Release: The Breakthrough Journal Launches its 2021 Summer Issue: Ecomodern Justice

Berkeley, Calif. Last week, the Breakthrough Institute released its 2021 Breakthrough Journal Summer issue, Ecomodern Justice, focusing on how environmental policies and proponents often ignore the ramifications of their actions on low-income, communities of color, and developing nations. The journal was guest-edited by Dr. Joyashree Roy — Breakthrough Institute Senior Fellow and 2021 Paradigm Award recipient, and Chris Foreman — Breakthrough Institute Board Member, who are both coeditors of the Ecomodernist Manifesto. The journal includes five essays, one book review, three responses, and three poems. Authors include Jennifer Hernandez, the Breakthrough Institute’s newest board member and Partner at Holland & Knight, Seaver Wang, Breakthrough’s Senior Energy Analyst, and Dr. Roy.

In Green Jim Crow, Hernandez explores how California's environmentally-focused housing and transportation policies have accelerated “the displacement of communities of color from urban employment centers and, in many high-profile examples, gentrifie[d] these neighborhoods for affluent professionals" instead. In turn, she writes, although “California’s White progressive leadership boasts of creating a 'just transition' to an equitable low-carbon future,” the truth is “much darker: the creation of a new Green Jim Crow era in California.”

In Whose Transition, Wang and Maya Anthony, Project Development Coordinator at GRID Alternatives and former Breakthrough Generation Fellow, explore the collision of Navajo sovereignty and their transition to renewable energy. Fiscal and political autonomy for the Navajo Nation has coevolved over decades with the development of energy resources, particularly coal. But now, with coal in decline precisely as the Navajo Nation has won control over it, Navajo leaders struggle to balance economic and environmental sustainability.

In Basket Case to Beacon, Dr. Roy explores the narrative of Bangladesh as a desperately poor land, barely above sea level, waiting to drown, and in need of saving. Since gaining independence, Bangladesh has moved most of its population out of poverty. It has seen a stark drop in the mortality rates and displacement associated with tropical cyclones and sustained improvement across virtually every human development metric. Energy development has played a central role, most notably mining of natural gas reserves. Bangladesh’s decision to mine and use rather than sell its natural gas reserves has been key to developing its economy. It will also be vital in adapting to the changing environment due to climate change.

Throughout the issue, authors speak to how decades-old environmental policies have negatively impacted local communities—despite using those very communities as justifications for their policies. Without economic mobility, nations and communities cannot fight in their war against climate change.

Justice, it turns out, cannot be so easily achieved by bolting the term onto the end of various other progressive issues and concerns. Procedural and distributive justice claims are good at identifying power relations but often not so good at changing them.

As Dr. Roy and Chris Foreman write, “An ecomodern alternative will focus on the broadly shared benefits of technology, the value of self-determination, and the necessity of infrastructure, industrial policy, and democratic institutions. It will not demand obedience to science from those who need technology more than anything. It will not romanticize poverty and antiquarian systems of production. And it will support poor countries, Indigenous communities, and people of color to pursue industrial modernity on their own terms, rather than asking the rich and powerful or the developed world for either permission or charity.”