Class issues and the climate movement

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The ideas and knowledge shared on this page come from a discussion between these panelists held on November 2nd, 2022 that was moderated by Jacob Pirro, a member of the HUB team.

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Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood (he/him) is a Senior Fellow at the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), a non-partisan, non-profit public policy think tank. His work examines the social and economic dimensions of Canada's transition to a zero-carbon economy, including the need for a just transition for working people and vulnerable communities across the country. He contributes to CCPA's Trade and Investment Research Project and Alternative Federal Budget. Hadrian holds a master's degree in political economy from Carleton University.
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Cynthia Calderon Gambini (he, iel), originally from the Quechua people of Ayacucho in Peru, is a worker at the Logements de l'Envol and a psychosocial worker at the CIUSSS de l'Est-de-l'Île-de-Montréal. He co-founded the Multicultural and Against Exclusion Committee of Cégep Marie-Victorinand continues to be involved in his community, notably through the creation of an Aboriginal space. Within his commitment, he has campaigned for several social causes including climate justice, migration justice, the rights of parents who are students, indigenous struggles as well as the rights of queer people.
Jérémie Lamarche (he/him) is a community organizer at RAPSIM, the Support Network for Single and Homeless People in Montreal. The Network defends the rights of people who are homeless or at risk of being homeless and brings together 104 community organizations dealing with issues of social housing, day and evening centres, street resources, food aid and socio-professional integration. During his studies in social work, Jérémie campaigned with the movement for climate justice as well as for the salary of internships.

Suzanne MacNeil (she/her) is a long-time labor activist based in Kjipuktuk, Unceded Mi'kmaq Territory, also known as Halifax, Nova Scotia. She is currently advocating with Justice for Workers Nova Scotia for a $20 minimum wage and labor standards reforms. Suzanne has held a number of leadership positions, including past chair of the Cape Breton and Halifax-Dartmouth District Labor Councils and as a union training facilitator.

Defining class and the distinction between classes

When asked about definitions related to class:

  • Panelists sense that there is a widespread belief in so-called Canada that we are a classless or largely middle class society.
  • The working class is diversified... does the middle class exists? Who can survive and flourish without selling their labor in exchange for a salary?
  • Social class cannot be reduced to the proletariat/bourgeoisie binary. Homeless people exist, do not sell their labor and are not privileged people.

The intersection between class and climate

Impact vs. responsibility

The climate crisis has a very significant impact on low-income people, marginalized people and Indigenous people; the groups that also are the least responsible for the climate crisis. 


The climate crisis is often experienced less immediately than other daily challenges, particularly among people in precarious situations. They must struggle on a daily basis to meet their basic needs (food security, housing, etc.). The pandemic has exacerbated these vulnerabilities. It is increasingly difficult to live in dignity and flourish in society.

Forced migration

Extreme weather events and massive resource extraction are increasing the migration of [more precarious] people seeking to survive.


Both the climate crisis and the economic classes are rooted in the same systems of oppression and exploitation (colonialism, imperialism and capitalism).


Both influence people's lives and the availability of resources.


Wealthier people are the most sheltered from climatic events. They have access to air conditioning, the ability to move, access to resources.

Differences between countries

Economic disparities exist between countries; some are better off by their domination over others. This means that there are disparities in the capacities of countries to prioritize the climate crisis and to respond to it by building the right infrastructure and building the resilience of communities.

Precarious work in climate action
Many people working in non-governmental organizations and climate researchers do not receive a living wage.

Collective experiences of oppression cause a person to have less time/energy to worry about the climate crisis. In other words, our main goal should not be to unite the working class and the environmentalists, but above all to show the links between the two realities.

Talking about class issues within the movement

Limited scope of critique
The critique of the capitalist class in the climate movement rarely strays from the critique of fossil fuel companies. There is a relative lack of familiarity and discomfort in doing this.
Jobs in the fossil industry

Communities dependent on fossil fuels are worried about not being considered in a transition. They fear losing their jobs, the way they support their families.

  • The Green New Deal includes those affected by a transition in the plan.

The government should be held accountable, not the people.

  • A carbon tax is accepted by the fossil industry because it does not threaten the power of the industry.

There must be solidarity between labour/union struggles and struggles for climate justice.

  • We must fight against extractivism without blaming the individuals who work in these industries.
  • It will be necessary collectively to remodel the means of production to find an alternative way of living.

How do we build a more just future?

Empower impacted voices.

In the public policy community and in decision-making spaces, several consultations have been initiated. They lack mechanisms to bring marginalized voices to the table. Many policies focus on solutions for the wealthy without considering the working class (e.g. rebates for home upgrades and electric cars).

Make spaces more accessible .

The climate justice movement should make its spaces accessible to those most in need. For example, by offering free food and babysitting services at events, meetings and actions.

Building solidarity between movements
Social change comes from people confronting corporations and demanding change; not from governments themselves or international conferences. We must unite social struggles and counter the discourse of "us vs. them".

See the page on the convergence of struggles for more.

Union support Unions in so-called Canada are mostly aligned with climate movements on the issue of the transition away from fossil fuels. This transition has government support and a social protection system for workers in transition.

What the climate movement can learn from the labour movement

Leave space for reflection spend time on building solidarity

We have to think long term by choosing our battles, making strategic compromises and balancing patience and urgency.

  • Righteous fascists are very adept at manipulating fears and perpetuating damaging discourse. Countering these narratives and fighting for justice will require solidarity.
Make sure our message meets people's needs
The only way our message will reach people is if it meets their needs; there are people who do not feel seen or heard by the movement for climate justice.

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