For this week’s episode, host Muna Gasim and panellist Eddie Kemberry are joined by Natalie Jones, Research Associate at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, to discuss existential risk, the climate crisis, indigenous rights, and the ways that all three intersect. Natalie shares insights into the nature of global, existential risks and how we can think ahead to protect the rights of future generations. We also discuss the need for substantial and meaningful representation of indigenous peoples in decision- and policy-making.

Natalie Jones works on how global injustice and inequality can potentially contribute to existential risk, with a particular interest in climate change. Her PhD work focused on accountability and procedural justice in global governance. Her background is in international law and climate policy, including as a Staff Writer for the Earth Negotiations Bulletin at the International Institute for Sustainable Development, a Research Assistant at the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law, and a judges’ clerk at the High Court of New Zealand. She holds an LLM in international law from the University of Cambridge, and an LLB(Hons) and BSc in physics from the University of Canterbury.

The Centre for the Study of Existential Risk is an interdisciplinary organization bringing together researchers from the law, anthropology, engineering, maths, political science and more to understand existential risk (threats that are global in nature), how they are caused, and how to mitigate them. Existential risks include biological threats such as pandemics, risks stemming from developments in technology and AI, and perhaps most notably, the climate crisis. Each of these threats bears immense implications for human rights.

“Who is being heard in these conversations, and how? And under what conditions? And does participation translate into influence or power over outcomes? And if not, how can it do so?”

Natalie Jones

Eddie, Muna, and Natalie discuss the individual and cultural bias in favor of the present over the future, and the difficulty of protecting the health and rights of generations which will follow ours. In the face of current, widespread threats to human rights, there is a risk of postponing climate mitigation discussions, since the effects of climate change can seem far off. Natalie stresses that response to current human rights abuses and response to the climate disaster are not mutually exclusive – in fact, many programs, like the Green New Deal, understand the deep connectivity between capitalism, human rights abuses, and environmental exploitation, and seek to remediate social and economic inequality hand in hand with offering climate solutions. Abuse of the environment is inextricable from the exploitative economic systems which favor short term capital gain to long term communal investment. The climate crisis does not have a singular solution, nor do the complex economic, political, and cultural conditions which have given it rise.

“If you’re hearing the voices of the communities that are going to be affected by these policies, and if you know how they’re going to affect these communities, then … it’s a lot easier to actually get it right and to make climate policy that works for both communities that are really at the front lines and … reducing emissions and promoting climate action overall.”

Natalie Jones

When governments and international organizations are making critical decisions about climate mitigation and response, it is essential that the right people are not only being heard, but also having their perspectives honored and translated into actual action. Decision-making bodies are all too often at risk of perpetuating undue harm in vulnerable communities in the name of environmentally minded policies – as Natalie explains, these harms can be prevented by committing to meaningful participation and collaboration with stakeholders. Slowly, the global community is waking up to the urgent need to protect and expand indigenous rights. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples promoted this agenda, and recent years have seen an increase in protests, activism, and public outcry, including the Keystone XL Pipeline protests. While advances have been made by some governments and international organizations to include indigenous people at decision-making tables, this progress has been conspicuously lacking in areas like investment and trade, areas which would confer autonomy and lasting control.

“A sort of example here is the policies which have been called the Green New Deal type of policies, which are really aimed at combating inequality at the same time as combating the climate crisis. It’s about conceptualizing these two things as sort of both as crises and tackling them both … There’s a lot of literature out there that indicates that it can be done. That it’s not you know, human rights or the environment. It’s not like, prosperity or the environment. It’s really both, at the same time.”

Natalie Jones

The study of existential risk is a burgeoning field with abundant resources for listeners who are interested in getting more involved (see below for more details). Listeners who live on indigenous lands in countries that have colonial relationships with indigenous peoples are encouraged to start locally – learn the history of the land on which you now live. Listeners who live in the UK or elsewhere in Europe are encouraged to learn more about global history, particularly the global history of colonization that might not have been taught in schools. All listeners are encouraged to pay attention to ongoing movements and protests in defense of indigenous rights, learn about the issues and what is at stake, and determine how best to support these movements.

Learn More:

Natalie Jones is on Twitter at @nataliejon_es

Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, University of Cambridge.

Future of Humanity Institute, University of Oxford.

Future of Life Institute, Boston, USA.

The Precipice, by Toby Ord.

The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Report, 2021.

Some resources to learn more about indigenous rights and indigenous peoples’ role in combating existential risk:

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz.

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, by Robin Wall Kimmerer.

How to Survive an Apocalypse and Keep Dreaming, by Julian Brave NoiseCat.

As you might hear, our guest today is a person who stammers. Stammering affects up to 3% of adults in the UK. To learn more:

Stammering resources:

Words Fail Us by Jonty Claypole