What Today’s New York Times Editorial on Saving The Environment Got Wrong [Opinion]

By Yessenia Funes Aug 08, 2016

Today (Aug. 8) The New York Times published an opinion piece by its Editorial Board that makes the case for climate justice—except it doesn’t use the term “climate justice.” Not once.

The article, titled "Many Countries Will Need Help Adapting to Climate Change," urges rich countries to make “good on their promises to help low-lying island nations, some of the poorest countries in the world, build their defenses against the disastrous effects of climate change.” This notion, that the Global South shouldn’t have to deal with climate change alone—especially when its countries barely contributed to the man-made crisis—is a central tenet of climate justice. 

The opinion piece includes numerous reports which highlight the gravity of the issue for island nations, the African continent and the Middle East. As the editorial board points out, even the 2 degrees Celsius global-warming-limit-goal that countries agreed upon at last year’s United Nations Climate Talks won’t save many poor countries. Two degrees Celsius is enough to scorch or flood many countries which are already on the precipice of environmenal disaster. 

So the editorial left me a bit confused and, well, very disappointed.

The Times has used “climate justice” before in its reporting. Of course stories will sometimes have quotation marks around the phrase or run it within a quote, but it’s not as if the paper is unfamiliar with the term. The newspaper missed a valuable opportunity to inform and educate the public on what climate justice means.

Upon reading the piece and having a problem with this aspect of it, I reached out to Carlton Waterhouse, the director of Indiana University’s Environmental, Energy and Natural Resources Law Program. He has written about climate justice for the Times before.

Waterhouse, in fact, likes the editorial and said he does not take issue with the term’s absence (though he thinks it would have been great if they had mentioned it). However, he wishes the story had explained why climate change is a justice issue. "Domestically, in the United States, there’s a great deal of ignorance with justice in environment and climate change," he says. 

"The important thing is that people understand the underlying concept," he says. "My challenge with the editorial is that I don’t know if, after reading that, people are clear why it’s a matter for justice."

Read the editorial here and let us know your thoughts in the comments.