a rapid and just phaseout of existing production. The report makes absolutely clear that there is no capacity in the carbon budget for opening up new production facilities of any kind, whether coal mines, oil wells or gas terminals. A transition based on principles of equity requires wealthy, high-emitting nations to phase out all oil and gas production by 2034 while the poorest nations have until 2050 to end production.
It is clear that there is an urgent need for equity amongst people and countries, regions — to be established as a lens for all actions (such as investment in adaptation) in the context of our planetary crisis, without it those who have less economic power will continue to be defined by those with more: as less human and ultimately expendable.
Wealthy nations and corporations — whose economic power has been accumulated through the exploitation of others, must acknowledge that their own survival will now only be found in the cultivation of reciprocal, mutualistic relationships with the very same humans they have enslaved, in one way or another until now.
We are all facing this planetary crisis, though from very different circumstances — including the available resources for adaptation. Some of the most urgent and meaningful actions that need to be taken today are in areas of the world without the wealth to do so. This means that equity must be built through immediate practice, both a relative and an absolute sense of responsibility to one another. This sense of mutualistic relationship is how we answer the question of, as Bathsheba Demuth describes it, “how we reduce the pace at which our adaptations have to happen.”
We all need to be in this, together.