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Over the course of this past year while building this website to fight climate change and save our environment, the focus of our nation has abruptly changed. Addressing the national mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic, the ensuing economic disaster and, in the last month since the police killing of George Floyd, police brutality have become central. There is but one thread that binds these human crises together at the same time: systemic racism.
Black, Latino and Indian communities suffer disproportionately four and five times the COVID-19 hospitalization rates compared to non-Hispanic white populations.
Key Findings in COVID-19 research released earlier this month finds that Black Americans have suffered 65.8 deaths per 100,000 population while white Americans have experienced 28.5 deaths per 100,000.
Black and brown unemployment and the accompanying loss of health insurance ranges consistently higher than white unemployment throughout our nation. Not only are blacks disproportionately harassed, arrested and imprisoned by police forces throughout our country, they are also killed out in the open before the world in front of smartphone cameras disproportionately and in greater numbers.
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As we start our second year at 10001ways.com, it is now clearer than ever that to save our environment and fight climate change means to tirelessly work for “Climate Justice.” And climate justice is racial justice.
“Climate justice” and “environmental justice” are phrases used to define climate change as a political, moral and ethical issue rather than one that is only environmental, biological or physical. The dreadful consequences of climate change do not affect all communities equally.
An important corollary issue associated with environmental justice is that those who are least responsible for global warming suffer its worst consequences.
Poor communities, indigenous communities and people of color suffer disproportionate harm from air and water pollution and the racist systems that continue these inequities. People of color more frequently than wealthier whites (with larger carbon footprints) live in neighborhoods close to oil refineries, toxic landfill superfund sights, polluting industrial complexes, freeways and regional power plants. “Redlining” real estate, financial home loan and insurance practices have long clarified the meaning of the current political slogan, “Climate justice is racial justice.”
We whites in the environmental movement have an obligation to redress these disparities and fight for climate justice by being anti-racist. It is not good enough to nominally endorse the Black Lives Matter and Indigenous Peoples movements with supportive words. We need to be actively engaged to bring change, to replace our current racist system with one that redistributes power more equitably and repairs past harms. As Eric Holthaus writes, “We cannot fight climate change without being anti-racist.”
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Once we have a vaccine for COVID-19 widely distributed and therapies for those infected, the coronavirus in our populations will recede, our economy will rebuild, but racism and the climate crisis will still be with us. Professor Ibram X. Kendi writes, “The only way to undo racism is to consistently identify and describe it—and then dismantle it.” (How to Be an Antiracist)
Ayana Johnson, an oceanographer and founder of the Ocean Collective, posted a video message on Twitter that sums it all up: “To the white people who care about maintaining a habitable planet, I need you to be actively anti-racist. I need you to understand that our inequality crisis is intertwined with the climate crisis. If we don’t work on both, we will succeed at neither”
So fighting for climate change requires being anti-racist and restructuring our racist institutions. Let’s re-commit to do both at the same time.
Photo: Harry Strharsky