The Octopus in the Parking Garage

This is an insight written by Grace Powers on the recent Bahá’ì Chair for World Peace Virtual Conference – Global Climate Crisis: Seeking Solutions – held on April 14, 2020. 

Maxine Burkett, a Professor of Law at the University of Hawaii Manoa, gave an interesting talk regarding climate justice. She emphasized the effect of climate change beyond the immediate environmental and scientific changes, but the social and ethical impacts it has on many humans. Burkett brought up very interesting and thoughtful points to discuss these effects that are less commonly addressed.

My attention was immediately drawn to her presentation when she mentioned the octopus that had ended up in the parking garage. Her analogy of this octopus as “the elephant in the room” emphasized the drastic changes that are happening and our entrance into a new, unpredictable, chaotic, and relentless time. A large part of her presentation discussed the effects that legal systems have yet to give enough attention to.

When I think of climate change, I immediately think of global warming, melting glaciers, and diminishing natural habitats for wildlife. I was able to learn a lot more about climate change’s impacts on humans in their own habitats. Many people, especially in underdeveloped and small island states, become very vulnerable from the results of climate change. Their habitats are destroyed and they are essentially forced to relocate their lives.

Many problems can arise when these small states render their citizens without a place to live. Relocating can cause a large loss in culture and heritage. In addition, these areas are generally very poor which can make it extremely difficult for people to relocate due to lack of financial resources. This gives me a new perspective that I have not personally experienced. I am fortunate to live in an area that has not been affected by climate change and if it were, I would have the means to relocate. It is also very unfortunate to look at the emission pollution statistics, which show that the communities affected most by climate change are the ones that contribute least to it. The large states are producing pollution that is in the long term affecting smaller states with less control and money.

Professor Burkett states how these issues of statelessness that are gaining more influence and producing more implications are not yet fully fleshed out by law and this needs to change. Because the legal system is more focused on scientific changes, there is not enough emphasis on the issue of migration. We need a new thinking about the legal system and must incorporate just methods to accommodate for the people affected by migration. This can indeed be difficult to plan for, especially when the predicted numbers have a wide range, but it is necessary in order to provide justice for humans.

Burkett’s discussion enlightened me on serious problems regarding climate change that may not be as evident to people. I did not realize how faulty our legal system was in accommodating for relocation or even recognizing the issue enough. Many people are unfortunately impacted by climate change and it may be hard to see if it doesn’t happen to us directly, but it is very important to be aware of this issue as climate change is only getting worse. I learned a lot from this discussion and gained a new perspective on climate change beyond its most obvious effects.

About the Author:

Grace Powers is a sophomore studying Bioengineering at the University of Maryland, College Park. She is especially interested in biomaterials and regenerative medicine. After college, she hopes to pursue a Master’s of Engineering and work in industry for a biomedical device company.

You can view the video of Professor Burkett’s lecture on our youtube page here.

You can view the other videos of the conference on our youtube page here.

You can find out more about the Bahá’í Chair by watching our video here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *