On the Ethics of Environmental Migration: Examining the Rawlsian and Lockean Approach to Justice for Climate Migrants

The catastrophe of climate change is one which continues to grow more and more burdensome for humanity on a global scale. It is also a highly unique sort of issue due to the incomprehensible nature of all of its causes and effects. In this paper, I explore one particular consequence of climate change for humanity which is known as environmental migration. Environmental migration can be understood as the forced mobilization of an individual or a group of individuals due to environmental factors (such as natural disasters or severe resource depletion) that result from climate change. Those victimized by environmental migration are typically referred to as environmental migrants or climate refugees. In this essay, I argue against using the Rawlsian theory of justice to address the needs of climate refugees by developing critiques regarding historical injustice and moral responsibility. I instead support the Lockean theory of natural rights for addressing these needs and advocate for environmental reparations as a consequence of rights violations. I appeal to Boxil’s analogous argument regarding reparations for rights violations done unto the Black community. I conclude that environmental migrants continue to have their fundamental rights violated and deserve reparations for these instances.