New Article: The Cliodynamics of Mass Incarceration, Climate Change, and “Chains on Our Feet”

Haitian migrants line up to receive food at a shelter in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Acuña. Photograph by Pedro Pardo / AFP / Getty Images

President Biden’s UNGA address acknowledged the idea of visionary thinking and mutual cooperation, but the actions of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security at the southern border on his watch painted an alternate reality. This Essay is an observation of that essential disconnect between the vision and the execution. This Essay proceeds in three Parts. Part I provides the background of the science of cliodynamics and why it is instructive for discussion on climate change and mass incarceration. Part II considers sociolegal patterns of mass incarceration in the United States. Part III assesses the climate change resistance movements and concludes with normative and intersectional solutions, including the Green New Deal, the Civilian Climate Corps, and the prison abolition movement.

The tsunami of the problems arising from the carceral state and extractivist economy will require a different vantage point. Most environmental and social justice advocates observe situations through a microscopic lens, buried in academic silos. Without stepping back to see the full, big picture, policymakers will also be lost in how to respond to the situation. The same way that astronauts stare down at the Earth, policymakers will have to carve out solutions with an ultra-wide lens. Seeing the intricate dynamics at play through systems theory will show how to better manage the global climate crisis. This Essay considers how the internal and external factors involving carcerality and climate change will lead to a worsening crisis of migration, criminalization, and dire climate change impacts. I offer observations on these systems so that others can establish the mechanisms to expand the scope of climate and carceral state responsiveness. Climate modeling and carceral rates can only provide snapshots of the looming crises, but examining the past and reassessing current predictions will show how swiftly and furiously policymakers, innovators, and scientists must work to broaden the scope of impact to frontline communities and delicate ecosystems.

Nadia B. Ahmad, The Cliodynamics of Mass Incarceration, Climate Change, and “Chains on Our Feet”, 49 Fordham Urb. L.J. 371 (2022).
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Nadia Ahmad

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