Disability, Climate Change, and Environmental Violence: The Politics of Invisibility and the Horizon of Hope

Julia Watts Belser


This article brings disability theory and activism into conversation with environmental justice, a conversation that has often been stymied by a fundamental difference in approaching disability. Environmental justice movements position disability as a visceral marker of environmental harm, while disability movements claim disability as a site of value and vitality, a position I call "disability embrace." Rather than adjudicate these differences, I use them to pinpoint a barrier to political alliance: environmental disability is a consequence of structural violence. I argue that disability politics offer vital resources for grappling with climate change. Applying insights from disability studies and disability activism to the analysis of environmental damage reveals the political stakes of diagnosis—the way power contours how, when, and to what ends we recognize human and ecological impairment. Disability insights illuminate pervasive cultural patterns of invisibility and climate denial. Disability critiques of futurity and cure can also reconfigure the way we approach hope and help fashion a new narrative of what it might mean to live well in the Anthropocene.


environmental justice; structural violence; invisibility; diagnosis; cure; hope; climate change

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.18061/dsq.v40i4.6959

Copyright (c) 2020 Julia Watts Belser

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