Linking Climate Justice and Open Access: the case for truly public knowledge
by Mihnea Tănăsescu
Climate justice has been at the forefront of academic research and activist engagement for decades. It calls for an equitable distribution of pain and gain in facing the climate crisis and for assigning responsibility to historic perpetrators. Increasingly, climate movements all over the world have become rooted in these demands, bringing research and activism closer together.
Yet many of the important discussions in the academic world have for too long been hidden behind prohibitive fees. This has most likely had a double negative impact, impeding two-way learning between researchers and other interested people. The famous ivory tower of academia has been partly built on an exclusionary publication model.
Debates about climate justice in academia can benefit activism, and activist engagement can inform these debates. To facilitate that, the dominant academic publication model needs to drastically change. The necessity of change is nowadays commonly acknowledged by academics, though it is still hard to practice what one preaches, especially for more junior scholars.
Let’s clarify what we’re talking about: the dominant publication model takes the work of researchers, with little or no remuneration, and privatizes it. In order to access it, universities need expensive subscriptions, while individuals not affiliated to institutions with large enough budgets are asked to pay exorbitant amounts to access research findings. These findings are more often than not funded through public money, so the general public really ends up paying twice.
Lately, as calls for open access have become louder, traditional for-profit publishers have embraced the model, but have simply shifted payments elsewhere. University libraries still end up paying hefty sums for journal packages, and often researchers are asked to co-fund publications, whether articles or books. For a regular research article, these fees run into the thousands of euros, paid by research grants that have often already subsided the initial research.
This latest iteration of the model does make research more accessible to the public but does not change the privatization of public knowledge. What’s more, academic culture has grown accustomed to this model and has, by and large, socialized academics into thinking that the only reputable publishers are the ones that routinely engage in these practices.
Alternatives are thankfully on offer. A no-fee open access model, practised by an increasing number of publishers, is the most direct way of helping public knowledge become truly public. As different assessments have already shown (for example, see https://blogs.openbookpublishers.com/the-cost-of-open-access-books-a-publisher-writes/), no-fee open access is workable. Non-profit community interest publishers not only make research accessible, but they also invest in the future of research by freeing up funds for knowledge production.
When it comes to knowledge on the climate crisis, this is crucial. And what we in the academic community need to do is rebel against the dominant model and give our work to publishers truly committed to open access. There is a whole ecosystem forming around ethical publication, offering benefits for all involved, not least for researchers that are likely to become more widely read.
This year I published Ecocene Politics with Open Book Publishers. To be honest, it took me a while to break out of the dominant socialization that imposed traditional publishers. I thought that my work would not get recognition if it appeared with a new and radical press. But my experience of publishing open access has assuaged any doubts I had. I have encountered no resistance from my academic peers, nor has my work been devalued because I chose a new venue. In fact, many colleagues have asked me about my open-access experience, as they have also thought about joining this movement but didn’t really know how.
My book deals specifically with environmental crises and possible responses to these. It now has the chance to join a wider societal conversation, because anybody can download it for free, or order a paperback for a fair price. Students especially stand to benefit from this model, as they are free to read and circulate work without any barriers whatsoever. And last but certainly not least, true and transparent open access respects the work of authors by assigning them full copyright under creative commons licenses. The work is both mine and everyone’s, just like climate justice is both every individual’s concern and our shared problem. Lifting barriers impeding the circulation of knowledge is itself a move towards the justice we seek.
'Ecocene Politics' is an Open Access title available to read and download for free. You can access the book in the box below:
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
Opinions and thoughts expressed reflect only the author's views