February 20th marked the eighth annual World Day for Social Justice. The theme this year was “A Just Transition – environmentally sustainable economies and societies” in recognition that environmental injustice makes social justice impossible.
Economic, Racial and Environmental Injustice Are Linked
In “Make 2016 the Year of Environmental Justice,” Dr. Robert Bullard writes about major milestones, which most people are unaware of, that have been achieved by black communities. Some are positive, such as the First National People of Color Environmental Summit 25 years ago and the first lawsuit that used civil rights laws to challenge a solid waste facility in Houston, TX 35 years ago. He also writes about ongoing struggles such as in the 225-year-old community of Mossville, LA , which was founded by slaves, whose very existence is now threatened by a South African chemical company.
Too often, when deals are cut with industry, communities are hurt as in Arizona where Indigenous activists confronted Senator McCain last week over his role in the sale of sacred land in Oak Flat to Rio Tinto, a mining company. In addition to spoiling a sacred site, the project will poison the air, land and water.
In Washington, DC, energy giant Exelon is trying to merge with the local electric service provider, Pepco. This merger will raise rates, reduce support for people who have low incomes and hurt efforts to move to renewable energy. Communities in DC are fighting it and they need your help. Click here to sign their petition.
To achieve environmental justice, we have to recognize the role that capitalism plays in exploiting communities for profit and driving wealth inequality, particularly in communities of color. We also have to recognize the dominant cultural narratives that reinforce the current system and inequality, the false beliefs that those at the bottom can rise if they work hard enough and that those at the top earned what they have.
The ‘American Dream’ is not available in communities of color that have been disproportionately devastated through disinvestment, poisoning and discrimination. Their wealth, health and futures have been stolen from them. Flint, MI is one example of this. Lori Hansen Riegle explains how economic policies, which devastated Flint, set the stage for the current toxic water crisis.
Private banks have a long history of discrimination. Most people are aware of the predatory practices of banks that pushed sub-prime mortgages on communities of color. The Public Banking Institute is starting a new project, “What Wall Street Costs America,” which points out other ways that banks extract wealth from communities. The first city to be highlighted is Ferguson, MO where the interest owed on bonds is being financed through traffic tickets and fines. Creating public banks is a way to stop this wealth extraction and create capital that can be used to restore these damaged communities.
Climate Crisis Profiteers
The climate crisis also disproportionately impacts communities of color. Globally, it is the small island communities and poor nations in the South that are on the front lines and lack the resources to protect themselves. The same is true in the US where the first climate refugees are the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians whio live in the Bayou of Louisiana.
Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy were examples of racial discrimination in the response, which was slow and inadequate for communities of color. The devastation was seen as an opportunity for gentrification in Louisiana. Occupy Sandy activists worked to prevent the same scenario from happening in New York.
Likewise the climate crisis is seen by industry as an opportunity for profit by pushing market-based false solutions. An example are industrial biofuels, which release large amounts of carbon, displace projects for sustainable energy rather than replacing the burning of fossil fuels and cause displacement of people from their land and other human rights abuses. Civil society organizations in the European Union are working to remove biofuels from the Renewable Energy Directive.
In his analysis of the Paris Agreement signed last December and the reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Daniel Tanuro reveals that scientists are promoting Negative Emissions Technologies to reduce atmospheric carbon. They argue that we can continue to burn massive amounts of fossil fuels as long as we sequester the carbon. Not only is the effectiveness of these technologies unknown, but they also carry significant risks such as underground storage of carbon that can cause earthquakes.
There are other solutions that would be effective, but they wouldn’t provide huge profits to Big Industry. One such solution has been around for ages, but it now has a new name, “regenerative agriculture.’ Ronnie Cummins of Organic Consumers Association writes that not only will this cool the planet, but it will also produce healthy food:
“This movement is inspired by the practices of thousands of organic farmers, holistic ranchers, pastoralists and indigenous communities across the globe who are demonstrating that truly regenerative farming, grazing, forestry and land use practices, scaled up globally, sequestering in some cases up to 5-10 tons of carbon per acre per year, literally have the potential to reverse global warming. The co-benefits of this massive recarbonization and regeneration of the soil, grasslands and forests include: reducing rural poverty, improving plant and animal health and food quality, increasing natural water storage in soils, building crop resilience restoring public health, and last, but not least, reducing global strife.”
The solutions are in front of us. We don’t need new technology. People all over the world, especially Indigenous peoples, already have the knowledge and are putting the solutions into place.
Why 2016 Is The Year For Climate Justice
Scientists have found that sea levels are rising faster than they ever have and it is because of climate change. Yet, activist Kari Malkki is optimistic that despite the dire predictions of the magnitude of the climate crisis and the absence of effective leadership from governments, there is hope for climate justice. She interviewed women of color and women from the global South who are climate activists and found that there is a growing global climate justice movement that is led by youth and people who are living on the front lines. Their view:
“Their power lies in their numbers, their solutions are rooted in science (not in corporate coercion), and the message they preach will only become more convincing as climate disasters become more severe.”
Here is a series on women in Latin America from climate-impacted communities who are leading the fight. And the Earth Island Institute follows women in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa who share their knowledge about organic farming, conserving water and restoring the land.
The same is happening in the United States where people living on the front lines are organizing and taking action to stop fossil fuel and nuclear energy projects, are protecting the land, air and water and are creating community-owned renewable energy. This movement is also led largely by youth and women.
There are many opportunities for action coming up. Here are some that we know of:
March 6 to 14 – activists from around the East will gather for a week-long action camp in Southern Maryland for the Cove Point Spring Break.
March 18 to 21 – activists will gather near Athens, Ohio to organize for environmental and social justice.
March 17 to 20 – a walk in Massachusetts called Taking Steps for a Renewable Energy Future.
March 23 – join this historic action to surround the Super Dome in New Orleans to stop new oil drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico.
April 22 to May 1 – ten days of actions from Earth Day to May Day.
May 7 to 15 – a week of actions to Break Free from Fossil Fuel.
May 19 – in San Francisco, nonviolent strategy planning to resist climate change.
The struggle of our time is people power versus corporate power. All over the world people are taking action for economic, racial, environmental and climate justice. We can, and we must, prevail by stopping harmful policies and practices and putting in place new systems that are rooted in solidarity, cooperation and sustainability.
Please share with us what you are doing so we can continue to build this global movement for justice. Popular Resistance exists for you. Send us articles and videos about what you are doing so we can post them. Send us information about upcoming events for the calendar.
Through our collective wisdom and action rooted in love we will stop the machine and create a new world.