Climate Justice from Boston to the Arava Desert

JCRC’s Speaker Series continued last month with another dialogue between Boston’s civic leaders and Israeli and Palestinian peacebuilders. This time, we hosted a conversation featuring Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu and Dr. Tareq Abu Hamed of the Arava Institute. I can already hear the obvious response: There is no desert in Boston and no snow in the Arava, so what about climate change could these two have to talk about? While the specific challenges are different, there is much that we can learn from each other about how to take positive steps to help our planet.


I was struck by how both Councilor Wu and Dr. Abu Hamed referred to climate change as an issue of justice. Climate change is happening to the planet itself while justice as a concept usually governs interactions between people, so the connection is not immediately clear. What we have to remember is that changes to our planet directly affect human communities. In particular, many communities that are already marginalized or underserved contribute the least to climate change but are the ones most severely impacted. Different policies might change that dynamic, and therefore we have the opportunity to determine which fits best with our sense of justice. This commitment to justice, and thereby to humanity, give us a framework for a shared conversation about climate.


The second area of confluence was around coalition building. Coalition building is a political necessity, particularly when dealing with an issue such as climate. The Arava Institute, for example, is premised on the idea that climate has no borders and that Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians, and others will need to work together to manage climate change in the region. We have learned a similar lesson dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. These problems are not limited to one geographic area or political jurisdiction, and they require new partnerships of politicians and activists for us to make progress.


Perhaps most important is the need for building new coalitions, or at least connections, between social groups. This was a topic that Councilor Wu and Dr. Abu Hamed covered in great detail. Councilor Wu recalled growing up in Chicago, and how during heat waves different communities would make sure that their relatives, friends, and neighbors were being cared for. Dr. Abu Hamed took a great interest in this story, as there is a clear need for breaking down these barriers in Israeli and Palestinian society. It can happen for students, faculty, and staff at the Arava, and the question is how to translate that into a broader social phenomenon.


One of the great things about Boston Partners for Peace is that our work is not always obvious. I think what we are doing in cases like this is activating the potential that already exists. We can create synergy between people around the globe who are committed to a common issue, and even when the specific content does not always match up there is always room for discussion of the broader concepts. In this case, we are guided by shared commitments to justice, to humanity, and to building social cohesion to create the coalitions we need to bring about change.

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