Written by Colleen McCamy

The Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969 helped to spread awareness about the dangers of  fossil fuels and kickstarted the formation of Earth Day. The environmental movement has since snowballed into a global effort to reduce the spread and impact of human caused climate change. Over the last few decades the effort has grown from an environmentally driven movement to a social justice movement. You can see the same trend here at UCSB, as students, faculty, and staff push for a more inclusive conversation. As defined by  Mary Robinson, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Climate justice is a moral argument in two parts. It compels us to understand the challenges faced by those people and communities most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Often the people on the front lines of climate change have contributed least to the climate crisis. Climate justice also informs how we should act to combat climate change.” It seeks to prevent disproportionate burdens of climate change felt by poor and minority communities and provides inclusive opportunities for representation in community decisions.

Climate justice movements also acknowledge the deep rooted historical injustice of marginalized, indigenous, and poor communities as a cause inequality of environmental burdens. The movement dives deep into the intersections of racial, social, and economic inequities due to climate change. As every living being depends on a healthy planet to flourish, climate justice unites us all to fight for a future for all to flourish in.

Climate Justice Conversations with Students

Students here at UCSB are motivated to make climate justice a priority within the climate change movement by incorporating it into our campus culture. The Climate Justice Hub is a new campus organization whose mission is to build a group of student activists that concentrate on fair and just treatment of all people suffering from climate and environmental injustice. Climate Justice Hub Co-Founder and President, Michelle Sevilla believes that focusing on climate justice is crucial to the success of the movement. According to Sevilla,“It is easy to become clinically scientific and mathematical when engaging in discourses of climate change especially during climate negotiations. But the term ‘climate justice’ brings forth a sense of greater urgency than deciding what ‘the Earth can tolerate’ (planetary boundaries)–it demands that we do right by the living beings who are suffering from our inaction, our ‘business-as-usual’ behavior that we passively engage in everyday. The reach of climate justice is extensive and inclusive, from the people of the Maldives and Tuvalu to our local farmers who struggle with altered weather patterns.” For these reasons, the Climate Justice Hub is working to integrate climate justice within the environmental movement at UCSB. Recently they have been working with the American Indian Student Association (AISA) and the local indigenous community in order to bring indigenous peoples to the front line of justice issues regarding climate change.  They are also partnering with other organizations to rally against proposed new oil wells and to  advocate for UC divestment from the fossil fuel industry.

Claire Wilson from the UCSB chapter of Fossil Free UC is working with the Climate Justice Hub to advocate for divestment. Wilson believes that climate justice is essential when discussing any environmental movement, “…because humans are inherently linked to the environment and its destruction. However, factors like race, social class, and economic inequities greatly contribute to where environmental problems occur and who is affected. The people who are usually affected by climate change are oftentimes the most disenfranchised.” Fossil Free UC, a coalition comprised of students, faculty, and staff across all 10 UC campuses, have been working since 2012 to encourage the UC to divest from the top 200 fossil fuel companies with largest carbon reserves. In September 2015, UC’s Chief Investment Office announced that the UC would stop investing in coal and tar sands, this is a victory for Fossil Free UC. Fossil Free UC at UCSB is also working on a campaign to encourage students to divest their own money from banks that are invested in the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) pipeline.

On campus, the conversation around climate justice is starting to flourish within the academic setting and campus administration. Over the past few years, several classes spanning across multiple departments have addressed climate justice and the intersections of climate change. Climate justice language was also added to the draft 2016 Climate Action Plan for the campus.

By continuing the conversation of climate justice, even more can be achieved by UCSB students, faculty, and staff for the climate justice movement. This continued integration of climate justice in the climate change movement is important to ensure that every human has the ability to thrive in their environment.

If you would like to get involved with the two organizations discussed contact:

  • Climate Justice Hub: For People & Planet –

Meets every Tuesday South Hall 1430 at 6:00pm


  • Fossil Free UCSB

Tuesday at AS Main 7:00pm