“Justice at the necessary scale”? An interview with Olúfemi Táíwò


Olúfemi Táíwò on Zoom

History is moving again. The past two years have felt like an avalanche of breaking news — from the onset of a world-altering pandemic, to a protest movement that upended the public conversation on race and the carceral system, to wildfires and larger-than-ever storms. Meanwhile, power and money continue their seemingly inexorable rise to the top, and the government (Democratic or Republican) advertises its bumbling incompetence on a near-daily basis. It’s hard to keep track, let alone know how to respond.

To think it all through, we talked to Olúfemi Táíwò, an Assistant Professor at Georgetown, where he teaches social and political philosophy with an emphasis on climate justice, racial justice, and the Global South. His first book, Reconsidering Reparations, is out this month, and his second, Elite Capture: How the Powerful Took Over Identity Politics (And Everything Else), will be published in May. 

Over Zoom, we asked Táíwò about the climate crisis, the Covid-19 response, the ruling class, woke capitalism, and what to expect from analytic philosophy. 

You use the concept of reparations in your work. Why is it the right way to think about climate change? 

This concept comes from the long history of activism for reparations. For centuries, people around the world who were enslaved, displaced, abused, exploited, and owned by the people and organizations at the top of the global social order have pushed for reparations. And many have put forth a vision of reparations that wasn’t just about transferring dollars from the wrongdoers to the wronged. It was also about a broader transformative vision for eliminating the kind of social system that would exploit people in the first place and building the kind of social system that was just and characterized by self-determination for everybody who lives in it. And that is the vision that we should have in the struggle for climate justice, because that is a vision of justice at the necessary scale.

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