Environmental and Climate Justice Program
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.
It is apt that this convening would have a session on the “Geopolitics of Climate Change” because the distribution of effects of the drivers and impacts across the climate change continuum are both geographically based and politically rooted.
Our first blog from COP21: As representatives of communities of color on the frontlines of climate change, we appreciate the sentiments of hope, ambition, accountability, and commitment in President Obama’s remarks at the Paris climate talks. We also appreciate the president’s current and proposed actions: increasing energy efficiency; keeping fossil fuels in the ground; transitioning to clean energy; eradicating poverty; and preserving the planet for future generations.
When I was presented with the charge to coordinate a Human Rights Tribunal, I was nervous and excited at the same time. I remember two things going through my mind during that moment. The first thought was that this hearing was much needed for the Houston community, and my second one was, “Where do I start?” Little did I know that this experience would change my life and perspective on the role that environmental justice is taking in communities of color and beyond.
In an effort to respond to the deeper environmental issues we face in this community, I am organizing a climate justice Human Rights Tribunal. The tribunal will give community members affected by such issues the opportunity to speak up, testify, ask questions, suggest solutions, and get informed. By educating local communities on the issues, I believe we can achieve environmental justice and equality for the sake of a better quality of life for all.