Re-imagining “Imagine” through a climate justice lens (by Natalia Britto dos Santos)

Last June I participated in the Climate Justice field course in Toronto, with E4A’s cohort 3 and other students from York University. During an intense two-week period, we had many discussions and panels to try to understand what is climate justice and its multiple implications. When considering issues related to global and local climate policy, sacrifice zones, refugees, climate debt and finances, the concept of climate justice is not simple.


One way of thinking about climate justice is as a framework to understand, analyse and do something about the fact that climate change consequences are not equally distributed around the globe. More than that, responsibility is also not equal, as some groups have contributed more to the problem and have more wealth and power thanks to a fossil fuel intensive economy. And more often than not, the gains are concentrated in high-income countries and big corporations, while the burden is greater in vulnerable communities, low-income countries and indigenous groups.


And why should we care about climate justice? Well, there are many reasons, but maybe the most basic one is that every single life is equally important. And not only humans, but other species too, as we are all part of the same home, planet Earth. So why should some people have all the comfort they need (or don’t need), while others are losing their homes as sea levels rise? Why should fossil fuels continue to be our main energy source? They provide an income to a select few, while their use destroys ecosystems and lives. Is it fair? Is it just?


One day a few weeks after the course, I listened to the song Imagine. Most of us are familiar with it, and I had listened to it many times before. But with all the climate justice reflections fresh in my mind, this time it was different. I started to think about the lyrics, what they could mean today. John Lennon wrote this song back in 1971 based on concerns of the time, such as struggles related to the Cold War, feminist and black movements. More than 45 years later, some of these issues have improved, others are still here, and new struggles have emerged or increased: climate change, human displacement and migration, biodiversity decrease, large-scale ecosystem degradation… In summary, the Earth has been suffering, and we need to change how we live within the planet. How could Imagine be reimagined, in the face of the current challenges, especially climate justice?


Imagine there’s no heaven

It’s easy if you try

No hell below us

Above us only sky

Imagine all the people

Living for today…


I can’t speak for John Lennon, but I think that ‘no heaven, no hell, only sky’ was included to remind us to situate ourselves in the space-time we live in, without being distracted with potential post-life realities. We should remember that spirituality plays an important role in our connection with others and Mother Earth. Anyway, climate justice shows us that we need to act and contribute to a better planet right now. On the other hand, we should not be ‘living for today’ only. We need to consider future generations, our responsibilities to them and to the world they will inherit.


Imagine there’s no countries

It isn’t hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for

And no religion, too

Imagine all the people

Living life in peace…


Maybe the idea of ‘no countries’ is too extreme, but we definitely need more global cooperation to lead with climate justice issues. And this cannot be achieved while nations insist on finding reasons to kill or die, to fight each other. Yes, we have many differences, but we need to learn to respect and coexist (which doesn’t mean we need to accept everything, since there are evil behaviours that are just not right). Religion, for example, leads to many conflicts, and maybe that’s why John Lennon imagined a world without it. Maybe we don’t need to go this far (again, I believe good spirituality is important), but religion should not be a source of power or reason for wrong choices. Climate change urges us to act together, in spite of our differences.


Imagine no possessions

I wonder if you can

No need for greed or hunger

A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people

Sharing all the world…


On one hand, excessive possessions and greed. On the other, hunger and a lack of essential conditions. Sounds familiar? This could be a summary for many injustices we see, including those related to climate change. For example, the money generated by industries and refineries in the Chemical Valley, while indigenous people from Aamjiwnang suffer with the destruction of their homeland. What if we could really share the world, as suggested by the song? Not only as a ‘brotherhood of man’, but as a commonwealth of life, including all species and ecosystems. Sharing means not taking more than you need, and caring about others and their needs.


You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you’ll join us

And the world will live as one


After a deep and emotional discussion in the field course, Maeve McBride, a community scholar from 350 Vermont, asked us: “imagine your descendants, a few generations from now. How would we like to see them?” For me, I see them playing in nature, connected with others and Mother Earth, cooperating for the wellbeing of all living beings in a just world. I prefer to believe that it is possible to live this dream.


Reference: Imagine, 1971, John Lennon, Copyright ownership of E.M.I.


Natalia Britto dos Santos is a PhD student at York University. Her research interests include ecosystem services, protected areas benefits, and the relations between nature conservation and human well-being.

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