Climate Justice Initiative
When folks think about climate change, what often comes to mind are melting ice caps and suffering polar bears. In the past, and to some extent still now, when people think of environmentalism, they often think of saving the whales or hugging trees! Historically, American society has failed to make the connection in terms of the direct impact of environmental injustices, including climate change, on our own lives, families, and communities, which depend on the physical environment and its bounty.
Toxic facilities, like coal fired power plants and incinerators, are emitting mercury, arsenic, lead, and other contaminants into the water, food, and lungs of communities. Many of these same facilities are also emitting carbon dioxide and methane – the #1 and #2 drivers of climate change. At the same time not all are equally impacted. For example, race – even more than class – is the number one indicator for the placement of toxic facilities in this country. And communities of color and low income communities are often the hardest hit by climate change.
Climate change is about the increase in the severity of storms which means that storms like Sandy and Isaac, which devastated communities from Boston to Biloxi, will become more of the norm.
Environmental injustice is about people in Detroit, Ohio, Chicago, Memphis, Kansas City, and elsewhere who have died and others who are chronically ill due to exposure to toxins from coal fired power plants and other toxic facilities.
Climate change is about our sisters and brothers in the Bahamas, as well as Inuit communities in Kivalina, Alaska, and communities in Thibodaux, Louisiana, who will be losing their homes to rising sea levels in the coming few years.
Climate change and environmental injustice are about sisters and brothers from West Virginia to Tennessee who are breathing toxic ash from blasting for mountain top removal.
Environmental injustice and climate change are about the fact that in many communities it is far easier to find a bag of Cheetos than a carton of strawberries and this only stands to get worse as drought and flooding impact the availability and affordability of nutritious food.
Climate change and other environmental injustices are about US.
The Environmental and Climate Justice Program works at addressing the many practices that are harming communities nationwide and worldwide and the policies needed to rectify these impacts.
“If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention”. This adage came to mind this morning when the first message in my inbox was a message from a newly found colleague, Maureen McCue of Physicians for Social Responsibility. She shared the 2nd installment in the Center for Public Integrity’s (CPI) series “Breathless and Burned: Dying of Black Lung and Buried by Law and Medicine” with me. I was sick to my stomach and ashamed of my alma mater, the Johns Hopkins institution.
Black faith leaders have a critical role as we expand the fight for environmental justice to encompass an explicit climate justice lens.
As we prepare for more frequent and more damaging disasters, it behooves us, on this, the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall, to render visible how climate change and the inequities of the criminal justice system intersect and compound, as stated by #BlackLivesMatter, “the loss of healthy and thriving Black life and well-being.”
NAACP, NOAA, and Climate Central co-hosted a training of trainers on sea level rise risk and action planning.