Mimi Sheller – Mobility justice, climate migration …pandemic (im)mobilities

Friday September 25, 2020
4:00 PM - 5:30 PM

Mobility Justice, Climate Migration and the Lessons of Pandemic (Im)mobilities

An online talk by:
Dr. Mimi Sheller
Professor of Sociology, Drexel University
Director, Center for Mobilities Research and Policy

* co-sponsored by the UBC Migration Mobilities Group and the UBC Latin American Studies Program

Friday, September 25, 2020
4:00 – 5:30 p.m. (Pacific Daylight Time)

[ Abstract ]
One new way to think about the connection between climate change and human mobility is through the concept of mobility justice. While we are all potential climate migrants, we are not all equally responsible for climate change. A central tenet of mobility justice is that those of us in the industrialized regions of the Global North, especially the wealthiest 10%, consume more energy and more fossil fuel than most people in the world. The well off “kinetic elite” – i.e., those with high motility (Kaufmann et al. 2004) – generally have high-energy lifestyles that are especially responsible for excessive carbon emissions, causing climate displacement around the world (Farber 2008). By understanding climate displacement as something driven by our fossil-fueled way of life in the Global North, we begin on a better footing to discuss the reception of climate migrants. In this talk I will discuss how the concept of “mobility justice is powerful precisely because it positions capitalism along with its fossil-fueled infrastructures of air travel, automobility, suburbanization and consumerism, at the very centre of the concern about climate change and displacement” (Baldwin et al. 2019: 291).  Mobilities are not just about movement, but are also loaded with meanings, values, and forms of justification. The term “climate refugees”, for example,  has been negatively appropriated into security discourses that drive a fear of refugees “flooding our shores”. It exacerbates the reactionary politics of wall-building and abandonment of people, whether in the Sonoran desert (De León 2015) or while crossing the Mediterranean (Heller 2020). The closing of borders due to Covid-19 has intensified these processes of closure and expulsion, with especially detrimental outcomes for the most vulnerable forced migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and repatriated deportees. “Restrictive border measures endanger the lives of vulnerable populations for whom movement is a means of survival” (Open Democracy 2020). We can instead use the concept of mobility justice “to re-characterise those displaced by ‘climate change’ not as ‘climate refugees’, but as displacees of a globalized network of intersecting mobility regimes fueled by fossil fuel extraction” (Baldwin et al. 2019: 291). This subtle change of meaning generates new conversations and potentially new policies around the reception of climate migrants as well as guiding more just policies concerning pandemic (im)mobilities.